Shootaround (April 19) -- Russell Westbrook not worrying about who guards him in series
Plus, Golden State gears up to play without Durant, Rondo eyes a future in Chicago and more
No. 1: Westbrook not fretting Beverley’s defense — In the playoffs — just as in the regular season — the onus remains on Russell Westbrook to take the Oklahoma City Thunder as far as he can carry them. While he was solid in a Game 1 loss to the Rockets (22 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists), the point guard most were raving about was Houston’s Patrick Beverley. Westbrook isn’t concerned with the defense he or anyone else throws at him in Game 2 tonight (8 ET, TNT), writes Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com:
And when the subject of Beverley, who has made a name for himself by hounding opposing point guards like Westbrook on defense, came up, Westbrook wasn’t giving back any of those inches.
“I never worry about what other guys are doing; it doesn’t bother me. I’ve seen it all already,” Westbrook said, when asked whether he’d broken down film of how Beverley defended him in Game 1.
Westbrook played just 13 minutes in the second half of what turned into a blowout loss, so his 22 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and nine turnovers are a bit harder to compare to his sensational regular season.
In the times Beverley was matched up on him, Westbrook had eight points on 3-for-9 shooting and two turnovers. Their history, of course, is a lot longer than that. In 2013, Beverley crashed into Westbrook along the sideline in a first-round playoff game and effectively ended his and the Thunder’s season. The relationship has been frosty ever since.
Asked Tuesday whether he gets up for his games when he’ll be matched up against Beverley, who is likely to make an all-defensive team this season, Westbrook shrugged and questioned the premise of the question.
“My opinion on all-defensive team is different than you guys,” he said ahead of Wednesday’s Game 2. “I really don’t know what to say to that. You can check and see what criteria goes to all-defense. I really don’t know what the criteria is considered for all-defense.
“He’s a good defender for their team, but I don’t worry about nobody, how they’re defending. I can pretty much do what I want to do.”
Asked whether he had criteria for all-defense that were different from the media’s, Westbrook batted the question back again.
“I don’t know. I don’t have a criteria. I don’t make the all-defensive team. Y’all do,” he said.
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No. 2: Warriors gear up for no Durant in Game 2 — Past experience — almost a month’s worth of it — of playing without Kevin Durant gave the Golden State Warriors confidence and helped them lock up the No. 1 seed as the 2016-17 regular season waned. While Durant played in the Warriors’ Game 1 opener, he is listed as questionable tonight for Game 2 (10:30 ET, TNT). As Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle writes, the Warriors know they don’t have to panic if Durant misses a game:
After spending almost three decades around the NBA, Kerr recognized that teams that have experienced a significant regular-season injury are better prepared for the unpredictability of the playoffs. Now, with Durant questionable for Game 2 of the first-round Wednesday against Portland with a left calf strain, Golden State is taking solace in how it rallied together the last time the eight-time All-Star was hurt.
While Durant watched from the bench, the Warriors rebounded from their first three-game skid since November 2013 with a 13-game winning streak. The absence of their most consistent player forced everyone from Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to David West and Andre Iguodala to deliver more complete performances. Anchored by a frenetic, switch-heavy defense, Golden State held off San Antonio for the top overall seed.
“When you go through a month without (Durant), it’s not just talk,” said Curry, referencing the next-man-up axiom commonly used during this type of situation. “It’s proven results. You’ve figured out how to do it by committee. … We’ll be ready for whatever happens.”
It is a tricky predicament. With forward Matt Barnes (right ankle) and point guard Shaun Livingston (right index finger) also questionable, the Warriors could be without as many as three rotation players against a team desperate to head back to Portland with the series tied at 1-1. The Blazers, who will be without center Jusuf Nurkic (right leg) again for Game 2, are unlikely to beat even a Durant-less Golden State club in a seven-game set. But the longer this series extends, the less time the Warriors will have to prepare for the Western Conference semifinals.
When dealing with a player injury, Golden State tends to be cautious. Sitting Durant for Game 2 would afford him five days, instead of two, to rest that bothersome calf. Getting him healthy for a championship push that could stretch deep into June could trump any desire to win Wednesday.
“We’ve learned to play without KD,” assistant coach Bruce Fraser said. “Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t need him. But if we have to patch things together for a bit, we feel confident we’ll be OK.”
Kerr might need to be creative with his rotation Wednesday. With Kevon Looney (left hip) already ruled out for Game 2, the Warriors would have limited depth if Durant, Barnes and Livingston are also unavailable. Odds are that, in that scenario, rookie combo guard Patrick McCaw would start at small forward, and Iguodala and Ian Clark would share backup point-guard responsibilities.
The silver lining: This wave of adversity is likely short-term.
