Archive for Net Proceeds

Somewhat easy at Staples

After two losses on this road trip, the Thunder were keen to salvage something from the experience. The Lakers, you may be certain, weren’t in any mood to let them; while Los Angeles had won only 16 games this year, they were on a three-game winning streak, and OKC came in missing three starters: Steven Adams and his hand, Kevin Durant and his foot, Russell Westbrook and his face. Not to worry: in the absence of superstars, some of the role players shone, and the Lakers never led. A Serge Ibaka block (his third) at the horn closed the door, 108-101.

There are, of course, only two actual point guards on the Thunder roster, so if you’re a wiseguy, you’re going to ask “So who’s gonna run the offense when D. J. Augustin sits? Jeremy freaking Lamb?” Yes, Jeremy freaking Lamb: while Augustin played 41 minutes and turned in a great line — 18 points, nine rebounds, five assists — Lamb in 16 minutes, some of them alongside Augustin, shot 5-8 for 14 points and generally did much better than “Please don’t mess up.” Both Ibaka and the returned Enes Kanter collected double-doubles, Serge with 18 points/14 boards and Enes with 16 points/15 boards. Nick Collison also landed in double figures with 12 points. Despite all this offense, the Thunder were seriously outshot by the Lakers: both teams had 40 makes, but it took OKC seven more shots to get them. And weirdly, the Thunder put up a whopping 32 treys, 11 of which fell.

Only nine Lakers played, all of them scored, and six of them hit double figures, led by Jeremy Lin with a game-high 20; Jordan Hill, also off the bench, knocked down 14, including his first trey since, well, ever, and also reeled in 12 rebounds. Wayne Ellingson and Jordan Clarkson led the starters with 12 each. And it was kind of nice to see Carlos Boozer again, even past his prime.

So 1-2 on the road trip. We’ve had worse. And the schedule gets marginally easier for the next few: Philadelphia at home (Wednesday), up to Chicago the next night, and then back home for four, starting with the Raptors on Sunday.


Meanwhile, on the trail

The Portland Trail Blazers have been on top of the Northwest Division for most of the season, a position that guarantees a seed no lower than fourth. The eighth-place Thunder had lost twice to the Blazers already this season, and drawing the Blazers on the second night of a back-to-back hardly qualifies as fun. Still, it’s not like anyone promised the Thunder, you should pardon the expression, a rose garden, and after trailing much of the first quarter, OKC opened up in the second and took a 12-point lead at halftime. The Blazers knocked off one of those points in the third quarter, the rest of them in the first seven and a half minutes of the fourth. Inside the two-minute mark, collars got hot under; one minute later, it was tied at 110-all. LaMarcus Aldridge knocked down one of two free throws with 44 seconds left; 33 seconds later, the Thunder plotted a final play; Russell Westbrook bounced it a little too hard, Aaron Afflalo nailed two more free throws, and the Blazers were up three. All Westbrook had to do was hit three free throws to tie it up; he missed the first, and Damien Lillard finished the Thunder off with two freebies of his own to make it 115-112 at the horn.

Lillard and Aldridge, between them, got more than half the Blazers’ scoring, with 29 points each; Aldridge also pulled down 16 rebounds. The only other scorer in double figures was newly-acquired sixth man Arron Afflalo, who had 18 of the 32 bench points. Still, the Blazers shot well enough, 44 percent from the floor, 10-26 on treys, and 27-31 from the stripe.

The Thunder, meanwhile, were shooting better, though not for distance (48 percent, 4-14 on treys), but didn’t get to the line quite so much, and while they outrebounded the Blazers, it was only by four (47-43). Russell Westbrook got yet another triple-double, his third in three games: 40 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists. With Enas Kanter sidelined with a thigh contusion, points from the middle had to come from Nick Collison (six) or Mitch McGary (a career-high 20 with nine rebounds). The Thunder bench contributed 46 points from just four guys: McGary, Anthony Morrow (13), Dion Waiters (7) and D. J. Augustin (6). Serge Ibaka was good-but-not-great, collecting 14 points and six boards.

