Former OKC coach returns to town leading struggling Wizards

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — At the end of Monday night’s victory over the New York Knicks, Russell Westbrook was visibly exhausted.
He was so tired, he took a seat on the bench to do his postgame interview before lumbering back to the locker room.
The reason for the lack of energy was that he had just compiled another triple-double to his growing resume. With 27 points, 18 rebounds and 14 assists, he led the Thunder in all three categories.
“His rebounding, his loose ball plays, when he does that it sends an unbelievable message to our team the way he fights and competes,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “It’s historic what he’s doing, but there’s also another side of it too, that he’s a pretty complete point guard all the way around.”
The numbers Westbrook are putting up on his triple-double binge are getting into the obscenely great. He is averaging double figures in points (30.9), assists (11.3) and rebounds (10.3). The only other player to average double-figure numbers in all three categories this late into the season was Oscar Robertson.
Heading into Wednesday’s game with the Washington Wizards, Westbrook has eight triple-doubles on the season and 45 for his career. If Westbrook gets another triple-double Wednesday, that will be three in a row.
Yet, there is only one stat category that Westbrook will talk about when he’s asked about his run on triple-doubles. That is wins and losses.
After going through a recent losing streak, the Thunder (11-8) won their last three games.
“Winning is sustainable,” Westbrook said told ESPN.com. “My job is to go out and find the best way to win games. Right now, we won three straight, and that is the most important to me.”
Like Westbrook, Washington’s John Wall is also coming into the game after posting a triple-double — albeit a different one — Monday night. In a 101-95 overtime victory over the Sacramento Kings, Wall tallied 19 points, 11 assists, 11 turnovers and eight rebounds.
While Wall’s hands will be full trying to slow down Westbrook, the focus of the Oklahoma City fans will be on Wall’s coach, Scott Brooks.
Brooks makes his first return to Oklahoma City since being fired at the end of the 2014-15 season.
Yet, that hasn’t taken away the excitement Brooks said he has for seeing members of the Thunder organization.
“We had a great run. Unfortunately it ended for me but that’s the business we’re in. I have a lot of respect for the organization,” Brooks told The Washington Post. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for the players that I coached. I still communicate with all of them. Even now that I’m back in the NBA I’m thankful for the job that I have now but it also brings back a lot of memories.”
However, his first season with the Wizards, it is not going as he had hoped. Washington is 6-10 and in third place in the Southeast Division

Tyrese sells out two shows in Norman

 

By Michael Kinney

The Riverwind Casino, hosted a special show over the weekend. Tyrese occupied the main show room the Showplace Center on back to back sold out nights.

It was the first time for the multi-talented artists to appear in Oklahoma. But that didn’t stop the fans of all ages from coming out to enjoy the Black Rose Tour.

Named after his latest album, the tour isn’t one that his hitting every major city across the nation. Oklahoma was one of only a few select dates Tyrese (Baby Boy, Transformers, Fast & Furious franchise) has visited in 2016.

With his acting career in high gear, the California native doesn’t have as much time to dedicate to his musical pursuits. However, it would be impossible to tell by the shows he put on at the Riverwind.

Friday, the show was scheduled to start at 8 p.m. But, because of a very late arriving crowd, Tyrese didn’t touch the stage until 9:30 p.m.

Despite that, Tyrese came out and jumped right into the show, after a brief sound check that needed to be done because he missed it earlier in the day.

Before he got into his own material, Tyrese went through a collection of R&B songs to test the knowledge of his audience. He and his band would start the song, then the fans were encouraged to sing along. Oklahomans represented themselves very well and knew each song that was played. Several of the selected cuts came from R&B acts of the 1990s.

That is when Tyrese started to go through some of his better known songs from his albums. Dressed in all black leather and red lights shining down on the stage, he went through several tunes that included “Signs of Love Making,” “Sweet Lady” and “Lately.”

Early on into the show, Tyrese told the security to leave his fans alone of they got close to the stage. He then told the ladies to come on down. That was all they needed to hear as they rushed to surround the state. Even as he threw roses into the throng of women near the stage, it didn’t turn into a riot.

