ESPN/ABC analysts Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy discussed the Oklahoma City’s Thunder chances of making the playoffs on a recent conference call.
I think they have a very good chance of making the playoffs. The reason why is they’re well-coached and they’re loaded with talent. It’s a team that plays extremely hard every single night. They play with a chip on their shoulders. The thing I love about them is they are young guys that love the game of basketball. That’s what separates them.
I watched a bunch of those guys in Vegas in the offseason just together working out. It’s no accident why those guys are growing and getting so much better. They are a team to reckon with, not just in the future, but right now. And the thing I love about it is when you look at a kid like (James) Harden, people do not mention him when they mention the bunch of good young guards, and he is in the discussion just as much. He is playing on a better team with better backcourt play. That’s a team that I certainly see making the playoffs and being around for the long time. And Kevin Durant has put himself in the elite group.
Jeff Van Gundy:
I think they have a chance. I think the Western Conference is top heavy where there will be a lot of people competing for 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 spots. You have the real bad teams at the bottom, but there are a lot of teams that circumstances will determine whether they descend or ascend, whether it’s injuries or stars playing their best. I think Oklahoma City, with Sam Presti, Scott Brooks and Kevin Durant, they have a great start to being a really fine franchise.
I think their fan base, having played there when New Orleans relocated there, is the most collegiate of all NBA arena atmopsheres. It’s just a great place to play where they have a distinct homecourt advantage.
NBA TV analysts Chris Webber and Kevin McHale discussed the Thunder on its telecast of the Thunder-Lakers game Tuesday.
Here are a few excerpts:
Kevin McHale on the Thunder picking up guard Eric Maynor: “Good pick-up. I really like Eric Maynor. I thought he played really well for Jerry Sloan so I was pretty surprised that Utah got rid of him. This is a big pick-up for the Thunder. When Kevin Ollie comes back he will do a good job of mentoring Eric Maynor and James Harden, who has that “old man game.” He will help them a great deal.”
McHale on the Thunder’s defensive play: “I think that is why the coaching staff is so happy there. They are buying in on the defensive end. They have two things going there: 1) their top player buys into the defense end which is huge and 2) they have a stopper so they are feeling really comfortable of how they are playing on the defensive end.”
Webber on the Thunder being contenders for a playoff spot: “They are not contenders. Let’s make them earn it, let them lose a heartbreaker and then come back the next year. I just don’t want to crown them. The NBA is really tough and whether you go into the playoffs under .500 or above .500 it is tough. Not many teams are making the playoffs consistently anyway so I would just say that they are just a contender to be a really good team in the future.”
McHale on the Thunder’s improved defense: “They have improved their defense since last year by over 7 points a game. I think they are going to contend to play meaningful games late in the spring and that’s what young teams need to do. You can’t be out of a playoff race Jan. 20. You get better when you play meaningful games and beat those other teams that are competing for playoff spots.”
Webber: “This game is like a playoff game. This game will give them the confidence they need later on to handle crowds on the road and tough players. They are going to have to prove what they are a contender of.”
Webber on the Thunder’s first-half performance: “These young guys really came to play and I really see the maturity. Let’s see if they can follow it through because it is fun watching them when they come with this kind of focus.”
ESPN sportscaster Erin Andrews got her day in court Tuesday as she faced her stalker, Michael Barrett, in a Los Angeles courtroom for the first time and broke down in tears. She asked a federal judge to show no mercy on Barrett and sentence him to the maximum of five years in prison.
Barrett avoided eye contact with Andrews and pleaded guilty to one felony count of stalking. He admitted to rigging peepholes at hotels in Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin in 2008 and secretly shooting videos of her. Under a plea agreement, Barrett is expected to serve two years in prison, but Judge Manuel Real will make the final determination when Barrett returns for sentencing on Feb. 22.
“I am a victim of this sexual predator. I would like to see him immediately put in prison for as long as possible,” Andrews told the judge. “I have nightmares. I walk in crowds, and I see him in my peripheral vision. When I’m alone in my house, I have fears that he’s going to walk inside and hurt me.
“I don’t know him. I’ve never met him. I don’t know why he chose me. But I hope he never sees the light of day again.”
