First Cup: Monday
December, 16, 2013
By Nick Borges
- Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: The Thunder has turned Chesapeake Energy Arena into a pretty scary venue for visitors. With a 101-98 win over Orlando, the Thunder continued its winning ways at home, where it improved its league-best record to 12-0 and again left you thinking how long this record Oklahoma City-era streak can last. The next two home opponents, Chicago and Toronto, are Eastern Conference foes that don't figure to pose much of a threat. The two after that, Houston and Portland, could get it done. But if they don't, the Thunder's streak could stretch into February. “We never really talked about it, to tell you the truth,” Thunder guard Russell Westbrook said of this year's home dominance. “But I think as individuals and around the locker room, we do a good job of just coming in here taking care of our fans and coming in and competing each and every night and trying to win the game." Before this season, the Thunder's best start at home was a modest 3-0 mark. For whatever it's worth, the franchise's all-time home winning streak to open a season is 13-0, which the Seattle SuperSonics did in the 1976-77 season. The Thunder can match that mark Thursday against the Bulls in a nationally televised game on TNT.
- Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Victor Oladipo admired Kevin Durant from afar for a long time, and now Oladipo is happy and honored to call Durant a friend. They grew up in the Washington, D.C., area, so Oladipo always was attuned to Durant's accomplishments. But since Oladipo is four years younger than Durant, they hadn't met face-to-face until this past summer when Oladipo visited a basketball camp that Durant was running in Washington. ... Both Oladipo and Durant were selected second overall in the NBA Draft — Durant in 2007 and Oladipo in 2013. ... "I think he's a tremendous player, a guy that brings so much to an organization," Durant said before tipoff. "He's a great kid off the floor. Just humble, hard-working. He loves the game of basketball. Of course, on the court, he plays so hard. He just plays to win. He plays team basketball and plays to win. I was just trying to help him out. I was just letting him know how this life is going to be and the struggles he's going to go through. I'll just keep trying to encourage him. I'm rooting for him. He's from my area, and I want everybody from my area to do well. So I'm excited for him."
- Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: Suddenly, neither does Kings coach Michael Malone. Rudy Gay is that guy. He will be that guy for the remainder of the season, and after that, who knows? His $19.3 million player option for next season would break a lot of banks. His contract was too steep for Memphis, and his stats and earnings apparently didn’t satisfy the new management group in Toronto. But the NBA is a league littered with tales of redemption and rehabilitation, of players changing ZIP codes and thriving in different circumstances, some pertaining to personnel, others to economics. Chris Webber’s jersey hangs from the rafters. Doug Christie, Mike Bibby and Vlade Divac enjoyed their best seasons here. And it works both ways; Omri Casspi is a much happier man and a more consistent contributor with the Houston Rockets. So while Gay’s Sacramento story consists only of a few words on a page, his Kings debut was impressive, and his Kings home debut at Sleep Train Arena on Sunday was even better.
- Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The Rockets’ injury issues took another unexpected turn when guard Jeremy Lin developed back spasms following a collision Friday with Golden State center Andrew Bogut. Lin missed Sunday’s loss and is expected to be out Wednesday against Chicago, having played two games after missing six with a sprained and bruised right knee. Lin said he ran into Bogut on a screen in the first half, but kept playing. He played 21 minutes in that game and returned in the final minutes after Pat Beverley fouled out. In addition to leaving the Rockets short-handed, it took away another game for Lin to work his way back from the six games out. ... Guard James Harden left Sunday’s game with a sprained ankle. With Lin and center Omer Asik out, Rockets players have been out for a combined 43 games. The entire roster was out for a combined 50 games last season. Forward Terrence Jones played a second consecutive game with the flu, but struggled and did not finish the game.
- Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: There wasn’t a massive dog pile at center court. No wild, jubilant celebration. After Damian Lillard knifed the Detroit Pistons in the back with a fadeaway game-winning jumper just before the final buzzer, he didn’t sprint around The Palace of Auburn Hills like a madman. No, when Lillard delivered the Trail Blazers another did-that-really-just-happen victory — 111-109 over the Pistons in overtime on Sunday night — it was as if it were any ordinary win. Lillard briefly posed along the sideline and then casually strolled off the court, slapping a high-five with Nicolas Batum and taking a mild chest bump from a giddy Wesley Matthews before greeting the rest of his teammates, who had spilled away from the bench. “We were like, ‘It’s over, now let’s get the hell out of here,’” Lillard said, explaining the muted celebration. “Because we just stole one.”
