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Nuggets from my notebook from Thursday's loss at Denver

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: January 10, 2014 at 4:10 am •  Published: January 10, 2014

Well that got ugly quickly…

  • Kevin Durant shouldered the blame because, well, of course. That’s just what Kevin Durant does. He says he needs to be better. Says he needs to do more. From start to finish. This despite scoring 30 points for the sixth time in eight games Thursday night at Denver. But it’s becoming abundantly clear that, without Russell Westbrook, Durant just doesn’t have enough help. He isn’t getting enough contributions from his remaining roster, which is leaving him out to dry as the missed shots keep mounting. But don’t tell him that. “I’m not doing enough to help them,” he insists. “I’m shooting too much. I’m shooting too many 3s. I’m not helping them out at all. So it’s not on them.” Feel free to draw your own conclusions. But that’s bogus.
  • Take the first 18 minutes, for example. Durant was scorching. Made six of his first 11 shots. Scored 22 points in 12 minutes…And the Thunder trailed 42-35. His teammates gave him next to nothing offensively. Durant again blamed himself. “We’ve played without Russell and we’ve played great,” he said. “And we move the ball. And when it gets to me, the ball’s just sticking. So I’m not helping them out at all because I got to create. I got to create for Serge. I got to create for Jeremy. I got to create for Perry. I got to get those guys going. I just can’t keep thinking about myself. So those games fall on me. I take 34 shots last game. I come out and take 10 shots in the first quarter this game. I mean, it’s messing up the rhythm. So I got to figure out how I can help them out. It’s not about them helping me. It’s about me helping them.”
  • Durant came out super aggressive. It could have been him trying to set the tone after the Utah loss. Or it could have been the presence of Quincy Miller checking him. Maybe both. Either way, Durant attempted eight field goals in the first seven minutes and had 16 points on 10 shot attempts in the opening quarter.
  • Durant on his early aggressiveness: “I got to channel it the right way. I can’t be aggressive just to score…I just have to be better as far as getting everybody involved. I mean, today, they were just sitting there watching me. So I take full responsibility for it.”
  • Oddly enough, KD didn’t own the one thing I thought he could have and should have, which was his poor personal finishes the last two games. He went 0-for-6 from the field in the fourth quarter at Utah and missed six of his final seven attempts tonight. In my eyes, it’s either fatigue setting in from carrying the offense or defenses doing well against him. Here’s KD’s take: “I mean, against Utah, it doesn’t matter if I make shots. I scored the basketball in the fourth quarter. We had a chance to win. We were down 16 going into the fourth quarter and we cut the lead to five. It don’t matter if I made a shot or not. I got to the free throw line. That’s making shots, too. And tonight, I missed some wide open looks.”
  • I’m not buying what Durant is selling. He’s missed 12 of his last 13 shots. That’s not like him. What we’ve seen in these last two are reminiscent of his tired legs missing shots in the playoffs last year. It’s just two games. He was dominant in the final period at Minnesota. But Durant just doesn’t look like himself with all the late misses in these last two.
  • Nick Collison on helping Durant: “I think we need to play a better brand of basketball. And that doesn’t mean change what we’re doing. But that means do a better job, on the offensive end from the start of the possession until the end we need to be better. Spacing needs to be better. We need to play with more pace. Cuts need to be harder. The ball needs to find a shot more (rather) than trying to force it to a player and letting him create a shot. It’s really hard to play that way for a long time.”
  • The Thunder’s offense looked completely lost, especially from the start of the third quarter on. I actually saw a Thabo Sefolosha-Serge Ibaka side pick-and-roll. It wasn’t drawn up. It was out of desperation when no one knew what to do.
  • My biggest question tonight is at what point are performances like these no longer excusable because Westbrook is out. Maybe we’re already past that point and I just don’t know it. But it seems like a lot of the comments that I hear from fans is of the “Oh well, Russ ain’t around” variety. Said Durant: “We ain’t never made that excuse. They just beat us tonight.”
  • Ibaka rejoined the lineup after missing the Jazz game with flu-like symptoms. But he struggled with his shot, scoring eight points on 3-for-11 shooting. He had 10 rebounds and three blocked shots, however, and his presence really helped the Thunder close off the paint.
  • Sefolosha was fine tonight after missing the fourth quarter at Utah with a finger injury. I actually thought his defense was back to being very solid tonight. Randy Foye’s six 3-pointers might discredit that opinion. But the way I saw it, nobody kept their man in front of him tonight like Sefolosha.
  • Reggie Jackson really struggled to stay in front of his man. But when your man is Ty Lawson, that’s pretty much understandable. Quick ain’t fair!
  • I loved Jackson’s decision-making at the rim. He could have forced shots when he slithered his way inside. But he made fantastic dump offs on at least two occasions, setting up Kendrick Perkins for a dunk once and Ibaka  for a bucket later.
  • Nuggets didn’t have Wilson Chandler for this one. That’s why Miller started on Durant.
  • Durant had Kenneth Faried drunk at the bar on his pull-up J with about five minutes left in the first quarter.
  • In the next quarter, Jackson posterized Faried with an absolutely filthy driving one-hander. Not a good night in the Faried household.
  • Loved the move by Brooks to bring Durant back with 37 second left in the first quarter after sitting him with 2:16 to play. Denver was ahead 25-24, and the Thunder had a chance at a 2-for-1 attempt. Durant drew a foul on the first possession and knocked down both freebies. But then he turned it over on a pass attempt to Steven Adams on the second possession. It almost backfired, as Lawson made a jumper but just after the buzzer.
