Oklahoma fans it was a forgone conclusion. In fact, throughout the NCAA tournament, anytime Buddy Hield’s name was mentioned, it seemed to always be accompanied with future the Player of the Year winner.’
So when it was announced Thursday afternoon that Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine had edged out Hield for the AP Player of the Year, it caught the Sooner nation off-guard. Even though it was only May 31, some thought April Fools Day had started one day early.
While Valentine is an impressive player and had an outstanding season, the number’s do not exactly match up with Hield.
Valentine averaged 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Spartans and shot 44 percent from 3-point range.
Hield posted 26 points, six boards and just over two assists in his final season at Oklahoma.
For those AP voters who may have waited until the last possible moment to hand in their votes, they saw Valentine and Michigan State get upset in the first round of the NCAA tourney while Hield has seemingly only gotten better during March Madness. His worst game was a 17 point, 10 rebound effort during a blowout of Texas A&M. He is averaging 29 points, shooting 57 percent from the field and 48 percent from behind the 3-point arc in six tournament games to lead his team to the Final Four in Houston.
Despite what the numbers may say, the voters did have a tough choice in their estimation between the two unanimous selections to the AP All-America team. Valentine beat out Hield by only three votes for the award.
While Hield came up short for the AP award, he has not gone empty handed during award season. He was recently named the CBS Sports National Player of the Year Award. He, along with Valentine, are finalists for the prestigious John R. Wooden Award, which will be announced April 8.
However, more than likely, the only hardware Hield is concentrating on is the one that will be given out Monday to the national champion. If he hoist that up in the air, it should more than make up for any slights he may feel now.
Russell Westbrook has been on a triple-double tear before. Just last year he had a span of triple doubles that had the league standing up and taking notice of his talents.
But that seemed to just be a precursor for what the all-star point guard was planning for this season.
Monday night Westbrook racked up his 16th triple double of the season during an 119-110 victory over the Toronto Raptors, the second best team in the Eastern Conference. His 26 points, 11 assists and 12 rebounds tied him with Fat Lever for the most triple doubles in a season during the last 30 years.
Westbrook heads into Tuesday night’s contest with the Detroit Pistons needing only one more triple double to tie Magic Johnson for the most in a season in the last three decades. According to Elias Sports Bureau and ESPN Stats & Info, Westbrook tied Michael Jordan as the only player in league history to rack up seven triple-doubles in a month.Westbrook has two more games this month to break that record.
Westbrook won’t admit to make any concerted effort to get triples doubles, yet he does recognize the rarefied air he is approaching when he joins any conversation that includes Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan.
Coach Billy Donovan says Westbrook is just doing whatever his team needs of him.
“I think Russell says this all the time, he’s going to try and do what the team needs and the game needs,” Billy Donovan said Saturday after the Thunder beat San Antonio. “I thought his energy tonight lifted our team.”
Westbrook’s 16th triple double also pushed Oklahoma City’s record to 16-0 when he hits those marks. However, he doesn’t known if there is a correlation between the two.
“I’m not sure man, I am just trying to find the right way to play,” Westbrook said after his 15th triple double. “A lot of those games are big games for us to just come out with the win.”
Even though Westbrook has been getting triple-doubles, they seem to be having a bigger impact during the Thunder’s current win streak. The victory over Toronto pushed it to eight straight games in the win column.
“The only thing I would say about that, is that it shows Russ’s ability night in and night out to bring incredible energy and passion because you have to have energy to go rebound the basketball, you have to have energy to put the ball in the basket,” Donovan said. “You have to have energy to get guys shots. I think it’s attributed to his efficiency and the way he has played this year. I think he has been very productive and effective where he has not had to take a high volume of shots.”
