Archive for Net Proceeds

Sort of level-headed

Samuel Shenton, who founded the International Flat Earth Society in, um, 1956, was not impressed by satellite photos which purported to show the Earth as some sort of sphere: “It’s easy to see how a photograph like that could fool the untrained eye.”

Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving would not be fooled by such ruses:

In an interview with Cleveland teammates Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson on their podcast, “Road Trippin,” Irving explained to his Cavs teammates with an authoritative tone that there are aliens living somewhere in the universe and the Earth is a flat surface, not a round object as we know to be scientifically and visually proven in countless ways for centuries upon centuries. “This is not even a conspiracy,” Irving said. “The Earth is flat.”

Yes, he got the usual grade-school indoctrination:

“What I’ve been taught is that the Earth is round,” Irving explained, demonstrating that he did pay attention in elementary school when we are all taught such a thing. “But I mean, if you really think about it from a landscape of the way we travel, the way we move and the fact that, can you really think of us rotating around the sun and all planets aligned, rotating in specific dates, being perpendicular with what’s going on with these planets and stuff like this.”

I think I’d find this a bit more plausible if he’d explained that the earth is flat because one weekend LeBron James pounded the hell, and the curvature, out of it.

Still: Kyrie Irving is averaging 24.4 points per game. Someone averaging three or four wouldn’t have gotten this much attention.

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New York regrooved

So the Knickerbockers came to town, and they proceeded to beat the living snot out of the Thunder — for the first quarter, anyway, in which New York rolled up a 39-27 lead. It turned out that OKC took rather a lot of time to figure out how to defend against the Knicks’ mostly half-court offense, and once they did, they ran off 61 points in the next two quarters, against a mere 41 for the Knicks. New York stiffened, as New York will, in the last twelve minutes, but so did OKC, rolling to a 15-point lead just outside the four-minute mark and dispatching the New Yorkers, 116-105, sweeping the two-game season series.

Admittedly, it wasn’t exactly a well-oiled machine running at the Peake:

Still, the work got done when it had to be. Carmelo Anthony rolled up the majority of his 30 points before Andre Roberson put the squeeze on him; Derrick Rose knocked down 25; but the four Knick reserves who saw playing time managed a mere 15 points. (The Thunder bench produced 30, 13 from Jerami Grant.) There was, yet again, a Russell Westbrook triple-double (38-14-12), another big outing for Victor Oladipo (21 points), and there was something of an anomaly: both sides shot better from the three-point line than they did overall. Really. The Knicks were 41-86 overall (48 percent) and 11-21 from downtown (52 percent); the Thunder went 41-88 (47 percent) and 12-23 from way out there (52 percent). If your job is to make the dullest highlight reel possible, this is your game.

And that concludes the first half, so to speak, of the season. (Actually, about two-thirds of the season is done, but there’s that whole All-Star weekend thing.) The Thunder are 32-25, which projects to 46-36 for the season. Might be enough for seventh or eighth. It doesn’t hurt that six of the next nine games are against lottery likelies; on the other hand, one’s against the Spurs and two are against the Jazz. Where this one ends up, nobody knows.

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No sorcery required

You have to figure that any night Russell Westbrook finished with a -36 is a night that did not go well, and indeed it didn’t; the Wizards hit their first eight shots, and about five minutes in, they had an absurd 22-6 lead. The Thunder stabilized a bit, and were down a workable 67-54 at the half; however, coming out of the locker room, they missed a dozen shots in a row, and by then the Wizards had sailed. In a game notable mostly for its extensive garbage minutes, Washington, coached by Thunder castoff Scott Brooks, thoroughly trounced OKC, 120-98, in a game that wasn’t even that close: the Wizards, at one point in the third, were up 34.

Mainly, the Thunder couldn’t shoot. We’re talking 34-96, which is barely 35 percent. (The Wizards took only 73 shots, but made 42.) Westbrook managed only 17 points on 5-19 shooting. Andre Roberson got two early fouls and basically was never heard from again. On the upside, Kyle Singler came up with six points in 16 minutes. OKC won the battle of the boards, 47-40, but was otherwise eclipsed. Meanwhile, all five D.C. starters managed double figures, Marcin Gortat getting the least with 12, and two double-doubles to show: John Wall with 15 points and 14 assists, Otto Porter with 18 points and 11 boards. Game-high? That would be Markieff Morris, with 23, and right behind, Bradley Beal with 22.

One to go before the All-Star break: the Knicks come to OKC on Wednesday. New York has been inconsistent, and has been rewarded for its inconsistency with a sub-.500 record; they’d dearly love to trip up the Thunder, and if the Thunder play like this, it won’t get the Knicks out of eleventh place, but it will make OKC’s playoff chances that much dimmer.

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Grudge match

First, to get Crowd Response out of the way:

Subtle, Mr. Mayor, sir.

Anyway, were there collars on NBA uniforms, they would have been hot under; late in the third, KD and Andre Roberson nearly came to blows, and trash talk was the rule rather than the exception. Down 23 at the half — the Warriors had a picture-perfect 43 points in the second quarter — the Thunder managed to pull within 12 in the fourth. But that was as close as they would get; a 27-footer by Yonder Cupcake (I have no idea where KD picked up that pejorative) put Golden State up 19 with three and a half minutes left, and with all the air sucked out of the room at 1:52, both benches were emptied. Warriors 130, Thunder 114, the season series goes to 3-0, and if nothing else, Houston’s James Harden probably went up a couple of points in local regard.

In the Battle of the Superstars, Russell Westbrook, 47-11-8, edged KD, 34-9-3, though both committed five fouls. Only four Warriors scored in double figures, but the Thunder had only three. The scary aspect was that JaVale McGee came within one point of a season high, with 16; it’s never a good sign when the more marginal players come up big. This wasn’t a great night for either bench — Golden State’s scored 22, OKC’s 19 — but note should be taken of Andre Iguodala’s +30 for the night, far and away the greatest plusser.

There will be one face-saver in March in OKC. Maybe Kanter will be back. Maybe one of the Warriors will develop flu-like symptoms. But definitely, things will be loud.

Two games before the All-Star break: at Washington on Monday, followed by a visit from the Knicks on Wednesday. I expect little snarling in either case.