Which leaves a Sunday-evening clash with the Lakers as the one chance of getting a win out of this road trip. And the Lakers are wildly inconsistent: despite dwelling near the West cellar most of this season, they roused themselves tonight to beat a respectable bunch of Milwaukee Bucks. Me, I just hope the weather lets up enough to let the Thunder come home this week.


Solar flair

The Suns started the game with a 9-0 run and never looked back; it was 25-15 after the first quarter, and Russell Westbrook missed nine shots before finally nailing one halfway through the second. Frustration? Even Scott Brooks drew a technical. Still, the Thunder made up half of that ten-point deficit by halftime, largely due to buckets by the bench: twenty-four minutes in, the reserves had made ten of 16 shots, versus seven of 28 for the starters. And then those starters ran off six points to begin the third quarter, giving OKC its first lead at 54-53; it was three minutes in before Phoenix hit a basket. The Suns stabilized, and were up two to begin the final frame; they then knocked out nine consecutive points for an eleven-point lead, against those OKC reserves who had been so effective two quarters ago. Then again, it’s a game of streaks; the Thunder tied it at 102 on a D. J. Augustin trey, Phoenix ran off four straight, OKC followed with four straight, one of the Morris twins got an and-one, and then Westbrook got an and-one with 13.4 left. Serge Ibaka blocked the last Phoenix shot, and overtime ensued; with 11 seconds left, it was Suns 115, Thunder 113, Westbrook missed his last shot, and P. J. Tucker, the last of the Sun starters to go to double figures, sank two free throws to bring things to a very late conclusion, 117-113.

Eric Bledsoe put up a very Westbrookian line: 28 points, 13 rebounds, nine assists. (Westbrook’s own line: 39 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists, yet another triple-double.) Still, Bledsoe was a tad more efficient, 11-16 from the floor, versus Westbrook’s, um, 12-38. Both Markieff Morris and Alex Len showed double-doubles: Morris 29 points, 11 boards, and Len 12 points, 11 boards. Morris’ brother Marcus led the bench with 11 points; the Phoenix reserves came up with 21 points total, versus 36 for the Thunder second string.

What undid the Thunder, in the end, was simply lousy shooting. Take out Westbrook’s 12-38 and OKC went 27-63, a plausible 43 percent — but the Suns were at 50 or above most of the night, finishing at 49.5. The Suns outrebounded the Thunder by two, 52-50. In double figures: Ibaka 13, Augustin 13, Dion Waiters 16, and ex-Sun Enes Kanter 18.

Friday night: Portland, struggling lately but still atop the Northwest Division, and already two up on the Thunder in the season series.


Wanderers dispatched

Sometimes streaky is good. The Thunder took a 30-20 lead over Indiana in the first quarter, kept the Pacers somewhat at bay in the second, and watched uncomfortably as that lead shrank to one in the third. (In fact, it looked like Indiana had tied it up, but a Pacer trey was later ruled to be a two-pointer.) And then the Thunder hit 15 points in a row — on two triples from Dion Waiters, two from Anthony Morrow, one from D. J. Augustin. It was almost 18 points: Morrow hoisted yet another trey at the third-quarter horn, which was too late to count. But by then OKC had built a twenty-point lead, and for the next few minutes the Thunder and the Pacers traded buckets — which does no good when you’re behind 20 points. The OKC starters were not seen again, and after 5:02 of garbage time, the Pacers pulled within 11, only to lose it 105-92.