OKLAHOMA CITY – The game was on the schedule so it had to be played. But there was very little either the Oklahoma City Thunder or San Antonio Spurs got out of their Saturday night matchup at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Playing a Spurs team missing its five best players, the Thunder won 111-92 in a disjointed and low-energy contest. That is except for Russell Westbrook, who was in attack mode much of the night
“We were just playing our game,” Russell Westbrook said. “Defensively, I thought we did a great job defensively for 48 minutes and we came away with the win.”
Westbrook posted 29 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds. Kevin Durant led all scorers with 31 points on 13 of 20 shooting. It was his 58th consecutive game in which he has scored at least 20 points. He also collected 10 rebounds and five turnovers. Serge Ibaka added 15 points and eight boards.
“Another opportunity to keep growing and improve on our habits,” Durant said. “It wasn’t on us that they didn’t play their starters, so we just have to continue to play our game and stick to what we do.”
San Antonio was without Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli. That left David West and Kevin Martin to lead the Spurs with 17 points each.
“Well, you know in the NBA. They did what they were supposed to do in the end they kicked our butt,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “We hung in there really well, and did a good job. You learn from everything whether you win, lose, it doesn’t matter. We had a lot of young guys get some time and found out some other things about certain players and certain situations, and that’s what you try to do. So we will take all the positives from it.”
Basically the game went as scripted. The undermanned Spurs kept the game close for the entire first half. Even had a lead for a significant part of it.
But Westbrook led a third quarter charge and the Thunder blew out the game.
“He does that. He had a couple of great drives, some steals; he got out on transition and did a really nice job finding guys,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said of Westbrook. “Certainly he shot the ball at a highly efficient level, tonight. I thought he all around played a really, really good game tonight and played exceptionally well… I thought his offense kind of answered and stopped some runs and as you mentioned that second and third quarter he really played well.”
Oklahoma City has now won seven straight games and held its fourth opponent in that span under 100 points.
“I thought as the game wore on we got progressively better. In the first half, at least in the first quarter, I thought we gave up six offensive rebounds,” Donovan said. “I think we had five or six turnovers in that first quarter. I thought our first-shot defense was pretty good. I thought for the most part in the game we defended pretty well. I think we continue to evolve and get better on the offensive end of the floor. You know, it was a hard game but I think there were some areas of improvement that we continue to show. I think we can hopefully learn and get better from this game.”
OKLAHOMA CITY —When facing the San Antonio Spurs, you never know what you may get. Despite having the second best record in the NBA, they have a coach in Gregg Popovich doesn’t always follow conventional wisdom when it comes to his team.
Popovich is known to sit one or two of his elder statesmen seemingly to get them rest during the regular season. It doesn’t matter if the game is nationally televised or against a top tier opponent, the Spurs do things their own way.
So when Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant was first told at shoot-around Saturday morning that the Spurs would be without five key players for their matchup tonight, he didn’t bat an eye.
“That’s a classic Pop move,” Durant said.
According to multiple reports, the Spurs will be without Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Manu Ginobli when the Spurs and Thunder tip-off at 7 p.m. at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
San Antonio (61-24) is coming off an 110-104 win over the Memphis Grizzlies Friday night. Parker (33 minutes), Duncan (31), Ginobli (24) and Aldridge (33) all played. Leonard (right quad contusion) sat out.
With only 10 games left in the regular season, a move like this was not unexpected.
However, the Thunder (50-22) are at a point where they can’t worry about what other teams are doing. Riding a six game winning streak, they may finally be finding their own comfort zone as the postseason approaches.
“We still have to get better,” Durant said. “It’s an opportunity for us to get better on the court. This team (Spurs) is still the same team. I know they’re missing all their best players, but they still run the same stuff and they still run their stuff with pace and still have shooters out there. They are a deep team so we have to be prepared.”
Even without their big 5, the Spurs have proven they can still beat many teams. The reserves on their bench would have made a formidable starting lineup five years ago. But now, they have the capability to beat Oklahoma City if the Thunder overlook them.
“They have a deep team,” Durant said of Spurs. “All those guys can start. Kevin Martin and David West. Jonathan Simmons is playing well this year.”
