Archive for Net Proceeds

Scattershot at both ends

I am indebted to radio guy Matt Pinto for that phrase, uttered about halfway through the fourth quarter while a 14-point Thunder lead had shrunk to a mere three. Consistent inconsistency has bedeviled this club most of the year, and while Oklahoma City handled the Hawks beautifully in the 28-15 third quarter, Atlanta was able to upend the OKC applecart pretty quickly. Mike Budenholzer had already pulled one switcheroo in the starting lineup, switching scorer Kyle Korver to coming off the bench and having the more defense-minded Thabo Sefolosha start at the three. And Thabo lived up to his billing, scoring only six points but forcing six turnovers. Perhaps a greater boon to the Hawks was the return of Paul Millsap, who’d missed three games due to a hip issue. And with 10.8 seconds left and the Hawks down three, Victor Oladipo took a spill and lost the subsequent jump ball to, yes, Sefolosha. Time out was called, a Hawk trey came down empty, and it was OKC 102, Atlanta 99, the Thunder’s sixth consecutive win.

Millsap was good for 24 points; Korver led the Atlanta bench with 15. One thing the Hawks did well was draw fouls, which they duly converted to free throws; they made 24 of 32 from the stripe. (The Thunder continue to stumble from the foul line, hitting only 18 of 28.) And neither side could break 32 percent from three-point land, the Hawks going 7-22 and the Thunder 10-31.) But OKC did have the rebounding under control, 43-36, and yes, there was yet another Russell Westbrook triple-double: 32-13-12, his sixth in a row. Steven Adams, apparently undeterred by his ankle issue against the Pelicans last night, rose for a double-double: 12 points, 10 boards. And the return of Anthony Morrow to good form continues to help: tonight he was 5-8 (4-6 on the long ball) for 15 points.

After this, the Thunder are off until Friday, when the Rockets show up at the ‘Peake; the Celtics will be in town Sunday, after which it’s back out West once more.

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Tough old birds

When the Pelicans come to town, the first — perhaps the only — question is “How bad is Anthony Davis going to hurt us?” From the looks of things early on, the answer was “Plenty”; Davis had piled up 24 points by halftime, and Steven Adams, who’d barely been able to defend against him, exited early with a left-ankle sprain. What might have been an easy win suddenly became a bit more difficult, and New Orleans kept finding ways to score that didn’t involve Davis. (One of those was rookie Buddy Hield, a #6 draft pick from OU, who got quite the reception from the Loud City crowd, and who promptly rolled up 16 points and four rebounds.) The Pelicans closed to within four before the Thunder stiffened just enough to grab a 101-92 win on the first night of a back-to-back.

Davis wound up with a game-high 37, plus 15 rebounds; Hield’s 4-7 stroke from downtown helped him to a team-high plus-9. In fact, Hield was about the only one hitting from the 3-point line; the Pelicans were a less-than-stunning 6-28, and the Thunder, who didn’t hit any at all in the first half, wound up with, yes, a less-than-stunning 6-28.

If there had been a second question for the night, perhaps it would have been “Does Russell Westbrook get another triple-double?” Yes, he does: 28-17-12, for his fifth in a row. Last time anyone did five in a row was 1987, a fellow named Jordan. (If you’re keeping count, it’s Other 29 Teams 6, Westbrook 5.) As usual, Enes Kanter led the bench with 17.

Tomorrow night in Atlanta, which will be not only tiring in the usual manner of back-to-backs, but which will start half an hour early by Oklahoma City standings: 6:30 pm Central. Westbrook put in 37 minutes and change. Let’s hope he can sleep on the plane.


The return of Foreman Scotty

As I expected, former Thunder coach Scott Brooks got a tremendous ovation from the current Thunder fans. As I didn’t expect, the Washington Wizards came back from a double-digit deficit early on to tie the game after three quarters and take the lead early in the fourth. Eight minutes into the fourth quarter, the Wizards were up seven, 97-90, the Thunder having scored a mere six points in those eight minutes against Brooks’ small, smaller, smallest-ball deployment. And then OKC seemed to wake up. Just inside the 2:00 mark, the Thunder had pulled to within one at 101-100; OKC called a timeout with 17.6 left and the Wizards up three. Then Russell Westbrook, who hadn’t made a trey all night, made a trey. Washington had 8.5 seconds to respond. Otto Porter had a clean look as time expired, but the ball refused to go in. Something happened between the horn and the start of overtime, and I’m not sure what it is, but in a minute and a quarter, the Thunder had knocked down eight points to the Wizards’ zip. Brooks promptly brought back Marcin Gortat, who set up Bradley Beal for five consecutive points, shrinking the Thunder lead to six; in the last minute, two free throws from Westbrook, two from Jerami Grant, and two more from Westbrook iced the deal. Oklahoma City 126, Washington 115, Westbrook went over to congratulate Brooks, and that was that.

The Wizards sent up a lot of scorers: all five starters hit double digits, as did two reserves, and both Gortat (12 points, 11 rebounds) and John Wall (15 points, 15 assists) posted double-doubles. Beal ended up with 31 points. Washington did claim the rebounding advantage, by one (48-47), but was edged in most of the other statistical categories. Meanwhile, in the least surprising news of the day, Westbrook had a triple-double, 35-14-11, despite shooting 12-35 (!) from the floor. (Factor out Westbrook and the Thunder shot 57 percent.) And unusually for the Thunder, all five starters made it to double figures. Victor Oladipo, not unusually, came up with 25.

The Pelicans will arrive here from New Orleans on Sunday. After six games in nine days, I should think the Thunder can use the rest.


Hardened in the Garden

For a few moments there — say, the first 20 minutes or so — it looked like the Knicks were absolutely going to crush the Thunder. Suddenly, there was a rally, and OKC was up three (58-55) at the half. And while New York never exactly goes away, they weren’t in a position to challenge a Thunder team that had most of its parts running at high speed toward an eventual 112-103 win.