Oh, the starters? Well, Russell Westbrook had a triple-double (20 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists), Serge Ibaka piled up 23 points and retrieved 10 boards, and Enes Kanter knocked down 15 points. That’s 58 points; Andre Roberson hit one bucket to make it 60, but 45 came from the suddenly-mighty bench, led (unsurprisingly) by Waiters (14) and Morrow (12). Indiana, which is known for its bench strength, what with guys like Ian Mahinmi and Rodney Stuckey and Luis Scola manning the second unit, produced only 30 from its reserves. Then again, the Pacers had four starters in double figures — C. J. Miles 21, George Hill (no relation) 13, Solomon Hill (no relation either) 11, and David West 11. Roy Hibbert, perennial man in the middle, collected six points and 10 boards.

Indiana wound up with a better shooting percentage (43-42), what with the Thunder sort of nodding off at the end, but OKC, as usual, owned the glass (57-48), and coughed up only ten turnovers. (Which explains this: steals, OKC 10, Indiana 5; blocks, OKC 10, Indiana 3.) And the Pacers put up only 11 free throws all night, making seven, while the Thunder were 16-18 from the stripe.

And now, it’s Way Out West: Phoenix on Thursday, Portland on Friday, wrapping up with the Lakers on Sunday before returning home long enough to take on the Sixers.


A band of Nugget crushers

One of the Thunder traditions is to come back a little stronger on the second night of a back-to-back. Then again, they pounded the Hornets yesterday; what could they possibly do to the Nuggets? It was OKC 36, Denver 18 after the first quarter, 98-69 after three, and the starters sat for the fourth. The thrashing, if not exactly epic, was convincing: 119-94, the Thunder’s sixth straight win, finishing the season series 3-1.

Lots of big numbers tonight for OKC: Serge Ibaka blocked eight shots, a season high — and collected 20 points; alongside, Enes Kanter had 20 points and 12 boards; Russell Westbrook picked up 21 points and delivered a career-high 17 assists; and not one of them played as much as 28 minutes. Off the bench, Dion Waiters scored 17 and Mitch McGary 10, and everyone active got to play. I paid a little closer attention to Kyle Singler tonight, and he’s ferocious, but tonight he was foul-prone, picking up five in 15 minutes. Then again, he made all three of his shots for 7 points. D. J. Augustin (8 points) was solid as a playmaker. We got our first look at Steve Novak in the fourth; he missed a couple of treys, but he moved around as well as anyone and contributed one assist to the Thunder’s season-high 31 dimes. Rebounds? OKC got ‘em: 60-42. Steals? 18-10. Blocks? 10-5.

Ty Larson and Danilo Gallinari made as much offense as they could for Denver, with 17 and 16 points respectively; however, the Nuggets just weren’t hitting, 35 of 97 for 36 percent. (OKC had 13 more hits on five fewer shots.) Rookie big Joffrey Lauvergne got extended minutes tonight, going 3-6 for eight points, even with stalwart sixth man Randy Foye.

The Pacers, who thrashed Golden State in Indianapolis tonight, will be here Tuesday. They will not be pushovers.


Stingers at the ready

Okay, the Hornets were 22-30 coming in, but you don’t underestimate an actual playoff team, and Charlotte was eighth in the East. The Thunder, lest we forget, were 29-25, but eighth in the West. So it might have been useful to anticipate, not the blowout some might have expected, but a Memphis-y sort of grind, especially with Steven Adams and Kevin Durant sidelined. And that’s what it was through 42 minutes and 94-94 on the scoreboard, before the Thunder defense stiffened; with 2:00 left, it was OKC by nine, and when the horn sounded, it was OKC by seven, 110-103.

What you want to know, perhaps, is how the new guys did. First, the highlights. Enes Kanter, starting in the middle, collected a double-double: 10 points, 13 rebounds. (He also exhibited some Adamsesque free-throw shooting, going 2 for 6.) D. J. Augustin, backing up — and sometimes playing alongside — Russell Westbrook, picked up 12 points, two assists, and no turnovers. Less illuminated: Kyle Singler, starting at the four in place of KD, scored six points in 18 minutes. Steve Novak was DNP-CD. The old guys did their bits, with Serge Ibaka showing off a 16-12 and Westbrook being Westbrook with 33 points and ten assists. And Dion Waiters got 10 points the hard way, having to take 15 shots. (Shooting percentages were about even: OKC 44, 5-18 on treys; Charlotte 43, 7-24 on treys.)

