A long way from Constantinople

Istanbul’s Fenerbahçe club, one of the pacesetters in the Euroleague, actually beat an NBA team for the first time this week, defeating the Nets 101-96 in Brooklyn. The Thunder would not be so easy: the Turks played them fairly close for a few minutes, but Oklahoma City simply had too much firepower and too much defense, holding Fenerbahçe well below 40 percent shooting most of the night and collecting a 111-81 win at the ‘Peake. (This is the second time these teams have met: two years ago the Thunder were victorious in Istanbul.) Doesn’t count for anything, being as how it was a preseason game, but the home crowd had some fun, and by the time I tuned in, radio guy Matt Pinto had mastered all the visitors’ pronunciations.

The time I tuned in, incidentally, was midway through the third quarter, and there’s a reason for that: I was watching Invisible Sister on the Disney Channel, and while Disney has no qualms about reruns, the first one on the schedule lands right on top of the next episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I figured nobody would mind a whole lot, being as how it was a preseason game.

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Strike the first

While it’s only a preseason game and therefore doesn’t mean anything, the first Thunder outing under Billy Donovan seemed a lot less lackadaisical than similarly meaningless productions presided over by Scott Brooks; there was a bit of backsliding in the second quarter — when you score 42 in the first, you almost expect that — but the 122-99 thrashing administered to the Timberwolves this evening almost exudes promise, what with seven Thunder players in double figures and Russell Westbrook almost hitting a triple-double. About the only downside, perhaps, was Kevin Durant actually missing a free throw. (Then again, he did get two of three out of that sequence.)

Second preseason game, which of course doesn’t mean anything, is at home against Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahçe, which beat the Nets 101-96 in Brooklyn this past Monday.


Kanter attacks

Even more turmoil in Turkey these days:

In yet another government-orchestrated operation targeting the faith-based Gülen movement, popularly known as the Hizmet movement, counterterrorism police units accompanied officers from the Anti-smuggling and Organized Crime Bureau (KOM), raiding and searching Samanyolu schools on Monday. Officers involved in a raid on one branch asked the administrators to deactivate all of the school’s security cameras while they searched for drugs.

“Gülen” comes from movement founder Fethullah Gülen. “Hizmet” means “service,” but the name is unofficial: Gülen apparently didn’t want any particular name on it, especially his own. He departed Turkey for the US in 1999, ostensibly for medical reasons; he has not gone back, and the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan tried him in absentia but failed to obtain a conviction.

Samanyolu — “Milky Way” — is an umbrella name for Gülen-related private schools. Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter attended one such school, and he is not happy about the raids:

“I never witnessed bad habits or even rudeness at these schools. It is really shameful to raid such a school with counterterrorism police,” Kanter tweeted on Monday. “The accusation of supporting terrorism befits those who carry out these raids, not the schools,” he added.

There is a village called Samanyolu, in Batman province, but it is not involved.

Note: The newspaper Today’s Zaman, whence comes this story, is operated by Gülen sympathizers.


This much and no farther

From Indianapolis, a report that the NBA is considering a rule change:

Proposed changes that would let National Basketball Association teams substantially expand their marketing areas — to encompass their entire home states or television markets — could generate more than $1 million annually for the Indiana Pacers.

But the plans could also bring other teams — especially the Chicago Bulls — crashing into the central Indiana market hunting for fans and sponsors.

The proposals relate to a rule that bans teams from marketing outside a 75-mile radius of their home base — a limit that keeps the Pacers out of nearby cities like Fort Wayne, Louisville and Cincinnati.

If nothing else, this explains why the Thunder play in Tulsa and Wichita during the preseason: it’s the only chance they have to make a pitch to the locals. (The movement of the D-League 66ers Blue out of Tulsa surely didn’t help matters.)

A change requires a vote by the league’s 30 team owners. And while league sources say momentum is building for the proposals, they wouldn’t likely be enacted until the 2016-2017 season at the earliest.

The Oklahoma City TV market includes about half the state, with the rest belonging to Sherman/Denison/Ada/Ardmore, Amarillo, Tulsa, and Fort Smith.

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Future orange

The Oklahoman’s Jenni Carlson engages in some uniform discussion:

Last week, a photo leaked showing what appears to be a sheet of all the NBA’s uniform changes for next season. The mock-ups haven’t been acknowledged by the league. The changes haven’t been verified by all the teams. But with some of the depictions fitting previously released designs, it sure seems legit.

