Trash Talk: Tough road will help Thunder - NBC Sports

Trash Talk: Tough road will help Thunder
Thunder forward Kevin Durant reacts after hitting theÿwinning shot against the Dallas Mavericks in the fourth quarter of Game 1 on Saturday night.
April 30, 2012, 3:04 pm

Pity the poor Oklahoma City Thunder. The lads from OKC drew an unusually tough first-round playoff opponent in the defending champion Dallas Mavericks -- the Thunder is up, 1-0, in the series after a cliffhanger of an opener on Saturday -- then might have to face the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals if both advance. After that, it's probably either the Spurs or Grizzlies in the conference finals.

By contrast, the competition for the leaders in the East is akin to spending a few weeks at the seashore.

So it's bad luck for the Thunder, right?

Eh, not necessarily. For an aging and decrepit assemblage, maybe. But for a young athletic club like the Thunder, whose only real shortcoming is the need to become battle-tested, this path is just the ticket.

Rather than sapping the strength from the OKC players, it will fortify them. Playing lengthy, tenacious, intensely competitive series against the West's best will prepare the Thunder for the NBA finals - if all goes well, that is - far better than if the team had been fed easily digestible postseason morsels.

The Thunder can take it. The OKC players have the legs, the energy and the desire to withstand this gauntlet.

The Thunder should thank the seeding gods. That might not be apparent now, but it will be when they get to where they want to be.

Pujols a giant flop so far
Although April showers might indeed bring May flowers, Albert Pujols would gladly trade in a few petunias for a home run. One measly home run.

Pujols hasn't hit a home run yet this season, which is problematic if you're the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and you just invested $250 million over 10 years for the former St. Louis Cardinals' slugger. Some contracts are back-loaded to provide deferred money in later years. Perhaps this is the first contract in MLB history in which the hitter has agreed to defer his home runs.

Going into Monday's games, Pujols is batting .216, with the aforementioned goose egg in the dinger column, plus four RBIs. If he keeps this up, he might just become the biggest baseball bust of all time.

It's unlikely a player of the caliber of Albert Pujols will continue along this ghastly path. He'll break out eventually.

But the reason he might be a historic bust is not just because of his production. It's also because his team stinks, and attendance is down.

So far the Angels are averaging 34,833 per home contest, down from 2011's average attendance of 39,090. It's not fair to pin the blame solely on Pujols, because the Angels are last in the AL West at 7-15, nine games back of first-place Texas. But one of the reasons owner Arte Moreno justified blowing so much dough on one player is because he'd be an attraction, both at the gate and on local TV.

Instead, Pujols is making Vernon Wells look like money well spent by the Angels.

And by the way, Pujols' old team, the Cardinals? They're leading the NL Central. Add that to Pujols' early season bust credentials.

NFL should stop using Wonderlic
I haven't taken the Wonderlic. But I'm sure that if I did, there's a chance someone might leak the results, especially if I did poorly, which is entirely possible.

Morris Claiborne, the former star cornerback at LSU, took the Wonderlic as part of his entry into the NFL fraternity. He did not do well. One report said he scored a 6 out of 50. Another said 4. Either way, it made him look like someone who would not make anyone's all-academic team.

His low score was leaked, and Claiborne himself dismissed the test by admitting that he didn't take it seriously.

As a result, there is much righteous indignation about making the kid look bad. The NFL claims it will punish anyone it discovers has leaked a Wonderlic score.

I have news for the NFL: Wonderlic scores that make news will always be leaked, whether they are some Ivy League graduate's 49 out of 50, or a single-digit embarrassment.

With that in mind, the choice is the NFL's. If it keeps using the Wonderlic, it has to accept that sometimes situations like Claiborne's will arise. If it wants to avoid having a young player held up to ridicule, it should eliminate use of the test altogether.

There is no middle ground. A complete clampdown on Wonderlic scores is never going to happen.

Rondo's mistake bigger than World Peace's
In a way, what Rajon Rondo did was worse than what Metta World Peace did, even though the former's suspension figures to be much lighter than the latter's.

There is no excuse for the World Peace elbow to James Harden's head. It was classless and reckless. But we all know that MWP has some issues. I believe he was celebrating a dunk and lashing out at the opposition in one spontaneous act of combustion, and now he and the Lakers are paying for it with a seven-game suspension of the veteran nutbag.

But Rondo is more lucid, more aware. And Rondo, as well as every other NBA player - as well as every professional athlete, fan and member of the media - knows you don't make contact with an official. Ever. If you do, you're just asking for a suspension.

Rondo should have controlled himself Sunday in the Celtics' 83-74 Game 1 loss to Atlanta. Instead, he bumped referee Marc Davis and got tossed. He'll also get suspended, which means the Celtics - who faced trouble with the Hawks anyway - are in even deeper by being shorthanded.

World Peace's act was brainless, but we've come to expect that occasionally from him. Relatively speaking, Rondo's offense was even dumber.

A game of pepper

After Derrick Rose tore his ACL, Nike shoe designer Jason Petrie, who came up with LeBron James' shoes, took shots at Rose on Twitter for not signing a deal with Nike. I guess if you're going to put your foot in your mouth before a national audience, you want it to be a specially designed signature high-top.

The Knicks probably will explain their early postseason exit this year by claiming temporary Linsanity.

Although it's nice to see that the Cincinnati Bengals took a chance on troubled Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict by signing him as an undrafted free agent, I hope they don't ask Rey Maualuga to mentor him.

Lamar Odom and Khloe Kardashian reportedly are pulling the plug on their reality show. In retrospect, the best thing about that show is that it apparently had a living will.

After the uproar over Derrick Rose, I bet you'll see Tom Thibodeau pulling guys like Joakim Noah and Luol Deng midway through the third quarter.

I would be more interested in the Roger Clemens perjury trial if each lawyer had to go into a full windup before delivering a question.

Michael Ventre is a regular contributor to; follow him at


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