Sixers must start fast vs. vengeful Thunder


Sixers must start fast vs. vengeful Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Sixers are not exactly catching the Thunder at an ideal time. The Northwest Division leaders had their 12-game home winning streak snapped two nights ago when Brooklyn beat them at Chesapeake Arena by 17. It was only their second opponent all season that shot 50 percent or better against them.

The Sixers know OKC will be looking to make amends.

They are going to want to come out here and bury us from the beginning, Jason Richardson said. We have to be ready for their first wave of attack. Those guys are going to be aggressive, because they are very tough here to beat. The fans here are great. They are loud. They are passionate about basketball, so it is going to be one of those games where we have to be mentally prepared and physically as well, because they are going to come out and hit us with the first punch.

The Thunder won just 23 games in their first season in Oklahoma City, 2008-09. But in the four seasons that followed, they've lost a combined 35 games on their home floor.

Oh, they are going to be ready," said Royal Ivey, who spent the last two seasons with the Thunder. "They dont lose two in a row at home, that doesnt happen. They are going to be ready because they are competitors. They are going to come with their hard hats and we have to be ready that first quarter, those first five minutes -- that is going to be key because this building is going to be on fire."

In Iveys tenure with the Thunder, the team never lost back-to-back home games. In fact, the Thunder have not done that since the 2009-10 season when they dropped consecutive home games twice before Christmas.

A great home court and a commitment to winning has made Oklahoma City a target destination for free agents, and that is in spite of the city being the 45th-largest market in the United States.

It is like a college environment, Ivey said. When new guys come in, like rookies, they are like freshmen. I was considered a senior. It is a college environment -- its like a family from top to bottom. First tier, the way they run their organization from the players to the front office to how they treat everybody. My time here was great.

Said Richardson: When free agents hear around the league that an organization is all about winning, taking care of their guys, a first class organization, guys are attracted to that. Because when you have that kind of atmosphere and commitment from the front office that is when you start talking about championships.

The Thunder have rubbed elbows with that championship feeling, losing in the NBA finals last spring to the Miami Heat in five games. Currently, they have the highest winning percentage in the NBA.

They have two of the top seven scorers in the NBA helping them average the second-most points per game at 106. In an earlier meeting this season, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined to score 67 points in an overtime victory for the Thunder -- unsurprisingly, that duo is the top scoring tandem in the league.

Ivey vividly remembers battling Westbrook daily in practice. The practice court, he says, is where Westbrook became an All-Star.

He is definitely a competitor, Ivey said of Westbrook. He is fierce. Everybody downplays his attitude, but that makes him good. He is a competitor. He hates to lose. He hates when he turns over the ball. He is hard on himself and he brings it every day in practice and it shows on the court because in practice he is always competing, always trying to outdo somebody.

Ivey went from guarding Westbrook every day in practice to playing against another UCLA product daily: Jrue Holiday.

Jrue is similar, but he is just quiet, Ivey compared. Russell is more vocal and more animated. Jrue is more reserved, but Jrue has that same competitive nature and he gets after it. They are similar pit bulls -- one is a blue-nose, one is a red-nose pit bull.

Dog lovers know that blue-nosed or red, neither is better -- just different.

Holiday, who Wednesday had his second career triple-double, has a right groin strain but is expected to play.

E-mail Dei Lynam at

Kevin Durant era begins as Warriors open vs. Tim Duncan-less Spurs

Kevin Durant era begins as Warriors open vs. Tim Duncan-less Spurs

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Kevin Durant era tips off for the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night against an opponent, the San Antonio Spurs, that both Durant and the Warriors would consider unfriendly.

After signing a two-year, $54.3 million deal to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder in the offseason, Durant is expected to take his place alongside holdover Warriors standouts Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green in the nightcap of TNT's opening-night doubleheader (10:30 p.m. ET).

And he will do so against a Spurs team that also will sport a new look this season -- albeit one with a key piece missing.

In its quest to unseat Golden State as the two-time Western Conference champs, San Antonio will go forward without future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, who retired in July after his 19th season.

Before concluding the addition of Durant and the subtraction of Duncan tilts the balance significantly in the Warriors' favor, consider this: The last four times the Spurs played Golden State without their star big man, they won two of them.

The Spurs went after Durant in free agency, then settled for Pau Gasol, who is primed to join a star-studded collection of talent himself. San Antonio returns Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard from a team that won 67 games last season.