Durant said don’t expect to see him taking any games off to rest during the last nine games of the regular season. He said he had enough rest last year and at the start of this season.”
Different dunking styles
Durant was asked to describe the difference in the way he dunks compared to teammate Russell Westbrook.
“He is a little loud with is and I like to keep it quiet I guess,” Durant said. “I compared it to a home invasion and Russ is like a home invasion. Russ is turning on all the lights on and let you know he took your stuff. And I just take it while you sleep and leave.”
OKLAHOMA CITY – Kevin Durant strolled down the red carpet with confidence March 20. With his mother, Wanda Pratt, on his arm and dressed in a gray suit and black leather shoes, Durant looked all business.
It wasn’t the look he has when draining game-winning 3-pointers or after making a blocked shot in crunch time for the Oklahoma City Thunder. No, the look Durant had that day was that of a man who understands the power he wields and is looking to make a difference in the city he lives and works.
“It’s home,” Durant said of Oklahoma City. “I’ve always felt that this place meant so much to me. It has a special place in my heart and my families heart as well. We just want to do our justice by giving to those who are less fortunate. That’s how I was raised. It’s what my mom taught, my grandmother taught me. I’ve been blessed with so much I want to give blessings to someone else.”
Durant was hosting a fundraiser at his restaurant, KDs, for the Kevin Durant Charity Foundation (KDCF). It was the first time he has held such an event since founding the charity.
“It started off with wanting to help underprivileged kids, giving them an opportunity,” Durant said. “I want to inspire. that’s my whole mindset. Continue to inspire kids. Let them know it’s a goal they can reach. It is attainable. My mom taught me to dream big. I want to give that same feeling back to other kids.”
According to Kevindurant.com, the mission of the KDCF ‘is to enrich the lives of at-risk youth from low-income backgrounds through educational, athletic and social programs. … make a more expansive, profound, and lasting impact in the areas of youth development, health and wellness, fitness, and youth homelessness.”
All proceeds from the fundraiser went to the center piece of the KDCF, the Build it and They Will Ball courts renovation initiative. Starting in 2015, Durant has gone to different parts of Oklahoma City and surrounding communities to build or refurbish basketball courts in low income neighborhoods or schools.
Thunder General Manager Sam Presti has watched Durant grow from a teenager straight out of the University Texas to an emerging global star. But he says Durant’s most important work will can take place in his own backyard.
“As much as he has evolved as a player, I think it’s been probably more rewarding to see his evolution as a person, also now as a civic leader and ambassador of the state,” Presti said. “I think the most impressive thing to me is he really embraces the platform of being able to inspire others. And embraces the platform he has to reach people on a real human level. Given the close knight community that he plays in and that he’s part of.”
Several members of the Thunder, its coaching staff and management were on hand for the fundraiser.
“It’s good,” Westbrook said. “Not for me, but more for him. To show support for him and show we care about things he’s trying to do. Which are important.”
Many of the Thunder have their own charity organizations outside of what they do with the team. And they make it a point to try and be part of whatever their teammates have going on. That is especially true for Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.
“it’s huge. We grind and do our thing on the court. To have that support, no matter what I do, it makes it stronger. We are stronger as a group than we are as individuals. That’s how I feel about my teammates.”
It was also evident how Pratt felt about her son. Watching Durant talk about giving back to the community and to those in need was a proud moment for her.
“It’s a huge blessing for my family and myself to see my son carrying on our family legacy and giving back and inspiring kids to dream, to hope and to achieve,” Pratt said. “That’s one of the things I’m most proud of and I’m glad to share this moment with him.”
“It can have a huge impact,” Durant said of the KDCF. “The Thunder do such a great job with community appearances. We touch the people. We don’t just say we want to do things. We actually go out in the community and do them. To have that opportunity on my own, I feel real passionate about it. It’s been great so far this year. I look forward to doing more and more.”