How high a speed? Two double-doubles from the big guys: Enes Kanter with 27 points (a season high) and 10 rebounds; Steven Adams with 14 points and 10 rebounds. A triple-double (ho hum) from the little guy: Russell Westbrook with 27 points, 18 rebounds, and 14 assists. Only Westbrook, I suspect, can wangle a triple-double while having a night as terrible as 9-23 from the floor. (He’s now averaging a triple-double for the season.) Fifty percent shooting, versus 40 for the Knicks.

Still, both Kanter and Westbrook were outscored by Derrick Rose, who shot 10-20 and 10-10 from the stripe for a solid 30 points. Kristaps Porzingis, unsurprisingly, knocked down 20. But perhaps the most important statistic is this one: Carmelo Anthony managed 18 points, but 10 of those came on free throws; with Andre Roberson glued to him, ‘Melo hit only four of 19 shots. And one could perhaps question the Knicks’ depth: six reserves put up only 19 points, versus 48 for the Thunder bench.

Oh, and score a reception for Spike Lee, who caught an out-of-bounds ball and drew a small cheer. The man is fun to watch.

Radio guy Matt Pinto seemed remarkably impressed that the last five Thunder games (in which they went 3-2) were played in four different time zones. The next two, however, will be in Central time, in the friendly confines of Chesapeake Arena. First arrival: the Washington Wizards on (of course) Wednesday. It will be a homecoming of sorts for Scott Brooks; I bet he gets some serious applause when he’s introduced.


Short stroke

A third of the way through the fourth quarter, this cry was heard:

They weren’t kidding. But the threes never did start falling for the Pistons: at the time the team sent up that tweet, Detroit had made exactly one of sixteen treys, and they’d miss three more before the final horn. The Pistons did actually shoot decently otherwise, and all five starters finished in double figures, but the Thunder was trying to prove they could win the second game of a back-to-back, and both expected (Russell Westbrook had a triple-double, 17-13-15) and unexpected (Anthony Morrow had a season-high 21 points) strengths converged to put OKC up 106-88 and square the season series at 1-1.

Did I say “decently”? From inside the arc, Detroit was 35-62: 56 percent. And while they were only so-so at the stripe (13-17), they were decidedly more ept than the Thunder, who made 14 of 26. And yes, all the Pistons starters finished in double figures, but none of their reserves did. Tobias Harris made perhaps the best showing with a team-high 19; he delivered the Pistons’ sole trey.

Still, only someone like Westbrook can put up a triple-double on an off night: the Conquering Zero shot 8-22, 0-5 from Tripleville. The Thunder had a clear lead in rebounds (43-32) and assists (23-11), and shot a fairly stirring 51 percent for the night.

This home stand lasts only one game; tomorrow the team sets out for the wicked village of New York to take on the Knickerbockers, who are 8-8 overall but 7-2 inside the friendly confines of Madison Square Garden. Then it’s back home Wednesday to face the Washington Wizards, coached by a guy named Scott Brooks, and a Sunday matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans.


Nearly a mile-high low

The Thunder lost the first two games of this road trip, and perhaps they were hoping the 6-9 Nuggets would present an easier match. (Which would be dumb, considering that Wednesday night they were beaten by the 5-9 Kings.) Denver, unsurprisingly, proved unwilling to roll over and die. And while OKC managed to stay mostly even with the Nuggets in the first half, in the second half Denver started to pull away and an offensive-oriented Thunder lineup, able to score but unable to get stops, basically sat there and watched. With four minutes left, the Nuggets were up 114-103; OKC swapped out Anthony Morrow for Victor Oladipo, and Russell Westbrook scored the next nine points to make it a two-point game. A Jameer Nelson trey followed, but then OKC knocked down six in a row, four from Oladipo and two from Westbrook, to take a one-point lead. The Thunder held on the next possession, Westbrook nailed two free throws, Wilson Chandler opted to go for a certain two rather than a possible three, and with 10 seconds left, it was Oklahoma City 120, Denver 119. Morrow returned; the Nuggets immediately fouled; Westbrook went back to the foul line and hit two more. Jamal Murray put up a trey; it went awry, but Steven Adams fouled him, and Murray delivered all three free throws for a 122-all tie. (“OKC finding new ways to lose,” quipped Royce Young.) Still 8 seconds left. Kenneth Faried blocked a Westbrook jumper, and overtime was upon us.

With 20 seconds left and the Thunder up 129-127, the Nuggets took possession. Chandler somehow missed a layup — did Adams swat it away? — and coming back, Westbrook wound up with two more foul shots, Murray put up a shot, Westbrook ended up with the ball, and finished the job with one more free throw, making it 132-127 with seven seconds left. The Nuggets did get off one final shot, leaving the final at 132-129. (I am told the over/under was 215. Ha.)

Westbrook, as always, has numbers: 36-12-18. (Eighteen dimes ties the season high; his career high is 19.) The new kids were doing well: Joffrey Lauvergne, ex-Nugget, collected 15 points, and Domas Sabonis added 13. And so were the old-timers: Morrow had 10, his first double-figure game of the season, and Oladipo cleaned up with 26. Not that Denver slouched about: Chandler scored 30, Jameer Nelson 21, and Murray 20. OKC shot 51 percent, Denver 48, though the Nuggets, the league’s leading rebounders, had a 51-40 advantage on the boards.

Tomorrow night in OKC, with the Pistons, who just finished beating the Clippers and who’ve already beaten the Thunder in Auburn Hills. Second night of a back-to-back for both. Does this cancel out? I have no idea.


Are we there yet?