And the Hornets, too, had a new guy: Mo Williams, who stepped into the point with ease, knocking down 24 points and serving up 12 dimes. In the middle, stalwart Al Jefferson did Al Jefferson-like numbers, 20 points and 12 rebounds; Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who’s evidently found his range, was 8-14 for 20 points. The Hornets delivered on more assists than the Thunder, 28-21, but were badly outrebounded, 59-41. And the idle Brooklyn Nets slid into eighth place in the West.

Tomorrow night, the Thunder are at home against the suddenly Afflalo-less Nuggets, and Tuesday the Pacers will be in town. After that, three games out West: Phoenix, Portland, and the Lakers.


It almost looked easy

In the upper right hand corner of the front page of this morning’s Oklahoman:

The Oklahoman 2-19-15: Does Reggie want out?

Upon hearing that he’s a Detroit Piston now:

I think we can take that as a Yes.

Anyway, we wish him well at the Palace, and we hope Kendrick Perkins, being bought out by the Jazz, and Ish Smith, dealt to the Pelicans, find happiness in new gigs. In the meantime, there were only ten bodies to suit up against the Mavericks tonight, none of the OKC New Guys — ex-Pistons D. J. Augustin and Kyle Singler, ex-Jazz Enes Kanter and Steve Novak — having arrived. (Okay, new Mav Amar’e Stoudemire hasn’t reported yet either, but both of the questionable Dallas guys, Rajon Rondo and Tyson Chandler, were considered well enough to play.) Didn’t matter so much: the Mavs managed only 19 points in the first quarter, 17 in the second, and the Thunder ballooned to a 22-point lead. Dallas recovered with an 8-0 run to start the fourth before OKC stanched the flow; the Mavs would never get within single digits, and the Thunder evened up the season series at 1-1 with a convincing 104-89 spanking of those Dallas fellows.

Much of this, of course, was Russell Westbrook’s doing. The All-est of the All-Stars, after knocking down 41 for the West, might have slowed down after a week off — in some other universe. In this one: 34-5-10. Serge Ibaka put together his first 20-20 game ever, with 21 points and 22 rebounds. Nick Collison, getting an actual start, scored two but retrieved nine boards; Andre Roberson scored four and retrieved 12 boards. You might conclude from this that the Thunder were just rebounding fools tonight, and the box score smiles: 62-39. OKC did turn the ball over a lot — 25 times — what with two of three point guards having been traded away; still, 20 assists on 38 made shots is not too shabby, and besides Westbrook.

As seemingly always, Dallas’ top scorer was Dirk. As hardly ever, Dirk had 14 points on 6-16 shooting and missed all three treys. Monta Ellis, who’d been on a point-scoring roll of late, was held to seven; Chandler, in the middle, did produce a double-double (10 points and 13 rebounds), but the times the Mavs were moving the ball well were few and far between, and the Thunder exhibited some enthusiasm for chasing down loose balls, something they’ve not been consistently good at.

The new guys may show up in Charlotte Saturday, or at the ‘Peake Sunday to greet the Nuggets. Either way, it’s going to be just slightly different from here on out.


Care Bears scared

One weird little contretemps reflected the tone of the entire game: imagine, if you will, a jump ball between Zack Randolph and Russell Westbrook. Now imagine Westbrook winning the jump. It happened, and the mighty Grizzlies, the one team that can be counted on to try to grind the Thunder into multicolored paste, took one more of a seemingly endless series of body blows from an Oklahoma City team that damned well wanted to go into the All-Star break on a high note. The Thunder were up 18 at the half; the Griz fought back to within 11 halfway through the fourth; despite the sudden absences of Dion Waiters (who stepped on Tony Allen’s foot) and Kevin Durant (probably a precautionary measure), Memphis gained no more ground, and Dave Joerger finally cried Uncle. The final was 105-89, and the Griz are now up 2-1 for the season.