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When we were 35

Ross Stracke states the case for not booing Kevin Durant tonight:

If we were just talking basketball, I’d say boo away. And I get why we want to boo him. He was our prodigal adopted son. He took on our ideals, displayed our hopes, and then squashed our dreams by fleeing to our biggest rival. I’ve seen all the quotes of his forgotten promises and insincere loyalty. I get it, I do.

This is why I’m not advocating for cheers or a standing ovation. That comes later, a few years down the road when the wounds aren’t so fresh.

But KD was more than a star athlete in a forgotten city. He adopted us back and did all that he could to bring our city with him on his journey to success. No other superstar did that, or at least they didn’t succeed in the way KD did. And for that, he is one of a kind.

So put aside his bullshit for a night, because when it mattered and counted KD shined for us the past 9 years.

Besides, we’ll always (or for several years, anyway) have Patrick Beverley to boo.

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Unpsyched

Tyronn Lue was trolling, evidently; all that pre-game talk about possibly sitting his stars on the second night of a back-to-back proved to be nothing more than talk. Lue’s Cavaliers, minus the walking-wounded Iman Shumpert, were close to full strength, and they pretty much played like it, with Kyrie Irving running the point to perfection and LeBron James being LeBron James. Add a Kevin Love double-double, and you have to wonder how the Thunder were going to respond. Answer: Strongly, and late. After plenty of time on the teeter-totter in the fourth quarter, the Thunder found themselves up 111-101 with two minutes left, still led by 10 after one minute more, and had thoroughly stymied the Cavs’ big three. Lue knew he was licked, the aforementioned big three withdrew, and OKC won it 118-109, their first win over Cleveland in over a year.

Lots of good numbers: Russell Westbrook was 29-12-11, Steven Adams scored 20 and retrieved 13 boards, Victor Oladipo knocked down 23. Perhaps the most remarkable was this: despite losing the shooting percentage battle by something like 0.9, the Thunder made tons of shots: 50 out of 106. (The Cavs were 38-79.) Cleveland made more trips to the stripe — the Cavs never, ever foul — but King James, who had a healthy 16-point first half, finished with, um, 18. Andre Roberson can so guard LeBron. Irving was the default sharpshooter, and he wound up with a respectable 28. The Cavs’ bench, however, was held to 20, or about what Enes Kanter gets on a good night. Despite Kanter’s absence, the Thunder reserves popped up 30, half of them from Cameron Payne.

Once you’ve beaten the champs — well, the runners-up are showing up Saturday night. Heaven knows how the Loud City crowd will respond to the appearance of Kevin Iscariot, and you can be absolutely certain Heaven will hear it. We won’t think about that for a while.

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Pieces gone to

Three seconds before the end of the second quarter, the Thunder were thrashing the Pacers by 14 points. Then Glenn Robinson III nailed a trey from the corner, Russell Westbrook’s 35-footer at the horn went nowhere useful, and for most of the rest of the night, the Pacers were in control, outscoring OKC by an appalling 32-18 margin in the third and outlasting the Thunder’s inconsistent defense in the fourth. Suddenly, the Thunder started to get stops, and an 11-2 run closed the gap to a single point with a minute and a half left. But that’s where they ran out of steam, and the last Thunder possession, started with 7.6 seconds left, ended with two three-point attempts by Westbrook. So the Pacers sweep the Thunder, 2-0, with a 93-90 win, Indiana’s seventh straight victory, the third-longest win streak in the league. (Miami’s won 10 straight somehow, and Boston seven.)

Thaddeus Young was sitting tonight, due to a sprained wrist, but the Pacers didn’t need him that badly; George delivered 21 points, Jeff Teague 17, and Robinson, coming off the bench, brought 14. Myles Turner scored 10 and blocked four shots. Weirdly, the Pacers shot only 38 percent and gathered only 37 rebounds; OKC shot 39 percent and picked up 61 boards. Westbrook’s final line: 27-18-9. Yeah, he missed the triple-double, but 18 rebounds would be just short of his career high. Andre Roberson, despite catching an elbow to the larynx in the second half, hung around for a double-double (11 points/11 rebounds).

Two more games this week. Good: the Thunder are back home. Not so good: the first one is against the Cavaliers, who are already one up on OKC this season. If possible, even less good: the second one is against the Warriors, who blah blah blah Durant blah blah. At least they aren’t back-to-back.

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In lieu of the various Critter Bowls

The NBA wasn’t going to cede the entire day to those characters with the oblong balls, so they scheduled three matinee games which would at least finish early. The last of the three was Portland vs. Oklahoma City, and it was pretty much what you’d expect when only one of the two teams has any three-point prowess. Early on, the Blazers had little problem collecting three-pointers, using eight of them to go up 52-46 at the half. Somewhere in the third quarter, though, the Thunder developed something resembling defense around the periphery; the Blazers would be able to splash only two more treys the rest of the way, Russell Westbrook came up big in the fourth quarter (19 of 42 points) and the Thunder landed a close home win, 105-99, against a Northwest rival.

Portland ended up at 10-28 on three-pointers; the Thunder were a feeble 4-18. Less than a percentage point separated the two teams in overall shooting, with OKC hitting 40 of 98 (40.8 percent) and Postland 35 of 87 (40.2). A lot of that difference in shot count, surprisingly, came on the very first possession, when the Thunder picked up what can only be described as sixth-chance points.

OKC, as usual, dominated the boards, 56-44. The Blazers’ tandem of guards, Damien Lillard and C. J. McCollum, scored nearly half of Portland’s points, Lillard coming up with 29 and McCollum 19. OKC produced two double-doubles, one from Andre Roberson (14 points, 11 rebounds) and one from Victor Oladipo (24 points, 13 boards). Steven Adams snagged 13 rebounds, and Joffrey Lauvergne added nine more. This didn’t leave much for Westbrook, who finished 42-4-8.

And there’s not much time between now and tomorrow’s game in Indiana; the Pacers have won six straight and are 19-6 at home, suggesting that everyone’s going to have to come up big to make it work.