The new home for the Sacramento Kings is the Golden 1 Center, named for a credit union, located in the Downtown Commons. At some point in the second quarter tonight I got the feeling that the Thunder had somehow drifted back to the old Sleep Train Arena; both offense and defense seemed a bit sleepy at times. Down three at the half, Oklahoma City was outscored 36-27 in the third, and the Kings just kept on coming; halfway through the fourth Anthony Morrow, who hadn’t made a three-point shot all season, somehow made a three-point shot — and an and-one. This brought the Thunder back to within ten, but by then the game was essentially over, and when the horn sounded the Kings were 116-101 winners.

All the standard statistical categories favored Sacramento, though this one is the most dramatic: the Kings shot 47 percent (44-94), the Thunder 42 percent (32-76). The Purple Gang managed to take 18 more shots, a situation not at all alleviated by the Thunder’s 30-38 free-throw performance. (The Kings hit 16 of 17 from the line.) And the fiction that OKC is a good three-point team persists: seven of 25, 28 percent. (The Kings made 12 of 28.)

Faced with this debacle, the fan wants to know: “Well, how did Russell Westbrook do?” Just short of a triple-double: 31-11-9. But those 31 points include 16 free throws; he was 7-18 from the floor. And besides, DeMarcus Cousins’ own double-double was a bit more impressive: 36 points, 13 boards. (Okay, only two assists. Cousins is a big, okay?) Billy Donovan threw out some new lineups, but none of them seemed effective at the time.

So it’s back to .500, and one more out-West game this week: Friday night at Denver. After that, the Pistons come to OKC, having already thrashed the Thunder in Auburn Hills. Sixteen games in, it’s hard to see these guys as better than an 8 seed, if that.


Closeout at Staples

This game, or at least the first three quarters of it, was rather easily summed up: the Lakers outshot the Thunder, and not by a little either. Los Angeles put a 29-16 hurt on Oklahoma City in the first quarter; OKC fought back to within one at the half, but the Lakers kept on putting up good shots and the Thunder kept on failing to defend at the periphery, with the result that L.A. opened the fourth quarter with a 17-9 run. The futility of it all seemed to come sharply into focus when the Thunder hit four treys in a row and somehow didn’t manage to gain any ground; with three minutes left OKC was still down six. Russell Westbrook bore down. Stops appeared as the Lakers missed six shots in a row. With 43 seconds left, Westbrook delivered to Steven Adams at the net, and suddenly it was a one-point game. One stop later, Adams came up with a stickback — this was his first 20-point game ever — and Oklahoma City was up 109-108. The Lakers got the ball back with 14 seconds left; Nick Young took nine of those seconds to knock down a 27-footer, and L.A. was back up two. Westbrook went for the win, the Thunder couldn’t retrieve the loose ball, and the Lakers won it, 111-109.

By the end of the game, the shooting percentages had converged: 51-49 Lakers. OKC, as usual, had the edge in rebounding (40-35). Of interest: the five L.A. reserves scored 55, leaving 56 for the starters. (OKC bench scored only 33, and Anthony Morrow has yet to hit a trey all season.) There was only one double-double to be seen, and yes, Westbrook’s name is on it: 34 points, 17 in the fourth quarter, and 13 assists.

Tomorrow things resume in Sacramento and will likely run past midnight Central, which matters only to early risers and the Oklahoman.


When you’re hot, you’re hot

And when you’re not, you’re the Thunder on a Sunday night, playing a team they logically ought to clobber, inasmuch as said team hasn’t won a game on the road all season, and further, said team is missing a couple of key players. But the Indiana Pacers paid no attention to these matters, opened up an early lead which widened to as much as 15 late in the third quarter, and generally came in looking like they were ready for an overdue road win. But the patented Oklahoma City fourth-quarter defense was deployed, and when Thaddeus Young missed two free throws just inside the three-minute mark, the Thunder tied it up. With 38 seconds left, the Pacers were up one, and Myles Turner drew a foul which radio guy Matt Pinto disparaged as questionable. Turner sank both freebies, making it a three-point game. A quick Russell Westbrook layup closed the gap to one, and after Andre Roberson failed to connect on a trey, Jeff Teague collected two more from the stripe to make it 103-100. Westbrook, undaunted, launched one from about two feet beyond the arc, and overtime ensued. But overtime was not going to fall OKC’s way: the offense, which had methodically rattled off 33 points in the fourth quarter, struggled to produce eight, and the Pacers, without Paul George, without C. J. Miles, but with plenty of old-fashioned grit, walked away 115-111 winners, evening their record at 7-7 and dropping the Thunder to 8-6 just in time for a road trip.

One number stands out: 51. This is the number of rebounds collected by the Pacers, who are normally not the most effective rebounders. (Let’s say, 29th of 30.) OKC grabbed only 49. In part due to the length of the game, all five Indiana starters finished in double figures, led by Teague with 30. Westbrook crafted another triple-double (31-11-15), but he was 13-34 from the floor. And the long ball was once again a liability for the Thunder: only 10 of 36. (The Pacers made 11 of 22.)

The road will now be hit. We’ll pick things up on Tuesday with the Lakers.


Guys from Lawn Guyland

We knew this much about the Brooklyn Nets: they could score a lot, even if they couldn’t stop you from scoring a lot. As much as anything, this explains the 40-34 first quarter, in which defense was not in evidence, and in which the Nets made eight of their first 10 treys. This could not be permitted to continue, and somewhere along the way the Thunder managed to put up some semblance of peripheral defense: Brooklyn finished 11-29 from long distance, still better than the Thunder’s 7-26. Still, subtract those treys from the Thunder 49-89 total and you have 42-63 on two-point shots. That’s 67 percent. Lesson: if the treys aren’t falling, go inside. In fact, even if they are falling, go inside: the return is better. By halftime, OKC had managed a 64-61 lead, and the Nets did a slow fade in the second half, allowing the Thunder to make off with a 124-105 win.