OKLAHOMA CITY — Playing championship caliber defense has not been a part of Oklahoma City’s resume this season. Despite having the third best record in the Western conference, they have suffered through more fourth quarter defensive breakdowns than almost any other team in the NBA.
But Tuesday, with the Houston Rockets in town, the Thunder had one stretch of defensive basketball that could could be called championship level and it led them to an 111-107 victory at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“I think we did a tremendous job as a team,” Oklahoma City’s Dion Waiters said. “As a team we really locked in and we made it tough on them.”
Kevin Durant scored 23 points and Russell Westbrook collected his 15th triple-double of the season for Oklahoma City.Durant, who shot 8-for-19 from the field, grabbed seven rebounds and handed out four assists. Westbrook tallied 21 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds for his third straight triple-double and sixth in past nine games.
Oklahoma City (49-22) earned its fifth win in a row. Oklahoma City is undefeated this year when Westbrook has a triple double.
“I am just trying to find the right way to play,” Westbrook said. “A lot of those games are big games for us. I just play my game. The game will tell you what to do.”
James Harden paced the Rockets with 24 points on 7-of-17 shooting, and he added 16 assists. Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley each scored 16 for Houston (35-36). Howard finished with a team-high 13 rebounds.
Harden was a game-time decision on whether he would play or not. But the leagues second leading scorer said he had to play, regardless of any pain he might be in.
“I had to be out there,” Harden said. “For us every game counts. I had to put my individual, whatever I’ve got going on, to the side, and just try and go out there and get the win.”
Westbrook completed a three-point play with 6:50 left in the fourth quarter to give Oklahoma City a 92-90 advantage. He made a free throw on the next trip to put the Thunder up by three.
Minutes later, a Westbrook jumper gave the Thunder a three-point advantage, but Harden knocked down a pair of free throws to cut Houston’s deficit to 97-96 with 3:44 left.
After a Durant miss, Beverley drained a 3-pointer from in front of the Thunder bench to push the Rockets in front 99-97. However, Steven Adams quickly tied it up on a dunk.
The Thunder then forced a turnover that led to a Westbrook one-man fastbreak in which he skied for a tomahawk dunk. Another defensive stop was turned into a Westbrook jumper and a four-point advantage.
Harden hit two free throws before Durant popped in a fadeaway jumper.
Leading by four, the Thunder came up with a series of defensive stops to get the ball back. Durant was fouled and he hit one of two from the line with 28.9 seconds to go.
Jason Terry and Harden hit back to back 3-pointers to get Rockets to within one point with 11.8 seconds left. Oklahoma City forward Serge Ibaka made just one of two from the line, leaving the door open for Houston.
Harden got the ball at the top of the key and was quickly doubled teamed by Durant and Adams. He attempted to throw an alley-oop to Howard, but Waiters leaped high enough to deflect the pass and save the game.
“Dion Waiters did a heck of a job, coming in the from the corner, putting his body on Dwight and interfering with the pass,” Houston interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “It was the right read by both our guys offensively. But it was a heck of a defensive play by Waiters to deflect the ball.”
Before the game began, Bickerstaff talked about how his team was made for physical games and that it wouldn’t back down from any squad.
That was evident in the first quarter when the Rockets attacked the glass against the No. 1 rebounding team in the league, and Houston jumped out to a 27-18 lead.
However, with just over two minutes left in the period, Oklahoma City went on a 23-8 run that spread over into the second quarter. It was keyed by Durant and Waiters.
Harden settled the Rockets back down on offense and led them to a one-point halftime advantage.
Waiters continued to take advantage of the Rockets’ defense in the third quarter. In just the fifth game back since the death of his younger brother, the reserve guard broke out of a slump that had lasted since the All-Star break, scoring 17 points in 25 minutes Tuesday.
“My brother is on my mind every day,” Waiters said. “I’m not going to get over it for a while. I have to take it day by day and just try get over. But I’m not ever going to get over it. It’s family.”