Archive for Net Proceeds

None of that tedious scoring business

Halfway through the first quarter, the Timberwolves took an 8-4 lead. It wasn’t a titanic defensive struggle or anything like that; it was a comedy of errors with elements of farce. (One particularly questionable call on Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins drew loud complaints from radio guy Matt Pinto, which cost nothing, and from Wolves coach Flip Saunders, which cost a technical.) After three quarters, it was Thunder 65, Wolves 56, at which time Royce Young opined that it was “the worst basketball game you’ve ever seen.” There was a bit more scoring in the fourth, but not enough to impress anyone or to change the outcome: OKC won it, 92-84, to go up 2-0 in the season series.

Kevin Durant, who had the night off after banging up a toe against Cleveland last night, might have been bemused by it all. He wasn’t saying. However, his absence was felt on the box score, where no one in Thunder white broke 20: Russell Westbrook came closest, with 18, though it took him 22 shots to get there. And the bench provided 45 points, to 47 for the starters, with both Anthony Morrow and Reggie Jackson knocking down 14 and Dion Waiters adding 10. (Which leaves seven for Nick Collison, who with Waiters had the highest plus/minus of the night, at +16.) Serge Ibaka had 13 points and 19 rebounds, one short of his career high.

Then again, there were a lot of rebounds to be had, the Thunder collecting 52, the Wolves 50, so you shouldn’t be surprised that Gorgui Dieng, a center playing the four to make room for Nikola Peković was able to haul in 18 of them. (Peković himself had seven.) Scoring honors went to Wiggins, with 23, and Thaddeus Young, with 22. If the Wolves had shot more than 34 percent, they could have made a run at this thing, with the Thunder mired at 42 percent. And treys were hard to come by either way, Minnesota hitting two of 13, OKC four of 20.

The Wednesday-night game with the Knicks may not happen due to #Snowmageddon2015; Sacramento-New York and Portland-Brooklyn, scheduled for tonight, were postponed, and conditions are predicted to go from bad to worse. If there’s no trip to MSG, then the next game is Saturday night in Memphis.

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That Erie feeling

They booed Dion Waiters in Cleveland, as might have been expected, but then they pretty much left him alone. Unfortunately, Waiters was suffering the same disease as the rest of his new teammates: inability to put the ball into the net, pretty much regardless of distance. The Thunder fell short of 40-percent shooting, and they put up 30 treys, making a mere 10. (The Cavs cashed in 16 of 36.) Add to this some superior Cleveland rebounding (48-42), the absence of Steven Adams (migraine, they said), and the looming presence of LeBron (34 points), and perhaps the Thunder were lucky to be beaten by only ten points, 108-98.

Among the OKC shooters, the least bad was Kevin Durant: 12-23 for 32 points, though he missed four of five long-balls. Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka each collected double-doubles, though neither shot well: Westbrook (22 points, 11 assists) was 7-26, and Ibaka (15 points, 10 rebounds) was 6-16. The aforementioned Dion Waiters scored 14 on 5-15. And with Adams out, Kendrick Perkins got to start again; he was his usual fierce self, but extended minutes provided him more opportunities to foul, and he did so three times in the fourth quarter, the last earning a disqualification.

Against this offensive sub-barrage, basically all the Cavs had to do was not screw up, and for the most part, they did not screw up. Timofey Mozgov, in the middle, was not a factor; but Kyrie Irving (21 points) ran a decent offense, J. R. Smith (14) provided spot scoring and perhaps spotty defense; Kevin Love put together another double-double (19 points, 13 boards); and old reliable Tristan Thompson snagged 16 rebounds and 10 points to lead the bench. (For what it’s worth, OKC reserves outscored Cleveland’s, 23-20.) And always, always, there is LeBron.

Then again, I don’t think anyone expected the Thunder to do better than 3-2 on this road trip, and 3-2 is what they got. Perhaps they will vent their frustrations on the hapless Timberwolves when they get home Monday night.


The thing with feathers

Halfway through the fourth quarter, the Hawks had outscored the Thunder 15-4, and things hadn’t got much better a couple of minutes later when radio guy Matt Pinto almost totally lost it, incredulous that Kent Bazemore could foul Kevin Durant, protest loudly, stick a fist into the air, and not draw a technical. It didn’t matter so much, perhaps: at the three-minute mark, Atlanta was up 13, and the writing was on the wall. The final was 103-93, the 15th straight win for the Hawks and the end of a four-game winning streak for the Thunder.

Atlanta didn’t do much wrong: they rolled up a lot of turnovers in the first half, finishing with 18, but they absolutely dominated the glass, 47-36, and hit all 13 of their free throws. I strongly suspect that the OKC game plan here was to keep Kyle Korver from doing anything; that, at least, worked, with Korver making only two of five shots. But the four other Hawk starters nailed double figures, led by Paul Millsap with 22 and ten boards. Al Horford collected 12 boards and 14 points; Jeff Teague had 17 points and nine assists. Dennis Schröder paced the bench with 13.

It was a good first quarter for Durant, who rang up nine quick points, but he struggled for most of the rest of the game and finished with 21, just behind Russell Westbrook, who recorded one of two Thunder double-doubles (22 points, 11 assists). Serge Ibaka got the other, 13 points and 10 boards, though he seemed to have trouble with, and from, Millsap all night. Beyond that, nobody with as much as 10: both Dion Waiters and Reggie Jackson shot 3-8, not much worse than the team’s 41 percent.

This road trip ends with a Sunday matinee in Cleveland, and the Cavaliers, who stomped all over the Hornets tonight, would like to even up the season series. Besides, there’s that LeBron fellow. A brief trip home to welcome the much-bloodied Timberwolves, and then back East to Madison Square Garden and a chance to say hello to Knicks coach Derek Fisher.


Counterspells effective

When a team that’s been getting 70-point first halves gets a 38-point first half, you tend to suspect something is wrong. The Thunder shot just over 30 percent in those 24 minutes; the only reason they were trailing by a mere twelve is that the Wizards were nearly as awful, at 36 percent. And whoever suggested they try to make up the difference with the long ball was out of his gourd: OKC put up ten in that half, and not one of them made it into the net. The only saving grace for the Thunder was Steven Adams’ 13 rebounds.

In the second half, Oklahoma City got busy. With five minutes left, the Thunder were up 87-80; the Wizards, however, answered with a 9-0 run, and at :34, Washington led 92-90 on the strength of a Paul Pierce trey. Russell Westbrook tied it up with a quick bucket; John Wall burned up 24 seconds and tossed up an air ball, giving the Thunder one last chance with two seconds left; Kevin Durant’s trey did not fall, and overtime ensued. With :35 left, Kevin Durant’s trey did fall, and the Thunder were up 103-101; an Andre Roberson goaltend of a Nenê air ball tied it at 103 with :22 left. With Durant seemingly quadruple-teamed, Westbrook scooped up the rock and spun it in; the Wizards’ last salvo fell short. OKC 105, Washington 103, and something unheard of: a season sweep.

The numbers, as you might expect, are close all around: OKC shot 40-102 (39.2 percent), Washington 38-100 (38 percent). After majorly failing at the three-point circle, the Thunder eventually got six to fall out of 29; the Wiz sank seven of 30. Rebounds: Wizards 58, OKC 57. Turnovers: Wizards 12, OKC 10. Assists: Wizards 23, OKC 21.