The Nets were perhaps hampered by the loss of their starting point guard: Jeremy Lin messed up a hamstring early in the season that hasn’t quite healed. Randy Foye, starting in Lin’s place, didn’t hang around long. As expected, Brook Lopez led the Brooklyn scoring with 22; five of his teammates were good for double figures. The Nets didn’t rebound much — 30 versus 46 — and didn’t quite defend much either; the Thunder got 62 points in the paint versus 42.

Mr. Triple Double himself, Russell Westbrook, turned in yet another one, this time 30-11-13, a fitting performance for his 600th game. Victor Oladipo splashed down 26, Steven Adams had 15, and three Thunder reserves hit double figures, 13 for Enes Kanter and Joffrey Lauvergne, ten for Alex Abrines. The Indiana Pacers, hobbled by the loss of Paul George, will be here Sunday evening.



One always fears the Houston Rockets, simply because just about every one of them can score on you: seven Rockets scored in double figures, and two just missed with 9 points each. (Team high was Ryan Anderson with, um, 14.) Still, the Thunder can keep up with their scoring, though it’s never going to be evenly distributed. And after a late-fourth-quarter rally, OKC cranked up the defense, and held the Rockets to 10 points through most of the frame; with 6.9 seconds left, the Thunder led Houston 103-100, and in the next 1.4 seconds Russell Westbrook put up a Russell Westbrook-quality dunk, posterizing Clint Capela in the process, to make it a five-point game. The Rockets came back with a trey, but that was all they would get: OKC 105, Houston 103. Would Patrick Beverley have made a difference had he been able to play? Maybe, maybe not.

One might argue that the Rockets expended too much effort on three-pointers, and, well, they put up 40 of them, knocking down 14. (The Thunder was a bit better, at 12-25.) Only two OKC players finished in double figures, and you can probably guess: Westbrook, of course, logging 30-9-6, and Victor Oladipo, with 29 points and 10 rebounds. (Possibly of interest: Oladipo was 12-18 from the floor, Westbrook 9-20.) Andre Roberson collected only four points, but he did a splendid job of keeping James Harden down to 13.

The 7-5 Thunder now gets a couple of visitors from the East: the fumbling Brooklyn Nets on Friday, and the inconsistent Indiana Pacers on Sunday. There follows a West Coast trip, to see the Lakers, the Kings and the Nuggets before coming home to the Detroit Pistons, who have already beaten the Thunder once. This could get interesting, even delightful; or it could all go to pieces.


Piston our Post Toasties

After being edged by the Magic at home, the Thunder had the delightful prospect of flying up to Detroit. And the Pistons were understrength: Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson (!) were missing in action. Didn’t matter: Detroit opened up a 59-47 lead at the half — a trey intended to beat the buzzer didn’t — and led by as many as 19 before Oklahoma City started to gain a few. It didn’t last long, and there were some questions about the officiating:

Yeah, like Draymond was ever inadvertent. De nada. The Pistons won this 104-88, not because they got calls, not because they had such fabulous defense, and not because of Caldwell-Pope’s prodigious level of Kentaviousness, but because the Thunder couldn’t shoot to save their lives. We’re talking 33 of 88 for 37.5 percent. Three-pointers? Five of 27, just under 19 percent. The Pistons merely had to be Not Horrible to win this one, and they’re still undefeated at the Palace this season.

There was, of course, another Russell Westbrook double-double — 33 points, 15 rebounds, eight dimes — but nobody else in Thunder blue could manage even a dozen. For Detroit, Aron Baynes, playing the role of Andre Drummond, collected 20 points and eight boards; Tobias Harris led the Pistons with 22.

Good news: The Thunder come home next. Not so good news: first game is with the 6-4 Rockets, who have done better this year on the road than they have in Houston. (This assumes, as was correct at this writing, that the Rockets are stomping the 76ers.)


Stronger spells

The Orlando Magic had won exactly once on the road this season. It would have been, however, a mistake to assume that they couldn’t do it again. Certainly the Thunder didn’t put up enough defense; the Magic jumped out to a 27-13 first-quarter lead, and OKC wouldn’t tie it up again until very late in the third. After that, things remained knotted: just inside the three-minute mark, the score was 107-107; inside the 30-second mark, 117-117. Ex-Thunderman Serge Ibaka finished it off: his 30th and 31st points, those latter representing a career high, rattled down with 0.4 second left. The Thunder couldn’t get off a last shot, and Orlando claimed a 119-117 win.

You might expect, with 236 points scored, that there was shooting, and there was: 53 percent for Orlando, 51 for Oklahoma City. The Magic were a bit more effective with the long ball: 11 of 24 versus 7 of 25. (Seven of those Orlando treys fell in the fourth quarter.) And while both teams hit 16 free throws, the Magic only put up 20; the Thunder tried 26.

Apart from Ibaka, the big Magic scorers were the two starting guards: Elfrid Payton with 23, Evan Fournier with 21. (Victor Oladipo, who used to collect such numbers when he played for Orlando, knocked down 12 for OKC.) Russell Westbrook came up with yet another triple-double (41-12-16), with four other players in double figures, led by Enes Kanter with 16. Whatever it was, it wasn’t quite enough: tonight, Orlando was hungrier, and with everyone playing big minutes, things might get complicated tomorrow night in Detroit, where the Pistons are 5-5 but undefeated at home.