After a quick outfit change into, Tyrese continued his performance. Songs from his Black Rose album and his older material were featured. He closed out the night with his biggest song to date, “Shame.”

The concert lasted only around an hour and 15 minutes. Considering how long we ad to wait, and how many songs he has in his catalog, it was a little short. A full two hours would have served nicely.

Despite that, the show was very interactive as he encouraged his fans on many occasions to sing along with him so he could post the videos on his social media sites. The fans obliged with singing and slow dancing in the aisles.

Tyrese didn’t skimp on the energy and stayed involved with the crowd. All in all, it was a short, but very entertaining show.

Story appeared in The Newcastle Pacer

Top to bottom, Thunder take apart Pistons

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – Stan Van Gundy isn’t one to mince words. The Detroit has no problem giving honest appraisals about almost any topic that is put to him.

But Van Gundy saves some of his most biting and frank comments about his team whenever they play below his expectations. That was the case Saturday when the Pistons travels to Oklahoma City.

Behind Russell Westbrook’s seventh triple double of the season the Thunder defeated the Pistons 106-88 at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Van Gundy didn’t hold back on his assessment of his team’s performance.

Our defense was pathetic,” Van Gundy said. “Pathetic. We didn’t compete. It’s mind boggling with how different we are home and on the road. We didn’t take care of any of the areas we were supposed to focus on. We made very little effort and Oklahoma City played a whole lot harder than us and deserved to win.”

Westbrook posted 17 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds to earn consecutive triple-doubles on back-to-back nights. It was also his 44th career triple-double, which ties him with Cleveland’s LeBron James. However, it took Westbrook 395 fewer games.

He’s a Hall of Fame player,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said of Westbrook. “I mean that’s really what he I. He’s a Hall of Fame player.”

The Thunder had five players score in double figures. Anthony Morrow came off the Thunder bench to lead the charge. He poured in a season-high 21 points on 8 of 12 shooting. Steven Adams added 16 points and nine rebounds. Victor Oladipo scored 18 on only 10 shots as Oklahoma City improved to 10-8.

Tobias Harris led the Pistons with 21 points on 8 of 18 shooting. Ish Smith, who once played for the Thunder, posted 14 points and three assists. As a team, the Pistons collected only 11 assists, which was less than Westbrook by himself.

Detroit dropped to 8-10 overall. But what had the players and staff most perplexed is there 1-8 record on the road.

For everybody, including myself, that goes out there on the floor, we have a job to do,” Harris said. “It’s all about team winning. It comes down to all of us being more focused, more drive to grind it out and get a win. That’s what it comes down to. We’ve proven we can do it at home. So it’s going to take that attitude at home to take it on the road and get a win.”

It was the combination of Westbrook and Morrow who helped the Thunder get off to a fast start against the Pistons. While Westbrook attacked the basket and pulled down rebounds, Morrow finally started to find his shot. After shooting 40 percent on the season, Morrow came off the bench and hit 3 of his first 5 shots.

I love coming into the game and getting a layup or a free throw or a floater,” Morrow said. “It’s something I usually want to do before taking a 28-foot 3-pointer. Billy said he was going to use me on the some post ups so I was just ready for it before the game.”

But it was an entire team effort that allowed Oklahoma City to build its lead up to 18 points in the first half. Eight of the 10 players who touched the court scored.

However, the Pistons whittled away at the lead late in the second quarter. Morris, Harris and Aron Baynes led a charge to cut the deficit to 10 by halftime.

Oklahoma City didn’t help itself by barely shooting over 50 percent from the free throw line. This allowed the Pistons to get within four points in the third quarter.

But a late surge by Morrow pushed the Thunder advantage back to 77-68 heading into the fourth.

The Thunder didn’t allow the game to get any closer. The players took turns scoring at will against the Detroit defense.

At one point, Westbrook shook Caldwell-Pope on his way to a layup, and laughed as he ran back up court.

Oklahoma City outscored Detroit 29-20 in the fourth quarter to close out the game.

“”They are good, but we just didn’t do our jobs,” Van Gundy said. “We didn’t make them make the plays we even wanted them to make. We didn’t do our jobs guys. Guys just did not do their jobs. We were bad, they were good. I thought it was actually worse than the final score indicated.”