  • Ibaka’s block on J.J. Hickson’s attempted dunk off a lob pass from Miller was just not fair. The best part was the thud that filled the arena when Ibaka’s hand forcefully sent the shot back.
  • Durant was asked at shootaround what the Thunder did well to get a win the last time in Denver. He said the Thunder got back on defense and moved the ball on offense. “But also,” Durant said, “the best point guard in the league was playing that game, too.”
  • For at least the first half, I thought the Thunder’s defensive effort was much better tonight than it was at Utah. Hard for it to be much worse. But I saw second and third efforts and rotations and closeouts and rim protection that I didn’t see Tuesday.
  • Denver made 14 of 31 3-pointers. Said Durant: “That did it. You could put it on them getting hot. You could put it on us not making the right rotations. But they were 14-for-31, and any team that goes 14-for-31 from the trey is hard to beat.”
  • Perry Jones III looked super confident in his shot from the start tonight. And then he missed four of five and that look went away.
  • The bench as a whole was brutal. Through three quarters, it was outscored 32-5 by its Nuggets counterparts. Garbage time is all that made the final 39-27 margin look semi respectable.
  • Jeremy Lamb had one of his worst performances of the season, if not his worst. He scored three points on 1-for-12 shooting.  Through three quarters, he had one point. He then made his first field goal with 8:17 left to play.
  • Derek Fisher scored all 12 of his points in the fourth quarter, garbage time. He made four of eight 3s. Where was that when it was needed?
  • Before the game, Nuggets coach Brian Shaw talked about wanting to keep Durant off the free throw line. “Zero free throws would be great but that probably won’t happen,” he said. “If he plays a 38-40 minute game and we can keep him at six free throws or below then we will have accomplished what we tried to accomplish.” Durant then earned six foul shots after one quarter. He had 12 at halftime and finished with 16. So much for that.
  • Durant got a tech from the bench late in the fourth quarter for barking at an official as a means of arguing a call. He didn’t even play in the period. None of the starters did. That’s how bad this game got.
  • Just before halftime, it was clear that the Thunder would need three things to turn around if it had any thoughts of winning this game: defensive rebounding, turnovers and contributions from players not named Durant. None of it got turned around, and the defense got worse. Rough night.
  • Jackson didn’t take his first free throws until 2:56 remained in the third quarter. They were his only two of the night.
  • Shaw did something I’ve never seen a coach do before. He wore an earring in his left ear during his postgame press conference. Cool story behind it, though. A Nuggets PR guy tells me the diamond was from his mother’s engagement ring. When she passed, he got it made into an earring so that he could always be close to her.
  • Also at shootaround, respected Denver Post Nuggets beat writer Chris Dempsey did something I should have done long ago. He asked Durant about opposing players wearing his signature shoes. Nuggets Timofey Mozgov and Wilson Chandler are two of several NBA players who wear Durant’s shoes. Gordon Hayward lit up the Thunder on Tuesday while wearing a pair. According to Dempsey, Mozgov was recently raving about how comfortable the shoes were, fascinated by them because he apparently can’t find shoes his size that are that comfortable. Now, loyal readers of this space know how I feel about other players wearing Durant’s shoes. I hate it. I think it’s a sign of someone showing a competitor too much reverence. But what does Durant think? Well, he kind of tap danced around the question and gave a bit of a PC answer. “I’ve seen a few guys wear my shoes,” Durant said. “It’s flattering to me. I don’t really look at it as an advantage at all. More so, it’s just cool seeing “KD” on other guys shoes, because I’ve grown up watching people wear Jordans and play in Jordans. And now to have my own signature shoe and have my peers wearing it, it’s pretty fun to see.”
  • Nuggets coach Shaw, though, is old school. “When I came (into the NBA) in 1988, shortly after that, Jordan started with his Jordan One. They only made them in red, white and black, Bulls colors. I remember Nike wouldn’t let you wear his shoes. They only let him wear it. You could order them through your account, but you couldn’t wear them in games. And then, when they started making different colors and they started allowing guys to wear them in games, obviously the most important thing is that it’s a shoe that fits your foot and you’re comfortable in it, then you’ll want to wear it. But I always thought that that gave; like being on the Lakers, when guys would wear Kobe’s shoes when we were playing against them, he always would, in his mind, feel ‘I got him because he’s wearing my shoes.’ So the guys who do wear KD’s, we were talking yesterday, ‘Are you really going to wear those tomorrow when we play him?’ So it was a debate back and forth about the comfort of the shoe as opposed to what message it sends when you’re wearing a guys shoes.”
  • And I still will never forget how scared Chandler looked of Durant during the 2011 playoffs. That’s about what I expect a guy who wears another player’s shoes to look like when going up against him.
  • Brooks before the game when asked what’s the biggest thing Lamb is bringing. “All-around play,” Brooks said. “We expect him to give us great energy on both ends. He can score the basketball. He can help our team score the basketball. But we like what he does defensively. We want him to continue to improve in that area because that’s what we build our success on.”
  • The Pepsi Center is one of the more underrated NBA atmospheres. There’s always a buzz. The crowd is always engaged. And the game operations staff is great, always coming up with clever ideas for promotions and crowd involvement. I’d recommend taking in a Nuggets game to anyone who can make the trip.
  • Up next: Milwaukee on Saturday.
by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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