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Around The League

Shootaround (Nov. 14): Serge Ibaka comes up big for Magic in win in OKC

NBA.com Staff

Nov 14, 2016 10:08 AM ET

 

Ibaka plays hero in return to OKC | Durant defends Oden's career | Wolves' Wiggins runs wild vs. Lakers | Cavs pursuing Warriors (again)

No. 1: Ibaka makes triumphant return -- Serge Ibaka had been feeling dissatisfied enough with his sub-par performances as a new member of the Orlando Magic that he publicly asked the team’s fans last week to stick with him a while longer. Then he came through on that deal rather swiftly, playing the hero’s role in Orlando’s victory over Oklahoma City Sunday. Emotions had welled up on Ibaka Saturday upon the Magic’s arrival to his NBA home for his first seven seasons, but by Sunday’s game, the Magic power forward had everything in focus, as Josh Robbins chronicled for the Orlando Sentinel:

Serge Ibaka knew his first game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena would be difficult. He spent seven years of his life in this city, made friends here and transformed himself from an unknown rookie from the Republic of the Congo into a dominant NBA defender.

When he woke up Sunday morning, he discovered friends had inundated him with text messages to welcome him back. His new Orlando Magic teammates kidded him constantly. Nervous energy nearly overwhelmed him.

But Ibaka kept his cool when the Magic needed him most. With the score tied, he received a pass at the right elbow, drove toward the baseline and swished a fadeaway jumper over Stephen Adams with four-tenths of a second remaining to propel the Magic to an emotional 119-117 win.

“I’m thanking God for how calmed-down I was tonight because it was pretty emotional just to get back here,” Ibaka said

What happened Sunday night seemed copied-and-pasted out of a movie script: A team trades a fading cornerstone player, and the player returns a few months later and proves he still has some magic left in his game.

Ibaka scored a career-high 31 points, collected nine rebounds and blocked four shots. Better yet, he had never made a game-winning basket at any level of basketball before Sunday night.

“He didn’t say it, but I know that Serge was getting himself up for this game tonight,” said the Magic’s backup point guard, D.J. Augustin, who used to play with Ibaka in Oklahoma City. “Nobody likes to get traded, especially when you’ve been somewhere so long. I know he wanted to come back here and have a good game, and that’s what he did.”

The victory couldn’t have arrived at a better time for the Magic (4-6), who entered Sunday on a three-game losing streak.

In the team’s [final] huddle, coach Frank Vogel drew up a play that made Fournier a decoy and called for Ibaka to receive the ball and launch the last shot of regulation.

After Ibaka sank his off-balance jumper, Fournier gave him a hug, and Nikola Vucevic, Jeff Green, Payton and Augustin high-fived him.

“I’m not going to lie to you,” he said afterwards, a big smile on his face. “It feels good.”

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No. 2: Durant defends Oden as no 'bust' -- We’re going to assume that at some point in the past 30 years or so, the great Michael Jordan has spoken up on Sam Bowie’s behalf, sparing the former Kentucky center from a portion of the criticism Bowie long has heard for not being as good as Jordan. The two forever have been linked in NBA Draft history, with Bowie and Portland – the team that selected him at No. 2, one spot before Chicago snagged Jordan – taking grief ever since. A similar dynamic has played out since 2007 for Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, with Golden State’s Durant speaking out Sunday against Oden’s own harsh view of his injury-doomed NBA career. As told to ESPN.com’s Chris Haynes:

[Durant] has a message for Greg Oden, who told [ESPN news show] Outside the Lines last week that he'll "be remembered as the biggest bust in NBA history."

"Nonsense. That's nonsense," Durant adamantly told ESPN on Sunday night. "In order for you to be a bust, you have to actually play and show people that you progressed as a player. He didn't get a chance to."

Oden and Durant were taken No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the 2007 NBA draft by the Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle SuperSonics. The debates about who would go No. 1 were minimal. Oden was viewed as a future Hall of Fame big man, the next coming of Shaquille O'Neal.

Multiple knee injuries led to multiple surgical procedures, cutting his career with the Trail Blazers short in March 2012 when the team waived him. In five seasons with the franchise, Oden played in only 82 games and did not play a single game in his final two seasons under contract.

After taking the 2012-13 campaign off to regroup and get healthy, Oden got a second chance when the Miami Heat signed him to a one-year deal for the 2013-14 season. He was never able to establish himself as a consistent rotation player and ended up appearing in 23 contests that season. Oden hasn't played in the NBA since.

Meanwhile, Durant has become one of the faces of the league. He has won a Rookie of the Year award and an MVP and is a seven-time All-Star and a four-time scoring champ.

Oden had previously told Sports Illustrated that he was "one of the biggest busts in NBA history" and that "it would only get worse as Kevin Durant continues doing big things."

Once again, Durant defended his draft classmate.

"He didn't want to get hurt. That was the last thing he wanted to do was to get hurt," Durant told ESPN. "That wasn't even in the cards, and he got injured and that was unfortunate. But when he did play, he was a force. Protecting the paint. They were so good with him and LaMarcus [Aldridge] down low, with Brandon Roy [and] Andre Miller at the time. They had a nice team. So he was a big part of that.

"He's not a bust. He just didn't play a long time because of injuries, and that's just what it is."

