Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni recently was asked why he doesn't remove center Dwight Howard late in games because of his 46.9 percent free-throw shooting.
“Because they (critics) have no clue what they're talking about,” D'Antoni said tersely. “It's pretty simple. You don't do that to a guy and he made his foul shots. He's not the reason that our defense breaks down. He's not the reason that stuff happens. He's got to work through this. If you take him out now, then what are you going to do? Are you going to take him out all the time? You've got a player who's going to be your franchise player. You don't do that to him, and it's not him that's causing the problem.”
When Kendrick Perkins first arrived with the Thunder, opposing teams started fouling him late in games. Perkins is a career 60.5 percent free-throw shooter.
“They did that to Perk one time, and he sank six free throws in a row,” three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant said with a smile. “That's pretty cool to see from a big man, especially like Perk — you do that to him he's going to talk trash to you. They did that once to him and he made those free throws. I don't think we can do that against him (Howard) because he always seems to make his free throws when we play him.”
While playing for the Orlando Magic two seasons ago, Howard had 39 points, 18 rebounds and sank 17 of 20 free throws in a 125-124 loss to the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Jan. 13, 2011.
Durant, Russell Westbrook and Lakers great Kobe Bryant were on Team USA last summer at the Olympic Games in London. Thunder forward Serge Ibaka and Lakers forward Pau Gasol were teammates with Spain, which lost to the U.S. team in the gold medal game.
“I haven't talked to them much this summer,” Bryant said of being an elder statesman to Durant and Westbrook. “I feel like they already know enough. I really enjoy both of them tremendously and (former Thunder sixth man) James (Harden), too, on the Olympic team, being around them in practice and watching their work ethic. They're throwbacks, man. That's rare to see nowadays.”
Is he glad Harden no longer is with the Thunder?
“Yeah,” Bryant said. “I think Kevin obviously is a fantastic player, but we played against them several times, and James was a really big problem.”
Durant started out the season on a quest to expand his overall game by grabbing more rebounds collecting more assists and taking fewer shots.
Evidently, there were no growing pains for Durant, who was named Western Conference Player of the Month for games played in October and November.
“I appreciate the award,” Durant said. “I never want to take stuff like that for granted, but I'm really not concerned about it too much. I'm just trying to grow as a player and help my team win. That's all I'm concerned with.”
In November, Durant ranked second overall in scoring at 26.5 points, shot 51.0 percent from the field, 43.3 percent from the 3-point line, 89.3 percent from the free-throw line, while averaging 8.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.7 blocks. He also recorded his first career triple-double — 25 points, 13 rebounds and a career-high 10 assists — in a 119-109 victory over Golden State on Nov. 18.
Westbrook also was nominated for the Western Conference award. Miami's LeBron James was named Eastern Conference player of the month.
Thunder shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha is a career 44.1 percent shooter from the field and a 33.6 percent shooter from 3-point range. So far this season, he is shooting 50.5 percent from the field and 46.3 percent from 3 point range.
“Well, don't jinx him,” Durant said of Sefolosha. “It's good that he's taking those shots with confidence. It doesn't matter if he's shooting 35 percent or 46 percent, we just want him to shoot those open shots. We want to continue to keep giving him confidence every single day, every single game, keep passing it to him. He's working on his game before practice, after practice, so hopefully he keeps making them.”
Bryant when asked what characteristics Durant and Westbrook have beyond their skill set that makes Bryant believe they're the NBA's next torchbearers: “They just don't give a (bleep). That's really it. Not too many players have had that. Michael (Jordan) had it. I had it. Durant has it. Westbrook has it. They just don't care about pressure situations or criticism. It's rare.”