Capitals

Westbrook's temper part of what makes him great

201301312216801799222-p2.jpeg

Westbrook's temper part of what makes him great

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Make Russell Westbrook mad, and it's anybody's guess what will happen next.

In his rise to stardom in the NBA, Westbrook has shown off an All-Star temper to go with his unique blend of athleticism and determination.

His latest outburst came in anything but a pressure-packed situation Thursday night, when he snapped at teammates and stormed off toward the locker room after a third-quarter turnover with his Oklahoma City Thunder leading by 25.

In his fifth season in the league, the Thunder have come to understand that's just part of the Westbrook package. He plays with a permanent chip on his shoulder, and it's part of what makes him a great player.

Get Westbrook fired up, and he might waste a couple possessions letting off steam with ill-advised shots or unnecessary fouls. Moments later, he's using that rage to ratchet up his defensive intensity and dunk so hard he rattles the backboard. An angry Westbrook can be even better than the ordinary Westbrook, who's already a three-time All-Star.

That's the conundrum that Westbrook presents. When he finished bickering with assistant coach Maurice Cheeks, slapped at a chair and headed down the tunnel toward the locker room, fellow All-Star Kevin Durant was never concerned.

``Russell is such an emotional player. I knew he would be back,'' Durant said, ``and I knew he would play well.''

Sure enough, when coach Scott Brooks finally put Westbrook back in to start the fourth quarter, Westbrook made the key plays that put the game away after Memphis had clawed back within 10 during his 8-minute benching.

The only concern for Oklahoma City is whether his tantrums will fracture chemistry at some point and keep the team from winning an NBA championship.

Thabo Sefolosha, the target of Westbrook's rage this time, acted as though ``nothing really happened'' and steered his postgame comments toward the fact that Oklahoma City won and deemphasized the dispute.

``We can count on him every night,'' Sefolosha said. ``He's a big, big part of what we're doing with the team. Regardless of anything, he's a big, big, big part of the team and he's an extremely talented player.''

Durant considered it part of the game - even if you don't see an All-Star abandoning his team on a regular basis.

``Everybody's going to have disagreements in this league,'' Durant said. ``You're dealing with so many different emotions on this team. It's probably our third or fourth one throughout the whole year, and I'd say that's pretty good for us.

``We've just got to continue to keep helping each other, keep talking to each other and we'll be OK,'' Durant added.

In brief comments, Westbrook called it a ``miscommunication'' and said he can control his temper like a man, and that's what he did during the game. He wouldn't talk about why he went as far as leaving the bench.

This was only his latest episode. Sometimes what he thinks is a blown call gets him enraged to the point he gets a technical foul, and then his blood really gets boiling. Sometimes it's the opposite team that gets him going.

Then there's the personality switch from the happy-go-lucky Westbrook who wears eyeglasses with no lenses and crazy shirts and playfully chides his teammates in the locker room into an unstoppable ball of rage.

In a recent road game at Denver, he blocked the mascot's half-court shot during the fourth quarter of a close game. The Pepsi Center crowd then booed every time he touched the ball, with Westbrook soaking it in while leading a Thunder comeback. Then, he only added to it by blocking the mascot's shot a second time.

``That's how he is,'' Durant said. ``You want everybody to be themselves. Russell is doing a great job for us this year. You can't downplay that. He's passing the ball very well, he's communicating very well and as a point guard, that's what you need.''

While Nike put together an ad campaign suggesting Durant - with a squeaky clean reputation - is ``Not Nice,'' Westbrook can stir up hatred and criticism with any perceived misstep: He takes too many shots. He doesn't pass enough. And, of course, his attitude isn't right. Westbrook has absorbed it all while ranking in the top 10 in the NBA in scoring and the top five in assists and steals.

``Russell's an emotional guy. He plays hard,'' Brooks said. ``He plays every night. He plays for his team every night. We can pick apart his game, like a lot of us have in the past. But Russell plays hard every night. I have no problem that guys compete every night the way he competes. If that's becoming a problem, then we're all in this for the wrong reason.''

The Thunder didn't practice Friday and were traveling to Cleveland for their next game on Saturday night. Veteran Nick Collison, the team's longest-tenured player, said he didn't think anything needed to be addressed.

But as he pointed out, the Thunder are counting on Westbrook even more this season. They let locker room leaders Derek Fisher, Nazr Mohammed and Royal Ivey depart this offseason, leaving Westbrook and Durant to guide the ship at a relatively young age.

Immediately, they were challenged to keep the team together after Sixth Man of the Year James Harden was traded away at the start of the season in another challenge to the team's chemistry.

``The reason we've been able to keep up and go - we made a big trade earlier in the year - is because of what Russell and what Kevin have done as leaders. They've been great this year,'' Collison said. ``They've grown up a lot, their voice with the team. And they've done it with their play, too. ... Russ in particular has grown up a lot and we're going to be fine. He's had a great year.''

Quick Links

John Tortorella ‘embarrassed’ by Columbus’ one-sided loss to the Capitals

tortorella.png
USA TODAY SPORTS

John Tortorella ‘embarrassed’ by Columbus’ one-sided loss to the Capitals

Before the Capitals dominated the Detroit Red Wings at Capital One Arena on Tuesday, they stopped off in Columbus on Saturday for what was expected to be a great game between the top two teams of the Metropolitan Division.

It wasn’t.

Instead of two heavy-weights trading blows or the Columbus Blue Jackets going after the Capitals in an attempt to exact some measure of revenge for last season’s playoff loss, Washington blew apart Columbus in a one-sided, 4-0 affair.

As you could imagine, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella was displeased with the result and sounded off on Monday in typical Tortorella fashion.