All five starting Wizards collected double figures, led by Nenê with 24; Pierce had 14 points and 12 rebounds; Wall had 18 points and 13 assists. Bradley Beal, harassed by Roberson all night, went 5-21 but still ended up with 14 points. Marcin Gortat, anchoring the middle, produced 10 points and blocked three shots.

As usual, it was the Durant-Westbrook Show, KD coming up with 34 points in a whopping 44 minutes, and Westbrook knocking down 32 with eight rebounds and eight assists in 42 minutes. Only two sets of double figures otherwise: Anthony Morrow, with ten points, and remember Steven Adams’ 13 first-half rebounds? He finished with 20.

Having beaten the second-best team in the East, what do the Thunder do next? Why, they take on the best team in the East: Atlanta has won 14 straight. This epic clash will be Friday night.



Close quarters all night: I don’t recall a single double-digit lead by either side until the 1:19 mark in the fourth, when a Steven Adams stuff put the Thunder up 93-83, and Miami managed only one trey the rest of the way. Then again, the Thunder managed only one free throw the rest of the way, so the final was 94-86, the 21st Oklahoma City win in 41 games and the first step over the .500 line.

Luol Deng was unwell, and looked it; Dwyane Wade was unwell, but didn’t look like it (much). And starting center Hassan Whiteside, who’d gone 5-5 in a mere 11 minutes (four dunks!), sprained his right ankle and did not return. Besides Whiteside’s 10 and Wade’s 18, only Chris Bosh broke into double figures, with 16. Collecting neither fast-break points nor second-chance points in any quantity, the Heat were apparently waiting for the Thunder to mess up, and their patience was rewarded several times before the last OKC push.

The box score was just stuffed full of weirdness. The Thunder took 92 shots and made 41; the Heat took only 68 and made 32. Free throws were few and far between: OKC was 6-10 from the stripe, Miami 14-19. Miami turned the ball over 21 times, OKC only 11. OKC blocked three shots, two of them on the same possession; Miami had two swats. Count eleven steals by the Thunder — four by Russell Westbrook — and four by the Heat. But perhaps the oddest sight to see was Kevin Durant’s line: 19 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, 9-16 on two-point field goals — and 0-8 on treys, which latter figure contributed mightily, or weakly, to the dismal 6-26 longball figure for OKC. The Heat were 8-22 from outside, marginally less dismal.

Westbrook, meanwhile, landed a double-double with 19 points and ten rebounds, while managing only five assists. (Miami led this category, 20-15.) That final Adams bucket gave him ten; Anthony Morrow and Reggie Jackson, back in form, had 12 and 16 respectively. Meanwhile, bucket purchase was unavailable to Dion Waiters, a woeful 1-9.

Still, it’s a W, and it’s on the first half of a back-to-back. Tomorrow, though, the Wizards will be waiting, and the Wizards are 18-5 at home.


Fizzling spells

If there was one thing more remarkable than the Thunder’s 37-point first quarter, including a 13-0 opening run, on the road at Orlando, it was the 42-point second quarter; were it not for the team’s genuinely lousy foul shooting — 10-17 for 59 percent in that half, versus 73 percent from the floor — one might have thought that this thing was in the bag. And then the Magic opened the second half with three consecutive treys, exposing some of the defensive rot yet to be pruned away.

Still, in the third quarter Orlando managed to slice the Thunder’s 34-point halftime lead only by seven, so the Foregone Conclusion button was pushed, neither Kevin Durant (21 points, 11 rebounds, one technical) nor Russell Westbrook (17 points, one industrial-strength dunk, one technical) came out for the fourth, and OKC emptied the bench with 6:11 left. The final: Oklahoma City 127, Orlando 99, and the Thunder is back at .500. Unfortunately, so is New Orleans: the Pelicans edged the Raptors, 95-93.

With all 12 players getting minutes, seven Thundermen scored in double figures, including the bookends of the bench, Dion Waiters (17) and Reggie Jackson (13). Andre Roberson rolled up 10 points for the second time ever. Serge Ibaka knocked down 16. Even Kendrick Perkins bagged 11 points (!), on 5-7 (!!) shooting. That 73-percent shooting percentage early on did drop, but only to 58; OKC enjoyed a startling 54-33 advantage on the boards.

Despite all that, the game-high man was Orlando’s Victor Oladipo, with 23 points. Elfrid Payton, beside him in the Magic backcourt, added 19. The woeful Magic shooting percentage in the first half became less so in the second, rising to just under 40. Both sides hit around 35 percent from beyond the circle. And interestingly, both sides had two players with five fouls: Payton and Nikola Vučević for the Magic, Steven Adams and Nick Collison for the Thunder.

The next week will be unnerving, against four Eastern foes, all of them for the moment playoff-bound: Miami (Tuesday), Washington (Wednesday), Atlanta (Friday) and Cleveland (Sunday). It’s going to take some seriously high-energy balling to get through this bunch.


Nix on that idea

Spike Lee, Knicks fan par excellence, is not a man to mince words:

During a recent interview, Yahoo’s Jordan Zakarin asked Lee why he didn’t attend the Knicks’ game against the Milwaukee Bucks in London. His response was priceless.

“We’ve lost 16 motherf—–g games in a row. 26 out of 27,” he said. “And I’m gonna get on a plane for that?! I can take a cab to see them lose!”

(Via HoopsHype. Dashes in the original, handled weirdly by WordPress.)


Warriors subdued

As Thunder/Warriors games go, this one was closer to the norm than the last two: major ball movement, lots of scoring, and close until the very end. There was an odd and-two at the end of the first half. Steven Adams hit the first of two foul shots with one second left; he missed the second, but Russell Westbrook batted it back in just before the buzzer. Steve Kerr complained, and continued to complain during halftime, which explains why the third quarter opened with a free throw, shot by Kevin Durant. That made it 70-60 Thunder; OKC was up seven to open the fourth. And after appearing to stumble, the closers earned their coffee: the margin was 13 with three minutes left, and a minute later, it was still 13. “Lots of scoring” did materialize: Durant knocked down 36, Westbrook had a triple-double (17 points, 17 assists, 15 rebounds), Dion Waiters had 21, and Serge Ibaka recorded 27, tying his career high. The final: 127-115, with Klay Thompson putting up 32 for the Warriors.

Golden State didn’t overwork the bench, exactly; the Warriors’ starters contributed 94 points, though no one expected Stephen Curry to be the third scorer. (Steph had 19, ahead of Harrison Barnes but behind Mareese Speights.) David Lee, unaccustomed to coming off the bench, did the best he could, coming up with nine. GS came out popping threes, but eventually the Thunder found some perimeter defense, holding the Warriors to 9-24 from outside. (OKC was 10-22.)

So it’s 1-3 against the Warriors. Then again, one win against arguably the best team in the Association is nothing to grumble about.

Next outing: Sunday at Orlando.


They’re Joshing us

I blame Josh Smith. The Pistons waived him, the Rockets signed him, and by all evidence both teams were improved.

