Former Oklahoma basketball coach Kelvin Sampson is in his second season as coach Kevin McHale's lead assistant with the Houston Rockets, who play the OKC Thunder in Game 6 on Friday night at Toyota Center in Houston.
Q: You've been mentioned as a candidate for head coach openings with the Milwaukee Bucks and Charlotte Bobcats. Can you share any news with us about those situations?
Sampson: “Not really. I've told (Rockets general manager) Daryl (Morey) and those guys I'm not going to do anything during this series, so I don't really have anything to say. I haven't talked to anybody and I'm not going to talk to anybody until this series is over, one way or the other.”
You work closely with James Harden in practice. What things do you talk about primarily?
“For James, it's just (about) making sure he makes the right decisions offensively. He's so good, he can dominate. Making sure he's not making the home run pass. Against this team (OKC), the more movement we have — including him — the harder we are to guard because of the way they switch (defensively). … When we're moving, we can use that switching against them.”
Scouting reports on the Thunder?
“I pick his brain about the Thunder. You'd be surprised at the question I ask about them. He's been really helpful for us with that. Most of the questions he asks me are about his defense or his offense. ‘Do you think I should do this? What about this?' … Guys like James, sometimes he needs people around him that will tell him what he needs to hear versus what he wants to hear.”
Michael Jordan had his “Flu Game” in the playoffs and had 38 points against Utah in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals. Did Harden have his “Flu Game” in Game 5 with 31 points and making his first seven 3-pointers at OKC despite having strep throat and skipping morning shootaround?
“He was pretty good, wasn't he? I'm a little upset with him that he went through shootaround (before Game 6).”
You were known for emphasizing defense at OU, yet you're coaching the second-highest scoring team in the NBA. What's that been like?