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Leaving the slaughterhouse behind

The Memphis Grizzlies aren’t predictable, exactly, but they know what works for them: control the pace of the game, and occasionally knock down a shot. Tonight, they knocked down lots of shots, coming back from a ten-point halftime deficit to take a two-point lead after the third quarter. With 2:35 left, Russell Westbrook splashed three free throws to tie it up at 102, which is, let’s face it, a lot of points for a game involving the Grizzlies. Half a minute later, Westbrook dropped in a trey from the left wing to make it 105-102 Thunder; half a minute later, he did it again to make it 108-102. And just inside 1:00, he hit two more free throws; yet another empty Memphis possession, a Westbrook dunk, another empty Memphis possession, and two more free throws. That made it 114-102, and appropriately, Westbrook, after that 15-0 run, got to dribble it out. Thunder 2, Grizzlies 1 for the season with one to go.

And this was despite the Griz landing four starters in double figures. (JaMychal Green did not score, but he did contribute six fouls in 24 minutes.) Marc Gasol was scary in the way only a Gasol can be, collecting 31 points, and Zach Randolph, coming off the bench, delivered a creditable 16. But nothing was going to stop Westbrook, who finished up with 38-13-12, including 17 out of 17 free throws. Nor did it hurt that the OKC bench stepped up big, with Joffrey Lauvergne nailing a season-high 16 and Anthony Morrow reeling in 15.

That was the middle game of a three-game home stand; the last will be Sunday afternoon, against the Portland Trail Blazers. Then Monday evening, they’re off to Indianapolis, where the Pacers have worked themselves into sixth place in the East. Assuming they survive that jaunt, the Thunder will come home to meet the Cavaliers (gasp!) and the Warriors (gasp!!).

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Angry beef

The Bulls, reckoned the people who reckon these things, didn’t figure to figure in this one. I have to assume that Fred Hoiberg gave his troops the proper encouragement in the wake of this dismissive talk, because the Bulls absolutely dominated the proceedings from late in the second quarter on. Chicago led 55-47 at the half, and then trounced the Thunder 39-26 in the third quarter. Nor did they let up in the fourth, and the final was an embarrassing (for the home team, anyway) 128-100, evening up the season series at 1-1 and spurring mumbles of “Trap game!” out in the cheap(er) seats.

Jimmy Butler, who didn’t get a chance to show off in front of OKC earlier this year, dropped 11 of 17 shots for 28 points. And the youngster was spelled by the veteran: Dwyane Wade, a game-high +32 for the night, grabbed 18 points and seven rebounds. Four more Bulls finished in double figures, which can happen when you hit 60.5 percent for 48 minutes. And this may be instructive: the Bulls made six of 15 treys, while the Thunder made ten of, um, 37. Russell Westbrook, like Butler, scored 28; unlike Butler, Westbrook went 10-23. Second scorer? Jerami Grant, who came up with 15. (Big brother Jerian scored 12 for the Bulls.) A flurry of garbage-time activity brought OKC up to 38 percent shooting, but you have to be appalled at the sort of roundball ineptitude that can be improved to 38 percent. (Hint: The Thunder took 19 more shots, and made 11 fewer.) Bright, or at least not-so-dim spot: Joffrey Lauvergne was +5 after 14 minutes, the only player in Thunder blue to finish on the good side of the line.

Oh, and the Grizzlies are coming to town day after tomorrow. There may be some heavy drinking to do between now and then.

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Alamopery

Not such a random statistic: both the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder had 16-6 home records before tipoff tonight. The Spurs’ lofty seeding — they’re second only to Golden State — is due to their 20-5 record on the road. The Thunder, meanwhile, was 12-14 on the road. A third-grader, looking at those numbers, possibly might have predicted that OKC would be down 31-17 after the first quarter and 52-42 at the half. The youngster, however, would not have anticipated that the Thunder would rebound in the third, at one point making a 23-2 run to take a three-point lead, before the Spurs girded up their loins, or whatever the hell it is Pop makes them do, and went back up 79-75 to end the quarter. And then suddenly Kawhi Leonard discarded the Clark Kent persona and spun the planet backwards on its axis, or something, finishing with 36 points on 13-26 shooting. With LaMarcus Aldridge (25 points) by his side, Leonard made it a blowout after all: San Antonio 108, Oklahoma City 94, the Spurs’ first win in the last three and the Thunder’s second loss in the last two.

You like statistics? Here’s another one. Neither Aldridge nor Leonard, nor any other Spur, posted a double-double. Meanwhile, the Thunder collected three of them: Russell Westbrook (27 points, 14 assists), Steven Adams (16 points, 12 rebounds), and Domas Sabonis (13 points, 10 boards). Alex Abrines was down for the count with back spasms, giving Anthony Morrow extended minutes, during which he scored 11 points. No reserve Spur made double figures. And yet all you have to do is look at this: Spur benchman Davis Bertans scored two but posted +20 for his 23 minutes. How do you beat someone like that?

Back home overnight, and the Bulls show up around eight-thirty, an hour and a half later than the usual OKC start time. The Thunder should not be too tired — no one played more than 35 minutes — but there’s always the danger of demoralization.

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The usual Cavalier treatment

Cleveland has not been doing wonderfully of late, and Kevin Love departed during the second quarter with back spams, but no matter: the Thunder managed to miss both point-blank and long-distance shots, shooting a mere 37 percent, while losing to the Cavs 107-91. One could, perhaps, blame Enes Kanter’s absence for at least some of OKC’s offensive juicelessness — what was he thinking when he punched out that chair? — but the Cavs were technically undermanned as well: neither Chris “Birdman” Andersen nor J. R. Smith was available. And it should be noted that the Thunder actually put up eight more shots than did the Cavs — 100 versus 92 — but Cleveland hit four more (41 versus 37). And this might perplex some folks: OKC made six treys (out of 26), Imam Shumpert, all by his lonesome, made five (out of eight). Yes, Russell Westbrook had another triple-double (20-12-10), but the Cavs had three double-doubles (Kyrie Irving, 29 points, 10 assists; LeBron James, 25 points, 14 rebounds; Tristan Thompson, 19 points, 13 rebounds).