That said, the Thunder boomed out to a 4-0 lead early. And that was the end of that: the Rockets responded with a 16-0 run and never trailed again. It was 40-18 after the first quarter; a 35-point second quarter brought OKC to within 11 at the half, though they’d never quite get within 10, and inside the three-minute mark, with Houston up 108-91, the white flag was hoisted. James Harden hung around a little longer, perhaps in search of a triple-double — he wound up with 31 points, 10 assists but only nine rebounds — but after a 5-0 run by the Thunder reserves, Kevin McHale presumably saw the light and pulled all his starters except for Donatas Motiejunas. Just as well: all five of those starters made double figures, as did, um, Josh Smith, on the way to a Houston win, 112-101. (There will be only one more game between these teams, so the Rockets win the season series.)

The Rockets shot 48 percent and 16 of 36 treys. (Thunder: 43 and 11-29.) Most of the other numbers were pretty close, so you have to look for other factors, and one of the most obvious was Trevor Ariza’s stifling defense against Kevin Durant. KD got off only 12 shots all night, though he hit eight of them and finished with 24 points. And there was progress on another front: getting good production out of both Dion Waiters and Reggie Jackson, each of whom scored 16, as did Russell Westbrook. Serge Ibaka anted up 13, but no one else in Thunder blue (actually, it was those black-ish alternates) managed more than six.

Good news: after this single road loss, the Thunder go back home. Bad news: the Golden State Warriors, already 2-0 against OKC, will be waiting for them. And instead of five days between games, this time the Thunder get zero. After that, five games on the road against the East, a brief stop at home to welcome the Timberwolves, and back on the road again. If you haven’t fastened your seat belt yet, what’s holding you back?


A vaguely spiritual quality to it all

High weirdness all night. We begin with this revelation on Twitter:

Um, no, he’s not. And anyway, Waiters’ undistinguished Thunder debut on the Left Coast was pretty much offset by his second appearance: in 11 first-half minutes, he went 4-7 and stole the ball three times.

But Waiters won’t make the highlight reel, and Trevor Booker’s late-second-quarter bucket will: with 0.2 on the shot clock, Booker got the inbound facing away from the basket, and without turning around, he tipped the ball in the general direction of the rim. And it went in. “Grandma shot,” quipped Brian Davis.

The Jazz didn’t work too many miracles tonight, but they outworked the Thunder in the first 44 minutes or so. Finally OKC scraped to a 92-90 lead. Conspicuously, Waiters was playing and Reggie Jackson wasn’t. And with 23 seconds left, Waiters served up his first successful trey of the night, making it 97-93. Gordon Hayward made one of two foul shots, pulling the Jazz to within three; Russell Westbrook put down one of his patented dunks, Serge Ibaka swatted away the last Utah shot, and Westbrook dribbled it out for the 99-94 win.

Waiters ended up with 15 of the 26 OKC bench points and four steals. Among the starters, Westbrook posted a double-double (25 points on 9-17 shooting, 12 assists), and Kevin Durant turned in a very Durantean 32 points on 14-21. Possibly alarming: Jackson was 2-6, Anthony Morrow was 1-6. And while Serge Ibaka did grab 12 points and seven boards, he blocked only one shot.

Speaking of blocks, the Jazz practically monopolized them, to the tune of 11-5; Rudy Gobert had seven of them. Utah also controlled the boards, 44-38. Three Jazz starters broke the 20-point mark: Hayward with 27, Booker with 20, and Derrick Favors collected a double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Where did the Jazz go wrong? They left seven points at the stripe, 15-22 on foul shots. (Then again, OKC was 8-9, scoring, um, seven points fewer.) And while Utah put up 11 treys in the first half and scored seven of them, all 10 of their second-half three-pointers failed, which I suspect was at least partially due to Scott Brooks making some noise at halftime about how little long-ball defense the Thunder were showing.

And now: six days off. What are we to do? Speculate, of course.

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When it’s good to be the Kings

Sacramento, which has not been enormously successful against Oklahoma City in recent years, tonight managed to leverage these two possibly unrelated circumstances: a hitherto-unnoticed ability to draw fouls in mass quantities, and some downright clumsy play by the opponents. Multiply by the turnover differential, season with Michael Cage intonations of “Tough call,” and the Kings take a surprisingly easy win, 104-83.

As Royce Young put it ¾ of the way through: “Never seen the Thunder quite this discombobulated.” At the 3:45 mark, Scott Brooks opted to empty the bench; the Kings followed suit shortly thereafter, and life went on at subsonic speeds. The Thunder, who shot 31 percent against the Warriors night before last, managed to bring that up to almost, but not quite, 33 percent. Sacramento defense was okay, but not brilliant; OKC simply went through long periods of inability to buy a bucket. Kevin Durant was 8-20 (24 points), and that was one of the better showings: Anthony Morrow was 3-12 (8 points), and newly arrived sharpshooter Dion Waiters was 1-9 (4 points). To be fair to Waiters, who is widely considered to have next to nothing in defensive skills, he did come up with a block and a steal. What I want to know, though, was who was that wearing Russell Westbrook’s jersey? Westbrook himself would never tolerate 3-19 from the floor.

By general agreement, Sacramento has three starting scoring threats, and all lived up to their reputations tonight: both Rudy Gay and Darren Collison were 9-19 from the floor; Gay, who hit all three of his treys, finished with 28, and Collison, 5-10 from outside, with 24. In the middle was DeMarcus Cousins, who did not shoot well — 6-23 — but who still scored 23 while pulling down 15 rebounds and sinking 11 of 13 foul shots. And treys mattered: while the Kings shot only 39 percent, they knocked down 10 of 19 three-pointers. (The Thunder, should you ask, went 9-30.)

About the only good thing about this horrific road trip is that it’s only two games long, and therefore over. The Jazz will waltz into OKC Friday night, followed by a truly scary back-to-back: at Houston on the following Thursday, and back home to face the Warriors again. By then, perhaps, someone will have taught this team some offense, and it won’t be Josh Heupel. Meanwhile, I cede the last word to Royce Young: “The Thunder are 0-2 with losses of 26 and 21 since trading Lance Thomas. I think you can read between the lines here.”


Into the Valley of Death

I blame Lance Thomas:

The Oklahoma City Thunder has acquired guard Dion Waiters from the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Oklahoma City’s protected 2015 first-round pick and as part of the transaction, Lance Thomas was sent to the New York Knicks, Thunder Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti announced today.

Included in the deal, the Knicks acquired forward Lou Amundson and center Alex Kirk from the Cavaliers in exchange for guards Iman Shumpert and JR Smith.

And there you have it. Thomas was unavailable, Waiters hasn’t cleared medical, and the Thunder were under the gun from the opening tip.

Well, it sounds nicer than what really happened, which was a complete and utter inability to put the ball in the net, even on point-blank shots. At halftime, OKC had made 14 of 50 shots (28 percent!?) and the Warriors were up by 20 points. Things did not improve over the next quarter and a half, and Scott Brooks saw it was a lost cause. Golden State took a little longer to pull their starters — they left Harrison Barnes in to collect a season-high 23 points — but by the 4:00 mark we were pretty close to proper garbage time. Make that blowout time: Golden State 117, Oklahoma City 91.

Or maybe there was something else about Barnes’ 23 points: Russell Westbrook led the Thunder with 22 in a 5-21 brickfest. Sub-Phil Jackson psy-war, but subtle enough. Anthony Morrow had 17 from the bench by hitting more than half his shots; Kevin Durant scored 14 by hitting three of 16. Bright spots: Steven Adams with 10 points and nine boards; Kendrick Perkins picked up six points and six rebounds in eight minutes. But that was pretty much it for the Thunder.