"I wouldn't think of ourselves as the guinea pig," Gasol said Monday when asked if the Spurs saw themselves as a test experiment for Golden State's new concoction. "We have an incredible team here with a lot of talent and a lot of experience. It's going to be an interesting, challenging first game."

The Warriors feel the same way, and with good reason.

Even after winning the season series 3-1 last season, Golden State has prevailed just six times in its past 30 regular-season meetings with the Spurs.

Meanwhile, halfway across the country, Durant was having similar struggles with his Southwest Division rival. His 25.8-point career scoring average against the Spurs is lower than his mark all teams except the Charlotte Hornets, Dallas Mavericks, Milwaukee Bucks and Portland Trail Blazers.

The Warriors will take the court fully aware the NBA hasn't scheduled a coming-out party for Durant on opening night.

"It'll be a really good atmosphere, obviously, and I'm sure there will be a very high level of play on both ends," Curry said. "It'll take a lot to get a win."

The Warriors did more tinkering to their record-breaking, 73-win team than adding Durant. They even plucked one of the Spurs -- David West -- with a team-friendly, $1.6 million offer that was similar to the one ($1.5 million) that lured the veteran away from the Indiana Pacers for a shot at a title in San Antonio last season.

That didn't work out as planned, as West contributed only a career-worst average of 4.0 rebounds and his lowest scoring output in 10 years (7.1 points per game) to the Spurs' quest.

So now, instead of backing up Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge as he did a year ago, he will team with Zaza Pachulia in replacing Andrew Bogut in Golden State's bid for a second championship in three seasons.

Point guard Joel Embiid? Sixers' big man works on leading break

Point guard Joel Embiid? Sixers' big man works on leading break

CAMDEN, N.J. — Toward the end of Sixers practice Monday, Joel Embiid participated in a fast-break drill … by himself.

Embiid brought the ball up the floor in a one-on-none situation against members of the Sixers' coaching staff. 

He's already showed off his three-point shooting skills and now he’s running the break? 

“I’ve always thought I was a point guard,” Embiid joked. “So that’s something that I want to do.”

In all seriousness, Embiid worked on his ball-handling skills during his two-year rehab from foot injuries. It’s not that he wants to become an unconventional point guard, it’s that he is striving to be an all-around threat. Embiid focused on recording his first assist, as an example, during the preseason. 

“I think I’m a complete player,” he said. “I think I can do everything on the court. Doing that shows I think it can help my team, too, in other aspects.” 

With running the break comes attacking the basket in traffic. It could be an anxious moment for a coach to watch a player fresh off two years of foot injuries to drive in a crowd. Sixers head coach Brett Brown said he has to be past the feeling of holding his breath whenever he watches Embiid do so. 

“We are so responsible with how we use him and play him,” Brown said. “It’s like us with children. They go out for the night. You’re nervous, but they go out for the night. He plays basketball for a living, and so he plays. We’ve just got to keep putting him in responsible environments and monitoring his minutes.”

As a point guard, T.J. McConnell appreciates Embiid’s skills, especially given his size. 

“To the people that try to pick him up when he brings the ball up the floor, good luck,” McConnell said. “It’s pretty incredible to see.” 

Robert Covington watched Embiid practice his ball handling during his lengthy recovery. He has seen improvements and likes the dynamic it creates for the team on the break. 

“His handle is really tight and then he’s really strong with it as well,” Covington said. “We’re very comfortable with him pushing the ball.”

That being said, Brown isn’t about to anoint Embiid into a point-center role. He knows Embiid’s desire to be active all over the court, but just as he’s said he doesn’t intend for Embiid to become a go-to three-point shooter, he also wants Embiid to focus on his true position. 

“Joel likes to be a player,” Brown said. “He wants to be a guard. He wants to shoot a three. He wants to be a post player. He wants to play. And we all have seen enough to think he actually can. 

“There are times that he rebounds and leads a break, we want him being aware of get off it, get it to a point guard more than not. I don’t mind him coming down in trail if he’s got daylight, him shooting some. He’s got a wonderful touch and I’ve seen it for two years. 

“... All over the place, I want to grow him. I’m not just going to bucket him up. I still say, like I say to him, 'At the end of the day, you’re a seven-foot-two post player. Post player.'”

Watch Embiid running the floor here: