Scott Brooks assured Monday that he doesn't have a doghouse.
And if he did, the Oklahoma City Thunder coach said Serge Ibaka wouldn't be in it.
So don't read anything into Ibaka's 22 minutes over the past two games. Brooks insists Ibaka's lack of playing time stems mostly from unfavorable matchups against Washington and Miami, but also a disappointing effort against the Heat.
“He's not in the doghouse,” Brooks said. “It's just, do you want him to guard LeBron James? He can't guard LeBron.”
In a 108-103 win over the Thunder, the Heat played several stretches of small ball, spacing the floor with shooters and playing James at power forward. James eventually scored 23 points with a game-high 13 assists and four rebounds, four steals and three blocked shots.
“Really, no one on our team did a good job on him, so maybe I should have tried (Ibaka),” Brooks joked.
When asked why Ibaka couldn't play at center, Brooks said he preferred Nick Collison.
“You want to take Nick out?” Brooks asked. “He took three charges. He rebounds. He sets great screens.”
Against the Wizards last Friday, Ibaka played just 13 minutes. Washington's starting center JaVale McGee missed the game due to illness, and starting power forward Andray Blatche was saddled with foul trouble all night and played only 30 minutes of the double-overtime nail biter. When the Wizards went small, Ibaka went to the bench.
On Sunday, Ibaka looked lethargic in his first 5 minutes, 39 seconds. He failed to snare a rebound, take a shot or swat a shot. He registered two fouls over that span before sitting the entire third quarter and playing only 3 1/2 minutes of the final period.
His nine minutes set a season low.
“I didn't like the energy that he brought to the game,” Brooks said. “But he knows that. He's going to come back Wednesday night and play much better. I need him to play better while he's in there, and he will.”
Very rarely in Ibaka's previous 1 1/2 seasons has Brooks had to coach effort. Ibaka, to this point, has been the team's energizer. But Ibaka chalked up Sunday's showing to being simply a bad day.
“Everybody in the league has a bad game sometimes,” Ibaka said. “Kevin Durant is the best scorer in the world. He has a couple of bad games, too. But the next day, he's working hard for the next game. That's what I try to do, too. So we'll see.”
In the meantime, Ibaka won't complain.
“He's the coach. He's the boss,” Ibaka said of Brooks. “So if he says that, I don't want to say nothing. My job is to keep working hard like I do every time and do my best possible.”
Brooks said Ibaka will return to his customary place in the rotation Wednesday against New Orleans. The Hornets, with power forward David West and center Emeka Okafor, present a more traditional frontline that suits Ibaka's skill set.
“They play big, and Serge will get his 28 to 30 minutes,” Brooks said.
Until then, teammates will continue encouraging Ibaka.
“Just tell him to stay focused and always be ready,” said Russell Westbrook. “That's just the life of playing in this league. You've got to be ready each and every night. And if you're not, somebody else will step in and be ready to play.”
After an extended stint on the bench the past two games, Ibaka now knows the way to avoid future benchings is to always be ready to perform.
“It's hard for me. I want to play,” Ibaka said. “I don't come to games to just play. I come to every game ready to play hard.
“I'm not happy to be on the bench. I don't like to be on the bench.”