And besides, all you really need to know here is this: Klay Thompson, all by his lonesome, went on a 13-0 run in the first quarter. He cooled later on, finishing with 19, but the luxury of a shooting guard who can shoot is still sort of a novelty in PrestiLand. Thompson’s joined-at-the-hip wingmate, Stephen Curry, also chunked in 19; Justin Holiday put up 12 for the reserves.

So the Warriors go up 3-0, enough to win the season series. (There’s one more, in OKC, but … meh.) If there’s a lesson here, it’s that 59 rebounds don’t matter if you can’t put the ball in the cylinder once in a while, and 30 makes out of 98 tries (5-28 from long distance) is below any reasonable definition of “once in a while.”


Spells checked

The Thunder had been having trouble with the Wizards when the Wizards were lousy. Now the Wizards aren’t lousy at all — they were 22-9 and third in the East coming into this game — but the Thunder still had trouble with them, largely because of the three-ball, which Washington wielded with considerable skill and accuracy, right up until the very end, when the Wiz cut an OKC eight-point lead to three in a matter of seconds. Russell Westbrook, who’d already had enough of these Wizards — he’d tightened his hold on the season technical-foul lead — lay in the weeds, and when the Wiz looked like they were going to tie it up, promptly stole the ball. He couldn’t convert, but Serge Ibaka showed up for the putback. With 12 seconds left, Westbrook took it away again, and this time the bucket was good, and one. With 5.9 left, Westbrook looked like he knocked John Wall upside the head; it was a foul OKC had to give, Scott Brooks sent in the reserves just for spite, the last Wizard trey didn’t go, and Ish Smith (!) retrieved the last rebound to secure a 109-102 win.

Still, Washington made 11 of 21 treys, and were 13-15 from the stripe, which is some pretty decent shooting by any standards. (They were 39-84 from the floor, a decent 46 percent.) And six Wizards, including four starters, hit double figures, led by Bradley Beal with 21; Wall added 14, and stalwarts Nene and Paul Pierce had a dozen apiece. (The twin guards posted double-doubles for the night, Beal seizing ten boards, Wall serving up 12 assists.) The Washington bench, we must note, also has sharpshooters: the well-traveled Andre Miller and Rasual Butler knocked down 15 and 11 respectively.

And it takes someone like Westbrook, I think, to turn a perfectly dreadful night into a decent line: 8-23 shooting, but still 22 points, six dimes, only two turnovers. Of course, he got to play with Kevin Durant for the whole game for once, and KD had an effortless (12-18) 34 points that, upon second look, actually were a hell of a lot of work. Ibaka had another one of those Wat? nights: 13 points, six boards — two fewer than Durant — and nary a swat. Reggie Jackson, who’d been missing treys for weeks, got one (of two) to go; but Nick Collison (10 points, five rebounds) was the official Bench Leader.

The .500 Club has finally opened up. (The Pelicans put the bite on the Rockets, so no real ground was gained.) Monday night, the Thunder are at Oakland for another shot at Golden State; there follow road games at Sacramento, Utah and Houston.


Where have you gone, Rasheed?

Rasheed Wallace, I am told, is the holder of the dubious NBA record for Most Technical Fouls ever, with over 300, including 41 in a single season (2000-01). Tonight, I have to figure that Sheed’s spirit was hovering over Chesapeake Arena, which is a neat trick considering he’s still alive. (He’s only 40, fercryingoutloud.) I’m about ready for the NBA to design a new uniform with a flap on one shoulder to accommodate a chip, which would have been useful tonight.

This is how it started:

Westbrook drew a T; Len was called for a flagrant one; P. J. Tucker, who plowed into Westbrook’s backside, was totally ignored. In a desperate attempt to keep a hockey game from breaking out, the refs started calling techs wholesale. Westbrook, always temperamental, was quickly broomed. Even a Suns assistant was T’d up. At the half, it was OKC 64, Phoenix 62; a T was called on Tucker in the third quarter for an unrelated offense. All of this tomfoolery almost obscured the real news of the day: Kevin Durant is back, melonfarmers, and his trey in the waning moments of the third quarter put the Thunder up 100-94. So KD is making up for Westbrook’s absence? Well, yes. The eight points he scored in a minute and a half late in the fourth quarter speak to that; however, some of the heaviest lifting was done by diminutive Ish Smith, who knocked down eight points in the first half of the fourth. With :26 left, it was tied at 128-all; Eric Bledsoe tried his best to eat as much clock as he could, but his shot went awry, and a last-second Thunder rally — translation: “get the ball to KD” — didn’t either. So the turning point came at 1:54 in the overtime, when Marcus Morris fouled out on an Anthony Morrow trey; Morrow got the free throw, and the Thunder were up four. Two Durant free throws made it a six-point game; the Suns came back with a 4-0 run, and with 9.7 seconds left, Phoenix got one more chance: Markieff Morris had a good look, Andre Roberson retrieved the ball, and Eric Bledsoe fouled out. Roberson dropped in one of two free throws, and that was it: Oklahoma City 137, Phoenix 134. Total technicals: seven.

Some of the numbers tonight were astonishing. The Suns outshot the Thunder by 10 percent, 51-41. The Thunder outrebounded the Suns, 50-39. (OKC had a remarkable 19 offensive rebounds.) The Suns were 29-35 at the stripe; the Thunder, 44-49. (That’s a lot of damn fouls.) Eleven players (PHX 6, OKC 5) hit double figures; in fact, the Suns had three players over 20. (Bledsoe, with 29, was team-high.) And Durant had one of those KD games, with 44 points (13-23, 12 straight foul shots) and ten rebounds. But I keep looking at Westbrook’s line, which ends in the first half with 20 points in just over 17 minutes, and I wonder what this game would have been like had he not gone off like illegal New Year’s Eve fireworks.

The Wizards will be here Friday night. After that, it’s another trip out West: the Warriors on Monday, the Kings on Wednesday, and the Jazz on Friday.


And Cuban earns a cigar

The Thunder got in trouble early, to the extent that Lance Thomas got to play for a minute or so in the first quarter so that Scott Brooks could express his dismay at the regular rotation players. Dallas jumped out to a 33-26 first-quarter lead, and OKC made no progress in the second. Then came the third, in which the Thunder racked up 30 points and held the Mavs to 17. Dallas, of course, wasn’t going to let that fly, and opened the fourth with an 11-2 run; with 1:57 left, the Mavs were up one, 106-105, and something scary happened to Monta Ellis. (He was able to walk away on that sprained ankle, but did not return.) Still, what made the difference is that Dirk, big bad Dirk, played most of the fourth quarter with five fouls and hit everything in sight, while Dallas defensemen kept Russell Westbrook in check. With 12 seconds left, it was Dallas by five, and, well, Zach Lowe said it best:

And after an exchange of buckets, that’s how it ended: Dallas 112, Oklahoma City 107, and once again the Thunder fail to climb to .500.

The Westbrook line is instructive: nine rebounds, nine assists, five fouls, five turnovers, and 18 points — on 6-23 shooting. To the extent possible, his teammates compensated: Reggie Jackson, 10-17 for 21, and Serge Ibaka, 11-14 for 26. And Serge had 10 rebounds, though no blocks. There was some noise on Twitter to the effect that Steven Adams (11 points, six boards) was not the ideal matchup for Nowitzki, but I’m not convinced there is such a thing as the ideal matchup for Dirk, who cashed in a game-high 30 points, ten of them in the fourth quarter. Dirk also hit all 12 of his free throws, which points you to the Telltate Statistic: the Thunder hit 12 free throws, but missed nine more.