Also hors de combat: radio guy Matt Pinto, who was wrestling with an uncharacteristic rasp all day. He expects to be better by Tuesday, when the Thunder head to San Antonio. The Spurs, as seemingly always, rank just below the Warriors in overall record and sheer panache; the spirit of Tim Duncan still hangs over the place. And just to complicate matters, the Thunder immediately come home, to be visited by the Bulls on Wednesday and the Grizzlies on Friday. Chicago, at this writing, is two games under .500, but still in seventh place in the East; they will not be pushovers. Not that the Thunder can assume anyone is, at this point.

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This is no second string

So the Mavericks show up at the ‘Peake without J. J. Barea. Without Wesley Matthews. Without Deron Williams. Without Dirk Nowitzki, fercrissake. Talk about being lulled into a false sense of security. You may be sure Rick Carlisle always has a plan, and tonight this plan was to play hard and slow, a sort of clean-shaven Memphis Grizzlies surrogate. And for twenty-four minutes, it worked remarkably well; Dallas kept the Thunder at bay through halftime and took a 55-53 lead into the locker room. But OKC came back, piling on to the tune of 34-18 in the third, and when the Mavs made some serious inroads into the Thunder lead, newly-minted (for the sixth time) All-Star Russell Westbrook ran showed his stuff and then some, delivering 17 points in the fourth quarter. The final was 109-98, and of those 109, Westbrook had 45 on 16-29 shooting. No triple-double, or even a double-double, but he’ll take the W any day. Just ask him.

It helped that three other Thunder starters banged out double figures, 17 from Victor Oladipo, 15 from Steven Adams, and 10 from Domantas Sabonis. (Only two from Andre Roberson, but he swept up eight rebounds.) Downside: Usual bench power Enes Kanter banged up his wrist in the first half, apparently a self-inflicted wound, and did not return. Meanwhile, the Mavs were scoring with Curry, Bogut, and Harrison Barnes. Okay, it’s Seth Curry, not Steph, but Barnes turned in a Golden State-y 31 points, Curry added 11, and Bogut six. Justin Anderson led the Dallas bench with 17.

The Thunder are now nine games over .500, with 35 to play. Unfortunately, the next one is against the league champs, and it’s in Cleveland on a Sunday afternoon. Two days later: the Spurs. And then it’s back home for the second half of a back-to-back, against the struggling Chicago Bulls. Just because it’s February doesn’t mean it gets easier.

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Angrier birds

A laugher in the Big Easy? Not a chance. The Thunder did have a 19-point lead at the half, but the Pelicans pecked away at it, and let’s face it, the Pelicans have serious beak. That lead was down to 10 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and New Orleans would pull to within five with five minutes left. Oddly, they made the biggest gains without superstar Anthony Davis, who managed to reopen an old wound late in the first half and disappeared into the locker room. Fortunately, the fourth-quarter Thunder defense was better than the third-quarter Thunder defense of late, and it ended OKC 114-105, up 3-0 in the season series and 3-3 for this six-game road trip.

With Davis (8 points) sidelined, six Pelicans stepped up into double figures, led by E’Twaun Moore with 18; Jrue Holiday and Solomon Hill led the starters with 14 each. One does not expect a balanced attack from OKC, but five from the Thunder doubled up, led (of course) by the de rigueur triple-double from Russell Westbrook (27-12-10). Steven Adams muscled his way to a double-double (20 points, 14 boards), as did Enes Kanter (17 points, 11 boards). The numbers were mostly pretty close, with the Thunder generally having a small edge.

So we’re back to good news/bad news. Good: the road trip is finally over. Bad: the Thunder lost as many as they won. Good: They’ll be at home for the next game, against the woeful Mavericks. Bad: It’s 21 hours and a few minutes from now. If Billy Donovan was hoping to rest up some of his troops — well, they shouldn’t have blown that big halftime lead, right? And the Mavs truly haven’t caught fire this year, sitting at 15-29, a baby step beyond the Lakers and the Suns. One should never, however, underestimate the power, or lack thereof, of pure old-fashioned fatigue.

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Tight arrangement

You might have thought this one was going to turn into a laugher, had you noticed that the Thunder were up three at halftime and the Jazz scored only 19 points in the third quarter. Then you choked at how OKC choked: the Thunder managed only 11 points in the third quarter. With 1:22 to play, the Jazz were up 90-89. Before 1:00 appeared, Russell Westbrook had knocked down two free throws and assisted on a Steven Adams dunk. As the 12.9 mark approached, the Jazz had answered, then Adams salvaged a busted play, got the rock to Westbrook, and Westbrook was duly fouled. Two more free throws from The Force, as radio guy Matt Pinto has been calling him lately, and it was 95-92 OKC. Gordon Hayward spent only two and a half seconds to send up an angle-right three to tie it. With 1.4 left, Westbrook again, with a 20-foot pullup. Alec Burks drew the last-shot assignment, and it missed. Oklahoma City 97, Utah 95, evening the season series and putting the kibosh on the Jazz’ six-game winning streak.

Westbrook, incidentally, did that triple-double thing again: 38-10-10. This despite scoring nothing in the third quarter. Wildly, both teams shot 43 percent (36 of 83), though neither was all that swift from the three-point line: the Thunder made six of 20, the Jazz five of 21. Other numbers from the stats bin were similarly close. Derrick Favors got the one Utah double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds). But there were 16 lead changes in 48 minutes, which is enough to make you dizzy. Or me, anyway.

One last road game: Wednesday at New Orleans. The bad news: it’s the first night of a back-to-back. The good news: it’s against the Mavericks, who are one game out of the Western Conference basement. Then again, everyone’s tired and waiting for the All-Star break, so it is not wise to assume that things will fall according to plan.

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Imagine my lack of surprise

Last Thunder/Warriors clash, OKC went to pieces in the second quarter. It took a bit longer this time: after a 56-all tie at halftime, Golden State methodically rolled up 37 points in the third to go up 15 on the undermanned Thunder. In the absence of Steven Adams, Jerami Grant drew the Guard Number Thirty-Five assignment, and he was game, but, precisely as happened the first game in this series, Kevin Durant had an unusually good night, with 33 points and ten rebounds through three quarters. It didn’t even seem necessary to drag KD onto the court in the fourth, though Steve Kerr wasn’t taking any chances, and within a few seconds of Durant’s return, he’d already bagged another shot. KD’s previous season high was 39, against, um, guess who? Bench-emptying didn’t take too awfully long, Durant finished with 40 points and 12 rebounds, and yet another Russell Westbrook triple-double — 27-15-13, not to mention ten turnovers — will be overlooked in the wake of the giant-size L, 121-100.