Negro Leagues Museum should be on every bucket list

By Michael Kinney

KANSAS CITY – I’ve spent a lot of time in Missouri. From four years of college to three years of my professional career, I’ve traveled many a mile of the Show Me State.

Just two years ago I visited a friend in St. Louis and spent a couple of days just exploring the city and museums downtown. Writing about museums and historical sites in every city I visit is one of my favorite pastimes.

But while in St. Louis, I realized that during my years in Missouri, there was one museum I had never visited and I was disappointed in myself for it. Despite spending serious time in downtown Kansas City, I had never been to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the mecca of black baseball.

That finally changed when I found myself back in Kansas City for Thanksgiving week. The first thing I did was head to the 18th and Vine District, which not only houses the Negro League Museum but also the Jazz Museum.

First of all, the district itself is on the rise. Once known for a high crime rate, it is has been revitalized. With the new business, condos and upscale apartments being built around the district, it has potential to be special once again.

“The 18th & Vine historic district was the center for black culture and life in Kansas City from the late 1800s-1960s,” the NLBM sates on its website. “It was the hub of activity for homeowners, business, jazz music, and baseball enthusiast. Just outside of the district stands the Paseo YMCA building, which was built as a black YMCA in 1914. It served as temporary home for baseball players, railroad workers, and others making the transition to big city life in the Midwest. It was here that the Negro National League was founded in 1920. Although the district and the YMCA building were becoming blighted by the 1980s, they were recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.”
I took a self-guided tour Negro League Baseball Museum. After a 15 minute film that was narrated by James Earl Jones, you are hit immediately with what life was like for African Americans in the 1800s. In fact, the entire tour is like walking through time on two separate paths. One that highlighted what was going on in the world and the other pointed out what was going on in black baseball at the same time and how they intersected.

There is so much information to consume, you have to give yourself time to go through it all. Small artifacts, posters, photos and amazing art work and statues are littered throughout the building.

Rube Foster, who founded the negro leagues in 1920, is lost to history in other baseball themed sites. But at the NLBM, he has a statue and tons of information on his life.

Other notable figures to get prominent attention included Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige and ofcourse Jackie Robinson. But there were many players not well known who baseball fans have an opportunity to learn about about.

One of the best exhibits is a small film near the end of the tour of Buck O’Neal, who has gone down as the ambassador to not only negro league baseball but the overall game itself.

On a side note, I once met Mr. O’Neal at a Kansas City Royals game. One of my greatest regrets was not taking the time to interview him.

At the very end of the tour, the museum created a baseball field. There are statues of who they considered to be the best player in the history of the Negro leagues at each position. It’s an impressive moment to be standing on home plate next to the Gibson statues staring at Paige.

My one complaint is that the building wasn’t big enough. Even though the league last less than 40 years, there is so much historical information being packed into a small room.

But that is insignificant to how detailed and informative the entire museum was. It was well worth the wait.