How decisive was this thrashing? Memphis shot 37 percent, missed 10 of 12 treys, and picked up four fast-break points. Still, this is the statistic that stings: 14 Thunder turnovers produced only two point for the Griz. Z-Bo, of course, led the squad with 16 points and 11 boards; Jeff Green picked up 11, nine in the second half; amazingly, Marc Gasol wasn’t much of a factor, 8 points on 2-10 shooting and five rebounds.

One reason Gasol wasn’t getting anywhere was total Thunder rebound dominance, 49-42. Everyone was snatching boards: Durant had 10 (with 26 points), Russell Westbrook nine (with 24 points and nine assists), Nick Collison nine (with 15 points). Mitch McGary, after two consecutive double-doubles, got a dose of suckage: the Griz keyed on him, and in 15 minutes he managed two boards and six fouls. The Dueling Sixth Men were fairly evenly matched, Waiters collecting 11 points before turning his ankle, Reggie Jackson cashing in eight.

The Pacers put the hurt on the Pelicans tonight, so the Thunder have sole possession of ninth place, and trail the eighth-place Suns by a mere half a game. Assuming we didn’t lose a couple of players tonight, this is a promising position to be in before the next 29 games.


Peaks and valleys

It was 38-18 after twelve minutes, and we all assumed that the Nuggets were well and truly flushed, in the plumbing sense. Not so. Denver came back with 41 in the second quarter, leaving the Thunder up 73-59, and in the opening moments of the third pulled to within five, a run highlighted by Kevin Durant attempting to drop-kick Kenneth Faried to the Front Range. KD was rung up for a technical and a Flagrant One. This just made him mad, and if you’re the Nuggets, you won’t like him when he’s mad. He’d been dropping treys with alacrity, and went back to doing more of them. At the end of the third, Durant had 38 points on 12-16 shooting, 7-11 from way outside, and the Thunder led by 14, just as they had at halftime, though the Nuggets closed on a 7-0 run. That run grew to 11-0 early in the fourth. OKC’s reserves held serve through the halfway point of the quarter; when the starters returned, the Thunder were up nine, and at the horn, they were up ten, 124-114.

A few numbers were inked into the record book tonight. KD’s seven treys — he finished with 40 — tied a career high; Andre Roberson’s 12 points set a new career high; and Mitch McGary got his second double-double in two days, with 17 points and 10 rebounds. (At 25 minutes, he played more than a couple of the starters.) Russell Westbrook scored a handy 26 on 14 shots. (KD’s 40 came on 19, so the efficiency angle was working a bit better than usual.) In fact, the Thunder shot a laudable 54 percent, 50 percent (12-24) from beyond the circle, and had small leads in rebounds (40-38) and assists (24-20).

Denver posted a couple of double-doubles: Faried, with 22 points and 10 rebounds, and rookie center Jusuf Nurkić, with 16 points and 14 boards before fouling out. Wilson Chandler had a team-high 23; Ty Lawson collected 22. Through much of the night, the Nuggets were shooting 50 percent or better, falling to 48 at the end. It’s their sixth straight loss at the Pepsi Center, something that hasn’t happened in twelve years.

The Pelicans obligingly dropped one to the Jazz tonight, so right now it’s New Orleans and OKC with identical records — though the Pels own the tiebreaker, having won the season series 3-1. There remains that one game against the Griz on Wednesday, and then the All-Star break.


War of attrition

This game opened with four players out: Blake Griffin and J. J. Barea for the Clippers, Kendrick Perkins and Anthony Morrow for the Thunder. (Perk, as always the One in One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other, wasn’t injured: he drew a one-game suspension for a head-butting incident involving a New Orleans butthead.) And after the game opened, Glen “Big Baby Davis” departed with back spasms, and Steven Adams dislocated a finger or something. (Adams, who was fouled on the play, came back out of the locker room to hit one of two free throws, just in case he might be able to return. He did not.)