Shearers, maybe

The Clippers, going into this game, had the best record (7-1) in the NBA, and the first quarter might have made you wonder why: they were down eight. But they followed that 16-point frame with a 34-pointer, and things were 50-50 at the half; by the end of the third, the Clips were up eight. Inside the six-minute mark, the Thunder were trying to hack DeAndre Jordan; Jordan made the first of six, but no more, and the strategy eventually unraveled when Blake Griffin tried to disassemble Victor Oladipo and collected a trey while Oladipo was crumpling in a heap. (One could argue that VO was shrinking away anyway; he was 4-7 in the first quarter, and then up to this point 1-10.) Doc Rivers decided he would not be cowed by the anti-Jordan efforts; neither would Jordan, who promptly made five more free throws (out of six). Finally Billy Donovan gave up on hacking Jordan, and almost magically, Oladipo squeezed out five consecutive points. Karma? You decide. A Russell Westbrook trey brought the Thunder into a tie, but five Clipper points in 45 seconds put L. A. up 109-104; Westbrook responded with a shot plus two freebies to make it 109-108. Unfortunately, the last foul was inflicted on Jamal Crawford, who never misses a free throw; somehow Crawford missed one, but the Thunder had no response, and the Clippers, beaten by the Thunder by two points in L. A., wound up beating the Thunder by two points (110-108) in OKC.

If things sound awfully close, try on this statistic: both teams had four of five starters in double figures. Both teams shot an indifferent mid-40s. And both teams had two players with double-doubles: for the Clippers, Jordan (12 points, 13 rebounds) and Chris Paul (17 points, 10 assists); for the Thunder, Westbrook (28 points, 14 rebounds, 9 assists) and Enes Kanter (13 points, 11 rebounds). And both teams put up 27 three-point shots; L. A. got ten, OKC got 16, which latter ties a franchise record.

Next Thunderation: the end of the homestand, with the Magic coming to town Sunday, after which the Thunder hit the road for Detroit.


Darn Canadians

The Raptors, be they great or be they terrible, always find a way to get under the Thunder’s aggregate skin, and they did so tonight despite not scoring in the first six minutes of the game. Down 27-20 after twelve minutes, they knocked out 42 points in the second quarter to go up seven at the half, and Toronto didn’t even try to look back: OKC pulled to within four late in the fourth, but the Raptors finished off the Thunder with relative ease, 112-102.

Kyle Lowry was much peskier than usual — 19 points, 13 assists — but the big problem was trying to DeTer DeMar DeRozan, 37 points on 22 shots despite missing both his attempts at 3-pointers. Superior shooting did most of the damage: the Raptors, once they got going, hit 52 percent from the floor, about 10 points better than the Thunder could manage. It might have helped if Russell Westbrook could have banged out a few more; as it stands, he did collect 36 points, but it took him 26 shots to do it. Steven Adams, who apparently didn’t mess up his hand last time out, reeled in 14 points and 12 boards; notably, he hit all eight of his free throws, something that never would have happened, say, a season ago.

And Toronto did all this without Jonas Valanciunas, a game-time decision, out with a knee contusion. You might want to credit backup center Lucas Nogueira, who made all five of his shots in 29 minutes and claimed a +31 for the night, even better than DeRozan. The Raptors, now 5-2, have seven road games in the next nine, but if they keep up the pressure the way they did tonight, they won’t have a thing in the world to worry about.

Meanwhile, the Thunder waits anxiously for the Clippers, who will be here Friday night with revenge, or something, on their minds.


Grinding Heat

It didn’t take too long to figure out the new, temporarily Boshless, permanently deWaded Miami Heat: they’re last year’s Memphis Grizzlies, albeit without being as doggone old as last year’s Memphis Grizzlies. Their game plan was simple enough: slow things down, keep the Thunder at about 60-percent speed. The Thunder declined, rolling up 39 points in the first quarter. Miami was a bit more successful in the second, holding Oklahoma City to a mere 16, though the Heat scored only 19 themselves. Still, the Heat kept creeping up, until a couple of minutes into the third, when OKC ran off 20 points in a row in less than six minutes and never allowed the Heat to make up the difference until the very end. The final was 97-85, and the Thunder are 6-1, 4-0 at home.

It wasn’t all horrible for Miami; OKC expat Dion Waiters, starting on the wing, got a pretty enthusiastic greeting from Loud City that I suspect will not be duplicated when the Warriors show up. (Then again, Waiters went 1-9 for two points.) And it didn’t hurt to have two Johnsons on the bench: James and Tyler came up with 28 points between them. But I have to figure that Erik Spoelstra will be tinkering with things even further in an effort to get this team into respectability. Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook had a fairly terrible night, 14 points and 11 assists in 26 minutes; he didn’t play in the fourth quarter at all. It was left to Enes Kanter to roll up the score, and Kanter did not disappoint, collecting 10 rebounds to go with 24 points. Domantas Sabonis nailed a double-double of his own, his first in the league, with 15 points and ten boards.

Perhaps Westbrook is being rested for Wednesday, when the Raptors arrive from Toronto; he’ll need to be at full strength to counter the DeStructive powers of DeMar DeRozan, currently leading the league in scoring with 33.7 points per game. (Westbrook has a modest 33.2.) And the Raptors, even when they weren’t a major power in the East, had a pretty good record against OKC in recent years; there’s no compelling reason to think this will change.


They bite when they can

The Timberwolves started this season with such potential, plus Tom Thibodeau to call the shots. Thibs is apparently adept as ever, but both Ricky Rubio and Nikola Peković are hors de combat, which doesn’t help Minnesota. There are bright spots, of course — Zack LaVine has been shooting like the very dickens this season, and Karl-Anthony Towns seems to have “Next Superstar” stenciled on his forehead, but the Wolves were able to stay with the Thunder only for a couple of quarters today. (Why is there a game starting at 5 pm on a Saturday? Trying to build an NBA audience in Europe, I’m told.) OKC, with a six-point lead at halftime, pounded the Wolves to the tune of 31-19 in the third quarter, and the reserves mopped up at the end. LaVine, guarded largely by Victor Oladipo, never got much traction, and Andre Roberson tied up Andrew Wiggins. This left all kinds of opportunities for KAT, who posted a game-high 33 points on 20 shots, but Towns still wound up -19 for the night as the Thunder walloped the visiting Wolves, 112-92.