Inconsistency plagues Thunder as they return home

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — The first part of the NBA season continues to be a roller coaster for the Oklahoma City Thunder. From winning six of their first seven games to dropping seven of their last 10, the revamped team has been anything but predictable.
Coming off Friday night’s overtime victory in Denver, the Thunder (9-8) completed a three-game road trip, their longest of the season so far. And they return home looking for answers for a variety of issues that seem to be hurting the team.
One of those is Oklahoma City’s inability to defend the 3-point line with any tenacity. In their last 10 games, they are allowing teams to shoot 42 percent from deep, which is the worst in the NBA during that span.
“That’s the next step that we have to take from a defensive perspective — the awareness, the understanding and the decision-making,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan told NBA.com. “We’re doing a much better job of being in the right spots, but once we’re in that spot and have to get out to the 3-point line, there have been times we’ve been slow getting there or we’ve lost our man on the back side with exchanges. There have been times where we’ve given too much help.”
On Nov. 20, the Thunder allowed the Indiana Pacers to shoot 11 of 22 from 3-point range. Two nights later, the Los Angeles Lakers also knocked down 11 from behind the arc. Even in a win over the Brooklyn Nets, the Thunder allowed them to hit 11 3-pointers.
Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, who has given up his share of uncontested 3-pointers, says it comes down to focus.
“It’s just being focused on when to help and when not to help,” Westbrook said, “having a real sense of urgency on that aspect to not give up so many threes.”
When Oklahoma City faced Detroit earlier in the month, 3-point shooting was not a problem. The Pistons won despite knocking down only 5-of-16.
In the Nov. 14 matchup, Detroit was also without the services of center Andre Drummond. When the Thunder and Pistons meet in Oklahoma City, Drummond will be in the lineup with his 14.9 points, 14 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.5 steals.
However, Detroit will not have guard Reggie Bullock after he suffered a meniscus tear in his left knee during Wednesday’s win over Miami.
“Reggie’s a pretty even-keel guy, so he’s fine outwardly,” coach Stan Van Gundy told Mlive.com. “But I know he’s frustrated, because he wasn’t ready to go at the beginning of the year and that cost him some time. And then he had worked his way back in the rotation. It’s just really unfortunate for him.”
The Pistons have already been missing guard Reggie Jackson with a fracture in his foot. The loss of Bullock weakens an already depleted Detroit backcourt.
The one piece of good news is that the Pistons expect to get Jackson back in early December. However, that doesn’t help them when Van Gundy looks down the Detroit bench to find a defender to put in front of Westbrook, who had another triple-double Friday.
But Van Gundy wants to see what type of mindset his Pistons can take on the road as they face a new round of adversity.
“That’s the kind of resilience we had a year ago. We haven’t necessarily had that all the time this year,” Van Gundy said. “It was really good to see. Now the challenge is to bring that same mindset and effort on the road. We’ve got four in a row on the road, all against good teams, all of them .500 or better. It’s going to be a really tough week — four games in seven days — it’s going to be difficult, so we’ve got to bring the same mindset and energy on the road.”

Shorthanded Pacers hand Thunder OT loss

(Photo by Torry Purvey)   

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY– Nate McMillan just wanted to see his team fight. Down two players from his team’s regular rotation, the Indiana coach wanted to see his squad go scrap and claw for a win in a hostile environment.