Among the alternate jerseys — an all-orange look for The Thunder.

The top and the bottom are orange. They have blue trim and piping. They have old-style block blue letters outlined in white spelling OKC on the front. They are bold and striking and cool as heck.

I yield to no one in my defense of orange, but on an NBA uniform? It doesn’t even match the ball, fercrissake.

This is not to say that I’m taking up the position set out in these pages six years ago by Duyen Ky:

Nothing looks good in orange. No living creature, that is. Well, except for some cats.

Orange should be reserved for road-hazard cones by federal law.

Then again, since I generally listen to the games on the radio, I don’t actually have to look at this garb.

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Hey, big spenders

According to HoopsHype, these are the final payroll numbers for the NBA season just ended:

Top ten NBA payroll numbers for 2014-15

Who’d have thought that the Thunder would be outspending the Lakers at this point?

About 60 percent of that vast sum goes to three players: Kevin Durant ($20 million), Russell Westbrook ($15.7 million), and Serge Ibaka ($12.2 million). About $1.3 million was paid to Sebastian Telfair, acquired by Oklahoma City last summer and then waived in November. The rest went to a lineup fairly described as “bargain-basement,” the priciest member of which was Enes Kanter, who earned $6 million this season and will presumably be offered $7.9 million to stay one more year.

The luxury-tax threshold this season was $76,829,000, so the Thunder organization will be paying the tax for the first time. The betting, though, is that next year’s cap will be substantially higher, in which case the team will likely avoid the harsher penalties for going over the threshold two years in a row.

(Since you asked: Kyle Singler was the lowest-paid member of the team, drawing $1.09 million for the season.)

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Not that you were waiting for them, exactly, but here are some thoughts on the sacking of Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks.

(Warning: Contains several gratuitous pop-culture references.)

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As the marbles roll away

It was, perhaps, a foregone conclusion. The Timberwolves were disposed of handily, as they have been three times previously this season; the starters began disappearing early, and halfway through the fourth, OKC had a 125-102 lead, on the way to a 138-113 win. (A titanic defensive struggle, this was not; the Thunder rolled up 47 points in the first quarter, something that hasn’t happened since Seattle.) However, the mighty Spurs were humbled by the Pelicans in New Orleans, 108-103 — once trailing by 22, San Antonio could pull no closer than three — and so the 45-37 Beaked Wonders, not the 45-37 Thunder, will grab that last playoff spot on the last day of the season.

There is, of course, a Participation Ribbon: Russell Westbrook, 38-8-7, 34 of those points in the first half (!), finishes ahead of James Harden for the scoring title with a stirring 28.1, and what’s more, Dion Waiters (!!) tied his career high with 33. Enes Kanter had a 25-15 game, and Nick Collison (!!!) led the bench with 12.

The stripped-down Wolves, missing about half the roster, still came up with big offense, quite apart from the Thunder’s general lack of defense. Kevin Martin headed the effort with 29 points; super rookie Andrew Wiggins added 23; Zack LaVine, who played longer than anyone else (almost 41 minutes), finished with 19.

So the West looks like this: Golden State (1) vs New Orleans (8); Houston (2) vs Dallas (7); Los Angeles Clippers (3) vs Memphis (6); Portland (4) vs San Antonio (5). You may have noticed that all five Southwest Division teams are in the playoffs; only two from Pacific and one from Northwest (the Trail Blazers, who actually had the seventh-best record). What this means for the future is anyone’s guess, except mine. I’m just going to set the microphone down and turn on the Dodgers game.

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Welcome to heck

Even before the game started, weird things were happening. Russell Westbrook’s technical from last night was rescinded by the league, so no suspension. Word came down that the newly-Frail Blazers were going to be missing both LaMarcus Aldridge and Arron Afflalo; what’s more, Nicolas Batum banged up his knee after ten minutes and no points, and was not seen again. This one, pronounced the last Chesapeake Arena crowd of the season, might even be winnable; and the 35-21 first quarter reinforced that possibility. Then the Thunder went colder than a mother-in-law’s kiss, coming up with only 14 points in the second, and Portland trailed by seven at the half. Over the next 12 minutes, the Thunder gradually extended that lead to eleven; over the next six, the Blazers gradually shrank it down to six. (Who knew that Meyers Leonard could shoot the three-ball?) The pivot point, if you ask me, came when the Blazers decided they would foul Steven Adams, who is to free throws what Shaquille O’Neal is to, um, free throws. Adams promptly sank two of them, putting the Thunder up eleven, and they were still up eleven at the horn, 101-90. This puts OKC at 44-37 with one game to go, at Minnesota Wednesday. Meanwhile in Minnesota, the Pelicans were spanking the Wolves, 100-88, pushing their own record to 44-37.