With limited personnel, the strategy becomes simple: hit your shots and keep the other guys from hitting theirs. The third quarter today could serve as an object lesson, the Thunder walloping the Clippers 35-19 for a 101-75 advantage going into the fourth. Three minutes later, Doc Rivers had seen enough, and he started subbing in what subs he had; OKC ran that lead to as much as 32, and finished off the Clips with aplomb, 131-108.

Spencer Hawes, starting at the four in the absence of Griffin, knocked out 17 points in the first half. That’s all he would get. Chris Paul came up with a double-double: 18 points, 13 assists, and perhaps most remarkably, three fouls. (CP3 inevitably took issue with all of them.) Matt Barnes tossed up 15 points; super sixth man Jamal Crawford came up with 21, and little-used C. J. Wilcox grabbed ten in Extended Garbage Time.

For Oklahoma City, the usual guys got their usual numbers: Kevin Durant 29, Russell Westbrook 19 (with 11 assists), Serge Ibaka 13. What was fun was watching Reggie Jackson go 6-6 for 15 points; what was even more fun was watching Mitch McGary, who’d scored four whole points all season, getting the call early and collecting a double-double. Seriously. 19 points on 8-9 shooting, 10 rebounds. (Both McGary and Jackson were +19; Dion Waiters, with 16 points, was +21.) Change of pace: the Thunder reserves, who scored a feeble 11 against New Orleans night before last, this time put up 62. And the Clippers seemed to be suffering from Board Avoidance Syndrome, outrebounded by OKC 54-29.

A quick trip to Denver for a Monday-night scuffle, a visit from the Grizzlies on Wednesday, and it’s the All-Star break. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I definitely need a break.


Slurped into the maw

The Pelicans got the last nine points of the third quarter, and the first five of the fourth, leaving the Thunder in a seven-point hole after having once led by a dozen. With 3:00 left, New Orleans was up 103-100, and Serge Ibaka was on the bench with six fouls. (Seven, if you count the technical, which you don’t.) This was not the best time for Kevin Durant, apparently healed of his toe sprain, to have trouble shooting. With 18 seconds left, it was NO 111, OKC 110; Tyreke Evans somehow missed two free throws, but the Thunder came up dry on the next possession, and Anthony Davis knocked down a pair to give the Birds a three-point lead with two seconds to go; incredibly, Russell Westbrook’s trey didn’t go, but he was fouled, and Russ scored all three free throws to tie it at 113 with 1.2 seconds left. Even more incredibly, Anthony Davis got in a trey just barely at the horn. New Orleans 116, Oklahoma City 113, and the Pelicans win the season series 3-1.

Between Davis, who got his 41st point of the night with that buzzer-beater, and Evans, who had a triple-double (22 points, 16 assists, 10 rebounds), it’s perhaps a surprise the Birds were held to a mere 116; they made 11 of 20 treys all night, shot 48 percent overall, got 25 of 30 free throws to fall, and held 26-19 advantages in assists and 46-40 off the glass. This is the number I’m looking at, though: the New Orleans bench, mostly Quincy Pondexter and Ryan Anderson, collected 36 points, while the Thunder reserves managed only 11.

Among the OKC starters, Westbrook was clearly on: those last three free throws gave him 48 points for the night, a new career high. (Not to mention an average of 46.5 for the last two games.) Durant, clearly off, still came up with 27 points, albeit on 9-26 shooting; Ibaka and Steven Adams (also the recipient of a T) had 10 each.

The Clippers, who have obligingly dropped three in a row, will be here Sunday at noon. Maybe I’ll wake up for it.


