Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (Oct. 29): Victor Oladipo settling in next to Russell Westbrook Staff

Oladipo settling in alongside Westbrook | Curry awakens, sparks Warriors | Hornets are all about the fight | A kinder, gentler Thibodeau in Minnesota?

No. 1: Oladipo settling in alongside Westbrook — You expected this from Russell Westbrook, the monster effort and the numbers to validate the fury he’s sure to play with this season, his first as a pro without Kevin Durant. The lingering question for Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder is who would step up in support of the face of the franchise? Victor Oladipo appears to be settling into that role just fine, as Brett Dawson of the Oklahoman explains:

It felt different this time for Victor Oladipo.

Maybe it was the home fans who had his back, the kind of friendly, fiery crowd the Thunder guard says he hasn’t experienced “for a while,” maybe since his college days at Indiana.

Maybe it was just having a game under his belt.

Whatever the reason, Oladipo said his mindset was better in Friday’s 113-110 overtime win at Chesapeake Energy Arena against the Phoenix Suns. And it showed.

Oladipo scored 21 points on 7-of-17 shooting and grabbed five rebounds, an improvement on a 10-point, 4-for-16 shooting performance in his first game with the Thunder, a season-opening Wednesday win in Philadelphia.

“I mean, I was ready to play last game, but I was even more so today,” Oladipo said after Friday’s game. “I just got to consistently have that mindset throughout the year. I feel like I stop myself from being a great basketball player. When my mind is on the same page as my body, then I perform at a high level.”

He looked particularly in sync in the first half, scoring 15 of his 21 points.

“Your mind is kinda like a sponge,” Oladipo said. “You got to teach yourself and talk to yourself before the game and in the course of a game, just reminding yourself what the goal is. You have to be great in order to help your team win. That’s what I tried to do today, and it helped.”


No. 2: Curry awakens, sparks Warriors — The Golden State Warriors are trusting the process, so to speak, as they try to integrate the services of one of the league’s best players (Kevin Durant) into their usual program that also includes two-time and reigning KIA MVP Stephen Curry. The Warriors’ two stars managed that delicate balance masterfully in a tough win over Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans. Durant did his thing and Curry came alive to help spark the Warriors to their first win of this season, writes Anthony Slater of the Mercury News:

Undrafted, undersized Tim Frazier, playing for his third team in two seasons, blasted right through Stephen Curry. No other Warrior reacted. Frazier laid it in and trash-talked Curry. The Pelicans, once down double-digits, now led.

This came midway through the third quarter Friday night, 6.5 underwhelming quarters into what is supposed to be a special Warriors season. It was far from panic time, but the red light was beginning to blink. The Warriors needed to show some life.

Curry finally did. Previously slumping and perhaps awoken by some Frazier chirping, Curry jump-started Golden State with a personal 8-0 run over the next three possessions, swinging momentum and providing enough leg room for the Warriors’ first win of the season: 122-114 over the Pelicans in New Orleans.

Curry’s spurt started after two Klay Thompson missed 3s. The Warriors rebounded both, which, after getting mashed 55-35 on the glass by San Antonio in the opener, was a needed improvement on Friday night. Both teams finished with 49 rebounds.

Kevon Looney snagged the second Thompson brick and kicked it to an open Curry on the wing. In the first half, the NBA’s reigning scoring champ only took five shots, fewer than any first half from a season ago. This was his ninth shot and most uncontested look. Curry hit it. Golden State went back up two.

Frazier missed a jumper on the other end. Looney rebounded. Curry pushed it upcourt, caught Frazier reaching in the cookie jar and baited him into a shooting foul 28 feet from the hoop. He made two of his three free throws. The lead was four.

Pelicans forward Lance Stephenson committed a brainless offensive foul seconds later, giving the ball right back to Golden State. Curry, now feeling it a bit, shook Langston Galloway, who’d just replaced Frazier, zipped down the lane and, through contact, finished an and-1 layup. He made the free throw. The Warriors, down one three possessions earlier, now led by seven.

They hadn’t played particularly well before that and didn’t play very well after it. The energy remains spotty. The passing has been sloppy (14 more turnovers Friday night). The defense was shredded throughout a 64-point Pelicans second half.

“For the most part, we played hard,” Steve Kerr said. “But we had some breakdowns where we kind of just stopped and looked at each other. I think it was more lack of communication that led to a couple of defensive breakdowns.”

But Curry’s burst, plus some steady, sturdy play from Kevin Durant, helped keep the Pelicans at bay. Durant finished with 30 points on 9-of-19 shooting, plus a team-high 17 rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks.

With 41 seconds left and the Warriors up six, Durant, incredibly, blocked an Anthony Davis 3-pointer, ripped the loose ball away, raced upcourt and finished over the towering Davis in transition.

“I had no doubt in my mind if he got it off, he would’ve made that one,” Durant said of Davis, who finished with 45 points. “I timed it right.”

The end to end highlight put the Warriors up eight, essentially sealing the win.

“It was kinda the back-breaker,” Kerr said. “Fantastic play.”


No. 3: Hornets are all about the fight — Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are one of the few playoff teams in the Eastern Conference that didn’t require name tags at the start of training camp for all of the new faces added to their mix. They entered this season with an already established identity, a clear understanding of who and what they are. And that’s a team that’s all about the fight, as Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer notes after their rally from a 19-point deficit in Miami to remain undefeated two games into this season:

These two season-opening victories by the Charlotte Hornets could not have been more different.