Five Thundermen showed up in double figures, led by Russell Westbrook with 28, but perhaps more important to the grand scheme of things was the return of Enes Kanter to Offensive Force status with 20 points and 10 rebounds. New arrival Jerami Grant blocked four shots. And taking the long view, there’s Semaj Christon with 10 points and five assists, not a bad showing for the rookie point guard. The Thunder are still terrible from the stripe — 15-24, 63 percent — but the Wolves weren’t that much better (21-28), and they had only two players in double figures: Towns, with that massive 33, and Shabazz Muhammad, who was 6-9 off the bench for 15 points.

So it’s the Spurs and the Thunder at 5-1, six games in. Probably too early to predict anything. Still, OKC’s next four games are at home, starting with the Miami Heat on Monday, and there’s a lot to be said for the comforting confines of the ‘Peake.


The Oraculling

You can sum up this game in one string of digits: 37-11. The Thunder, who jumped to a 10-point lead in the first quarter and who were still up by one at the end of it, were utterly crushed in the second. It wasn’t entirely the Warriors’ doing; OKC left a dozen points at the free-throw line, and struggling to 40-percent shooting wasn’t happening. Russell Westbrook did manage a double-double — 20 points, 10 assists — but with the Thunder down 25 to 30 most of the evening, Billy Donovan decided to give the newer guys some time. This would never, of course, have occurred to Steve Kerr, who had a hissy fit in the first quarter when one of his troops was suspected of having committed a personal foul. The Warriors won it 115-89, and that takes care of the Previously Unbeaten business.

You want more numbers? We got more numbers. Victor Oladipo, not always great on the road, was pretty darn great tonight, with 21 points on 13 shots — and he got a -25 for his trouble. Domantas Sabonis logged his first double-figure (13 points) line. And Enes Kanter played a whole three and a half minutes, for reasons I can’t fathom.

As for Golden State, some things haven’t changed: Andre Iguodala is still an elite-class defender, Draymond Green still has a temper, and the Splash Brothers are still pretty good at the long ball. The new fellow? Kevin Durant came up with a season-high (then again, we’re still in early November) 39 points, including 7-11 from outside. Then again, there was that time when Kyle Singler (!) shut KD down.

Then again, this was the second night of a back-to-back. (There’s always something available from the Excuse Jar.) It’s back home for the Thunder, who somehow have a late-afternoon date with the Timberwolves on Saturday. Scheduling sometimes makes no sense.


Let there be defense

Because, you know, there wasn’t a whole lot of offense going on, especially for OKC in the third, a problem that’s been building since opening night. The Thunder led 49-41 at the half, but twelve minutes later were down 66-65. Sixteen-point third quarters, I need hardly point out, are not something you find on the Road to Happiness. And in the Clippers, you have arguably the NBA’s finest thespians: a stray breeze can knock almost any of them to the floor, and several apparently did.

Still, both these teams were undefeated (3-0) coming in, and it was reasonable to assume one of them would still be so at the buzzer. (Compare this to, say, Game Seven of the World Series, which went on for four and a half hours, including a rain delay. Oh, and congratulations to the Cubbies. See you again in 2124.) The Thunder really didn’t lock down, though, until very late in the fourth quarter; a pullup jumper by Russell Westbrook (who else?) put OKC up 85-81 with 18 seconds left. DeAndre Jordan managed a late layup; Chris Paul knocked Westbrook out of bounds. The Mighty Zero somehow missed two late free throws, but only one-tenth of a second remained, and that was the end of that. Oklahoma City Thunder 85, Los Angeles Clippers 83, and OKC remains undefeated. (Who else in the NBA might still be undefeated? Right: Cleveland.)

No triple-double for Westbrook (35-6-5); in fact, the only double-double on the floor was CP3’s, with 15 points — team-high for the Clips — and 11 rebounds. The new guy, Jerami Grant, imported from Philadelphia in a swap for Ersan Ilyasova, played 17 minutes and scored six, not bad considering no one on the Thunder bench scored more than six. (Alex Abrines pulled it off in a mere two shots.)

Up the Coast Thursday, to Golden State, where drama is expected. There might even be some. You never know.


Lakers not frozen over

Nobody expected the Lakers to be as terrible as they were last year — 17-65 — and on the evidence presented this evening, they’re not; they may not be a playoff team, but they won’t be eliminated in February either, and the Thunder had a heck of a time trying to maintain a lead over the Purple Kids. Oklahoma City was up 12 at halftime; L.A. swept half of that away in the third quarter, and refused to go away in the fourth. It wasn’t until the last five minutes that the Thunder started to pull away; inside the two-minute mark, they were up 17, having scored 13 unanswered points, and Russell Westbrook was given the rest of the night off. The reserves mopped up nicely, and OKC ran up the score to 113-96 to claim a third straight victory.

Westbrook, you may be sure, earned his rest: he knocked down 33 points, reeled in 12 rebounds and served up 16 dimes. This is his second triple-double in three games. Steven Adams posted a double-double — 14 points, 12 boards — and Enes Kanter led the reserves with 16. Master of the plus/minus, though, was Victor Oladipo, who racked up a +24 while scoring 20.

The Lakers were led by Julius Randle, who impressed early and collected 20 points on efficient 7-10 shooting, and by D’Angelo Russell, who took twice as many shots but still ended up with 20. Things were going well enough for L.A. early on that Metta World Peace managed to log a few minutes; he missed two shots but did pick up a steal.