Victor Oladipo scored 20 again, Enes Kanter scored 22 again, but no one else in Thunder blue was able to hit double digits. OKC shot a blah 42 percent, versus 54 for the Warriors. Treys, you ask? Golden State 10 of 21, OKC 8 of 28. And the Steph Curry/Klay Thompson axis of splashers produced 24 and 14 respectively.

Fortunately, there will be four days of wound-licking before the next game, at Utah, the current Northwest standard-bearers, and then the road trip ends at New Orleans. Nobody expected much from January, or at least that’s what punditry assembled will assert. But nobody also expected two consecutive blowouts. (If they did, they didn’t say so.)

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Shorn of dignity, among other things

The Clippers, as radio guy Matt Pinto is always reminding us, are kind of irritating to watch: the very idea that one of them might be charged with a foul is utterly unthinkable. Still, one should not let one’s irritation interfere with the fact that this is a very gifted team that works diligently to thrash its opponents. They certainly seem to have enjoyed having thrashed the Steven Adams-less Thunder tonight; L.A. shot well over 50 percent most of the night and dominated in all the ways a team can dominate. Admittedly, the Thunder were on the second night of a back-to-back, but the problem didn’t seem to be fatigue so much as simple discombobulation: OKC couldn’t do anything about dribble penetration, and once again they tossed up three-point shots instead of actually going for the rim now and then. The reserves finished up the demolition job, 120-98.

Jerami Grant, starting in the place of Adams, did yeoman work — nine points, eight rebounds — but Adams’ scoring touch was missed. So was Victor Oladipo’s, and he was there; the best he could manage was six points on 3-11. Russell Westbrook did bring 24 points to the arena, but he went 7-19. Surely it means something that the Clippers’ leading scorer was reserve Mareese Speights, who posted a season-high 23 with 10 rebounds. J. J. Redick, largely undefended, rang up 20. Blake Griffin wasn’t even missed, and Chris Paul, who sprained his wrist in the second quarter, didn’t create a big hole in the L. A. attack. The only oddity was the continuing futility of Jamal Crawford, who missed all five of his shots.

So the road trip starts 1-3 before it gets to Oakland and the Warriors. This can’t be good.

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Jacking the Kings

The Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento cost something like $550 million to build, with 17,608 seats available for roundball. The place was quite full tonight, but the Kings weren’t quite at their best: they put together some stirring runs, but the Thunder were always able to swat them back, even without Steven Adams, who retired to the locker room with the dreaded Concussion-Like Symptoms, which means he may have to go through the standard NBA concussion protocol and perhaps won’t be available for tomorrow night’s game in Los Angeles. With time called at 5:32 left, the Thunder had just finished an 11-2 run to claim a 15-point lead over the Kings; within a minute, the Kings had (stirringly) scored six in a row. The OKC swat team promptly took hold of the situation, only to see Sacramento come alive in the last minute. With 47 seconds left, the Kings pulled to within seven; a Russell Westbrook dunk stanched that bleeding, DeMarcus Cousins dropped in a pair of free throws, and after a steal, Cousins nailed another one; at 26.5, Rudy Gay tossed up a trey to make it a three-point game. Alex Abrines delivered two free throws of his own, the Thunder fouled Cousins again, and this time he got three of ’em. The Kings promptly fouled Victor Oladipo, who swished two freebies to make it 120-116, and Westbrook, who apparently had had enough, swiped the ball from the Kings and stuffed it into the net. There would be a jumper from Darren Collison at the buzzer, but too late: Oklahoma City 122, Sacramento 118.

Four Kings starters rolled up double figures, and Garrett Temple just missed with eight; both Cousins and Gay made double-doubles, with Cousins knocking down a stirring (there it is again) 31. Sacramento actually outshot OKC, 46 to 44 percent, and tied them for rebounds at 44. The Kings also had the advantage in assists, 24-20. But what they didn’t have was, as radio guy Matt Pinto says, The Force. Westbrook’s 20th triple-double (36-11-10) was nearly matched by Enes Kanter’s 29-12 showing. For what it’s worth, Westbrook was -1 for the night despite all those digits.

Tomorrow night — late tomorrow night — it’s the Clippers at the Staples Center. I hope everyone’s Sort of Rested, because the Clips have won six in a row.

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Hungrier in the wintertime

“Sometimes you get the Wolf,” Judge Radar noted, “and sometimes the Wolf gets you.” It was cold in the Twin Cities tonight — single digits at gametime — and the young Wolves were hungry. During most of their recent history, that hunger would go unsated. But not tonight. Down five at halftime, Minnesota flattened the Thunder 29-18 in the third quarter, Russell Westbrook failing to score so much as a single point, and in the fourth quarter, the Wolves gradually pulled away, and His Zeroness was pulled with two minutes left, having managed only a single additional bucket. Minnesota 96, Oklahoma City 86, as this six-game road trip starts off on the wrong foot.

Lots of weak points for the Thunder tonight. For one, they gave up 33 points on 19 turnovers. (Does this count as a quadruple-double? Westbrook finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds, 12 assists — and 10 turnovers.) The Thunder shot just under 39 percent, dismal by any standard, and factoring out Westbrook’s dire 7-23 still leaves only 42 percent. OKC put up 20 treys; exactly three fell. (Minnesota made five of 18.) Enes Kanter did contribute 21 points to the cause, and Victor Oladipo managed 19, but nobody else made it to double digits.

Meanwhile, Karl-Anthony Towns cranked it up to the tune of 29 points and 17 rebounds, Andrew Wiggins added 19 points, and Ricky Rubio, having discovered he can handle the ball, produced 14 points and 14 assists. The Wolves shot a decent 45 percent and missed only one of 14 free throws.

And now it’s off to relatively balmier California, where over four days the Thunder will visit the Kings, the Clippers and the Warriors. It will take at least two wins for anyone to declare a moral victory.