"I'm embarrassed as the coach of this team," Tortorella told reporters, according to The Athletic's Aaron Portzline. "I missed something along the way. I'm part of it also. I'm embarrassed that we embarrassed our organization."

The Caps took control of Saturday’s game early with three goals in the first period. The physical battle that had been the trademark of last season’s playoff series never came. Washington pushed and received no pushback from a Columbus team that looked like a shadow of the team that had jumped out to a 2-0 series lead over the Caps.

"It was disgusting," Tortorella said. "After our last home game, that debacle, 9-6 [loss to Calgary], to show up on a Saturday night for first-place seeding, against a team that knocked us out of the playoffs, in front of a full house, it's embarrassing."

The Blue Jackets seem to be reeling a bit of late. On Dec. 4, Columbus coughed up a 4-1 lead allowing five goals in the second period to the Calgary Flames in what turned into a 9-6 loss. A narrow overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday was followed by the blowout loss to the Caps and on Tuesday, Columbus allowed two goals in a span of 1:18 late in the third period that turned a 2-1 victory into a 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks.

Washington and Columbus have been locked in a standings battle the last few weeks (and years) with both teams vying for supremacy over the Metropolitan Division. Now, the Caps hold a five-point lead for first place in a division that seems to be rapidly declining. At mid-December, we are still waiting to see if another team can emerge to push Washington late in the season in a battle for first place in the division. A contender has yet to emerge and, the longer the season goes, the less likely it seems that someone will.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

Quick Links

When it comes to Wall vs. Kyrie debate, Stephen A. Smith believes Irving is 'just on another level'

usa_today_11818175.0.jpg
USA Today

When it comes to Wall vs. Kyrie debate, Stephen A. Smith believes Irving is 'just on another level'

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- After the Los Angeles Lakers selected Magic Johnson first overall in the 1979 NBA Draft, only one point guard (Allen Iverson) went No. 1 before the Washington Wizards snagged John Wall in 2010. Kyrie Irving’s selection by the Cleveland Cavaliers the following season turned an anomaly into a trend. A rivalry was born, debates began.

Fan bases and ardent backers made valid points and outlandish claims for their guy and against the other. This continued even after Irving joined the Celtics in 2017 and as physical ailments limited both players.

Entering the latest showdown, the head-to-head count read 8-8. Another thriller ensued. Irving took the win-loss lead from the speedy Wall Wednesday with a magical overtime performance in Boston’s 130-125 win.

For Stephen A. Smith, Irving scoring 38 points including the Celtics’ final 12 didn’t nudge the Boston star ahead of Wall, who wowed with 34 points and 13 assists. It just helped shine a light on a gap that already existed.

“It was a nice matchup. John showed up to play. I thought he played well in the fourth quarter. Over time he got a little bit erratic. That’s to be understood going up against Kyrie. Kyrie is special. Kyrie is something special. He’s just a spectacular player,” the often outspoken ESPN analyst told NBC Sports Washington following the game.

“John Wall reminded you how talented he is,” Smith continued, “but in the process, he also reminded you there are levels to this. Kyrie is just on another level and there is no other way around that.”

That statement joins a list of bold commentary in the long-running Wall-Irving arguments. There are certain dynamics that back up this claim.

Wall racks up assists, but Irving laps him as a shooter. Both players are five-time All-Stars with a single All-NBA selection. Irving’s résumé also includes Olympic Gold for Team USA in 2016 and one of the biggest shots in league history. He sank the series-winning jumper for Cleveland in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals. The Wizards, while improved recently compared to franchise norms, have not advanced beyond the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs since Wall's arrival.

“They’re very, very talented. There is no doubt about that,” Smith, who attended Wednesday’s contest, said of the guards.  “But in the same breath, they’re not on the same page. 

"John Wall is a tremendous, tremendous talent. His success is predicated on his ability to get to the basket, his athleticism, his conditioning. He came into this season he was clearly not in ideal shape. He was heavier than he usually is. He’s never really, really truly improved that jump shot.”

Irving’s heroics Wednesday included two 3-pointers in the final minute, one a go-ahead bomb with 17.3 seconds remaining. Wall missed the second of Washington two game-tying attempts from beyond the arc on the next possession.

“When you look at Kyrie Irving, how did he stick the dagger in you? Long 3’s,” Smith said. “Now, John can do that from time to time, but you can’t rely on him to do it. When he makes those shots you say, ‘Thank God.’ When Kyrie makes those shots you say, ‘Yeah, that’s what he’s supposed to do because that’s what he does.’

“A perfect example is that the game is waning, you’re in overtime. (Wizards guard) Bradley Beal misses a 3-pointer. You’re John Wall. You get the ball back. You launch a three when you should have got it back to Bradley Beal because he’s the shooter. That’s not what you do, but that’s what John Wall did. Again, that’s the kind of thing you look at.”

Wall’s primary statistics this season – 21.0 points, 8.5 assists – are worthy of All-Star consideration. His overall game is more under the microscope than usual because of the Wizards’ slow start and his four-year, $170 million contract extension that tips off next season.

“You look at [Wall] as a big-time talent. Somebody who I felt was worthy of his money considering the fact that it’s not like you can go out and get Kevin Durant or somebody like that. In the same breath, you’re looking for him to improve upon the game that he already has, not to bring you back the same old, same old,” Smith said.

“Unfortunately, that’s what you’re seeing right now. You’re seeing a guy who is a big-time talent, who can ball, but who is giving you nothing different or nothing better than what he’s been giving you, and that hasn’t been good enough to get this team to the next level. That’s where you have a problem if you’re the Washington Wizards.”

MORE WIZARDS NEWS: