With NBA All-Star Saturday Night now exactly one month away, Thunder forwards Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant are beginning to prepare for the dunk contest. Ibaka is one of four participants while Durant has been assigned as Ibaka's official coach.
On Friday, a camera crew attended practice to capture footage of Ibaka and Durant gearing up for the contest. Some of the material will be available soon at nba.com/dunk, but coach Scott Brooks joked that the two have a long way to go.
“I have no clue what he's going to bring,” said Brooks, who plans to attend the event in Los Angeles to support his players. “The only dunks I've seen were in the game. And those are great for us, but they're not All-Star, dunk-championship dunks. There is not enough creativity right now. But he must have something.”
Brooks then poked fun at Durant when a reporter asked about the Thunder's star being enlisted as Ibaka's coach.
“That's Serge's problem right there,” Brooks joked. “KD has one dunk, the one-handed tomahawk. That's all he brings to the table. That's not going to be championship dunk ready either … I'm serious. I don't know what he's going to do. I'm worried.”
Ibaka said he is just now starting to think of ideas but assured he would have some tricks to pull out of the bag. Ibaka just isn't saying what they might be.
“It's top secret,” he said. “It's a surprise.”
At 26.4 points per game, New York forward Amar'e Stoudemire ranks second in the league in scoring behind Durant. In the Knicks' 112-98 win over the Thunder on Dec. 22, Stoudemire scored a team-high 23 points with seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
“If we can limit his touches, that does help,” said Brooks. “But we just have to make his touches difficult once he gets the ball. He's a terrific low-post scorer. He's an excellent elbow scorer. And he can put it on the floor, and he's one of the best at rolling to the basket from the pick-and-roll set. We have to stay in front of him as best we can. We let him get away with too much the last time we played them. He was attacking the basket and feeling free on his jump shot.”
CONTROLLING THE PACE
The Knicks are the league's second-highest scoring team and, under coach Mike D'Antoni, like to push the ball looking for quick scores. Brooks said the Thunder doesn't have a problem holding its own in an up-and-down game, but defense and turnovers must still be areas of focus.
“We have to make sure we take care of the basketball,” Brooks said. “We don't want to give them turnovers and transition (chances) because they're going to score. We have to take good shots and be solid with our defense. That usually allows us a chance to win.”
IBAKA ENJOYING CAREER-BEST MONTH
Ibaka is enjoying the best month of his career as he enters tonight's game against the Knicks. In eight January games, Ibaka is averaging 11.6 points and 7.6 rebounds, his highest totals in any full month. Ibaka's 62.5 percent shooting from the field and his 28.2 minutes this month are also a career best.
“I did a good job in the summer, and right now I keep working hard,” Ibaka said. “I have some more confidence right now and that's helped too. I try to just be focused and do my job and do everything possible to help my team.”
MASCOT MANIA INVADING OKC
To help celebrate Rumble the Bison's birthday, eight other NBA mascots will entertain fans and perform during halftime of tonight's game against the Knicks.
NBA mascots scheduled to join Rumble include Grizz (Memphis), The Gorilla (Phoenix), Slamson (Sacramento), Stuff (Orlando), The Coyote (San Antonio), Crunch (Minnesota), Bear (Utah) and Boomer (Indiana).
The mascots will perform an acrobatic dunk show, as well as parade their inflatable costumes.