Of the California teams, the Lakers are arguably the easiest. Unfortunately for the Thunder, the other two are coming up, and on the Coast at that: the Clippers on Wednesday, followed by the Warriors on Thursday. That Golden State game will feature, if that’s the word, the first matchup between the Thunder and OKC expat Kevin Durant. Anybody’s guess how that goes; I’m guessing that Steph Curry ends up doing most of the heavy lifting.



Earl Watson has taught the Phoenix Suns one thing: don’t ever slack off. After the first quarter, in which the Suns and their three-guard set simply outworked the Thunder to the tune of 40-25, Oklahoma City began getting the occasional stop, and Phoenix led by only four at the half. Still, they kept working it; the Thunder didn’t get any kind of lead until a one-pointer with 4:45 left. One ongoing problem was T. J. Warren, who knocked down a career-high 30 points. Russell Westbrook had taken 40 shots in 48 minutes; everyone assumed he’d take the last shot with 1.1 seconds left in regulation. He didn’t, but the Suns were not fooled, and overtime ensued, with Westbrook noticeably fatigued. But In Russ We Trust: Westbrook sneaked one past a curious Suns lineup with no actual shot blockers, and the Thunder went up 111-110 with seven seconds left. Andre Roberson swatted away a Devin Booker shot, and with 3.5 left, Westbrook delivered two foul shots. A Phoenix buzzer-beater did not land, and it was OKC 113, PHX 110.

And let’s face it, we needed Westbrook to be heroic. (51 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists: by any definition, that’s heroic.) Victor Oladipo came up with 21 points, but no one else managed double figures, and the bench in aggregate scored a whopping 15 points, four less than Suns sixth man Brandon Knight all by his lonesome. It wasn’t a good night for three-point shots for either side: Thunder and Suns made five each, but it took OKC 21 tries — and Phoenix 28. For that matter, it wasn’t a good night for free throws either; many were taken, and lots were missed. (Suns 21-32, Thunder 28-38.) Still, the number that jumps out at me is +21: Kyle Singler in 33 minutes, despite 2-6 shooting for four points.

And there’s that don’t-give-up air about Phoenix that tells me they’re not destined to be a doormat this year. Three of their five starters finished with five fouls, but at no time did it look like any of them would actually foul out. Earl Watson, a wily guard — for a while, a wily Thunder guard — in his playing days, has plenty of wisdom to share.

The not-as-horrible-as-they-were-last-year Lakers (how could they be?) will be in town Sunday. I have to figure that the combination of Nick Young and Luol Deng has to be at least slightly daunting.


Wells Fargo waggin’

Early on, an aggrieved 76ers fan shot Russell Westbrook the bird. (Actually, a pair of birds; it was a two-hand job.) The chap was escorted off the premises, and the consequences were contemplated:

Nobody does angry quite as well as Russell Westbrook, but most of that ire was dissipated in just trying to stay even with the (usually) lightly regarded Sixers, who earnestly lost 72 games last year. They will not do that this year: Philadelphia has apparently learned some of that grindhouse stuff from the old Memphis Grizzlies playbook, and they maintained a small lead through much of the game. It was tied at 51 at the half; with 35 seconds left, it was tied at 97, at which point Westbrook swished a pair of free throws to put the Thunder up by two. Just outside the 10-second mark, Andre Roberson swatted away a Sixer floater, the ball changed hands several times, and finally Enes Kanter stuffed it into the cylinder for a 101-97 lead. Joel Embiid (20 points) made a valiant effort to put the Sixers back into it, but he wound up putting a knee into Victor Oladipo. The ex-Magic man finished the job with two more free throws, and that was that: Oklahoma City 103, Philadelphia 97.

A lot of this, of course, was Westbrook, who came up one dime short of a triple-double: 32 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists. In a suggestion of future lineups, Billy Donovan started Domantas Sabonis at power forward, subbing in Kanter every chance he got. (Kanter played 24 minutes, Sabonis just over 16.) Both Alex Abrines and Semaj Christon put in decent showings from the bench.

This is a more balanced Philly lineup than we’ve seen in a while, with rookie Embiid installed in the middle and veteran Gerald Henderson keeping a eye on the wing. Regrettably, there was no time tonight for Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, rookie swingman with the greatest name since Luc Mbah a Moute; he drew a DNP-CD.

Home opener is Friday against the Suns. It’s a wholly different attack: Phoenix will kill you from the wing, while the Sixers do their best bothering in the middle. Too early in the season to make any meaningful predictions, though.

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Right in the Nuggets

The Thunder have seldom had problems with Denver in recent years, and they weren’t going to start tonight; the Nuggets played close in the first quarter, went stone cold in the second, and couldn’t mount enough runs to prevail. Oklahoma City’s preseason ends 3-3 with this 97-87 win; there were some problems Billy Donovan will be wanting to look at, one of the more blatant ones being “How come you guys foul so darn much?” Steven Adams, working tonight between injuries, led the Thunder with 17 points; Russell Westbrook, who didn’t play at all in the second half, did a lot more ball-movement than he did hero ball, which has to be reckoned a Good Thing. (And he did stop at the scorer’s table once to check on Dodgers vs. Cubs.) Playing against his old team, Joffrey Lauvergne picked up nine points.

One upcoming issue: whom to shed. The Thunder have 20 players on the roster, and must get down to 15 before the season begins, but the D-League can absorb only so many. I’m hoping they find a way to keep Semaj Christon, who doesn’t cost much and who seems to have one heck of a good work ethic, along with a three-syllable (!) first name.

