Following his team's 99-93 victory over the Thunder in Game 2 at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Memphis defensive ace and former Oklahoma State standout Tony Allen once again was bragging about point guard teammate Mike Conley, who finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
“Mike Conley is now one of the top five point guards in the league, whether anybody likes it or not,” said Allen, who had five steals in Tuesday's contest. “I know a lot of people have got their favorites on who they think it should be, but Mike Conley is in that conversation now, being able to do these types of things on the court night in and night out.”
Allen's post-game speech actually was a continuation of a pre-game speech he gave about Conley on Sunday morning before Game 1.
“He's Top 5. Top 5 now,” Allen said of Conley, his voice rising. “Ever since the All-Star Break, I don't see nobody playing better than him consistently and winning like him.
“Mike Conley has got to be up there now with (Boston's) Rajon Rondo being out. (Brooklyn's) Deron Williams just went fishin'. Steve Nash of the Los Angeles Lakers), he went fishin'. He (Conley) had to get over that battle (against the Clippers' Chris Paul) to get into the conversation. (The Thunder's Russell) Westbrook is out.”
Allen was asked about Golden State's Stephen Curry. “He's not a point guard, he a shooting guard,” Allen said. “He's just in a point guard's body.”
Allen said the key for Conley's ascent was beating Paul in the first round.
“He (Conley) had the monkey on his back for a long time,” Allen said “Now he's grown into being one of the forces. Man, Chris Paul used to get the best of him. I don't want to say he (Conley) got the best of him (Paul), but he was able to compete with him on a high level.”
Allen was assigned to defend Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha, who has improved immensely as a shooter the last couple years, but rarely has drawn the other team's top perimeter defender.
Allen wasn't taking anything for granted, however.
“Ain't putting nothin' past nobody,” Allen said. “Every day a star is born. You can't put that past nobody. I didn't think (Thunder point guard) Reggie Jackson was that good, you know what I mean? He surprised me — a lot.”
Denver Nuggets executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri was selected NBA Executive of the Year by a panel of league executives.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti finished eighth in the balloting, receiving one first-place vote, one second-place vote and four third-place votes.
Ujiri's selection came one day after the Nuggets coach George Karl was named NBA Coach of the Year.
Ujiri was instrumental in assembling a roster that finished with the league's fourth-best record (57-25) to earn the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Denver had the league's best home record at 38-3 (. 927), tied for the 14th best home mark in NBA history.
Gary Sacks of the Los Angeles Clippers was second in the balloting, followed by Houston's Daryl Morey, New York's Glen Grunwald, San Antonio's R.C. Buford and Miami's Pat Riley.
ODDS OF ADVANCING
From Pregame.com, here are the updated odds for each team advancing to the next round:
Grizzlies — 61 percent chance; Thunder — 39 percent chance
Spurs — 62 percent chance; Warriors — 38 percent chance
Heat — 92 percent chance; Bulls — 8 percent chance
Knicks — 51 percent chance; Pacers — 49 percent chance
Jackson on all the advice he has received from the sidelined Westbrook: “Coach Westbrook's done a good job, watching the games, observing. He's definitely on me a lot about (putting the) pedal to the metal and just trying to make plays for others and take the load off Kevin (Durant).”
BY JOHN ROHDE