“My career has been ripped apart, which I’ve worked very hard for. I am subjected to crude comments and suggestions that I have partnered in a crime. I walk into stadiums, and fans say obscene things to me.”
Outside the courthouse, she told TV crews she fell apart in court. “I wanted to go right in and get it over with. The first couple minutes were very difficult. I lost it. My dad was trying to help me keep it together.”
Andrews wants Barrett classified as a sexual predator.
“He’s a threat to all women,” she said. “I don’t want someone else’s career to be ruined like this. It won’t come off the internet. Still to this day every time I check into a hotel room, I’m constantly looking around to see if he’s there.”
Andrews’ attorney, Marshall Grossman, said his client plans to seek civil remedies against “hotels and related parties involved,” push for stronger laws against stalking, and advocate for changes in hotel security.
Josh Lewin, one of my favorite announcers, who also works for my favorite baseball team, the Texas Rangers, will be coming back for next season and likely 2011. The Rangers announced Friday that they had signed him to a one-year extension with a mutual option for 2011.
John Blake, Rangers executive VP of communications, sure Lewin won’t be missing as many games late in the season as in the past. He also has served as radio voice of the San Diego Chargers.
“We felt like we needed to have our No. 1 television guy here more at the end of the year,” Blake said. “We’ve accomplished that in this. There’s only three games he can miss the last month of the season.”
From reading comments on the Dallas Morning News’ Web site, www.dallasnews.com, I can see that Lewin, 41, has worn thin on some Rangers’ fans in his previous eight seasons with the team. But I think he does a great job of keeping a slow-paced game interesting by delving into a variety of topics with analyst Tom Grieve.
The big news from baseball’s winter meetings doesn’t involve trades or free agent signings. Hall of Fame journalist Peter Gammons has decided to leave ESPN after the meetings to join the MLB Network and the New England Sports Network.
Gammons’ knowledgable and thoughtful reports will be missed by ESPN viewers. He will be a studio analyst for MLB and a studio analyst, reporter and online contributor for NESN.
Said Norby Williamson, ESPN executive vice president: “As a print journalist moving to television, Peter was a pioneer who became a Hall of Famer. His contributions to ESPN will never be forgotten. We’re sad to see Peter go, but understand his desire for new challenges and a less demanding schedule.”
Said Gammons: “My decision to leave ESPN and move on at this point in my life has been conflicted. I owe a great deal of my professional life to ESPN, having spent more than half of my 40 years in journalism working for the network, and the choice to move on was made with nothing but the strongest feelings for the people with whom I worked. ESPN gave me a great deal more than I gave it, and will always be a huge part of who I am.”
“My friend Tom Rush – who taught James Taylor and me our first guitar chords – once wrote how strange it seems to walk away alone. With no regrets.”
Gammons, 64, was honored as the recipient of the 2004 J.G. Taylor Spink Award for outstanding baseball writing during the 2005 Hall of Fame induction ceremony July 31 in Cooperstown, N.Y. He was selected in balloting by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
He began his career as a reporter for the Boston Globe in 1969 and wrote a very popular weekly Sunday baseball column for many years. He has also worked for Sports Illustrated covering the National Hockey League, college basketball and Major League Baseball (1976-78, 1986-90).
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant has reached the summit of ESPN The Magazine as its 2010 NEXT winner – the athlete destined to make the biggest impact on sports in the coming year, and for years to come. The double-cover NEXT/ESPN 100 issue will hit newsstands Friday.
At 6-foot-9, Durant has a delicate touch, lightning speed and rare work ethic is looking to blaze his own trail to the top. He also is being billed as a rare kind of player: The superstar nobody has the heart to hate.
Quotes from the article:
Shane Battier of the Houston Rockets, on Durant: “No matter how talented a young player is, his first year is sink or swim. Can he survive in a man’s league? Obviously Kevin did, and he did it pretty well.”
Houston Rockets coach Rick Adelman, on Durant: “He’s got all the ability in the world. And he keeps getting better.”
Durant: “I want to win more than anybody. I want to be one of the greatest players of all time. I want to be remembered. But I don’t think you have to be a bad person to be a great player. I think I can be one guy on the court and another guy off.”
2010 NEXT runners-up:
2. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans tailback
3. John Wall, University of Kentucky basketball
4. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals pitcher
5. Melanie Oudin, Tennis