But, as always, the Mavs had more than Dirk. Chandler Parsons pretty much had his way in the first quarter and finished with 26. Ellis, before his injury, had 18. And Tyson Chandler didn’t even have to play: back spasms kept him out, which explains the curious Dallas starting five: Barea and Rondo in the backcourt, Dirk in the middle, Ellis and Parsons up front. Nobody seemed perplexed by any of this, except the Thunder.

This is the next-to-last game of the year; there will be a New Year’s Eve match against the Suns at the Peake, and then comes dear, drear, dreadful January.


Devoid of buzz

Most of this game, it seemed, consisted of watching the Thunder retrieving a Hornet miss: Charlotte’s two heavy hitters, Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker, were held to 10 points between them. (Walker had 6.) Then again, all you really need to know is this: both Lance Thomas and Grant Jerrett played. In fact, no starter for either side played in the fourth quarter until Perry Jones was reinserted with three minutes left, perhaps to give him some simulated crunch-time experience. The Hornets, who’d won four straight coming into this game, looked pretty much stunned by halftime, at which point they trailed 59-40. The final was an almost-embarrassing 98-75.

There was some Charlotte offense: reserve point guard Brian Roberts knocked down 17 points in less than 20 minutes, and Marvin Williams added 11. (Cody Zeller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were the top-scoring starters, at, um, nine each.) The Buglets shot a dismal 29 percent, 21 percent from outside, and while they did pull off eight steals, they lost the rebounding battle 57-52. And if 52 sounds like a lot of rebounds for the losing team, well, the fourth-quarter version of the Thunder obligingly missed a lot of shots, dropping OKC to under 41 percent. (Jerrett put up five treys, none of them actually going through the net.)

Russell Westbrook, who sat with three minutes left in the third, still racked up 29 points. Serge Ibaka put together another double-double: 13 points, 14 rebounds, along with four blocks. (The Hornets had two blocks total.) Anthony Morrow led the OKC bench with 11. And a 44-24 advantage in points in the paint never hurts.

So it’s back to Not Quite .500, by which we mean 15-16. Next opponent, however, will presumably be a little tougher: the Mavericks, in Dallas on Sunday.


Holiday brawl

How evenly were these teams depleted? Kevin Durant is still out for the Thunder; San Antonio was missing Kawhi Leonard and Boris Diaw, and in the fourth quarter Gregg Popovich pulled Tim Duncan, perhaps thinking of tomorrow night’s game at New Orleans. (Duncan eventually wheedled his way back in.) Weirdly, Pop pulled all his starters except Danny Green with 1:26 left with the Spurs down six. I’m guessing psy-war, because seven seconds later, most of them were back, the reserves having scored two points. There were few large leads all afternoon; the Thunder were up by three at the half, but it took a 38-point fourth quarter to dispatch the Spurs, 114-106.

As always, the Spurs came from all directions: Pop deployed 11 players, nine of them scored, and seven of them scored in double figures: four of the starters, plus Matt Bonner (a team-high 17), Manu Ginobili (11, plus 13 assists) and Cory Joseph (14). Time management was definitely a factor: only Bonner and Marco Belinelli played more than 30 minutes. But this is your Telltale Statistic for the day: Tim Duncan, highest-scoring starter for the Spurs with 15 points, finished with a -34.

Once again, Russell Westbrook did that dazzle thing, collecting 34 points and serving up 11 dimes. Steven Adams tied his season high with 16 points and grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds. Serge Ibaka had only the one block, but he was good for 21 points and nine boards. Inexplicably, Perry Jones was scoring big-time: 5-7 for 14 points. In fact, this was not really a day for missed shots on either side: both teams shot 42-81, 52 percent. The Thunder, surprisingly, were better on treys (9-15 vs 7-23); however, OKC was terrible at the foul line (21-38 vs 15-21).

And let’s face it, it’s always fun to beat the Spurs. The Thunder will come home for a Friday game with the Hornets before heading down to Dallas for a Sunday clash with the Mavs.


Long-ball blues

Says it all:

“Here” was a 98-all tie after 48 minutes. And with 1:39 left in overtime, Russell Westbrook, having scored a season-high 40 points — with 10 rebounds, no less — fouled out. In the last ten seconds, LaMarcus Aldridge and Serge Ibaka got into a brief altercation; a foul was called on Ibaka, his sixth, and Aldridge, who threw the first punch-like exchange, was thumbed. Even sillier, a skirmish broke out in the stands. The Blazers already had this one won, having tossed in a remarkable 17 points in the overtime period for a 115-111 triumph.

And there wasn’t much anyone could do about Damian Lillard, who dropped in 40 points — three short of his season high — on a mere 21 shots. (We’re talking 8-12 from outside the circle and 10 of 11 free throws.) It was Lillard who forced overtime with a three-ball with three seconds left, and it was Lillard who got seven of those 17 overtime points. Wesley Matthews added 22. And Aldridge, however rotten he may have felt, put up 28 shots, making only nine, but still clocking 25 points.

With Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez out, Portland didn’t have much of a bench, and the Blazer reserves contributed only 19 points, or two fewer than Reggie Jackson. The OKC bench popped up 46 points. Then again, Andre Roberson and Perry Jones combined produced only two.

Still: Thunder 54 points in the paint, Blazers 24. The offset: Blazers 17-31 from outside, Thunder 6-19. Which supports a premise I’ve long believed, to the effect that the three-point shot works better as fanservice than an actual tool for winning — unless you make a hell of a lot of them. Portland, which collected 51 points from beyond the arc, did exactly that.

How blue a Christmas? Ask the Spurs. The Thunder have to go to San Antonio to find out.


Far out to sea

Early on, it looked like it was going to be One Of Those Nights. Anthony Davis had piled up 21 points by halftime, including a 7-0 run all by his lonesome. Omer Asik presented the usual impenetrable wall. And Tyreke Evans was, well, Tyreke Evans. In the third quarter, the Pelicans had worked their way to a nine-point lead, and the crowd at the ‘Peake were grateful it wasn’t nineteen. Gradually the Thunder got some defense working, and went up five at end of three. Early in the fourth, Anthony Morrow went down, and Russell Westbrook, antsy on the bench, came back a couple minutes before Scott Brooks had planned. But just inside the four-minute mark, though, New Orleans regained the lead, and Serge Ibaka still hadn’t figured out how to defend against Davis; going into the last minute, the Pelicans were up two and Davis was up to 38 points. Lots of maneuvering in those sixty seconds, but no actual Thunder offense, and the Beak Boys, who hadn’t won a game in OKC since early 2010, flew away with a 101-99 win.

Along with those 38 points, Davis reeled in 12 rebounds, as many as Asik; Jrue Holiday collected 11 points and delivered 15 assists, one fewer than the entire Thunder team. (The Pelicans served up 33 assists in all, while coughing up only 12 turnovers.) Ryan Anderson led the New Orleans bench with 14 points. But this may be the Telltale Statistic: Davis and Asik each blocked three shots. Ibaka had no swats at all.

