Loud Links: 12|14|09

Nuggets experiment by cutting back on shootarounds - The Denver Post
[So the Nuggets decide to experiment a bit before playing OKC. Let's hope their experiment fails. Sounds like Denver doesn't have the gym-rat mentality of OKC.] Morning shootarounds are becoming an endangered species in the NBA, and now the Nuggets are the latest team to tinker with cutting them back.

The Nuggets' practice Sunday served as their shootaround for tonight's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Denver coach George Karl, who was against the trend of not having traditional shootarounds, is now rethinking that philosophy. Sleep studies have been all the rage in the NBA this season, and they are showing that players and coaches aren't getting enough of it. The result is low energy levels for players on the court and decreased focus for everyone.

A reduction in shootarounds, thereby allowing players and coaches to sleep in longer on game days, has been the quick-fix answer for some teams. Karl hopes he will see increased focus and intensity out of his team. "I think we're listening to some needs of players and philosophies of some other teams, trying to get more focus and seriousness into the moments that we're together," Karl said. "Shootarounds seem to be very tedious and nonenthusiastic situations. "There's a lot of different philosophies out there. Some teams have totally gone away from shootarounds, some very good teams. We have a lot of every-other-day games. I think we have an opportunity over the next four or five games to experiment a little bit."

Daily Dime - ESPN
Also, it is not a given that your best player is the leader of the team, but Durant has distinguished himself as the leader of that group. He has stepped up into that role. He has the respect of his coaches and the other 14 guys in the locker room. The main thing he needs to do is learn how to compete on every play on both ends of the court. When your offense is going well, everybody is willing to get into their defensive stance and play hard to stop their opponent. But when you are not making shots, your defense and energy suffer. Becoming an above-average defender is the next step Durant has to take as he climbs the ladder of superstardom.

I appreciate what the Thunder have done as far as building a team through the draft. They have four players who can really play. That is why they are in position, as a young team, to be as exciting as it gets. I refer to Durant, Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green and James Harden as the "Core Four." Westbrook is a combo guard who can shoot and handle; like a lot of young guys, he needs to tighten up his decision-making. Green can switch out and guard four different positions. He is strong and tough and doesn't need the ball to be effective. And Harden is a silky smooth lefty. He is crafty, and he can knock down the 3 or slash and get to the basket.

If the Thunder can get a Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire-type player, they will be contenders in the West. They need a power forward who can draw double-teams, defend the post and rebound his position.

Hardwood Paroxysm " Blog Archive " Lion Face/Lemon Face 12.14.09: The Rudolph Harrison Gay Edition
He’s [LeBron] a damn freight train. I mean, he’s a FREAKING FREIGHT TRAIN when he wants to be. I understand that everyone is high on Oklahoma City. And even more people are high on Kevin Durant. He’s the hot new girl in school that everyone wants to be the first to kiss. But we’re forgetting this buxom fellow in Cleveland who likes to put on his little black dress every once in a while to remind us all that he still has the goods. LBJ pounced on the Thunder with 44 points (16/29 shooting!), seven rebounds, six assists, five threes, four steals and the W. He more than trumped Kevin Durant’s 29-point effort. Choo-choo. Choo-choo, baby.

Recap: Cavs 102, Thunder 89 (Or, The Time The Cavs Found A Win Far Beyond The Arc) " Cavs: The Blog
Durant is just so pretty. That little move where Z was keeping him from turning the corner, so he cut back to the middle of the lane and drained the little pull-up? That’s a work of art right there. Durant’s going to get his points, especially when his jumper’s falling, but the Cavs did a great job making sure he didn’t get his teammates involved. Durant recorded 2 assists and 7 turnovers, and actually finished with a game-low -17 despite working his perimeter game very nicely.

Jeff Green appears to have turned that corner. He used to be a guy whose versatility allowed him to get away with not being all that efficient, but now he’s being aggressive and looking to make decisive moves and high-percentage shots wherever he gets the ball, which is the point of the whole endeavor.

What this team needs is a playmaker who can be consistent. Westbrook has all the talent in the world and will be a very solid player in this league for a long time, but he can’t be counted on to be the primary playmaker night in and night out, and Harden isn’t ready to fill that gap yet. If he can come into his own and balance out what Westbrook brings in the backcourt, the Thunder are going to flat-out start humming offensively.

SLAM ONLINE | " Game Notes: Thunder at Grizzlies
[Slam had a nice recap of the Memphis game.] Serge Ibaka, OKC’s 20-year-old from Democratic Republic of the Congo, has the makings of an elite defender. He’s 6-10, wiry and gets very low in his defensive stance. He consistently got his hand right into the face of Rudy Gay or Zach Randolph. Because of his quickness, he was able to body up on Randolph and stifle his jumper, which the slower-footed Kristic wasn’t able to do.

Thunder’s hot start is no fluke | NewsOK.com
"They’re a totally different ballclub," said Cavs guard Mo Williams. "Those young guys are growing up...It’s no secret why they’re winning games right now." When ESPN.com published its playoff odds last week, the Thunder was projected to win 48 games and land the fifth seed in the playoffs. The projection also gave Oklahoma City a 23.3 percent chance of winning the Northwest division. That forecast, however lofty, doesn’t seem so farfetched now that the Thunder is challenging the league’s best. If the Thunder turns a few of these close-call losses into big-time wins, it could mean a playoff appearance this season. While a postseason party still hasn’t quite shifted from laughable to likely, the growing body of evidence proves the Thunder is close to something special.

Five Questions With Tim Legler | Thunder Rumblings
DM: What are your impressions of the Thunder’s start. Through 21 games the team is a surprising 12-9.

TL: I’ve been extremely impressed. Going back to the preseason when I wrote up my preseason previews for the league, I had them right on the fringe of making the playoffs in the Western Conference. I said if everything broke right and they stayed healthy and got maybe a couple of contributions from some guys that they expected I expected them to be able to fight for the last one or two spots in the conference. So they haven’t really surprised me because I expected them to be this good. They may be getting there a little bit quicker. But they’re a team that’s got everything that you want.

They’ve got a dominant go-to offensive machine in Kevin Durant. They’ve got the guy that I picked to be my breakout player of the year in Russell Westbrook at the point who is a future All-Star and a triple-double threat every night. Once he figures out that he can be, he’s a triple-double threat every night. Then you’ve got James Harden, who’s a perfect sixth man for that team. You’ve got offense off the bench. And then Jeff Green, who’s Mr. Consistency, Mr. Solid. So around those four guys you’ve got a little bit of everything you need to compete. And I’ve been extremely impressed with them. It’s great for the league.

I said the other day during a piece when asked to pick any player in the league, take him off the team he’s on and put him on any other team who would you pick for a Christmas wish list? And I said I would take Chris Bosh off the Raptors as a free agent and I would put him on Oklahoma City next year and you would have a team that could contend in the Western Conference every night. If they had a power forward that could help up front with more scoring in the paint and help them on the boards and help them match up better with other teams, that’s the only thing right now that they lack. A little bit of size and athleticism up front. They will be the next buzz team in the Western Conference, the team that’s going to be thrown into the mix over the next couple of years. And it’s good for the league because we need some new blood up there. We’re tired of talking about, as analysts, the same five or six teams all the time. It’s nice to see another team break through at that level, and Oklahoma City is that team. They’re the ones that will make that journey and get up to the top shelf over the next couple of seasons. It’s going to be fun to watch.

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