Wednesday, they were great from opening tap, jumped out to a 20-point lead and watched the Milwaukee Bucks melt away. Friday, they couldn’t make shots early against the Miami Heat. But they plugged away, turned a 19-point deficit into a 10-point lead, and won 97-91.

There was one common denominator, however. Hornets coach Steve Clifford said for weeks it was imperative this team be great defensively from Game 1. That’s exactly who they have been in building a 2-0 record.

“I like their fight,” Clifford said of a team that won despite losing its starting center, Roy Hibbert, to a sore right knee. He played only five minutes before acknowledging he would have only hurt his team by continuing Friday.

Some quick background on the Hibbert situation: Clifford said post-game that Hibbert needed to have the knee drained of fluid before the game in Milwaukee. No one knows whether he’ll be available for Saturday’s home opener against the Boston Celtics, but Hibbert doesn’t think this is serious long-term.

“I just tweaked it in the last game. I felt it wasn’t 100 percent, so I’d probably be a detriment to the team out there,” Hibbert said.

“This happened two or three years ago, then went away. It’s just a reaction to a lot more activity. The doctors looked at it before and said everything is structurally fine – no tears or anything. So hopefully, nothing more is wrong.”

American Airlines Arena has been a palace of horror for the Hornets. Beyond getting blitzed in Game 7 of last season’s first-round playoff series, the Heat had beaten the Hornets in 12 of the previous 13 regular-season games here.

Friday looked lost when the Hornets fell behind 65-46 on a floating 8-foot jump shot by Heat center Hassan Whiteside with just under 10 minutes left in the third quarter.

Whiteside was dominating this game, having fallen one rebound short of a double-double at halftime. But in the process, he ran up some fouls. He committed his fourth with 7 minutes, 40 seconds left in the third, and that sent him to the bench for a long stretch.

And then a funny thing happened: Charlotte’s bench, which looked shaky Wednesday in Milwaukee, came alive. Marco Belinelli, Ramon Sessions, Spencer Hawes and – particularly – Jeremy Lamb started pecking away at the Heat’s lead.

With 9:42 left in the fourth, Lamb hit a driving floater to tie the game. He launched the shot from only 2 feet, but it wasn’t easy. You need great body control and shooting acumen to make that one as your body is still moving toward the rim, rather than be stationary.

Then Sessions scored with a drive down the lane for the Hornets’ first lead.

It was wild and unpredictable and, to use Clifford’s word, full of fight. Then, starters Kemba Walker (24 points), Nic Batum and Marvin Williams came in to finish the job.


No. 4: A kinder, gentler Thibodeau in Minnesota? — Tom Thibodeau’s reputation in Chicago was as a tough, hard-charging coach who didn’t let up on anyone, his players and coaches or anyone else. But he’s adopted a different approach with his young and talented roster in Minnesota this season. We are witnessing the calmer and more reserved Thibodeau, per Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune:

Whether it was moments after the game itself or two days later at Friday’s practice in Sacramento, Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau’s manner was the same when he discussed the first game that got away.

Calm and measured.

He even still had his voice strong when discussing on both occasions Wednesday’s season opener at Memphis. His team led 20-3 after five minutes and by four points with 3:09 left but lost 102-98 after the Grizzlies went on a decisive 12-3 run.

“He didn’t scream, nothing like that,” Wolves forward Andrew Wiggins said. “He’s not always what you see on the court. He’s very organized and very consistent. He knows what he wants to say and when he wants to say it.”

Rather than rail, Thibodeau returned to the same methodology with which he has approached dual jobs as Wolves head coach and president of basketball operations since he was hired last April.

In the two days since that loss, he and his team went back to work in film sessions Thursday and Friday and at Friday’s practice.

Thibodeau smiled and chuckled when asked how many film sessions he had held with players since Wednesday night.

“We had a good session yesterday, a good one today, we had individual ones also yesterday,” he said after Friday’s practice. “Yesterday was a good day. They’re working hard. We know we have to get better. Going in, that was a big thing: To improve every day and to do it all year long.”

So Thibodeau and his coaching staff broke down Wednesday’s winning plays and losing ones. His starters moved the ball beautifully, made shots and defended in that 20-3 opening burst. Players from both first and second units failed to cover the three-point line when the Grizzlies shot themselves back into the game with 11 made threes. They fouled recklessly, particularly in the third quarter. They misplayed two baseline inbounds plays and argued with officials when they should have retreated on defense. They didn’t block out and allowed Memphis’ JaMychal Green a put-back tip on a missed free throw that put the Grizzlies ahead for good with 1:35 left.

Wiggins also missed two free throws that would have regained the lead with 1:13 left.

“We didn’t close out the game the way we would have liked,” Thibodeau said. “You want to take the things you didn’t do well, work on those and try to correct to them. But you also can’t lose sight of the good things that happened, to be ready to play the way we were.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Sacramento Kings went back to their future in their home opener … Kyrie Irving is making a habit of draining big shots in big moments for the Cleveland Cavaliers … Young Lakers learning lessons of the road early under Luke Walton … The Hawks’ two-point guard system has already been tested … A plea for fans to hold up on and hold off of the hate of Evan Turner in Portland …