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Contentious to the last

The Memphis Grizzlies came to town, and they came to be as Grizzly as they possibly could, because that’s what they do; you have to wonder sometimes if maybe Quentin Tarantino is drawing up the plays. “An absolute grind,” muttered radio guy Matt Pinto during a fourth-quarter timeout, and he wasn’t kidding: to the extent possible, the Griz will simply wear you down. The Thunder know; they have to play these guys three or four times every season, and it almost always happens this way: up eleven at the half, they couldn’t find any way to create any serious distance between themselves and Memphis. (Last time they played was the exception that proves the rule: the Griz simply ground them into sausage and claimed an easy win.) OKC finally got a break with just over a minute left: Steven Adams delivered a fearsome swat, and Victor Oladipo turned it into three points, opening the Thunder lead to seven. Shortly thereafter, Jerami Grant saved a Russell Westbrook fumble and came up with an and-one, providing some breathing room, and the last 15 seconds took about 15 minutes to play, the Griz fighting on every single possession, because that’s what they do. Oklahoma City 103, Memphis 95 at the horn, evening up the season series at 1-1.

If anything stands out here, it was the Thunder’s ability to contain Marc Gasol, who was held to a mere nine points, around half his average. Then again, they couldn’t stop Mike Conley (22 points) or Chandler Parsons (14 points in 18 minutes). And Enes Kanter was Kanterlike in his insistence, conjuring up 19 points and retrieving 13 rebounds. For the “Did Westbrook get a triple-double?” fans, the answer is Yes: 24-13-12 despite shooting a sub-meh 6-19 from the floor. The Thunder shot only 45 percent overall, but the Griz were under 40 most of the night and finished at 41.

That long six-game road trip begins in Minnesota on Friday; I bet the Twin Cities have better weather than we do.

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Butler didn’t

Chicago forward Jimmy Butler has not been well of late, but the Bulls organization decided he was probably good to go tonight. Well, maybe partially: he led the team with assists, with seven, but missed all six of his shots and one of two free throws, retiring for the night after 29 minutes and one point. If Butler, or for that matter Robin Lopez, had been up to speed, the Bulls might have made a game of it. As it stands, the Thunder’s 109-94 victory was nowhere near as close as it sounds: through three quarters, OKC was up 89-67, but they loosened up their grip in those final 12 minutes. Still, it’s a road win, something OKC has not had a lot of recently, enough to climb back into a tie with the Jazz for Northwest Division dominance.

The Chicago guards did what they could, with Michael Carter-Williams posting a season-high 15 points and Dwyane Wade looking something like the Dwyane Wade of old while picking up 22. The Bulls did gather rebounds, with reserve center Cristiano Felicio collecting 11 to go with 11 points, but a reasonably alert Thunder defense kept the Bulls from scoring much: Chicago shot a mere 41 percent from the field, while OKC was blithely pumping in 57. (Statistical oddity: both teams took 83 shots, but the Thunder hit 13 more.) Top scorer for the Thunder: Steven Adams, with 22. (Enes Kanter, your Sixth Man of the Year candidate, dropped in 20.) Russell Westbrook just barely missed another triple-double, recording 21-9-14. And in the Battle of the Grant Brothers, Jerian (CHI) scored 11, Jerami (OKC) seven.

Good news: the Thunder play next at home. Bad news: it’s against the Memphis Grizzlies, who have already walloped them once this year, albeit at the Fed Up Forum. Then on the road again, where the marquee game is the fourth of the trip: at Golden State, new home of some guy we used to mention a lot here.

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This is where you came in

In case cutting the cord wasn’t enough for you:

Back in October 2015 when they announced single-game and single-team League Pass streaming options, the NBA also floated the idea on social media to let fans buy just parts of games. Now, it sounds like NBA commissioner Adam Silver is working towards making that a reality. On a sports business innovation panel at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Silver said he thinks they’ll get to a point where there will be an option for fans to buy only the final five minutes of games.

However, this could backfire on the Association:

Silver’s suggestion might help reinforce the idea that the last five minutes of an average NBA game — which can last quite a bit longer than five minutes with time-outs, intentional fouls and TV commercial breaks — are the only five minutes of the game that matter. The league already has a problem drawing casual eyeballs during the pre-playoff season since so many of its teams make post-season play.

Sixteen of thirty, in fact.

Wait until people figure out that they can’t DVR these fractions of games: not only do you not know how long the last five minutes will run, you don’t know how long the first forty-three ran. And then there’s the dread spectre of overtime.

Back to the drawing board, Mr Silver, sir.

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Friendlier skies

The low this morning in Oklahoma City was -3° F (-19° C), but no matter: the Thunder knew they’d get a warm reception at the ‘Peake, and hey, it’s not like Denver is particularly warm this time of year. The Nuggets do one thing exceptionally well, and that’s the retrieval of rebounds; their sheer prowess on the boards kept them more or less dead even during the first two quarters, after which the Thunder began to wear them down. Denver tried to buy some time by fouling Andre Roberson and/or Steven Adams, but that didn’t last long, and OKC, having lost three in a row on the road, get back home with a W over the Nuggets, 121-106, their second of the season with two games to go.

Denver did gather the majority of rebounds, 53-49, and they were less inept than the Thunder from the three-point line (9-24 versus 12-36), but OKC dominated the rest of the statistics, including this startler: eleven blocks, with Adams and Jerami Grant swatting four each. It must be conceded that Wilson Chandler is downright scary coming off the bench: tonight he nailed 24 points on 10-18 from the floor. Will Barton, in place of Gary Harris, led the starters with 22, and four other Nuggets scored in double figures. Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook, chastised a few times this season for jacking up a dozen treys and missing most of them, this time jacked up a dozen treys and made seven on his way to yet another triple-double, 32-17-11. Four other Thundermen did the double-digit thing, with Enes Kanter, as usual, leading with 14.

This is the first Thunder home game of January. There will be only two more. First comes a trip to Chicago on Monday; home game #2, on Wednesday, is against the scary Memphis Grizzlies; and then there are six in a row on the road: Minnesota, Sacramento, Los Angeles (the Clippers), Golden State, Utah, and New Orleans. It’s going to be a long, long month.

