ORLANDO, Fla. — Charles Barkley is sticking to his script.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, he says, doesn't play a brand of basketball conducive to playoff success.
As for his shtick, well, don't expect Barkley to scrap that anytime soon, either.
It seems the Thunder, and the state of Oklahoma in general, will continue to be Barkley's personal punching bag. But the Hall of Famer and longtime TNT analyst insists his persistent pokes aren't personal.
“I don't dislike anybody. I'm giving my basketball opinion,” Barkley told The Oklahoman following Saturday night's Slam Dunk Contest. “I don't like their halfcourt offense. That's just strictly a basketball opinion.”
Despite the Thunder sitting atop the Western Conference standings with a 27-7 record that ties Miami for the best league's best mark, Barkley has maintained that the Thunder is not even the best team in the West and cannot win a championship this season.
Last year, Barkley dismissed the Thunder because of the team's erratic defense and rebounding.
This year, his reasoning consistently has been that the Thunder doesn't execute well enough offensively in halfcourt sets, the team has just three legitimate scoring threats in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden and each of them primarily are jump shooters. Barkley also has been highly critical of Westbrook's shot selection.
“Obviously, I've got great respect for Kevin,” Barkley said. “I really would like to see them win. Scott Brooks and Maurice Cheeks are two of my best friends. But I just don't like their halfcourt offense. I don't think they get enough easy baskets when the game slows down.”
Asked how the Thunder's scoring trio is any different from league favorite Miami, which Barkley has trumpeted, Barkley pointed to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
“They get layups and dunks,” Barkley said. “Your guys shoot jumpers. That's the big difference.”
When prompted to consider the Thunder's transition game — Oklahoma City is tied with Memphis for fifth in the league in fast break points with 16.8-point average — Barkley countered with the style of play changing in the postseason.
“Yeah, but the game is going to slow down,” Barkley said. “And Dwyane and LeBron, they're going to get easier shots in a halfcourt set.”
Barkley's criticism is nothing new. It's now just centered on actual basketball.
But he has taken shots at Oklahoma City and the state as a whole numerous times dating to the New Orleans Hornets' two-year relocation at the start of the 2005-06 season.
Since then, Barkley has called Oklahoma a “vast wasteland,” said it was “no place for black people” and joked that former Hornets guard Chris Paul had chickens in his backyard while playing in Oklahoma City. Barkley also has questioned whether cable television had made its way to Oklahoma.
“Dude, that's a joke,” Barkley said. “I say the same (expletive) about Sacramento, dude.”
As for his five-year old promise to visit Oklahoma City, Barkley essentially put the onus on the Thunder.
“I hope y'all get to the Finals this year so I can get there,” he said. “I look forward to coming there.”