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Thunder's Ibaka not just about defense anymore

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Thunder's Ibaka not just about defense anymore

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) After the NBA Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder faced a difficult question: If they couldn't afford to keep both league blocks-leader Serge Ibaka and Sixth Man of the Year James Harden, which one would stay?

The Thunder ended up securing Ibaka with a long-term extension this offseason, providing the first signal that Harden's days in Oklahoma City might be numbered. With Ibaka's deal done, there wasn't enough salary cap space left to come close to Harden's demands and he was shipped off to Houston in a trade just before the season.

Meanwhile, Ibaka has quietly been giving Oklahoma City its money's worth. As one of the NBA's most accurate shooters, he's averaging a career-high 14.3 points and leading the Thunder in rebounding (8.5).

``I work hard. I try to do my best I can, getting better and better,'' Ibaka said. ``I don't want just to be like people used to know Serge Ibaka four years ago.

``Now is my fourth year in the NBA, so I try to get better at everything.''

When Ibaka first joined the Thunder, the expectations for the Republic of Congo native were minimal. Coach Scott Brooks repeatedly said his role was simply about playing defense and providing energy. That was a starting point after Ibaka was the 20th pick in the 2008 draft and spent an extra season playing in Europe to develop before heading to the NBA.

Since then, he's growing - not only developing his game but learning English. He earned an endorsement deal with Sprite around the time the player nicknamed ``Air Congo'' appeared in last year's slam dunk competition and threw one down after taking off from the free-throw line.

He moved into the starting lineup and led the league in blocks two straight years, even more impactful because of how his defense helped trigger Oklahoma City's fast-break offense with All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Now he's getting more offensive chances with the departure of Harden, the NBA's top-scoring reserve last season. So far this season, Ibaka is averaging about five more points and his 2.9-block average is behind only Milwaukee's Larry Sanders.

``Obviously, his offensive game is expanded and he's still blocking shots and rebounding,'' said veteran Nick Collison, Ibaka's backup. ``But I think his focus is a lot better. Defensively, he's where he should be. He's not getting lost. He's been great for us.''

Ibaka's biggest offensive impact comes from offensive rebounds and springing free for mid-range jumpers when defenses crowd Durant and Westbrook on the pick and roll. It's a shot Ibaka has mastered over the past few years, taking dozens of them at the end of practice.

``He's a machine,'' Collison said. ``He's been that way since he's been here. He works and he puts in as much time as anybody. He's very serious about his work and it shows. He's improved a lot since he's been here.''

Earlier this season, Brooks said there may be no one on the team he'd rather see shoot a mid-range jumper. The statistics back him up. Ibaka is tied for fifth in the NBA, making 56 percent of his shots, and he's working toward improving his range to where he can reliably make a corner 3-pointer.

While he may never be the focal point for Oklahoma City, Ibaka is developing more ways to contribute to the NBA's highest-scoring offense.

``I know when you have a team with Westbrook and Kevin Durant, one of the best scorers in the league, every night you will not touch the ball but just be ready whenever it comes to you and try to make plays,'' Ibaka said.

Some of Ibaka's top performances have come in some marquee games for the Thunder. He matched his regular-season high with 25 points and had 17 rebounds in a Western Conference finals rematch against San Antonio and had 23 points and nine rebounds in Harden's much-anticipated return to Oklahoma City with Houston.

He has four 20-point games already this season, after having just two in his first three NBA seasons - along with a few in the playoffs.

``Now we expect it from him,'' Durant said. ``When he has a double-double, it's not like, `Breaking news: Serge had a double-double!' It's normal for him now. He's playing well for us, and we're going to need that from him all season.''

The Thunder went into the weekend percentage points ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers for the NBA's best record, with a difficult stretch ahead featuring 11 of their next 13 games on the road. It starts with a back-to-back set Sunday at Toronto and Monday at Washington.

``He's playing well. Teams are playing small against us, so he's hurting them on the offensive glass and he's making teams go big,'' Durant said. ``That's to our advantage when we've got the big fellas in there. He's doing a great job on the offensive boards, shooting the basketball well and he's just playing with a lot of confidence.''

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How to watch Pistons at Wizards ‘Predict the Game’ broadcast

How to watch Pistons at Wizards ‘Predict the Game’ broadcast

The Washington Wizards return to Capital One Arena to host the Detroit Pistons on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at 2 p.m. 

The Wizards are hoping to not only bounce back after suffering from a tough 140-111 loss in Toronto Friday night but also to snap their losing streak at home. Monday’s game will be the Wizards last home, before hitting the road until they return home on January 30th. 