That is exactly what McMillan got as the Pacers held off the Oklahoma City Thunder for 115-111 overtime victory Sunday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“That’s what it takes to win ball games,” McMillan said. “You win the hustle game. I put up on the board ‘scrap.’ You have to fight for everything. I thought the guys tonight, we did that. We were without a couple of players, but the guys in uniform came out and played the right way.”
Jeff Teague paved the way for the Pacers as he scored 30 points on 9 of 16 shooting and 9 of 9 from the free-throw line. Thaddeus Young added 20 points and 11 rebounds. Glenn Robinson III posted 16 points and 11 rebounds as the Pacers improved to 8-7 and earned their first road win of the season.
“We have guys that are capable of playing at a high level,” Teague said. “They stepped up tonight. We’ve got confidence in everybody on the roster. It showed tonight.”
Russell Westbrook earned his fifth triple-double of the season for Oklahoma City as they dropped to 8-6. He tallied 31 points, 15 assists and 11 rebounds. Enes Kanter came off the bench to post 16 points while Victor Oladipo scored 14 points on 6 of 14 shooting.
Despite registering another triple-double, Westbrook was far from pleased with his performance.
“Just wasn’t ready tonight,” Westbrook said. “Starting with myself. I was (sh***y) tonight. I could have did a lot of things better. I have to come out and be ready to play every night. I feel like I let my guys down and we have to be better.”
Late in the fourth quarter, Young missed a pair of free throws and Westbrook made the Pacers pay with a game-tying layup.
But Young came right back to score in the paint to put the Pacers up by two. Westbrook missed a layup on the other end and it led to two free throws from Teague.
Oladipo responded with a 3-pointer from the corner and Oklahoma City trailed 99-98 with 1:25 left.
On the ensuing possession, with the shot clock down to 1, Steven Adams fouled Miles Turner. He hit both free throws and the Pacers were up 101-98 and 38 seconds left. Westbrook scored and the Pacers lead went down to one point with 28 seconds left.
The Thunder forced the Pacers into a missed shot, but Indy got the rebound and Teague was fouled. He put the Pacers back up by three with 4.6 seconds left on the clock.
That was more than enough time for Westbrook to take the inbounds pass out of the timeout and drill a game-tying 3 to send the contest into overtime.
In the OT, the Pacers were up 108-105 when guard Monta Ellis turned the ball over. Oklahoma City had a chance to get within one, but Westbrook tried to pass to Steven Adams and the ball was lost in traffic. The Pacers turned it into a fast-break layup and increased their advantage to five with 1:28 left.
Westbrook scored again, but Teague answered with a 3-point play.
Morrow came up with a jumper before the Pacers turned the ball over. Oladipo then cut the lead down to two with a jumper in the paint. Teague was fouled intentionally and hit both free throws with 19.1 left.
The Thunder had three attempts at a 3-pointer, but came up empty on all of them. That was enough to close out the game.
“We said go win the game,” Teague said. “We have nothing to lose. They’re at home. They were going to make some plays, but we just had to go out and win the game.”
With leading scorer Paul George not in the lineup, the Pacers needed someone to pick up the scoring load. In the first half, that player was Young. He had 11 points in the first nine minutes of action. He made all five shots he took as Indiana grabbed a 30-21 lead.
Led by Kanter and Alex Abrines, it was the Thunder reserves who kept Oklahoma City in the game. The Pacers still held a 58-46 advantage with three minutes left before the Thunder closed out the half strong and cut the deficit to 58-54 by halftime.
Indiana was able to lead for the entire first half due to his long-distance shooting. They made 7 of 11 from behind the arc in the first half. They came into the game ranked 22nd in the league in 3-point makes at eight a night.
The Thunder, on the other hand, couldn’t find the range from the 3-point line, but they kept hoisting them up. They made only 10 of 36 on the night.
“We played hard, we played together.,” Robinson said. “I am just proud of this whole team for sticking together and fighting even though we are a couple of men down.”

Injuries mark Thunder, Pacers matchup

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — There has been a national debate taking place this past week over star players sitting out games due to rest. From Cleveland to Atlanta, head coaches have had decided to sit their best players in order to save them for the entire season.

Indiana coach Nate McMillan wishes he had that problem. He has been forced to scratch forward Paul George from Friday’s lineup due to a sore left ankle. The Pacers wound up falling 116-96 to the Phoenix Suns.

“He really hasn’t done anything in the last two days,” McMillan told the Indy Star. “The ankle was sore when he was playing and the last two days it really hasn’t gotten any better. We just want to make sure everything is OK there, for his sake and ours. Hopefully there isn’t anything and he just needs some time.”

The Pacers didn’t announce whether George will be suited up for Sunday nights game in Oklahoma City. He was scheduled to have an MRI Saturday.

But there is no doubt, they play much differently when their all-star forward is on the floor or not.

George leads Indiana in scoring (21.0), rebounds (7.1) and steals (1.7). If he can’t go, that a lot of slack the rest of the Pacers have to pick up.

Indiana is hoping the return of Rodney Stuckey will make up for some of the loss of George. Stuckey played Friday after straining his right hamstring Oct. 28.

“He said he felt pretty good and was ready to go,” McMillan told the Star. “You want to slowly work him back into conditioning and rhythm and not give him a ton of minutes right off the bat.”

The Thunder also sustained an injury during its win over Brooklyn Friday. Backup point guard Samej Christon suffered a concussion and is currently in the NBA’s concussion protocol. He also has a non-displaced left facial fracture.

According to Thunder officials, once Christon passes the protocol, he will be able to return to the lineup wearing a facemask.

That leaves the Thunder with only Russell Westbrook as the only point guard on the roster. Cameron Payne is still healing from foot surgery in the preseason.

According to Thunder coach Billy Donovan, Victor Oladipo will see time running the point with the second unit.

Victor I feel very comfortable with just because he’s played some point in Orlando and he’s done it a little bit here,” Donovan said. “I’m fine with that. I think we can create and generate enough ball handling when Russell is off the floor to at least get into our offense. That will be the biggest thing.”

