West-centric sports pages persist in wondering how it is that, for instance, the Thunder, which has dominated its conference rivals, can barely break even against the East. Charlotte, tenth place in the East, was supposed to be a patsy, especially with Al Jefferson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist sidelined for the duration, and Nicolas Batum a late scratch. But the Hornets were 17-15 coming in, half a game out of a playoff slot; this is not the stuff of which patsies are made. So I wasn’t at all surprised when the Bees, down twelve at halftime, rattled off ten points in a row to start the third quarter. But the Thunder deployed some serious defense, including 15 blocks — three from Enes Kanter, no less — and eventually walked away from the Hornets, 109-90.
Lineup adjustments by the Hornets were a mixed bag. Kemba Walker, not unexpectedly, led all scorers with 32, and Jeremy Lin, pressed into starting at the two, added 15; but the rest of the starters were held to 21, and the depleted bench managed only 22. Charlotte shot a woeful 34.5 percent. Oklahoma City, in the meantime, hit 45 percent, and Kevin Durant showed flashes of Durantitude with 29 points and 11 rebounds; five other Thundermen hit double figures. And if you like free throws, this was the game for you: 54 fouls were committed, 27 by each side (not counting two technicals), and the Hornets made 26 out of 34, the Thunder 30 of 37. I was wondering how well Charlotte native Anthony Morrow would do against a hometown crowd. (He did fine: 4-9 for 12 points, all of them on treys.) And the only question, toward the end, was this: would Russell Westbrook get a steal, extending his league-leading streak to 37 games? He would.
The Thunder are back home Monday against the Kings, and Wednesday against the Grizzlies; there follows a three-game road trip, visiting Portland, the Lakers (again!) and Minnesota.