Westbrook, of course, looked like Westbrook: 29 points, eight assists, five boards. But his shooting mojo didn’t accompany him onto the floor in that fourth quarter, and probably wasn’t even within screaming distance on that final brick. Perry Jones, starting in favor of the walking-wounded Kevin Durant, came up with 12 points; Reggie Jackson, having remembered how to shoot, was good for 19. And Steven Adams posted yet another double-double, 12 points and 10 boards. Imagine how he’ll do when he can hit more than half his free throws.

The Trail Blazers, who lead the Northwest by several dozen games, will be here Tuesday. They’ve won their last five and have no desire to drop one on a sub-.500 squad.


Lakers sloughed off

ESPN’s Royce Young observed inside the 6:00 mark: “Lakers on a 13-2 run to go up three. This is the part where Kevin Durant would be hitting a cold-blooded 3 to calm everything back down.” But Kevin Durant wasn’t there, awaiting further inspection of his ankle sprain from last night in Oakland; Kendrick Perkins wasn’t there, either, hobbled by some sort of contusion. The only saving grace: Nick Young, who’d been a pain in the first half, was tossed in the third quarter with a Flagrant Two against Steven Adams. (Then again, Adams bricked the free throws.) Still, Adams provided a very nice pick for Russell Westbrook with 38 seconds left to put OKC up 104-101. Jeremy Lin came back with a bucket, the Thunder came up empty, and Kobe Bryant (who else?) went for the last shot. Andre Roberson wasn’t buying, and that’s the final: 104-103. Roberson was on Kobe pretty much all night, and Bryant finished with 9 points on 3-14 shooting. (Roberson, not known for his offense, dropped in 10 and secured 7 boards.)

Contributing factors: Reggie Jackson, who’d had a few rough outings, smoothed it out tonight, going 9-15 for 25 points. Westbrook had an almost-routine 31 with 10 assists; Adams finished with 9 points and 10 rebounds. Serge Ibaka checked in with 16 points and five blocks. And Nick Collison, who got the minutes Perk would have, wound up with a Perkesque four points and seven boards.

Ed Davis led the Lakers with 18; Ronnie Price and Carlos Boozer added 14 each; Young had 10 before being thumbed. That last shot of Lin’s gave him 12. And give Kobe credit: he was working the ball as much as he could, grabbing eight rebounds and serving up eight assists. Your Number Three All-Time Scorer is still plenty viable, thank you very much.

So 2-1 on the road trip. It could have been worse. The Pelicans, one game ahead of the Thunder for 8th in the East, will be coming to the ‘Peake Sunday evening; the Trail Blazers, way out front in the Northwest, arrive Tuesday; and then a Christmas matinee in San Antonio. Interesting week, and not in an easy-peasy way.


Of course you know this means war

Nobody expected this to be easy. Somehow, the Thunder were up 30-13 on the Warriors seven minutes in; this was approximately the point where Golden State remembered that they had a defense, and a damned good one. Right before the halftime horn, the Warriors were up 65-63, and Kevin Durant was down: sprained his right ankle against some part of Marreese Speights. Durant did not return, and suddenly half the OKC offense was gone — just about literally, since KD scored 30 points in the 18:44 he played. With one less assignment to worry about, the Warriors took off, finding holes in the Thunder defense. With six minutes left, the Thunder started getting stops; inside the 3:00 mark, OKC got its first lead since the second quarter, 105-104. It didn’t last, with the Dubs scoring the next six; going into the last OKC possession, the Warriors were up 114-109, and that was the way it ended. (In the meantime, the Pelicans were beating Houston, so the Thunder slide to a game and a half behind the eighth-place Sea Birds.)

This is the Telltale Statistic for the night: Golden State had 32 assists and only ten turnovers. (OKC: 17-16.) The Thunder were a tick under 50 percent shooting, the Warriors a point over. Ultimately, I suppose, it boiled down to “How do you replace a guy who had 30 points in 19 minutes?” The bench couldn’t handle it: the five reserves scored 18 total — four from everyone except Kendrick Perkins, who was held to two. It remained, therefore, to Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson to play hero ball. Westbrook, who’s known for this sort of thing, ground out 33 points on 11-30 shooting; Roberson, who is not, collected his first double-double ever, with 10 points and 12 rebounds.

This is, however, not the way of the Warriors, who can come at you from several directions at once. Stephen Curry went 14-24 for 34 points; fellow wingman Klay Thompson picked up 19 more; Draymond Green was good for 16, and Harrison Barnes, Shaun Livingston and the aforementioned Mr. Speights also hit double figures. With David Lee and Andre Bogut down for the moment, Steve Kerr played only nine guys; it was apparently all he needed.

The road trip ends Friday night against the struggling but not entirely daft Lakers, who have been idle since being thrashed by the Pacers on Monday.


Definitely not cabbages

Hard to get a handle on this Kings game before tipoff. We knew that Sacramento had just sacked Mike Malone, and Tyrone Corbin was anxious to prove himself as the coach. We knew that there was bad blood, or at least trash talk, between Rudy Gay and Kendrick Perkins. And we knew that DeMarcus Cousins was still out. Based on this, I assumed it was going to be a long haul, and so it was: the Thunder led by seven at halftime, by ten at the end of the third, but the Kings bench rose up and inflicted a 15-4 run on the Thunder to take a one-point lead. The OKC starters returned, a bit earlier than expected, but finished the job with 73 seconds left. Oklahoma City 104, Sacramento 92, a nice preparation for the Warriors, next on the schedule. (It didn’t hurt that the Warriors actually lost tonight, against the one team I thought could beat them: the Grizzlies.)

Despite DeAbsence of DeMarcus, the Kings were plenty tough. Reggie Evans started in the middle, spelled by Ryan Hollins. Gay had a good night, coming up with 22 points and six rebounds; Hollins and Jason Thompson contributed nine rebounds each; Carl Landry and Ramon Sessions hit double figures for the Sacramento bench, which outscored the OKC reserves 44-28. The Kings also ruled the backboards, with a 48-41 edge in rebounding, and performed well at the stripe, going 15-17.

Of late, the big story for OKC has been Russell Westbrook, and tonight was no exception: 32 points, six rebounds, seven assists, four steals, and a single turnover. (The Thunder gave it up only 12 times, the Kings 19.) Kevin Durant, in 35 minutes, popped up 26 points. Serge Ibaka didn’t shoot well — 3-10 for nine points — but he blocked seven shots. Steven Adams, once again, had double-digit rebounding (10); Anthony Morrow scored 10 to lead the bench. Kendrick Perkins did not outscore Rudy Gay, but by all accounts he outscowled him.

Next: Thursday night in Oakland, where the Warriors have lost only once all year. Where it gets interesting: Golden State, 21-3, is 9-1 over the last ten. Oklahoma City, 12-13, is — 9-1 over the last ten. Still, the Warriors remain the team to beat in the West, so if the Thunder can pull this off … well, we’ll know Friday morning.


A little dark spot

The Suns have been slumping of late, and the loss of Goran Dragić to back spasms wasn’t going to help matters. An ideal time, perhaps, for the Thunder to run off another 70-point first half. Both sides, however, looked tired in the third quarter, though OKC extended the lead to 25. There wasn’t any particular reason for the starters for either side to play the fourth quarter, and they didn’t; in fact, things got to the point where Mitch McGary actually got to play. (Jeremy Lamb drew a DNP-CD, though apparently he was not feeling well, in case anyone thought Lamb was residing in Scott Brooks’ doghouse.) And as it turned out, the fourth quarter, despite meeting the definition of garbage time, was actually a bit more entertaining than the third. Final: Oklahoma City 112, Phoenix 88, climbing to 11-13 and dropping the Suns to 12-13. Half a game out of eighth place, guys.