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Young and hungry-ish

Tom Thibodeau is running the Timberwolves this year, and we can expect more ferocity, more often, from the team that’s been the Northwest Division doormat for so long. We didn’t get to see a while lot of that tonight at the ‘Peake, inasmuch as the Wolves played last night and, well, whoever heard of a back-to-back in the preseason? So Thibodeau let his reserves play all night, and they made a decent showing against a nearly full-strength Thunder deployment. Then again, OKC, 1-3 in the preseason so far, was presumably loath to lose in front of the home crowd, so methodically putting away the young Wolves might have been higher on Billy Donovan’s to-do list than we’d come to expect from the four preceding games. Still, while the Thunder kept the Wolves more or less at bay during the fourth quarter, the Wolves kept messing with Thunder sets and forcing turnovers. The score at the horn was 112-94, and, as always this time of year, it’s the preseason and therefore doesn’t mean a thing. The Wolves will be back, though, and they will bite, or at least scratch.


Only slightly less Grizzly

The key to Memphis this year was supposed to be that the veterans were older, the newbies were newer, and the coach (David Fizdale) is in his first year in the top slot. (The Fizmeister was previously an assistant at Miami.) If the combination of these factors was supposed to mean that the Grizzlies were going to be easy, or at least easier, well, it didn’t happen that way in Tulsa, where the Thunder fouled all over the place, and when they weren’t fouling, they were turning the ball over. All the Griz had to do was not mess up, and for the most part, that’s exactly what they did; after falling behind 31-17 in the first quarter, Memphis buckled down and dispatched the Thunder, 110-94. It’s hard to imagine how OKC came up with 94 points after 35 personal fouls (the Griz took 44 free throws, making 34) and 28 turnovers. Then again, the Thunder roster is in decided flux, what with injuries all over the place. But it’s preseason, right? None of that stuff matters. Nor will it matter Sunday night, when the Timberwolves show up in Oklahoma City. I plan to keep telling myself that until the Real Season begins.


Without the brand names

When it was announced that the Mavericks would be starting the five guys you could expect to see starting in the actual season, I sighed a bit; I figured Billy Donovan’s rotation technique, the basketball equivalent of throwing stuff against the wall to see if it sticks, would put the Thunder behind the 8-ball early on. And indeed, OKC fell behind by 20 at one point. Rick Carlisle, however, was anxious to see some of his reserve troops in action, and the Thunder gradually pulled back into contention, even tying the Mavs several times and taking a three-point lead with 5:24 left. It didn’t last long — Dallas promptly went on an 8-0 run — but it made several of us feel better. And so did Kyle Singler, starting at the three after Andre Roberson turned up bruised; he led all the starters with 17, and when’s the last time you heard that? The Mavs prevailed, 114-109, but hey, it’s only the preseason. Still, this is the first time Dallas has beaten Oklahoma City in the preseason, and this is not the sort of precedent one wants to set.

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Still in Spain

With Steven Adams still hors de combat, Billy Donovan went with four of Monday’s starting five, inserting Enes Kanter in the center position. This didn’t last long; Kanter rolled up the points easily enough, but so did FC Barcelona, and Kanter was replaced by Ersan Ilyasova. (Interchangeable Turks! Only in Oklahoma City.) Amusingly, the power at the Palau Sant Jordi went off during halftime, but it didn’t delay the game much. This wasn’t the scoring fest that took place on Monday in Madrid, by any means; the Thunder squeaked by, 92-89, on the strength of a 5-0 late run. Still, Kanter, left to his own devices, managed to come up with 24 points; Victor Claver led FCB with 25. And that’s it for the Spanish part of the preseason; there will be almost a week to recover from jet lag.


Ever been to Spain

Mostly, I wanted to see who Billy Donovan started in this first preseason game. Not too surprising, perhaps: Russell Westbrook at the point, Victor Oladipo at the two, Andre Roberson moving to small forward, rookie Domantas Sabonis at power forward, and Steven Adams in the middle. Not entirely unexpected. What I didn’t expect, perhaps, was the sheer ferocity of Real Madrid, who after falling behind by 22 points jumped out to a one-point lead with 4:35 left. (It did not help that Adams was gone before halftime with an ankle sprain.) Donovan had said that he wasn’t going to play Westbrook in the fourth, and he didn’t; it’s somehow wonderfully apt that Alex Abrines, a Spaniard in the Thunder works, took over towards the end, hitting two treys in a row to put it out of reach, or so it seemed. But Sergio Llull, who’d ended the second and third quarters with buzzer-beating treys, ended the fourth with, you guessed it, a buzzer-beating trey, and overtime duly ensued. Real Madrid pushed their way to a six-point lead with half a minute left, and wound up winning it by five, 142-137. If that sounds like a lot of scoring, well, it was. But, as I always say, it’s preseason. Don’t jump to any conclusions.


To make a few extra bucks

Kevin Durant wanted you to come to dinner, and a lot of people did, while KD himself was still in town. Now his restaurant has closed.

Russell Westbrook, meanwhile, wants to sell you a car:

This summer, Westbrook has opened a car dealership with his name on it in Van Nuys, Calif., a neighborhood of his native Los Angeles. This month, Westbrook posted a video on his Snapchat with a brief glimpse of the showroom at Russell Westbrook Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Van Nuys. The video showed off Westbrook’s trademark RW logo painted on the floor, as well as a NBA-style clear backboard and rim mounted on a wall in the dealership.

They have, at the moment, a fair number of “Aged New Cars”: unsold 2015s going out for well under sticker.


Ain’t that a kick

Talk about painting a target on yourself:

Draymond Green is no stranger to peoples’ privates, and now the world is privy to his.

The Golden State Warriors star — who was suspended for a game in the NBA Finals for repeated shots to opposing players’ groins and was arrested for assault in mid-July — found himself in controversy once again Sunday after a picture of his penis was posted to his Snapchat.

Of course, Green claimed he was hacked, but nobody bought it:

“It was a situation where it was meant to be a private message,” Green said at Team USA’s practice at the Toyota Center in Houston, via ESPN. “I kinda hit the wrong button and it sucks. It was meant to be private. We’re all one click away from placing something in the wrong place, and I suffered from that this morning.”

Still unknown: the identity of the intended recipient.

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