Pinch that beak

Were this the end of the season, instead of just before the All-Star break, you’d think the schedulers rigged it: the Thunder are two games behind New Orleans, and the next two games are with, yes, New Orleans. Better yet, it’s a home-and-home deal. But the battle here is for ninth place, still out of the playoffs, and jaded Thunder fans noted that hey, Nick Collison signed up for two more years, and is Kevin Durant still out with that toe sprain? (Yes.) Besides, the Pelicans won the last two times these teams met.

And it looked like they’d do it again. The Sea Birds were up six at halftime, 57-51, thanks to a Quincy Pondexter trey at the horn; OKC recovered in the third quarter, to take a 77-76 lead. Said lead passed back and forth for six minutes or so, until a three-minute-long 9-0 OKC run put the Thunder up by seven, 98-91, with 2:25 left, and the defense, previously stiffish, became even stiffer: the Pelicans would not score again. The final was 102-91, setting the stage for one hell of a fourth game at the Peake Friday night.

How stiff, you ask? New Orleans shot 39 percent, 28 percent from Way Out There; Anthony Davis collected 23 points, but it took him 21 shots to get there; Tyreke Evans got 11 points from 20 shots. Perhaps the least-intimidated of the Birds was Ryan Anderson, who scored 19 on a relatively efficient 17 shots, and he still finished -14 for the night.

Meanwhile, Westbrook watchers were treated to Russ at his literal best: 45 points (18-31), tying his season high, with six rebounds, six assists, a steal, and, just for the hell of it, a late-fourth-quarter block. (Blocks for the night: Serge Ibaka 6; other Thunder players 4; New Orleans 3.) Dion Waiters, starting in place of Perry Jones, who ordinarily would start in place of Kevin Durant, scored 12 in his second Thunder start. Ibaka, scoreless in the first half, came to life in the second, finishing with 13; ex-Pelican Anthony Morrow led the bench with 14.

Friday night: The Rematch. After that, the Thunder will hang at home through Sunday, with a matinee against the Clippers, followed by a quick trip to Denver.


Everything you wand

So much is said by this simple tweet:

OKC was in fact up as many as 22 during the third quarter, but the Magic didn’t start to fade until halfway through the fourth, when Nikola Vučević fouled out. At the time, he was Orlando’s leading scorer, with 20; Victor Oladipo eventually passed him. Just the same, the Magic kept pressing, and pulled to within seven in the waning moments. Still, it was an Oklahoma City win, 104-97, a sweep of the season series, though the Blowout call obviously never came.

The Magic, who’ve lost nine straight, were not punchless: they outrebounded OKC 44-40, including 14-8 off the offensive glass. During that late run, they pulled their scoring percentage up to 42 percent, and of their six treys (out of 23 attempts), four came in the fourth quarter. Five Orlando players reached double figures, led by Oladipo with 22; Tobias Harris came up with 18, and Willie Green added 13 from the bench. Still, the Magic blocked only one shot, and thereby hangs a tale: Mitch McGary, in his first appearance since ever, came on in the last minute, put up one shot, and Kyle O’Quinn (11 points) knocked it away.

Still, the Thunder did a decent job of scoring, despite the absence of Kevin Durant, whose toe is acting up again. Russell Westbrook got most of the glory with a triple-double, 25 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds. Dion Waiters got the start in place of KD, and turned in a 24-point performance. Both Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams were hitting tonight, 16 points and three blocks from Ibaka, 12 points (on seven shots!) from Adams. Anthony Morrow led the reserves with 15; for the first time in recent memory, Reggie Jackson scored zilch.

So it’s back to .500 again, two games behind the Pelicans. By some quirk of scheduling fate, the next two games are against the Pelicans, Wednesday night in New Orleans, then Friday back at the ‘Peake. And you have to figure that the Sea Birds will be on an emotional high, having tonight cleaned Atlanta’s clock, 115-100, to end the Hawks’ 19-game winning streak. It doesn’t get any easier, folks.