Gerald Green, subbing for Dragić, was the Suns’ high scorer with 15; fellow wingman Eric Bledsoe added 12. Rookie Tyler Ennis led the reserves with 11. The Suns put up lots of shots, didn’t make many: 34 of 99 for 35 percent. (OKC was 39-80 for 49 percent.) Thunder dominance on the boards was prodigious: 63-40.

In their brief appearances, Russell Westbrook (27 minutes) picked up 28 points and eight boards, and delivered eight assists; Kevin Durant (24 minutes, though Brooks would have let him go 35 if needed) picked up 23 points and eight boards, and delivered two assists. Top rebounder turned out to be Kendrick Perkins, with ten; Steven Adams had eight. The Thunder did not shoot the long ball well (4-18), though the Suns weren’t any better (7-31). Oh, and McGary? Three points and four boards in seven minutes.

That long West Coast haul is coming up. The Kings are struggling a bit, with DeMarcus Cousins unwell; the Warriors are not struggling in the least, and hey, Kobe Bryant moved into third place on the all-time scorers list, which has to make the Lakers happy.


And they call it puppy love

The key to tonight’s Timberwolves game, it appears, was the presence of Jeff Adrien. And the reason he was there is fourfold: Kevin Martin, Nikola Peković, Ricky Rubio, and Ronny Turiaf were out with various injuries. Adrien, therefore, is Minnesota’s Ish Smith: picked up under the NBA’s hardship rule while the roster is depleted. It wasn’t so long ago that the Thunder was in similar straits, and they played tonight like the Thunder’s opponents back then: the quantity of mercy is conspicuous by its absence. Oklahoma City jumped out to a 39-21 lead after the first quarter, running it to 70-49 at the half. But the Wolves dug in and concentrated on making high-percentage shots; by the end of the third, they’d cut that lead to 16, and the Thunder obligingly made only one shot in the next four minutes and one more in the next three and a half. The Wolves did not, however, capitalize on this opportunity, and OKC bagged the win, 111-92.

Minnesota, after working their shot percentage up over 50 in the third, dropped to a still-plausible 46, and five Wolves made double figures, led by Andrew Wiggins and Shabazz Muhammad (off the bench!) with 18 each. Thaddeus Young, one of the few veterans available this evening, added 16. The Wolves were efficient at forcing turnovers, collecting 19 from the Thunder; they were soundly spanked on the boards, though, 47-31.

Kevin Durant stayed under his 30-minute restriction, and concentrated on moving the ball around: he had 16 points and five assists. Still, the team’s Master of Dime is Russell Westbrook, who served up six of them and scored 34. And Steven Adams put together a double-double: 16 points, 11 boards. Anthony Morrow led the bench with 14. The Minnesota bench actually outscored the OKC reserves, 30-27; most of those came from Muhammad, though Jeff Adrien scored 4 — exactly as many as Ish Smith.

Back home on Sunday to take on the Phoenix Suns, followed by a trip to the Left Coast: Sacramento Tuesday, Golden State Thursday, and the Lakers on Friday. The Suns can score, and so can the Kings; the Warriors can beat you every which way. We’ll leave it at that.


Until he took one to the knee

The absence of LeBron James, sidelined with a sore left knee, proved to be less of an issue than anyone thought: guard Matthew Dellavedova, averaging a hair over three points per game, started at small forward and dropped in four of five treys, contributing a great deal toward the collapse of what once was a 20-point Thunder lead. With 2:00 left, the Cavaliers had pulled to within four; back-to-back buckets from Kevin Durant, though, stretched the lead back to eight, and the Cavs would see no more daylight. Final: Oklahoma City 103, Cleveland 94.

King James was missed, yes, but it’s not like the Cavaliers were way outmanned: no team with Kyrie Irving really can be. (There were some anxious moments on the Cleveland bench late in the second quarter, when Irving came down hard on a knee; but he was back after halftime, good as new.) To go with Irving’s 20 points, Cleveland also had Kevin Love, 18 points and 16 rebounds, and Tristan Thompson, 14 points and 13 boards. (Cavs outrebounded the Thunder, 48-48.) Add fourteen points from Dion Waiters and fourteen more from the aforementioned Matthew Dellavedova, and here’s a team that can play with the best even without that James fellow.

But that James fellow is a formidable shot blocker, and in his absence, OKC shot 44 percent and 7-26 on the three-ball, most of which came in the fourth quarter. KD, right on top of his time limitation at 30:07, chunked in 19 points; Russell Westbrook checked in with a game-high 26 on 12-24 shooting, eight assists and seven rebounds. Steven Adams collected 10 boards. It was another weird night for Serge Ibaka, who fouled out in just under 26 minutes: he scored seven and blocked two shots, but grabbed absolutely no rebounds whatsoever. Reggie Jackson and Anthony Morrow contributed two dozen points between them.

Tommorow night in the Twin Cities: the 9-13 Thunder versus the 5-16 Timberwolves. You kind of figure both of these teams would be doing better than that. Then again, they could be 1-2 in the division, or 14-15 in the conference, and they’d still go at it with hammer and tong.


Fallen deer zone

Payback can be so sweet sometimes. The Bucks, who so thoroughly thrashed these Thunder in Milwaukee earlier this season, managed to lead by five after the first quarter, and were never heard from again; Scott Brooks, always cautious about proclaiming garbage time, pulled the last of the starters — except for Andre Roberson, who replaced the fouled-out Anthony Morrow — with three and a half minutes left and OKC up by double digits. It was 114-101 at the horn, and the Restored Thunder are now 3-1 — but still 8-13 overall.

This was yet another game in which O. J. Mayo started out sort of slow and then gradually stepped up his production; he’d made it up to a game-high 18 points before fouling out late. His frontcourt served him well: Giannis Antetokounmpo had 17 points, Jabari Parker 15. The reserves were headed by Jerryd Bayless, with 11. Somehow, the Bucks managed only three fast-break points all night; even weirder, they were outrebounded 54-31. The Bucks did well at the stripe, though, with 29 hits in 35 tries. And while their bench was good for 36 points, the OKC reserves came up with 42, led by Reggie Jackson with 18.

Jackson, incidentally, played 30 minutes tonight, second only to Russell Westbrook. (Kevin Durant knocked out 29.) This is consistent with the last couple of games, indicating that Jackson’s spending nearly as much time subbing for Durant as he is for Westbrook. Russ kicked in 28 points tonight on 8-16; Durant went 7-11 for 23 and gathered nine boards, four more than even the mighty Serge, who was 5-5 from the floor and 5-5 from the line, +25 for the night. Nick Collison drew an unexpected DNP-CD, which I’m inclined to attribute to all manner of potential height mismatches.

Thursday, the Cavs come to town, and everyone says they’re ready. Me, I’m just grateful LeBron stayed in the East.


