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NBA AM: Are The Thunder Contenders?
Posted By Steve Kyler On January 13, 2012 @ 9:23 am In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
Thunder Trying Not To Look Ahead: Last year the Miami HEAT celebrated like NBA champions before they even played their first game together. The hubris displayed by the HEAT made them the villains of the NBA and made their eventual road to the NBA Finals harder than necessary.
The Oklahoma City Thunder won’t fall for that mistake. The overall message around the team that is sitting at 10-2 and has the best record in the NBA is “one game at a time.”
The Thunder have the benefit of having virtually the same core of guys. They have had no changes in the system or style of play, so while other teams in the NBA are still figuring out each other, the Thunder have been trucking through teams.
“We’re such a tight group,” Thunder star Kevin Durant told HOOPSWORLD. “We got together during the lockout a few times. I think with us coming together [after the lockout] at such a late time, everybody was still on point with each other. Chemistry was still there no matter what. So I think what’s happening is something that is just a testament to everybody working hard every single day. Coming in, in shape and having a good training camp.”
The Thunder’s early success has been more about the guys around Durant stepping up and that’s been the key to the Thunder’s run.
Kendrick Perkins shed 25 pounds in the off-season and is as healthy as he’s been in years. Russell Westbrook has improved his outside touch. James Harden has cemented himself as the front runner for the NBA’s sixth man of the year award.
“Everybody works hard here so you wouldn’t expect anything less from them,” explained Durant. “Perkins is doing well, expanding his game. Russ you know what he does every single night. James is expanding his game so everybody’s just getting better and I think once we put that together we’ll be a decent team.”
The ever-humble Durant refuses to admit that his team has graduated into that elite Western Conference crowd despite their record.
“[Getting to the Finals], that’s everybody’s goal,” admitted Durant. “But it’s something we’re not going to really talk about. We just want to take it a day at a time, to be honest. “
“Of course it’s in the back of everybody’s mind in this locker room it should be in the back of every players’ mind in this league. I know here with us we’re just trying to reach as far as we can and work as hard as we can and we’ll see what happens at the end of the year.”
Durant is averaging 25.7 points per game, which is good enough for third best in the NBA, and while his team needs him to lead the way in scoring, Durant also recognizes that he needs to contribute more than just points for his team to win, especially in the post-season.
“Scoring titles all that stuff it was cool,” admits Durant. “But being more of a complete player; rebounding, defending, passing, scoring, everything. I just try to do it all. I got a ways to go but I just got to keep working hopefully I get better as the season goes along.”
“I just continue to be myself. Just lead by example. Always come in working hard being a great teammate. I think this year I’m doing a better job of controlling the game as far as not always scoring the basketball. I think I’m helping my team out in different ways then just scoring. Just be myself that’s all I can be.”
Right now, all Durant can be makes his team the best in the NBA and if the Thunder can stay healthy, they will be hosting Playoff games in Oklahoma City and that Thunder crowd is good for at least one extra win in the post-season.
Horford Down, Is A Trade Next: As Eric Pincus covered in the NBA PM yesterday, the Atlanta Hawks have lost center/forward Al Horford for what looks to be 3 to 4 months with a torn pectoral muscle.
Horford will undergo surgery to repair the tear, and there is hope that Horford could return to the Hawks if they make the playoffs.
“It’s disappointing news,” Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. said to Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution . “Al is a big part of our success. Hopefully he will be back by the playoffs. The tough part is we have been playing hard and playing well. We will have to try to get through it. We’re a veteran team and we have to find a way.”
The Hawks are said to be open to making a trade for a reserve big man, someone who can serve as a stopgap until Horford can rejoin the team and are believed to be willing to part with Kirk Hinrich and his ending contract in order to make a deal.
Hawks’ general manager Rick Sund told reporters last night that even signing a replacement player from the free agent pool is under consideration, pointing out that his team would get together over the next couple of days and figure out a plan.
“We’ll sit down the next three of four days and talk it over to see if there’s anything we want to do,” Sund said. “Do we want to go with the status quo, or how do we want to do it.”
As things sit right now the Hawks have their toes into the NBA’s luxury tax, so doing a deal to replace Horford and shed a few dollars seems likely.
Kirk Hinrich is scheduled to make $8.1 million this season, and the size of his contract could return a reasonable player.
Keep in mind the Hawks want a real asset in return for Hinrich, so they won’t be liquidating him just to move him.
While Hinrich seems to be the chip the Hawks plan to cash, lumping in Marvin Williams into a transaction to get an even higher dollar player is possible.
With Horford out of the picture for at least the balance of the regular season, expect the Hawks to be aggressive in the next couple of days.
Still Trying To Move Mayo?: Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting via Twitter that the Memphis Grizzlies are again talking trades involving OJ Mayo, this time with Mayo headed to New Jersey in a deal centered around Anthony Morrow.
Wojnarowski concedes that the talks have lost steam, but it again seems clear the Grizzlies are trying to move Mayo after failing to complete a deal with the Pacers at the trade deadline last season.
The Grizzlies tried to re-create that deal during training camp only to have it fall through again.
The Grizzlies say they are not shopping Mayo, but it’s becoming clear that OJ’s days in Memphis are numbered. The question is where will Mayo land?
The NBA Trade deadline is March 15th this year because of the shortened NBA season, so there are 62 until the trade deadline.
The Knicks Are Beat Up: The Knicks are still on the right side of the .500 mark, despite their loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, but it has come at a cost. Virtually every Knick starter has some kind of ailment, with Knicks scoring leader Carmelo Anthony the latest to be banged up, spraining his right wrist and ankle during the game.
“I’m beat up,” Anthony said to Mark Herrmann of Newsday. “I want to see how I feel by Saturday. I’m not going to force it. If my ankle is not right by Saturday, then I’ll be looking at Monday. I’m working around the clock, trying to get back. I don’t want to take too much time off, but I want to be healthy at the same time.”
“I’ve been getting beat up for nine years already,” Anthony said, “so I’m not worried about getting beat up. I’m going to get through it. I’m living. I’m walking. I’m smiling. I’m hurt, but I’ll be all right.”
“Right now I’m real sore. I’m more concerned with getting my ankle right. I can deal with my wrist. I can wrap the wrist and play through that. A sore ankle is a bit more deal with.”
The Knicks are currently 1 and ½ games back from the Philadelphia 76ers for the best record in the Atlantic, but are sitting in the 7th spot in the East.
The Knicks face the red-hot Thunder in Oklahoma City on Saturday before hosting the Orlando Magic at home on Monday.
If Anthony is a scratch for either game, the Knicks could conceivably drop both games, which would knock them back below .500.
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