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No. 3: Gortat expecting ‘furious’ Howard in Game 2 — From 2007-10, Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat was the top backup to then-Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard. That said, Gortat knows what makes his former teammate tick and also knows that Gortat’s showing in Game 1 of the Wizards-Hawks series got under Howard’s skin. Scott Allen of The Washington Post reports on some recent comments Gortat made to a local radio station about how he thinks Howard will respond in Game 2 tonight (7 ET, NBA TV):
Wizards center Marcin Gortat got the better of Hawks center Dwight Howard in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series Saturday, finishing with 14 points and 10 rebounds in Washington’s 114-107 win. While Howard grabbed 14 rebounds, he scored only seven points and struggled to defend the pick-and-roll. Gortat, who spent the first three-and-a-half seasons of his NBA career as Howard’s backup in Orlando, knows Atlanta’s eight-time all-star well enough to know that nothing will come easy in the paint for the remainder of the series.
“They’re going to be [ticked],” Gortat told 106.7 The Fan’s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier on Tuesday of what he expects from the Hawks in Game 2 at Verizon Center. “I’m sure they’re going to be [ticked]. They’re going to come out much stronger, much harder and, at the end of the day, I know Dwight’s going to bring it. I know this kid very well. The Dwight we seen in the first game, it was probably sleeping Dwight or sick Dwight, and the next game, tomorrow, he’s going to be really furious, so it’s going to be a much tougher game for us.”
At practice Monday, Gortat described the physical battles he and Howard engaged in during practice as Magic teammates from 2007 until Gortat was traded to Phoenix in December 2010.
“He made me bleed every day for my first four years in the NBA,” Gortat said. “I bleed every day in practice, and I learned to play tough basketball, and he made me who I am today. I was going against an animal in practice. Imagine the stuff that’s going down here in the game, imagine the same stuff going three times harder in practice where you don’t have whistles, fouls and stuff like that. It was pretty much for me about surviving practice, going to the weight room every day, lift hard, because otherwise I’m going to end up in the hospital or in a wheelchair.”
“I’m not going to say anything crazy because I truly respect the guy, and we’re going to have our little shoving matches, pushes, garbage talking, but at the end of the day, he’s my vet,” Gortat, who is almost two years older than Howard, said Monday. “He took care of me back in Orlando. I’ll never forget what he did for me and that he made me a better player.”
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No. 4: Rondo wants to stick around with Bulls — Summer transactions and free agency are likely low on the list of things concerning the Chicago Bulls this morning. Their 2-0 lead on the No. 1-seeded Boston Celtics trumps summer roster shuffling, a status they’re enjoying thanks to the rejuvenated play of Rajon Rondo. Before last night’s Game 2 win, Rondo was asked about his future with the Bulls and as K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reports, he wants to stay put going forward:
For the first time, Rajon Rondo answered affirmatively — and without hesitation — when asked Tuesday if he hopes the Bulls pick up a team option for him to return next season.
“Yeah, I like where I’m at. I think we have a really good team,” Rondo said. “We made a big trade halfway through the season. All the things this year with 45 different lineups, we still made it to the playoffs. Right now, just try to stay consistent as possible and develop some chemistry.”
In fact, Rondo is so content that he offered the same answer when asked if he would want to return even if Dwyane Wade opts out of the second year of his contract.
“Yes,” Rondo said. “This team was put together in a couple months with, I think, 10 new guys. It’s hard to jell that quickly, especially if guys don’t have the right mindset. Organizations have to give guys a little bit of time to grow and learn each other.
“Everyone is not going to be San Antonio. Always keep your guys together as long as possible so they can develop chemistry and make deep runs in the playoffs and go through things together and grow. If that’s the case here, that’d be great. If not, it’s up to those guys.”
“Each year you grow,” Rondo said. “The older you are, the more mature you’re acting, the wiser you become. People that know me, know me. What you (reporters) write is part of the story, but it’s not who I am daily.”
Nikola Mirotic said earlier this season Rondo is his favorite all-time teammate with Pau Gasol. Coach Fred Hoiberg has praised Rondo’s professionalism throughout. Jimmy Butler did, too, at Tuesday’s morning shooatround.
“I could tell he was still locked in. He was trying to help whenever he wasn’t playing,” Butler said. “As a vet, as a leader, that’s what you do. He was ready when his time was called again.
“He’s such a smart player. When he buys in, he gets everybody to buy in. We don’t win a lot of these games without ‘Do out there.”
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: All the ties were broken for the NBA Draft lottery yesterday … Salt Lake City is getting pumped up for its first home playoff game in five years … JaVale McGee is making an impact for the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs … An inside look at the close bond Boston Celtics teammates Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas share … It won’t be easy to get the Charlotte Hornets’ roster on track this summer … Phoenix Suns broadcaster Steve Albert retires after 45 years on the job …