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No. 3: Wolves' Wiggins asserts himself -- Few have questioned his talent. What some analysts have wondered about, though, was the level of Andrew Wiggins’ want-to. It was clear in multiple performances in Wiggins’ first two NBA seasons that he didn’t run as hot or play as hard as some other, less-gifted players. Each of his coaches – from Flip Saunders to Sam Mitchell to now Tom Thibodeau – urged the Minnesota wing to stay in attack mode. Well, with Thibodeau as the one chewing on his ear this season, Wiggins appears to be listening. In his last four games, he has averaged 34 points on 49 percent shooting, hitting 11 of 20 3-pointers and 33 of 44 free throws. Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune witnessed Wiggins’ biggest night yet in beating the Lakers Sunday:

Five nights after he set a career scoring high at Brooklyn, young star Andrew Wiggins did it again, this time with a 47-point night that made him the 13th man in franchise history to reach at least 40 points in a game.

There were other performances as well: Ricky Rubio playing like his old self from the opening tip in his second game back from injury, Nemanja Bjelica’s five three-pointers made and 24 points scored after he made his first NBA start to replace LaVine (sore right knee), even little-used Adreian Payne and his 10 points scored in just nine minutes for a depleted bench against one of the NBA’s best.

“We needed everyone,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said.

They needed Rubio’s organization and 10 assists, Bjelica’s length and floor-stretching shooting ability, Payne’s two three-pointers on a night when the Wolves made 13 threes to the Lakers’ eight

Most of all, they need Wiggins’ continued development — almost by the week now — that Thibodeau refuses to quantify.

Wiggins needed 21 field-goal attempts — including two made threes — and 17-for-22 free throw shooting to join everyone from Kevin Garnett, Kevin Love, Corey Brewer and Mo Williams to Michael Beasley, Isaiah Rider, Tony Campbell and Randy Breuer as the only 13 Wolves player who scored at least 40 in a game.

“I shot 24 times yesterday and Coach Thibs told me to be more aggressive,” Wiggins said, referring to Saturday’s home loss to the Clippers.

“So I said, ‘All right,’ and I just went for it.”

Thibodeau has coached talented wing players before, Tracy McGrady and Jimmy Butler among them.

“Not only there, but defensively, too,” Thibodeau said when asked about urging Wiggins to be more aggressive offensively. “He’s smart. He’s driven. I think sometimes people mistakenly take it that he’s laid back. He’s competitive. He’s just scratching the surface. I think he can be a lot more. … I don’t want to put a lid on it. It’s what he wants it to be.”

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No. 4: Cavs coming after Warriors again -- Cleveland can’t defend its title or spoil another season for the Golden State Warriors until June. But it could steal a little more of that glamorous West Coast team’s bravado by April if it can keep up its pace of 3-point shooting. The Cavaliers have been so proficient from the arc in this early season that, if it continues, they might surpass Steph Curry and crew at their own game. Here is ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin on the stats chase/arms race:

Cleveland knocked down 14 3-pointers in its 100-93 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday and became the first team to hit 10 or more triples in its first nine games (besting the 2014-15 Houston Rockets’ mark of eight).

The Cavs are averaging 13.22 made 3s per game through their 8-1 start, and that puts them on pace to edge the Warriors’ record-setting average of 13.13 made 3s per game last season.

Although they resisted the label of a “jump-shooting team" last season, there is no denying the role that the 3-ball plays for the Cavs. In fact, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue thinks Cleveland hasn’t shown its full barrage just yet.

“We have a lot of great shooters,” Lue said. “I think we can even make more shots. I think we’re missing a lot of open shots that we normally make. It’s going to come once the season gets going. I think our shots will come along a lot better.”

He has a point. J.R. Smith, Cleveland’s most accomplished long-range launcher, is making only 36.4 percent of his 3s this season, after he connected on an even 40 percent last season. Mike Dunleavy (39.4 percent to 26.9) and Richard Jefferson (38.2 to 23.5) are also struggling.

Even so, the Cavs have been nearly unbeatable and setting records along the way.

With LeBron James and Kyrie Irving being two of the better players in the league at breaking their men down one-on-one off the dribble to get into the paint and both possessing the court awareness and passing acumen to find an open teammate once the opposition collapses on them, Cleveland has a great thing going with the way its roster is constructed.

Putting the Cavs over the top has been Channing Frye. The 7-footer, acquired from Orlando at last season’s trade deadline, went 6-for-12 from the outside Sunday. It continued the tear he was on the past five games, in which he went 12-for-23 on 3s and shot up the leaderboard into the top 10 in 3-point percentage in the league so far this season.

Frye revealed Sunday that he has been used in some sets running the same plays Smith does at 2-guard. Combine that revelation with the fact that James has been running the point a lot this season, and you’re talking about a Cavs backcourt that at times runs 6-foot-9 in James and 7-foot in Frye, with three more shooters capable of hitting from deep on the court (in the fourth quarter against Charlotte, it was Jefferson, Iman Shumpert and Jordan McRae).

That isn't just going with the league trend of more 3s. That’s changing the game. Especially because with their versatility, the Cavaliers can come back down the other end and put James as the 4 and Frye as the 5 on defense.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Fiery halftime speeches by coaches are sort of a cliché, occurring more seldom than fans might think. But Portland’s Terry Stotts went with the cliche Sunday and grabbed the Trail Blazers’ attention in a victory over Denver. … Derrick Rose and the New York Knicks aren’t finding the whistles very friendly this season. … Rose’s teammate, Justin Holiday, has swapped out his use of social media for prayer, which sounds like a decent idea. … Mario Chalmers – remember him? – is almost ready for his next NBA close-up. … The Boston Celtics reportedly would love to get their hands on New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, making them no different from any of the other 28 NBA franchises. …


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