Nick Collison

Associated Press

Thunder show why they’re dangerous, Spurs show why they need Kawhi back in loss

1 Comment

Last Tuesday night, the Houston Rockets exposed all the warts of Oklahoma City in a win that didn’t feel as close as the 122-112 score. The Rocket bench dominated the Thunder, and Houston got pretty much any shot it wanted by attacking Carmelo Anthony as a defender all night. Without Andre Roberson, the Thunder looked overmatched.

Saturday night the Thunder reminded everyone why they are a playoff threat.

And they showed everyone why the Spurs need Kawhi Leonard to come back next week to keep them in the playoffs.

The up-and-down this season Thunder looked like the team that has beaten the Warriors twice this season (and the Rockets and Raptors once each) in a 104-94 win at home.

OKC’s bench poured in 50 points and dominated the game — particlarly Nick Collison — while Russell Westbrook put together a triple-double of 21 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists.

The loss drops the Spurs to the seven seed in the West, just one game from the nine seed and being out of the playoffs all together. With the win the Thunder move up to the five seed.

The Thunder have struggled against other playoff teams the past month, but in this game they came out attacking like they need to nightly — it showed in the free throws, the Thunder were 16-of-24 from the stripe while the Spurs were 4-of-7. What’s more Westbrook was leading with intensity on both ends — this was as good a defensive game as he probably has had all season (he’s not been consistent on that end at all). The Thunder also were much more aggressive doubling LaMarcus Aldridge from the start, which threw his game off.

Combine that defense with a Spurs offense that is leaning on Aldridge – who is banged up and went 5-of-16 from the field — and Pau Gasol to get most of their buckets, and an older Tony Parker to do the shot creation, and you get a stumped and slowed Spurs team. To a man they seemed to own it.

Leonard is expected to return to the Spurs next Thursday. It’s unknown how much rust is on Leonard, how healthy his knees really feel, and what kind of form the All-NBA level player can achieve, but the Spurs need whatever he can give. He’s not going to cover all the holes on a flawed team, but he can help. For much of the season Gregg Popovich found a way — mostly through defense — to get this team wins and keep it in the playoff chase. That defense isn’t the same right now and if not for Leonard’s return the Spurs might be the pick to fall out of the postseason all together.

OKC’s big game does not have Houston or Golden State nervous, but it’s the kind of confidence-boosting with they need in the final stretch of the season. The Thunder have been inconsistent, they need some building block wins like this to build their confidence, to get them executing good habits, before the intensity of the playoffs hit.

Kevin Durant: Michael Jordan didn’t go through what I did

J Pat Carter/Getty Images
14 Comments

Kevin Durant cares what people think of him. He has gone to devious lengths to combat what has become widespread criticism after he left the Thunder for the Warriors.

Durant, via Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report:

“I’m a person,” he says. “I’ve got real feelings and I’m not afraid to be vulnerable in front of people who watch us play or that follow the league. It’s f–ked up that you’re saying that stuff about me, because just a couple months before, I was the greatest thing since sliced bread because I was playing for your team. Your team is on TV every day, playing late into the playoffs and you get to brag about how good your city is to some other people around the country. It was all good when I was doing something for you. It was all good when I was representing you. Now I decided to take my career in my hands and I’m a ‘bitch’? That’s confusing … because some people that I’d seen that cheered for me, people that I actually talked to, the faces they were giving me, the tone they had when they looked at me, it was weird.

“Those people really mean a lot to me to this day,” he says. “No matter if they talk to me or they’re mad at me. Whether it’s Sam Presti or Troy Weaver or Russell Westbrook or Nick Collison. Whether it’s Wilson Taylor or Clay Bennett and his family, I love them from the bottom of my heart. We’re not talking, but eventually we will.

“I didn’t have that perspective at first. I didn’t have it when I went back to OKC. I was like, ‘F–k all of them.’ I didn’t have it when they gave my number away. I was, ‘F–k all of them.’ My best friend works for the team, I told him, ‘F–k all y’all. That’s f–ked up.’ Then I had to get out of my head, tell myself, ‘It’s not that serious, it is what it is.’ I understand it’s not my number anymore, they can do whatever they want with it, but you hand that number to a two-way player, you’ve got to be, like, ‘Nah, we’ve got too many good memories with this number, man.’ But at some point, that thing’s going to be in the rafters anyway; it’s all good. I did something they didn’t like. They did something I didn’t like. S–t happens. If I was on my death bed, I guarantee you Sam Presti and Russell Westbrook would come check on me. So I’m going to look at it that way rather than the other way.”

“If I [respond], it’s: ‘No, you’re sensitive. Shut up. You’re supposed to take it. Everybody did it. Michael went through it.’ I’m like, hold up. Michael Jordan did not go through this. You know what Michael Jordan went through? Reading the paper and it says, ‘Oh, Michael Jordan was 7-for-33 the night before, how the f–k is he going to bounce back?’ That’s criticism. Criticism is not, ‘_____, you moved to _____, you’re a bitch, a coward.’ That’s not criticism. Criticism is calling me Mr. Unreliable and bouncing back the next night.”

