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Bob Matthews' Column

RIDICULOUS TO THINK THUNDER ARE BETTER WITHOUT WESTBROOK

 
RIDICULOUS TO THINK THUNDER ARE BETTER WITHOUT WESTBROOK
Posted February 28th, 2014 @ 10:27am

RIDICULOUS TO THINK THUNDER ARE BETTER WITHOUT WESTBROOK

TIME TO REWARD TED NOLAN

JAWORSKI COULD BE RIGHT BUT HE’S IN THE MINORITY

The Oklahoma City Thunder are 0-3 since point guard Russell Westbrook returned to the lineup. He’d been out since suffering a knee injury on Christmas day.

While Westbrook was sidelined, teammate Kevin Durant more than picked up the slack. Durant took a greater percentage of the team’s shots and also turned into a playmaker. He still was a gunner – but an unselfish one. He emerged as the clear league MVP favorite over Miami’s LeBron James.

Oklahoma City was 23-5 through Christmas with Westbrook, then went 5-5 in the first 10 games without him. That’s when Durant really turned it on. The Thunder went on a 15-2 tear and hardly anyone was missing Westbrook.

Westbrook’s critics – including this one – believe it is counterproductive when Westbrook takes more shots than Durant. But it is ridiculous to think the Thunder are a better team without Westbrook.

Westbrook hasn’t been sharp in his return but that shouldn’t be a surprise. He’s stale and it shows. But it shouldn’t take long for the NBA’s most explosive guard to round to form.

The Thunder are a legitimate threat to win this season’s NBA title only if Westbrook is 100 percent and – preferably --  takes fewer shots than Durant. It will be interesting to see if Westbrook can finally catch on that the Thunder function best when Durant leads the team in attempted shots.

TIME TO ERASE “INTERIM” FROM TED NOLAN’S TITLE

The Buffalo Sabres figure to erase the “interim” tag from coach Ted Nolan in the near future and sign him to a deal as full-time coach. All things considered – mainly the lack of overall talent on the team -- he has done a fine job since replacing Lindy Ruff Nov. 13, 2013:

Under Ruff – 4-15-1...outscored 63-39

Under Nolan – 13-19-7...outscored 115-79

The Sabres still aren’t a good team, but they have been consistently more competitive under Nolan. They don’t always get the results but they almost always give Nolan and the fans an honest effort.

General manager Tim Murray inherited Nolan but this week strongly suggested that Nolan will be retained .

Nolan’s work in the Winter Olympics didn’t hurt his cause. He coached Latvia to eighth-place in the Sochi hockey tournament and gave eventual gold medalist Canada a scare before losing 2-1 on a goal in the third period.

The NHL trade deadline is Wednesday and it is a fair bet that at least one or two of the following veterans will be moved in the last year of their contracts – Ryan Miller, Matt Moulson, Steve Ott and Henrik Tallinder.

The Sabres have a long way to go to become a legitimate Stanley Cup threat but the cache of accumulated draft picks should speed the process. Nolan appears to be at least a solid transitional coach. He’s tough but fair and has a solid track record.

JAWORSKI KNEW HOW TO GET ATTENTION

Ron Jaworski has become the media wizard regarding quarterbacks. When the former NFLr QB speaks, a lot of people listen.

So when Jaws this week proclaimed that he wouldn’t pick Johnny Manziel in the first three rounds of May’s NFL college draft, it became the hottest sports topic of the day.

Jaworski knows Manziel will be drafted in the first round. He also knows how to get a reaction from fans and other media folks.

Manziel probably is the most interesting player in NFL draft history. Some analysts believe he’ll be the No. 1 overall selection. Many other analysts believe he’ll be a top 10 pick. And now Jaworski says he wouldn’t pick Manziel in the first three rounds.

For the record, I believe Manziel will be at least as productive in the NFL as Jaworski was – and Jaws was pretty good.

For the record, Jaworski’s three top-rated QBs entering the 2013 NFL draft were Geno Smith, Ryan Nassib (he touted him as a great pick for Buffalo) and EJ Manuel.

SHORT SHOTS

The Rochester Knighthawks are third in this week’s National Lacrosse League Power Rakings, behind only the Edmonton Rush (7-0) and Buffalo Bandits (6-2). The Knighthawks are 4-0 at home and 1-3 on the road. All three road losses were by one goal – to Buffalo, Edmonton and Calgary.

Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith is campaigning to have Major League Baseball’s Opening Day be declared a national holiday. A petition drive is underway. No way anything will happen. Maybe 50-or-more years ago, when baseball ruled. Now the NFL would have a much better chance.

New Yankee numbers: Masahiro Tanaka 19...Jacoby Ellsbury 22...Brian McCann 34...Carlos Beltran 36.

The Buffalo Bills will get a chance to win their first preseason NFL Hall of Fame Game Aug. 3 ion Canton, Ohio, against the New York Giants. The Bills are 0-3 in the event: lost 21-13 to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1974...lost 31-6 to the Washington Redskins...lost 21-18 to the Tennessee Titans.

NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah’s Mock Draft 3.0 has the Buffalo Bills taking Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans No. 0 9 overall...Jeremiah has University of Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack going No. 3 overall to Jacksonville.

The Rochester Red Wings will report to the Lee County Sports Complex in Ft. Myers, Fla., on Tuesday. The 21-game spring training schedule opens Monday, March 10.

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