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Cramped quarters again

The last two meetings of Rockets/Thunder, OKC spotted Houston a big lead after three quarters and then defensed the living, um, tissue out of them in the fourth. And it looked like the same thing would happen tonight: the Rockets, down five after the first quarter, led 67-56 at the half and 97-83 after three, and sure enough, the Thunder bore down. With 5:30 left, the Rocket lead was down to three. At the 2:30 mark, it was one. Just inside the 2:00 mark, a Victor Oladipo trey put the Thunder up two; James Harden responded with two free throws to tie it up at 116. Then followed a possibly controversial call in which Patrick Beverley wasn’t as out of bounds as he looked. Harden to the rescue, right? Well, he put up a straight-ahead trey, which Andre Roberson waved off in his own inimitable fashion, and with 25 seconds left, Russell Westbrook wound up with the ball and worked some clock. Then Westbrook backrimmed a trey, Beverley retrieved the rock, and Houston burned up the last of its timeouts trying to inbound. Nené went for the dunk; Jerami Grant blocked it, but also fouled him in the process. Nené hit both free throws, and with 0.7 left, the Thunder was definitely in a hole, and burned up the last of their timeouts trying to inbound. Enes Kanter took the last shot from a position we may describe as “unfavorable,” and the Rockets won it, 118-116, taking a 2-1 lead in the season series.

Inexplicably, the Rockets deployed a nearly balanced attack: Harden was good for 26 and 12 assists, but all five Houston starters reached double figures, and so did Eric Gordon, with 22 off the bench. The Thunder had more rebounds, 54-43, but the Rockets moved the ball better: 27-15 on assists. Kanter recorded the Thunder’s only double-double — 15 points, 13 boards — while Westbrook posted a lopsided 49-8-5 line. (King Zero was 16-34 from the line, 8-15 for three-pointers.) If Billy Donovan is looking at anything right now, it’s that gap between Oladipo’s trey, the last points scored by OKC, and the horn.

Next outing: at home, against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

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Where’s the buzz?

I remember when Nicolas Batum caused massive grief for the Thunder as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers; when he was dealt to Charlotte, well, we’d have to see him only twice a year instead of four times. Turns out that Batum, at least in this game, was just about twice as much of a pest as he was in the Rose Garden/Moda Center: with the game tied at 101 late in the fourth, the Hornets went on a 13-3 run, and much of that running was done by Batum, who finished with a season-high 28 points and dribbled it out for a 123-112 win.

No one — well, no one not named Russell Westbrook — was complaining about the officiating, but damn, those Hornets know how to draw fouls; Charlotte took forty-nine free throws, making 40 of them. (OKC was 19-23 from the stripe, a better percentage; but still, 21 points handed to the opposition.) Alongside Batum in the Hornets backcourt, Kemba Walker rang up 20 points, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist drew a double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds).

Two double-doubles among the Thundermen: Westbrook (of course), 33 points and 15 rebounds, Steven Adams, 18 points and 12 boards. As per usual, Enes Kanter led the bench with 22. The Thunder did manage to control the backboards, kinda sorta, 51-46; but the Hornets served up more assists and shot about 2.5 percent better. You gotta wonder if maybe the Thunder were looking ahead to an even tougher road opponent: the Rockets, who will be waiting in Houston tomorrow night. But Westbrook, who played 35 minutes and drew yet another technical (two previous Ts were rescinded, so he has ten), probably isn’t worried about playing time.

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No Bucks given

Milwaukee, despite getting trodden upon in the first quarter — the Thunder hit their first eleven shots and took a 30-22 lead — gradually fought their way back, and in the third quarter they took the lead from a disorganized bunch in Thunder blue. With a minute and a half left, it was a 94-94 tie; the Bucks’ John Henson scored an easy layup, the Thunder went nowhere, and with the Bucks seeking to run some clock, Russell Westbrook, who’d missed an incredible number of shots in the second half, came up with a steal. Tony Snell pushed the ball out of bounds, apparently bouncing it off Westbrook, and Westbrook ended up fouling Malcolm Brogdon, who calmly sank two free throws to put it out of reach. Bucks 98, Thunder 94, Milwaukee climbs one game above .500, and Billy Donovan is looking through his notebooks for the one that says “Shot Selection.”

And that, ultimately, was OKC’s undoing. Yeah, Westbrook had 30 points; but he was 9-28, 2-10 from distance. Meanwhile, Giannis Antetokounmpo, a man so fast he can compress his last name to four syllables, was picking up 26 points on 10-19 shooting. And you have to figure that whatever the Bucks did to hold Enes Kanter to two points was pretty remarkable in itself. (Semaj Christon, whose first name runs three syllables, led the Thunder bench with 11.) It’s a darn good thing that Victor Oladipo was back. And you could perhaps forgive all those three-point shots — 27 were attempted, but only nine actually went through — were the Thunder a good three-point team. Twenty-ninth out of 30 is not good.

The road trip continues: Charlotte on Wednesday, Houston on Thursday, back home to play Denver Saturday, then up to Chicago on Monday. It’s not getting any easier, folks.

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Clippings scattered across the floor

The word came in early: Victor Oladipo would be back, and Blake Griffin would be out. “Hmmm,” I hmmmed. And when the “questionable” Chris Paul was no longer a question — he was out — the only question left would be when the Judge delivered a Blowout Warning. It might be as early as 8 pm, I decided.

Just a hair earlier. Of course, His Honor had seen that first quarter, after which the Thunder were up by a ridiculous 33-12. It was 69-40 at the half, Russell Westbrook already had a triple-double in hand — he finished with 17-12-14 and would not play in the fourth quarter — and the depleted Clippers would not present a threat in the second half anyway. Then again, this week has been a comedy of errors for the Angelenos, who last night at Houston saw Austin Rivers thumbed, and sixty seconds later saw Doc Rivers, Clippers coach and Austin’s dad, similarly broomed. Then again, the Clips did put up 116 points against the Rockets while losing by 24; tonight, against the Thunder, they lost by 26 in a 114-88 game, putting OKC up 2-1 in the season series. And weirdly, Westbrook managed to draw his 11th technical foul of the season without even being on the court; he and L.A.’s Mareese Speights apparently got into a spate of mutual trash talk, and Speights was similarly rung up.