The obvious retort is that Jordan never left the Bulls for an easier path to a championship. That wasn’t necessarily Durant’s intention – he opened up about what a ring means to him and much more in Bucher’s piece – but it’s reality. Durant took a shortcut to a title by signing with the Warriors.

But it’s also true that social media gives Durant’s critics access to him that Jordan’s critics never had. Jordan himself admitted it would have been harder for him today.

Durant invites scorn, though. Despite clearly wanting to move on from the Oklahoma City drama on some level, he keeps bringing it up – which I appreciate, because that’s true to who he is. He’s someone who cares about the Thunder giving his old number to P.J. Dozier. He’s someone who can’t get past fans who said they cared about him as a person turning on him because he changed jobs. That’s authentic Durant, and he’s not afraid to reveal it. That approach also fuels his critics.

All Durant can do now is keep being true to himself and playing well, which goes a long way toward silencing detractors.

Russell Westbrook, Nick Collison go White Men Can’t Jump for Halloween

6 Comments

Russell Westbrook‘s past Halloween costumes have been awesome — remember the year he went as Stephen Adams — but this is a personal best.

Westbrook and Thunder teammate Nick Collison dressed up as  Sidney Deane (Wesley Snipes) and Billy Hoyle (Woody Harelson) from “White Men Can’t Jump” and they were in the zone.

Westbrook is spot on. Collison looks good, he just needs to have a little Jimi Hendrix background music wherever he goes in that outfit. I mean, he can listen to Jimi but he can’t hear him. There’s a difference. Just because you’re listening to Jimi doesn’t mean you’re hearing him.

Russell Westbrook wins union’s Players Voice MVP

AP Photo/Chris Szagola
Leave a comment

The players union released its long-anticipated long-overdue awards, and there are some doozies. First of all, I still can’t figure out what Chris Bosh – who was announced as the “host” of the Twitter-released awards – has to do with this. But let’s get to the actual winners.

Here are the major awards, with the traditional award/Players Voice equivalent:

No surprise Westbrook won both MVPs. He deserved them. Still, James Harden could’ve hoped for a split result like in 2015, when Stephen Curry won actual MVP and Harden won the players’ version.

There’s obviously slight differences in the other categories. I think Green had the best defensive season and deservedly won Defensive Player of the Year, but I also think Leonard is the NBA’s best defender and therefore deserved this honor. I would’ve picked Andre Iguodala for Best off the Bench (and Sixth Man of the Year, for what it’s worth), though that’s a minor quibble. But how on earth did Joel Embiid not win Best Rookie? He was the best rookie in years, let alone this season. I picked Brogdon for Rookie of the Year based on his overall contributions in far more playing time, but there should have been no question about the best rookie.

The union also released several awards without a corresponding NBA honor:

  • Comeback Player of the Year: Joel Embiid
  • Hardest to Guard: Russell Westbrook
  • Clutch Performer: Isaiah Thomas
  • Global Impact: LeBron James
  • Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team: LeBron James
  • Most Influential Veteran: Vince Carter
  • Best Dressed: Russell Westbrook
  • Best Social Media Follow: Joel Embiid
  • Coach You’d Most Like to Play For: Gregg Popovich
  • Best Home Court Advantage: Warriors

LeBron winning Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team has to be an implicit slap in the face to Kyrie Irving. I’m glad to see Thomas and Carter deservedly recognized.

Lastly, the union awarded a Teammate of the Year on each team:

Dirk Nowitzki won the NBA’s Teammate of the Year – which is voted on by current players after a panel of former players selects nominees – then didn’t even win for his own team here? That’s just weird.

Report: Nick Collison signing one-year deal with Thunder

Tom Pennington/Getty Images
2 Comments

Dirk Nowitzki (Mavericks), Tony Parker (Spurs), Manu Ginobili (Spurs), Udonis Haslem (Heat) and Nick Collison (SuperSonics/Thunder) are the only active players to have played more than 10 seasons all with the same team.

Collison isn’t leaving the club.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Collison has played just 13 years in the NBA [update: after spending his first year sidelined by injury]. It’s unclear whether Charania just got a number mixed up or whether Collison plans to play two more seasons.

Presumably, Collison will make the minimum, because, unless the Thunder are willing to hard-cap themselves, that’s the most they can offer and it’s because that’s the most Collison is worth. He’ll earn $2,328,652, though Oklahoma City will pay and be taxed at just $1,471,382. (The league covers the rest for veterans on one-year minimum deals.)

The 36-year-old Collison looked done last year, playing just 128 minutes in 20 games. At least he appears to be well-liked and a helpful veteran in the locker room.

At worst, injuries will press Collison into playing time that could have gone to someone who still possesses NBA athleticism. At best, he’ll sell Paul George on why he likes Oklahoma City so much.