The Wizards currently lead the series 2-1, the Wizards won both matchups against the Pistons on Nov.4 and Dec. 16. However, most recently the Wizards fell short 132-102 on Dec 26th. Will the Wizards be able to win the season series on Monday?

Take your Wizards experience to the next level and get involved in the action with NBC Sports Washington's newest Predict the Game contest.

'PREDICT THE GAME' HOW TO WATCH

What is this broadcast? Predict the Game is an easy-to-enter, free contest that allows fans to predict various game and player performance outcomes through a series of approximately 12-15 questions per quarter that will appear on-screen during the alternate telecast on NBC Sports Washington Plus. Predict the Game leaderboards will be displayed at select times, and the winner of each contest will be revealed throughout the game and during NBC Sports Washington’s postgame coverage.

Where can I find it? Contest questions and leaderboards will be displayed on NBC Sports Washington Plus (Channel Finder).

Additionally, the broadcast can be streamed on desktopiOS and Android devices. 

The NBC Sports Washington Plus presentation will, for the first time, feature special hosts, who will appear at various times to address Predict the Game participants and provide contest updates, information and results. The enhanced experience will contain the majority of the same video and audio (including announcers) as the primary live-game coverage, which will be available simultaneously on NBC Sports Washington.

How do I win? Fans will earn points for both answering questions (1 point) and correct predictions (1 or 2 points, depending on the question), with the top eligible scorer at the end of each game earning or splitting the $500 prize.

Each quarter will be its own contest, with an entirely new leaderboard starting from scratch, so even if fans miss out on the start of the game there will still be plenty of time to play and win. 

Fans must enter Predict the Game, which is open to join throughout the entire game, and submit their predictions at www.nbcsportswashington.com/predict.

WIZARDS vs. PISTONS HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Wizards vs. Detroit Pistons

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 2:00 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Wizards vs. Pistons will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (NBC Sports Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can live stream Wizards vs. Pistons on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the NBC Sports App.

Radio: Wizards Radio Network, 1500 AM

WIZARDS vs. PISTONS TV SCHEDULE

1:00 PM: Wizards Outsiders (LIVE)

1:30 PM: Wizards Pregame Live (LIVE)

2:00 PM: Wizards vs. Pistons (LIVE)

4:30 PM: Wizards Postgame Live (LIVE)

5:00 PM: D.C. Sports Live (LIVE)

5:30 PM: Wizards Talk (LIVE)

WIZARDS 2019-20 'PREDICT THE GAME' SCHEDULE

January 6: vs Boston (7 p.m.)

January 20: vs Detroit (2 p.m.)

January 26: at Atlanta (6 p.m.)

February 3: vs Golden State (7 p.m.)

February 11: vs Chicago (7 p.m.)

February 21: vs Cleveland (7 p.m.)

February 26: vs Brooklyn (7 p.m.)

March 3: at Sacramento (10 p.m.)

March 10: vs New York (7 p.m.)

March 18: at Brooklyn (7:30 p.m.)

March 15: vs Phoenix (7 p.m.)

April 1: vs New Orleans (7 p.m.)

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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Former Raven Terrell Suggs and the Kansas City Chiefs are Super Bowl-bound

Former Raven Terrell Suggs and the Kansas City Chiefs are Super Bowl-bound

Terrell Suggs and the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Tennessee Titans 35-24 Sunday to advance to Super Bowl LIV in Miami. 

Suggs, who spent 16 seasons with the Ravens, will look to cement his Hall of Fame candidacy with a victory in his second Super Bowl appearance (Won SB XLVII) this time as a member of the AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs.

Suggs departed from Baltimore before the 2019 season, signing a one-year deal with his hometown Arizona Cardinals before being waived mid-season. 

The Ravens were rumored to be interested in a reunion with their all-time leader in sacks but did not put in a claim, being last in waiver priority, and Suggs was claimed by the Kansas City Chiefs.



While the Ravens' 2019 season ended prematurely at the hands of the Titans, fans in Baltimore can take solace knowing that Suggs and the Chiefs helped bring the Titans' magical season to an end.

Suggs' accolades (2011 AP Def. Player of the Year, 2003 AP Def. Rookie of the Year, 7x Pro-Bowl, 1x All-Pro) will stand the test of time, but adding a second Super Bowl ring to his resume would make his Hall of Fame candidacy that much greater. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports. Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Capitals and Wizards games easily from your device.

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