Former Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson continues to lead the Houston Rockets following the Saturday death of 23-year-old Alexandra “Sasha” McHale, the daughter of Houston coach Kevin McHale. She died in Minneapolis, reportedly of complications from lupus.
McHale has been on a leave of absence since Nov. 10 to be with his daughter and family and was replaced by Sampson.
“Sasha was a daddy's girl,” Sampson told the Houston Chronicle after her passing. “I remember last year during the lockout when we were meeting, she got sick. She was on a study abroad and had to come back. He just talked about her all the time. It's just tough. It's terrible. Terrible, terrible, terrible.”
There is no timetable for McHale's return. Sampson and the coaching staff planned to attend Wednesday's funeral service in Minnesota and then fly to OKC for the 7 p.m. game at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
NO BIG DEAL
Russell Westbrook and Kevin Martin gave obligatory “just another game” responses when asked about Wednesday's contest.
Not Thunder coach Scott Brooks, however.
“No, it's not another game,” Brooks joked after Tuesday's practice. “They traded me in the second championship year. It took me five years to get over (coach) Rudy Tomjanovich. Now, we're best buddies. But, yeah, it's still personal.”
The well-humored Brooks was referring to getting traded from the Rockets during halftime of a game on Feb. 23, 1995, moments before the trade deadline. Brooks was on Houston's championship 1993-94 team, and the Rockets went on to repeat the following season after Brooks was traded to Dallas. Brooks played 59 games with the Rockets in 1994-95 and was not awarded a championship ring.
The Thunder and Rockets executed a trade on Oct. 27 that sent James Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward to Houston in exchange for Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two conditional first-round draft choices and a second-round pick.
There were plenty of laughs for two seasons when Thunder guards Westbrook, Harden, Cook and Eric Maynor held their playful pre-practice and post-practice shooting contests.
All that goes out the window Wednesday.
Entering Houston's home game against Toronto on Tuesday night, Harden was averaging 38.4 minutes, 25.2 points, 4.9 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 4.1 turnovers. He was shooting 43.9 percent from the field, 32.0 percent from 3-point range and 83.6 percent from the free-throw line.
Cook had played in just six games and was averaging 10.5 minutes, 3.2 points and was shooting 38.5 percent from 3-point territory.
Aldrich has been slowed by an ankle injury and has played eight games, averaging 8.6 minutes, 3.0 points and 2.1 rebounds.
Despite the buzz surrounding Wednesday's game, Martin said he'll be able to put the trade aside.
How about Westbrook?
“It won't be nothing for me,” Westbrook said. “Nothing happened to me. It's another night, man. Those guys — James, Daequan, Cole — all still good friends, but we still want to take care of business.”
There likely will be some sort of crowd reaction whenever Martin and Harden defend each other on the court.
“It's the game of basketball,” Martin said with a smile. “It's nothing I haven't heard before or he hasn't heard before.”
THE FLIP SIDE
From the middle of the first quarter to the middle of the third quarter of Monday night's record-setting 114-69 home victory over Charlotte, the Thunder outscored the Bobcats 75-19 in a 23-minute span.
“Wow,” Brooks said, not realizing the numbers.
Brooks recalled being on the wrong side of a similar score at Cleveland on Nov. 26, 2008, his third game as Thunder coach, when the Cavaliers jumped out to a 13-0 lead and led by as many as 42 in a 117-82 victory.
LeBron James played only 17 minutes for the Cavs and had 14 points, while Kevin Durant's plus-minus for the game was minus-35.
Brooks said he envisions a warm reception for Harden during pregame introductions: “I'm sure they're going to cheer him on when they announce his name and then cheer us for the rest of the game. That's what our fans do. We've got the best fans in the league. I don't see them doing anything other than cheering our team.”