- Terry Foster of The Detroit News: The Pistons blew another game they had no business losing because they lost focus of what pushed them to the brink of beating the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers. Coach Maurice Cheeks wanted to blame offensive rebounding for the Pistons’ 111-109 overtime loss. I won’t argue with him. But the Pistons abandoned one of the old rules of the NBA. Do not abandon the hot hand. During critical stretches they stopped going to Josh Smith, who played his best game as a Piston. Instead of watching Smith add to his season-high 31 points on 13-for-17 shooting, we got to see Rodney Stuckey floaters and Brandon Jennings dribbling between his legs and launching moon shots that clanked off the iron. The Pistons fumbled an 88-76 lead over the last 9½ minutes because they treated Smith like the fat kid who was picked last to play.
- Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: In the hours leading up to the Nuggets' game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday, Denver coach Brian Shaw issued challenges to some of his team's most important players. Ty Lawson. Kenneth Faried. J.J. Hickson. And others. "I put everybody on alert," Shaw said. "I challenged Ty as a leader, whether he wants to accept that responsibility or not. I challenge Kenneth and J.J. and just the starters in general that they have to start games (well)." Challenge accepted. The Nuggets' 102-93 win over New Orleans at the Pepsi Center wasn't the completely polished product Shaw was looking for, but his players at least looked to take more ownership in the effort and focus they put on the court. And that was a start. "I thought the starters gave a better effort tonight," Shaw said. "They're pros, and they have pride. Ty and Randy (Foye), I felt that (going scoreless last game) was an aberration more than anything else. And they still can do better."
- Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: Even though he experienced a bit of a cold spell from the outside in the second half, power forward Ryan Anderson continues to prove he's invaluable to this team. Anderson displayed his offensive versatility Sunday night, from finger rolls to reverse layups to tip-ins when his long-range accuracy was suffering. After hitting his first two 3-pointers of the night, Anderson went on to miss his next five. But his value far exceeds his offensive ability. He crashes the boards, even had a pair of steals Sunday night. He's been extraordinary before, and during, Anthony Davis' absence. Anderson had a team-high 26 points on 10 of 21 shooting.
- Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: On Friday in San Antonio, Spurs guards Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili attacked the basket with impunity and produced a fourth-quarter comeback victory over the Timberwolves. On Sunday, Memphis point guard Mike Conley did the same, scoring 28 points and willing his team back from a 19-point second-quarter deficit using drives that again exposed both the Wolves’ perimeter defense and lack of a shot blocker. This time, the Wolves persevered and won in Memphis for the first time in nearly five years. But coach Rick Adelman said he knows opponents watch game footage and note his team’s weakness. “We’re not really challenging people at all, and we have to get better at it,” Adelman said. “We’ve talked about it all year long. It has been more evident the last three weeks. We’ve played some very good teams, but we still have to do a better job defending people, and we’re just not doing it. Either you challenge shots at the basket or you get outside the arc and take some charges. That’s the way you can protect the rim. We’re not doing either one.” The Wolves’ only real shot blocker sits on the bench nightly because Adelman deems rookie Gorgui Dieng not ready to play important minutes yet. “It’s one of those things,” Adelman said.
- Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: A pair of explosive backcourts faced off Sunday night with Golden State and Phoenix, but the Warriors’ dynamite is in Stephen Curry’s and Klay Thompson’s 3-point shooting while the Suns launch cannonballs with the speed of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic in penetration and transition. Bledsoe and Dragic entered Sunday averaging 11.1 points per game combined on just drives with Bledsoe ranking fourth in the NBA at 6.2 points per game off drives. Bledsoe makes 60 percent of his shots off of drives while Dragic makes 44 percent. “When a team really focuses on one guy, you can give it to the other guy and play off the ball," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “A lot of times, teams’ schemes are when a guy is handling the ball. It’s easier to make one or two passes and get it back to that guy, there are no schemes for that and that’s where we have the advantage." Bledsoe and Dragic both had made at least 49 percent of their shots this season, getting the biggest chunks of their points off of pull-up jumpers. Bledsoe gets 7.5 pull-up points per game while Dragic averages 6.7.
- Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: It has become redundant. And, such redundancy has provided the ultimate frustration for the Warriors. "We are not playing 48 minutes with a sense of urgency, and that's the disappointing part," head coach Mark Jackson said Sunday night after his team's 106-102 loss to the Suns. "We came in talking about having to be the hardest-working team, and we did not do that. I'm disappointed, and we've got to find answers. I'm finding it that the guys in the suits and ties want it more than the guys in uniform." Playing against surprising Phoenix (14-9) at the US Airways Center, the Warriors (13-12) repeated the same mistakes that have led them into a spiral of losing nine of their past 14 games. They got off to another terrible start, falling behind by 13 points before halftime, and needed a public scolding just to inspire enough effort to make it a game. For the eighth time in the past 14 games, the Warriors coughed up at least 18 turnovers - many of the unforced, careless variety. They couldn't summon the energy needed to challenge three-point shooters and allowed an eighth opponent to make at least 40 percent of its long-range shots in the past 14 games.