The Clipper reserves, really, kept things from being even worse than they were; both Speights and Brandon Bass came up with 18 points to lead the team. Only one starter — Rivers, who went 3-11 for 14 points — scored in double figures, and I’m damned if I can figure out how J. J. Redick would finish with a mere five and Jamal Crawford with a goose egg. For the home team, Oladipo wasn’t even rusty after being off; he went 4-9 for 15 points. However, his place on the injured list was taken by Alex Abrines, who collected 12 points, 4-5 on treys, and then went down under the basket while being fouled; he’s been thrown into the NBA’s concussion protocol. The big point man once again was a big: Enes Kanter, with 23, including 11 of 12 free throws. And here’s your Telltale Statistic: Thunder 33, Clippers 0 (yes, zero) in fast-break points.

And now, it’s back on the road, starting Monday night at Milwaukee.

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Thoroughly skinned

Under the best of circumstances, it’s difficult to beat the Grizzlies in Memphis, and tonight’s circumstances were hardly the best: Oklahoma City managed a one-point lead briefly in the first quarter, but the Griz dominated to an extent you seldom see in this day and age, as though the Thunder had been replaced for 48 minutes — okay, 47 minutes — by the Washington Generals. OKC managed to keep it fairly close until late in the second quarter, when the Griz went on a 15-2 tear, and thereafter Memphis didn’t even bother to look back. It didn’t help that Russell Westbrook managed to get himself thumbed halfway through the third quarter. But maybe it didn’t matter so much, since Westbrook wasn’t moving the ball at all: he finished the night with zero assists, and the rest of the team in aggregate managed only eight. Meanwhile, the Memphis reserves made a laugher of it, the punchline being 114-80; the Thunder shot just under 33 percent, the Griz nearly 53 percent, and when’s the last time you heard that story? Troy Daniels, often glued to the bench, let his soul arise and his three-ball fall, hitting six of eight for 22 points — one more than Westbrook, five minutes faster. OKC managed to tie the Griz in rebounds, with 39 each, but otherwise, it was the sort of whipping one gives to a disobedient puppy, assuming one’s still living in the 19th century.

There’s really not a lot to say here. Chandler Parsons, often injured, played sparingly, but he didn’t have to bring a whole lot tonight. Mike Conley was out already. And had Alex Abrines not made that 24-footer from the corner with half a minute left, things would have looked even worse. (Double A scored 10 points in all, one of exactly three Thundermen in double figures.) Perhaps it’s better just to let this one fade into distant memory. Besides, when the Thunder get back home, they have to play the Clippers, who previously administered the second-worst thrashing OKC has received this season.

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Win chill

The Miami Heat have had problems this season, winning only ten of their first 31 games, and Goran Dragic is sidelined, which doesn’t help them. Still, it would not have been wise for the Thunder to take them too lightly: guard Josh Richardson is a legitimate threat, and the Heat have two Johnsons on the bench. And then there’s Hassan Whiteside, who can kill you if he’s given the opportunity. OKC, accordingly, worked on not giving Whiteside the opportunity, holding him to 12 points and seven rebounds. Richardson was as good as his reputation suggests, rolling up 22 points, and the Johnson twins (James and Tyler, who are not related) combined for 33 of Miami’s 39 bench points. Still, they couldn’t fend off a Russell Westbrook triple-double — 28-17-11 — and the Thunder reserves continue their transformation into a viable second unit, picking up 46 points, led by Enes Kanter (natch) with 19. That’s 2-0 against the Heat for the season, with the Thunder winning 106-94, starting this road trip on the right foot. Then again, I was kind of hoping to see Dion Waiters, dealt to the Heat this past summer, but he drew a DNP-CD.

There was one statistical area where Miami proved superior: the steal, ten of which they pulled off against the Thunder. (OKC executed only four.) And there was one amusing tidbit to be found among the Thunder numbers: Alex Abrines went 4-7 from the three-point line. The rest of the team: 1-12. This is not to say that Double A will be inheriting the mantle of reserve sharpshooter while Anthony Morrow is starting. Then again, A-Mo was 1-5 from downtown.

Next up, on Thursday: the Grizzlies. Memphis is right behind OKC in the Western Conference standings, and they’re 12-7 at the FedEx Forum. Not untouchable, but not a patsy, either, and they failed to subdue the Celtics in Boston tonight, losing 113-103, though that was the second night of a back-to-back. Then again, they also lost the first night, 112-102 to the Magic. Can the Thunder beat them by ten? We shall see.

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Home for the snarly days

This is the sixth year in a row that the Thunder have been featured on a Christmas Day game. And this year they drew a proper opponent: the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are eminently capable of being a pest for extended periods yet still have a sub-.500 record. The Wolves, in fact, were up 27-23 after the first quarter, though they were in a four-point hole at halftime and Thunder defense and offense both went up a couple of notches in ferocity in the second half. Just inside the four-minute mark, OKC held a 20-point lead, despite all three of Minnesota’s scoring threats having performed within screaming distance of their season averages, and shortly thereafter the benches were cleared. When it was all over, the Thunder had won their 19th game of the year against 12 losses, 112-100, their second against the Wolves with two to play.

Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins both eased through the 20-point barrier, and Zach LaVine was right behind at 16, but almost all their bench production came from Shabazz Muhammad (15 points out of 26). This couldn’t reasonably be expected to hold the line against the OKC run-and-gun attack, led by (of course) Russell Westbrook with a 31-15-7, both Enes Kanter and Steven Adams scoring 20-plus, and Alex Abrines’ on-again, off-again three-point prowess on again. (Weirdly, both teams hit exactly one-third of their treys, though the Wolves put up only 12 and the Thunder tossed up 24.) So the only thing really in doubt might have been “Will Westbrook get another technical?” Answer: yes.

Five of the next six games are on the road, the sole exception being a New Year’s Eve matchup with the Clippers. Before that, it’s Miami (Tuesday) and Memphis (Thursday), followed by Milwaukee, Charlotte and Houston. After that, things get more complicated.

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