TNT studio analyst Charles Barkley will make a rare game appearance Thursday night in Oklahoma City, broadcasting the Clippers-Thunder game with Marv Albert, Steve Kerr and reporter David Aldridge. Barkley discussed the Thunder and the NBA in a phone interview last week.
Are you looking forward to getting out of the studio and broadcasting a game in Oklahoma City?
Yeah. I started doing some games last year. I did three or four last year and I'm doing three or four this year. I love the crowd there. We did the Western Conference (finals) a couple of years ago and it was amazing. And I'm looking forward to going back there.
What's it like working in the studio? It seems like you guys have fun.
We have a great time. We have a lot of fun. That's the No. 1 thing we try to do. It's just basketball. We're not saving the world. But we hope that people love the show.
I know you made some disparaging comments about Oklahoma (calling it “nothing but vast wasteland” and “no place for black people”) when the Hornets played here. Have you changed your mind?
I was just having fun. I didn't know they had that many black people there to be honest with you. I was very surprised when I went there. They have got a ton of black people there. Everybody was great. People took it as a joke. Some people try to make things different than they are. I thought the people of Oklahoma treated me great.
What's your opinion of the altercation in the Thunder-Clippers game last week?
That wasn't an altercation. That was two guys who didn't want to fight pushing each other.
Did you think Serge Ibaka and Matt Barnes should have been ejected?
I thought the referee overreacted a little bit.
What did you think about Barnes' comment on Twitter?
I don't think you should be using the “N word” publicly. I use the word. I'm going to continue to use the word. I don't think he should use the word publicly. I think it was more about him calling out his teammates for being soft.
Why do you think the Clippers are soft?
That's only because they are. You just watch the way they play. The toughest guy on their team is their point guard (Chris Paul).
Has bringing in Doc Rivers to coach made a difference?
He can't play. I like Doc. Doc is not out there playing. The players have to get tougher mentally.
How do you rate the Thunder's play?
I like the Thunder. I have been critical of the Thunder the last couple of years because they don't have a low-post presence. I like the (Steven) Adams kid a lot and I think he is going to be the key whether they can go to the next level.
Do you think he will be starting before the end of the season?
Where do they need to improve?
They have to find a way to get the low-post scoring. Even Ibaka is a jump shooter. The same criticism I've had the last couple of years. They are going to be good enough because of (Russell) Westbrook and K.D. (Kevin Durant), but they can't get to the next level until find a way to get easy baskets when the game is on the line.
How do you rate their chances of getting back to the NBA Finals?
I think they have a great chance. There are four elite teams (in the West) and they are one of them. The Clippers, depending on how much better Blake (Griffin) and DeAndre (Jordan) has gotten. Dwight Howard, how he is going to relate in Houston. I want to see if the Thunder has some inside presence. I like Golden State a lot.
So the Spurs aren't in contention?
I think they are going to be in the mix. They have the best point guard in the NBA and they play very hard and very smart. I've been very disappointed in the Rockets and the Clippers, so they are in the conversation.
How do you size up the Eastern Conference?
Indiana and Miami. It doesn't matter after that. The Pacers are really good.
Is it hard for Miami to keep its edge?
No, they just got flaws. People overreact. They went seven games to the Pacers and they should have lost to the Spurs. And that team hasn't gotten better. Unless they get Greg Oden out there, they are going to have that same small team and they are going to struggle to win the championship, if they win it.