NBA Beat: Lamb’s progress should benefit Thunder’s title quest

If Jeremy Lamb’s job was to replace James Harden, the task would be nearly impossible.

Replacing the offensive skills of Kevin Martin isn’t easy, either.

But it’s Lamb’s turn to be a key part of the Oklahoma City bench this season, and he’s taking it in stride.

Lamb, the second-year guard from Connecticut, came to the Thunder with Martin before the start of last season in the deal that sent Harden to Houston.

With Martin leaving for Minnesota as a free agent, Lamb has taken on a bigger role than he did as a rookie, when he spent time playing in the NBA Development League and watching a lot from the sidelines with the Thunder.

The Thunder is a title contender and Lamb, averaging 9.6 points in 20.8 minutes this season, is a reason it could challenge for the championship.

“I think every basketball player wants opportunity, so I didn’t see it as pressure,” Lamb said. “I saw it as opportunity this year, and I’m just trying to take advantage of it.”

The Thunder was able to bring Lamb along slowly because Martin was part of the Harden deal.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks said that approach allowed Lamb to develop and be able to contribute this season.

Lamb was the 12th pick in the 2012 NBA draft. It’s never seen as a good thing when a lottery pick has to spend time in the D-League, but it worked out well for Lamb because he would have simply been watching the Thunder play most nights.

Lamb played in 23 games with Oklahoma City last season.

“Sometimes when you don’t play as a rookie it doesn’t mean you’re not very good. It means the guy in front of you is experienced and you have to wait your turn,” Brooks said. “You can do one of two things: you can be bitter about it and not work that year or you can work and be ready when your opportunity comes, and Lamb chose that one. We didn’t give him a choice. That’s the good thing. We made sure he chose the one that we wanted him to choose, and he’s been good.”

Lamb said he’s not concerned with living up to Harden’s standard or the expectations of others.

It’s working out well for him thus far.

“I’ve just been trying to work hard defensively,” Lamb said. “I think that’s for other people to judge, my improvement. I’m just trying to get better every day.”

Brooks said Lamb is doing that and earning his teammates’ trust.

“He’s really developing,” Brooks said. “And the team has confidence in his shot making, his defense is very solid, and I think he’s going to be an outstanding pro.”

Trending up

He’s only played one game this season, but Danny Granger is back on the court, and that’s a good thing for the Pacers.

Granger has been out this season because of a calf injury. A knee injury limited Granger to five games last season.

If Granger can play close to his All-Star level before the injuries, the Pacers just picked up a major piece in their quest to win the Eastern Conference.

Granger had five points, two rebounds and two assists in his season debut Friday against Houston.

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The Atlantic Division continues to be the NBA’s collection of lowered expectations.

Boston (12-16), expected to be a lottery team, shares the division lead with Toronto. The Raptors, 10-14, have traded some of their highest-paid players and are trying to build for the future.

Meanwhile, the two teams expected to lead the division – Brooklyn and New York – continue to be dogged by injuries.

Could the division be won by a team below .500? Looks very possible at this rate.

Last words

“It (stinks) that it was him (Ben McLemore), too, because I like him. I have been talking to him since he was in high school … .”

– Miami forward LeBron James on his posterizing dunk over Kings guard Ben McLemore during the Heat’s 122-103 win over the Kings.