Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant chose to sit out of his team's regular-season final at Sacramento on Thursday night, which assured Thunder forward Kevin Durant of his third straight scoring title.
Bryant (27.8) would have needed 38 points to beat out Durant (28.0) for this year's crown.
“It's not a challenge for me to score 38 points, you know?” Bryant told ESPNLosAngeles.com. “If that's the benchmark, that's all you need to do, that's not really hard to do that. The biggest thing, most important thing for me is setting the tone for our team. Our young guys have been very supportive for us all year, and it's important for them to get out and perform as well, for us to be there to support them.
“The scoring title is not that important. We know I can do it. We know I can go out and score 38 points. The most important thing is sending the right message to the group, which is putting a championship above all else.”
Has Bryant contacted Durant to congratulate him?
“Nah,” Durant said Friday.
Anything to add?
“No,” Durant said.
COOK IS COOKIN'
Reserve guard Daequan Cook rediscovered his shooting touch the final three games of the regular season, burying 8 of 15 from 3-point range.
While some scream for more playing time for Cook, keep in mind with previously injured Thabo Sefelosha back in the starting lineup at shooting guard and with the acquisition of veteran point guard Derek Fisher, Cook has returned to his previous role as the backup to Durant, who played 116 more minutes than any other NBA player this season.
“The guy in front of him is pretty good,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “It's hard to get Kevin out of the game. It has nothing to do with DC, it's more to do with Kevin.
“It's nice to know he (Cook) is hitting some shots. He had a tough stretch there like any shooter in this league will have. He's feeling good about his shot and I am, too.”
DOWN ON SERGE
ESPN.com's John Hollinger showed plenty of love toward the Thunder in his awards voting, naming Durant to the All-NBA first team, Russell Westbrook to the second team and James Harden to the third team. He also voted Harden as the league's top Sixth Man and had Durant third in MVP voting behind Miami forward LeBron James and Clippers point guard Chris Paul.
However, Serge Ibaka received no love for Defensive Player of the Year, despite him leading the league by 106 blocked shots with 241 total.
Wrote Hollinger: “A lot of people have him on their DPOY ballots, but in my mind he's nowhere close. He blocks a lot of shots, but it's difficult to make a case for him when the Thunder's defense shows no great variation whether he's in or out of the game. While he blocks a lot of shots, his fundamentals against pick-and-rolls and perimeter 4s remain raw. Please reference Game 1 of the 2011 Western Conference finals, for instance.”
NBA TITLE ODDS
According to RJ Bell of Pregame.com, odds are the NBA Finals will match the Thunder against the Miami Heat.
Here are Bell's odds:
Miami Heat – 2 to 1
Chicago Bulls – 4 to 1
OKC Thunder – 9 to 2
San Antonio Spurs – 5 to 1
LA Lakers – 15 to 1
Boston Celtics – 25 to 1
Memphis Grizzlies – 30 to 1
LA Clippers – 35 to 1
New York Knicks – 40 to 1
Dallas Mavericks – 45 to 1
Indiana Pacers – 50 to 1
Denver Nuggets – 90 to 1
Atlanta Hawks – 125 to 1
Philadelphia 76ers – 180 to 1
Orlando Magic – 180 to 1
Utah Jazz – 200 to 1
Here is the best-of-7 series schedule: Game 1 – Saturday at 8:30 p.m., OKC; Game 2 – Monday at 8:30 p.m., OKC; Game 3 – Thursday at 8:30 p.m., Dallas; Game 4 – Next Saturday at 6:30 p.m., Dallas; Game 5, if necessary – May 7 at TBA, OKC; Game 6, if necessary – May 10 at TBA, Dallas; Game 7, if necessary – May 12 at TBA, OKC.
TNT analyst and Hall of Famer Charles Barkley on the Thunder-Mavericks series: “Oklahoma City is gonna beat these boys like they stole something.”