I believe we’ve reached the point of diminishing returns. Without Jeff Green and Kevin Durant, the Thunder go on a winning streak; without Uncle Jeff, the Durantula and Thabo Sefolosha, who turned up at practice with a sprained MCL, the eight remaining members of the OKC squad — Robert Swift managed to avoid this trip for “personal reasons” — were sitting ducks for the New Orleans Hornets, once the Bees got their defense firing on all cylinders in the fourth quarter. After three, it was New Orleans 76, Oklahoma City 72; twelve minutes later, it was 108-90.
When you’ve got only eight players, you don’t dare get into foul trouble, so the Thunder were perhaps a tad less physical than usual; New Orleans shot 53.8 percent, the Bees controlled the boards, and Chris Paul delivered 13 assists, only two fewer than recorded by the entire OKC roster. What’s more, the Hornets were without Peja Stojakovic; Julian Wright started at the three and came up with 20 points, tying his career high. David West cleared 12 boards, four offensive, and scored 14; CP3 had 21; and streaky shooter Rasual Butler was on the high side tonight, with 20. We didn’t see so much of Tyson Chandler, who got into foul trouble early, but he still had 12 points and 8 rebounds.
Damien Wilkins, nailed to the bench more often than not of late, started in place of Sefolosha; while he didn’t have the Thabster’s sheer menace, he knocked down 18 points, a new season high. The Last Musketeer — this would be Russell Westbrook — actually led all scorers with 24. And the Thunder bench, all three of them, came up with 23 points, versus 21 for the half-dozen reserve Hornets. But the Thunder did not shoot well, and it got worse as the Bees amped up the D; they finished at 39.8 percent, though they sparkled (19-21) at the free-throw line.
Back home tomorrow for a shot at the Sixers, and then out on the road for a week, with the Kings, the Nuggets and the Suns waiting. This may not be pretty.