Ibaka's offensive rhythm bad news for rest of NBA

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Ibaka's offensive rhythm bad news for rest of NBA

Serge Ibaka is beginning to find his rhythm on offense, and thats bad news for the rest of the NBA.

The 6-foot-10 power forward, who scored 14 or more points in just 11 of 66 games last year, has now done so in three straight for the Thunder after a 21-point effort in a 97-91 win over the Bulls Thursday night.

Ibaka wasted no time getting going against Chicago, scoring nine points in the first quarter, including three made baskets in successive possessions midway through the opening period.

He even hit a 3-pointer, his first of the season and third of his career, to help the Thunder stay close to a Bulls team that shot nearly 58 percent in the first quarter.

Guys can get hot, especially if theyre getting a number of shots up, Taj Gibson said. We were closing out to him, but he got an easy-going pace real early the way his jump shot was flowing early, and he just played a phenomenal game.

Ibaka has always had the talent offensively -- he averaged 9.1 points per game last year -- and range to hit from 15-feet out, but the last two years has had to pick and choose his scoring opportunities wisely while watching Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant go to work.

It seems this year may be different. James Harden is gone, and while Kevin Martin replaces Harden in the sixth man role, it feels as though Ibaka can be the third scorer in Oklahoma City. He attempted 15 shots, one off his career-high, and has now attempted at least seven shots in all five games. His 10.2 shot attempts per game in 2012 is well-above his 6.6 attempts-per-game average entering the season.

He said extra work in the gym on his offensive game this offseason has paid dividends, and people are beginning to notice.

My teammates did a great job finding me, trusting me and getting me the ball when I was open because they know I work on my shot any time during practice, Ibaka said. I keep working in practice and I keep showing my teammates and coaches I can do it. Thats why it gives me confidence.

Ibakas offensive night didnt take away anything from his defense, either. He still managed to grab nine rebounds and block four shots in 37 minutes, helping to hold the Bulls to 34 points in the paint.

In his fourth season in the NBA, Ibaka is still just 23 years old. That talent as a complete player is starting to round out at the perfect time for the Thunder, as they continue to try and mesh without Harden. If Ibaka continues to shoot like he has been through five games, that transition period should go much smoother.

He didnt do much in the second and third quarters, but stayed efficient by scoring six points of 2-of-4 shooting and grabbing three offensive rebounds. He then proceeded to score four points in the final quarter on 1-of-2 shooting (and two free throws), capping off a brilliant night as a No. 3 scorer against a feisty Bulls front court.

He can score around the basket and he can score around the perimeter, he can even shoot 3s, head coach Scott Brooks said. Serge is a good player. Hes not only a defensive guy, he can score.

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

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AP

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

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Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

It was a gift and the Bulls weren't going to look it in the mouth as Dwyane Wade was poised to finish off another one of his sterling defensive plays with a breakaway dunk with the game tied and Arron Afflalo and DeMarcus Cousins trailing.

Lightly touched by the small of his back by Cousins, Wade miscalculated his liftoff and missed the dunk but was bailed out by the refs for a foul with 14 seconds left.

Then, he bailed the Bulls out.

Wade had his fifth fourth-quarter defensive play, stripping Cousins on a steal on the ensuing possession with the Sacramento Kings having a chance to win, leading to a Michael Carter-Williams dunk and finishing a 102-99 win Saturday night at the United Center.

It was a clock-turning performance for Wade on both ends of the floor, even if his missed dunk is a reminder that he is 35 years old. 

"I took off too far as I look at the instant replay," Wade said. "I should've took maybe one more dribble. Can't say I felt 35, I just took off too far (laughs). But hey, sometimes you get calls, sometimes you don't. I'm a person who hasn't gotten a lot all year so I'm not gonna apologize for nothing."

Stripping Cousins on his spin move was the finale, but he swatted an Arron Afflalo corner triple in the fourth, smothered Ty Lawson at the rim twice for blocked shots to end the third and tortured Lawson again in the fourth for another steal that led to him following up a Jimmy Butler missed layup with a follow and foul.

"Just a read," said Wade on stripping Cousins. "We knew he was gonna go to DeMarcus at that point. Once we forced him left, I knew he had to come back to the right hand. And being in the right place at the right time, the ball was right there for me."

Wade played like a desperate and motivated man, putting up 30 with six rebounds and four assists on the second night of a back-to-back is proof positive he took Friday's loss to Atlanta personally and used his play to back up those feelings.

He took to twitter to apologize for the poor effort against the Hawks, producing his best all-around performance as a Bull.

"We've been good in desperate moments," Wade said. "We haven't been good in non-desperate moments, when we win three in a row or playing a team that we should beat. But (in) the desperate moments I like us."

He scored 13 in the fourth, along with the last of his four blocked shots and all three of his steals took place in the final 12.

"I thought he was terrific," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He was aggressive all game long, taking the ball to the basket, getting to the line 15 times. He came up with two big plays."

Hoiberg threw out different lineups and rotations, playing Paul Zipser as a sixth man and having the second-round draft pick close the game. Zipser took advantage, hitting three triples and scoring 13 points.

"I thought it was night and day from last night," Hoiberg said. "Our energy was really good all night long. We got just enough stops to find a way to win."

Cousins dominated the game with 42 and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes, the only Kings player in double figures all night.

"He was pretty much unguardable for the majority of the game, Taj did a solid job on him," Hoiberg said. "When Robin was on him, they put him on the perimeter and let him shoot threes. He's a monster."

Back-to-back triples from Cousins gave him 40 and tied the game at 97, as a third one rimmed out with a little under two minutes left.

Cousins dominated the start of the third quarter, hitting midrange jumpers over Lopez and taunting the Bulls bench after hitting a jumper to put the Kings ahead, 70-63 midway through the third.

But the Bulls stayed close, with Hoiberg choosing to sit Rajon Rondo for the second half after playing him six minutes in the second quarter, using Wade as a point guard and going with Carter-Williams for defense, along with Zipser, who didn't look scared of the moment.

"I like the wrinkle coach put in there, putting him in early," Wade said. "He gave him an opportunity and he helped us big time."

Butler scored 23 with seven assists and five rebounds in 39 minutes, didn't have to play the hero for once and made fun of Wade's apology tweet.

"He was due for a big night," Butler said. "He can tweet again if he can come out again and give us 30 and some big steals and big dunks."

"I think that's what called of him, to score baskets and guard. It's kinda sneaky. You never really expect it until it happens."

It looked like the worst was over when the Bulls made a short run to end the third, surviving the onslaught from Cousins — and surviving their own experimenting with Zipser instead of going with Denzel Valentine, switching things up altogether.

But the tone was set by the leaders, who can only manufacture but so much urgency on a nightly basis.

"I like this team when we're desperate," Wade said. "A desperate team, we're not bad."