It’s the Thunder’s reserves that has been a big reason the team has won two straight after a four-game losing streak. Friday they accounted for 39 points and 15 rebounds.

“I thought they did a really good job,” Donovan said. “I mentioned after a couple games ago that I felt like we as a staff, myself in particular, try to help those guys. I thought they were on the same page. I thought they moved the basketball. I thought they made the game easier for each other. They generated good shots. They helped each other. They defended. It was good to see them play the way they did and it was good to see them extend onto the lead.”

Thunder balance too much for Nets

 

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – Lately it seems every time Russell Westbrook takes the court he is breaking some type of record or doing something that’s never been seen before. But when hos name is mentioned with the immortals of the game is when the Oklahoma City guard knows he has really accomplished something.

Westbrook collected his fourth triple-double of the season to lead Oklahoma City to a 124-105 victory over Nets at Chesapeake Energy Arena Friday. He posted 30 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists to reach 41 career triple-doubles. He also became the second player in NBA history to record 13,000 points, 3,400 rebounds and 4,500 assists in his first 600 career NBA games. Oscar Robertson was first.

“He’s unique. Really unique,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said of Westbrook. “Everything he brings to the table is competitiveness. How fast he is, how strong he is. Very impressive player.

Six players scored in doubled figures for Oklahoma City. Victor Oladipo added 26 points and six assists. Center Steven Adams collected 15 points and six boards.

“I was just playing the game, man,” said Oladipo, who shot 11 of 17 from the field. “Taking it one game at a time, one possession at a time.”

Brooke Lopez paced the Nets with 22 points on 8 of 16 shooting. Guard Bojan Bogdanovic scored 13 points while Anthony Bennett tallied 12 points as well.

With 5:15 left in the fourth quarter, Bennett cut the Thunder (8-5) lead down to nine. But just as quickly Oladipo strolled to the other end of the court and nailed a 3-pointer to push the advantage up to 12.

After Oklahoma City’s Andre Roberson missed a pair of free throws, a scuffle led to Adams being fouled. He made both of his foul attempts and the Thunder led 112-98.

The Nets came up empty on their offensive possession and Oladipo came back and drilled another 3-pointer that sent the fans to exits.

The Thunder dominated on the boards 46-30.

“That’s an issue,” Atkinson said. “Physically they are a tough team. That’s what they do. They are a physcall, team, big team. Definitely an area of improvement for us.”

Brooklyn didn’t hide its intentions when the game started. They were going to force long-range 3-pointers down Oklahoma City’s throat any time they had a chance. Whether they came from set plays, transition or off loose balls, the Nets (4-8) were hoisting them up with no conscience.

Lopez was the leading culprit. The 7-footer drained four of the teams eight 3-pointers in the first quarter as the Nets built a 40-34 advantage.

The Nets’ willingness to fire the three-ball sucked the Thunder into the same tactic. However, Oklahoma wasn’t as proficient in the first half, making only 3 of 14.

It wasn’t until Oklahoma City stopped settling for long jumpers and began to drive into the paint that they found consistent success. Forward Joffrey Lauvergne was the biggest benefactor. When defenders left him to converge on Westbrook, it left him open for dunks or 3-pointers.

“I don’t know how I did it,” said Lauvergne, who scored 13 points. “I just try every time I step on the court to play hard and to play good and to help the team win some games. This is what I’m going to do every time I step on the court. So sometimes it’s going to be great… I’m going to fight every time.”

After trailing by 9, the Thunder went on an 18-6 run to close out the half and take a 64-61 lead into halftime.

The run continued into the second half. As Brooklyn’s long-distance shots stopped falling, Oklahoma City was able to take advantage by getting out on fast-break opportunities.

Without the threat of the 3-pointer, the Nets offense stalled. They had no low-post threat and no point guard who could set up his teammates. They scored a total of 42 points in the second and third quarters combined.

“They got a lot of good looks in transition and created second chance opportunities,” Lopez said. “I thought we were up to the challenge for a little bit, but it got away from us and we weren’t able to get back into it.”

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