It’s all about the cylinders

The last game these Pistons had won was against the Thunder in disrepair, three weeks ago. You might have guessed that this wouldn’t happen again, with OKC fortified with Batman and Robin once more; you might not have guessed, however, just how difficult this task would prove to be. After a 2-0 lead early, OKC fell behind, and stayed there until nearly the end of the third quarter. Detroit, despite being a tad fragged on the second half of a back-to-back, would not go away; with four treys in the fourth quarter, they stayed within reach until the last second, when a Josh Smith trey for the lead went awry, and once the Thunder inbounded — twice — it was Oklahoma City 96, Detroit 94, and a 1-1 split for the season.

Four starting Pistons made it into double figures, led by the redoubtable Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who probably would have gotten mentioned here even if he hadn’t scored a team-high 19, because, darn it, he’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. (Starting point guard Brandon Jennings scored only 6, but he served up a game-high 9 assists.) Stalwart Greg Monroe led the reserves with 12. What the Pistons failed to do was block shots: Andre Drummond had one, and that was it.

As for the Dynamic Duo, Russell Westbrook came up with 11 rebounds while scoring 22, and Kevin Durant, still playing just under 30 minutes, cranked out 28. Nearly as flashy was Serge Ibaka, with 13 points, 13 rebounds, and four blocks. Reggie Jackson, quite involuntarily, wound up being more playmaker than scorer, though Jeremy Lamb happily took up the slack, dropping in 12. As happened last time, the Pistons got more foul shots (19-28), though the Thunder were 12-17, a decided improvement over the 1-6 they posted that night in November.

Another rematch coming up: Tuesday at the ‘Peake, against the Bucks. OKC will have to win that one also to secure a 1-1 season split.


Deep Sixing

Kevin Durant, asked if the Thunder might overlook the 1-17 76ers tonight, is reported to have quipped: “Nah. We feel like we’re 1-17 too.” And really, however ragtag the Philadelphia roster may appear to be, you won’t persuade me that they’re tanking: they demonstrated considerable skill closing out quarters, something the Thunder didn’t do until the fourth, and I don’t recall any of the Sixers looking lost or bewildered. Indeed, if anyone looked lost out there, it was Durant, who was off his feed or something; he went 3-11 for 10 points. It didn’t matter, though: OKC wins it 103-91 and goes up to, um, 6-13.

This game, I think, was a good example of complementary efforts. Steven Adams scored seven points but collected no rebounds; Kendrick Perkins pulled nine boards (and a Flagrant 1 foul) and no points. And where you’d expect KD to be playing hero ball, there was Jeremy Lamb, knocking down two treys in the final three minutes to seal the deal. Russell Westbrook led all scorers with 27.

But still there were anomalies. The Thunder bench scored 38; the Philly bench scored, um, 38, including a team-high 21 from Robert Covington. Luc Mbah a Moute, who can’t shoot a trey to save his life, knocked down two of them, easy as pie. Michael Carter-Williams (16 points, 14 assists) and Nerlens Noel (11 points, 10 rebounds) posted the only two double-doubles tonight. And give the Sixers credit for going after the damned ball: they outrebounded OKC 44-40, and held a 19-6 edge off the offensive glass. They might yet break their record for futility (9-73, 1972-73), but I’m finding it hard to see that happening.

One more game on this road trip, Sunday against the low-compression Detroit Pistons — who, I remind you, beat OKC at home last month — and then a couple of interesting home games: with the Bucks (who beat OKC in Milwaukee last month), followed by the Cleveland Cavaliers. (Two words: “LeBron James.”) Assuming the Cavs dispatch the Raptors tonight, they’ll be 11-7.


Sea birds on glass

In fact, you couldn’t keep the Pelicans off the glass tonight: they rebounded seemingly at will, and when they weren’t rebounding, they were passing the ball all over the place, and when they weren’t passing the ball all over the place, they were collecting free throws. Fundamental stuff, but that’s how this game is played. “How was this team 7-8?” I was thinking as the fourth quarter blew by with New Orleans firmly in command, a position they’d been in since overcoming an early six-point Thunder lead in the first and rushing to 40 points in the second — a 12-0 run in two minutes — for a 69-52 halftime lead. As close as OKC would get after that would be five; the Pelicans win it 112-104 in the Big Easy.

The free-throw situation, said radio guy Matt Pinto, was exacerbated by some “horrific” officiating. The Birds took 45 foul shots, making 29; the Thunder were 23-27 from the stripe. But worse, I think, was OKC’s reversion to the two-man game: the starters scored only 56 points, and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had 48 of them. One doesn’t expect points from Andre Roberson; one does expect, however, more than six from Serge Ibaka and more than two from Steven Adams. The bench acquitted itself decently, with Reggie Jackson checking in with 17 and Jeremy Lamb with 15; for Lamb, who is usually much better at home than he is on the road, this was definitely a plus.

But at the end, the most Durantean figure on the floor was not Durant, but New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, whose line included 25 points, ten rebounds, and six steals. And Davis wasn’t even the high scorer; that would be Tyreke Evans, who, upon seeing OKC within five in the fourth quarter, scored on the next three possessions. He finished with 30. Double-doubles for Jrue Holiday (16 points/10 assists) and sixth man Ryan Anderson (23 points/11 boards). How is this team only 8-8?

Next game is Friday at Philadelphia. We’re supposed to believe that any middle school in town can beat the Sixers. Doesn’t mean a thing, I assure you.


A New York state of grind

This looked like a Battle of the Also-Rans until word came down that Carmelo Anthony was going to miss another game with a back ailment, and that Russell Westbrook would actually be back. “Holy crap,” thought Loud City, “we might win this one in a walk.” More of a gallop, really, and all you need to know is the lineup with four minutes left: Ish Smith, Anthony Morrow, Jeremy Lamb, Lance Thomas and Grant Jerrett. Repeat: Grant Jerrett. Number Seven spent all of last year in the D-League, and the first 16 games of this season glued to the Thunder bench. Tonight, Jerrett got three points on a single trey (out of five tries), an assist, and a rebound in eight and a half minutes, a luxury made possible by the enormous margin the Thunder enjoyed en route to a 105-78 win over the Knicks.

And that win, in no small part, was made possible by Westbrook, who in just under 24 minutes rolled up 32 points, seven rebounds, eight dimes, and wasn’t needed at all in the fourth. Yeah, he had that glove thing on his hand. Didn’t seem to bother him in the least. Reggie Jackson, back in his sixth-man role — though there were moments when both Jackson and Westbrook were on the floor — performed creditably, with 10 points, six boards and four assists. And Jeremy Lamb had something of a hot hand, leading the bench with 13 points. Serge Ibaka kicked in 14; Steven Adams managed six, but retrieved a career-high 13 rebounds. That word “rebounds” seems to be coming up a lot, but it ought to: the Thunder owned these boards, 57-33.

These Knicks are known better, as it happens, not for their rebounding, but for their three-point prowess, so far this season the best in the league. The Thunder response was not to let them get any, and indeed New York scored only twice from beyond the arc, once in the third quarter, once in the fourth, despite putting up 19 tries. (One of those was scored by the comparatively diminutive Shane Larkin, five-eleven, whom I assume no one figured would need blocking at that distance.) None of the Knick starters made double figures, though both Amar’e Stoudemire (20) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (11) did so from the bench. “A work in progress,” said radio guy Matt Pinto.

So this homestand ends on an upbeat note, 2-2. Four games on the road follow: at New Orleans on Tuesday, at Philadelphia Friday, at Detroit Sunday, and at Milwaukee the following Tuesday. Almost certainly Kevin Durant — remember him? — will be back for some or all of these.

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