Loaded for bears

In the first three and a half minutes of the fourth quarter, the Thunder scored exactly two points, a layup by Anthony Morrow. Two minutes later, they still had just those two points, and had turned the ball over seven times. But by then, everyone had seen the writing on the walls of the FedEx Forum, and that writing said “Visitors unwelcome.” With 2:10 left, Scott Brooks acknowledged the truth of the matter, and pulled his starters. The victorious Grizzlies got a standing O from the crowd. It was 85-74 at the horn, the second Memphis win over Oklahoma City in two games, with two left to play.

Weirdly, the Griz shot a terrible 37 percent from the floor. Still, Memphis’ 34-92 was definitely better than OKC’s 27-78, less than 35 percent. And the Griz dominated the other columns on the box score: 54-47 on rebounds, 22-15 on assists, 11-5 on steals. Zach Randolph got his 13th straight double-double (21 points, 18 rebounds); Marc Gasol got one too (15 points, 12 boards). Mike Conley, a game-time decision due to a wrist injury, rolled up 10 points early on. The arrival of Jeff Green meant that Tony Allen could return to his sixth-man position; both scored eight.

Meanwhile, OKC had lots of underachievers, including its two All-Stars: both Kevin Durant (15 points) and Russell Westbrook (14 points) went 5-16 from the floor. (Westbrook hit one of three treys; KD missed all five of his.) Serge Ibaka did squeak out a double-double with 13 points and ten retrievals; nobody else approached double figures, and in that plus/minus stuff, the only plusses belonged to Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb, who weren’t summoned until after the white flag had been raised. (Glue guy Nick Collison held his ground with a zero.)

The Orlando Magic, who were waxed at home by the Mavs tonight, will be in OKC Monday night, possibly without coach Jacque Vaughn, whose job is reportedly in jeopardy. If Vaughn shows up and the Thunder play like they did in the fourth quarter at Memphis, he may get a brief reprieve.


Lance’s revenge

You may remember Lance Thomas, a Thunder training-camp invite who actually made the team when the injury situation got out of hand. Eventually he was dealt to the Knicks in the three-team deal that brought Dion Waiters to Oklahoma City, with the expectation that New York would waive him. They did. But they signed him to a 10-day contract three days later, and another one when that one ran out. What better way for him to demonstrate his value to the Knicks than to lead them to a victory on his previous team?

It didn’t work out quite that way. Thomas is still, after all, a second-string player. But he had 17 of the 31 points scored by the New York bench, his season high, and the Knicks were up nine halfway through the fourth quarter. This is normally Kevin Durant’s cue; but KD is still sidelined with that toe jam, or whatever it is, and a 7-0 run by Russell Westbrook in just under 60 seconds was followed by ten in a row from New York, and as the phrase goes, that’s all she wrote. OKC would come no closer than five after that, and the Knicks earned their third straight win at the Garden, 100-92.

There’s a brace of Telltale Statistics here. Consider Westbrook’s line — 13-30 shooting for 40 points — and the assist count: NYC 29, OKC 10. It’s not so much that Westbrook was trying to play hero ball, although there were obvious moments when he was, but that nobody else could shoot either. Reggie Jackson had 13 points; Serge Ibaka 10 and 10 rebounds; the rest didn’t matter much. (Dion Waiters, you should know, finished with eight.) Oh, and 5-22 on three-pointers, versus 8-17 for New York.

What’s more, the Knicks, among the sorriest rebounders in the Association, hauled in 51 of them tonight, against 47 for the ostensible league leader. They took six more shots, made six more shots. And Carmelo Anthony was being Carmelo Anthony, racking up 31 points and 10 rebounds. Jason Smith had the other Knicks double-double, 11 points and 11 boards. And Tim Hardaway, the only other Knick reserve to score, got the 14 points that Lance Thomas didn’t.

So it’s back to .500 again, and the Grizzlies waiting Saturday night. Pray for snow. Or something.

Update, 29 January: Lance Thomas will be signed by the Knicks for the rest of the season.

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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.