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.

Comments




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.

Comments




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.

Comments




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.

Comments




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.

Comments




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.

Comments




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.

Comments




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.

Comments




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.

Comments




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.

Comments




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.

Comments




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.

Comments




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.

Comments




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.

Comments




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.

Comments (2)




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.

Comments (2)




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.

Comments




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.

Comments




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.

Comments




Chillaxity

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.

Comments