Let it be said, though: Meyers Leonard can shoot the three-ball. The Blazers only had eight makes all night, and Leonard, team-high with 24 points, had five of them, in nine tries. (The Thunder in aggregate made only four.) The only other Portland starter in double figures was Damian Lillard, with 10, but three of the reserves (Joel Freeland, Chris Kaman, Alonzo Gee) combined for 40. (The entire Thunder bench had only 15, 11 of them from Anthony Morrow.)

Hobbled by another lousy shooting night — 41 percent, 4-21 on treys, eight missed free throws out of 27 — the Thunder won this one on the boards, with a startling 58-35 rebounding advantage, 18-3 on the offensive glass, and in transition, stealing the rock from the Blazers eight times while losing it only once. (OKC had only eight turnovers all night, three of them not from Westbrook.) Russ’s line for the night: 36-11-7. Enes Kanter cashed another double-double (27 points, 13 rebounds), and Steven Adams approached one (8 points, 11 boards).

So here’s the situation, how it really stands: For the Thunder to get into that eighth playoff slot, they must beat the Wolves day after tomorrow, and the Spurs must more or less simultaneously win at New Orleans. Will Gregg Popovich idle the big guns just to shaft OKC? Probably not. San Antonio is idle tonight, but Houston won tonight at Charlotte, and both Spurs and Rockets now sit at 55-26, with the Spurs owning the tiebreaker and the #2 seed. I can’t see Pop wanting to give that up, especially with the Rockets closing out against the 37-43 Jazz. All will be known in forty-eight hours, unless of course there’s overtime.


Spun around in Circle City

It was tied at 88 for a brief moment in the fourth quarter, before the Pacers turned up the pressure. In only two and a half minutes, it was 100-88 Indiana, and Russell Westbrook had been T’d up and advised that he was this close [imagine the gesture] to being broomed. Even then, the Thunder came back, and it was a three-point game, 102-99, with two minutes left. It was still a three-point game after Westbrook uncorked his fifth trey of the night; George Hill got the very definition of a shooter’s roll to run the Pacers’ lead back to five; then C. J. Miles got his sixth trey of the night, and that was the end of that. Indiana’s quest for the #8 seed in the East continues, and Oklahoma City’s quest for #8 in the West is dealt a serious setback. Pacers 116, Thunder 104, and at this writing, the Pelicans were playing the Rockets in Houston; should New Orleans win, the Thunder must win out and the Pelicans must lose its last two. Inasmuch as the next Thunder game is against Northwest leader Portland, you probably should not look for this to happen.

Still, Westbrook did some Westbrooky things, scoring 22 of the Thunder’s 32 first-quarter points and assisting on eight more. In fact, Russ finished with a career-high 54 points. The only question now is whether he’ll even get to play against the Blazers: that technical is his 16th, earning him a one-game suspension unless it’s rescinded. And the problem should be obvious: all those guys not named Russell Westbrook could come up with only 50 points among them. OKC hit at a 43-percent clip, 41-95; the Thunder were 11-28 on treys, a respectable 39 percent, and 11-28 from the stripe, a thousand million times worse than horrible plug-ugly 39 percent. Dion Waiters (7-16) scored 16, Enes Kanter (5-11) scored 13, the entire Thunder bench (5-17) scored 14.

Meanwhile, the Indiana reserves were coming up with 31, including eight from Paul George, who’s been back on limited minutes, for which he’s grateful: that summer leg injury was supposed to have kept him out for the entire season. It was C. J. Miles who did the serious chunking for the Pacers, finishing with 30 and retrieving 10 boards; the towering guys in the middle, Roy Hibbert and David West, hit 17 and 13 respectively, and George Hill came up with 19 while running the point.

The Pacers were not all that swift from the stripe either, hitting only 22 of 35, but 53 percent from the floor — and a 52-43 advantage in rebounding — were more than enough to beat the floundering Thunder.

Last home game in OKC is Monday night. The visiting Trail Blazers will be administering what could be expected to be the death blow. And if Westbrook’s on the bench, he shouldn’t show any ill effects from his 40-minute effort today. Maybe. You never know for sure with Westbrook.


Purple predators

The Kings have never won in Oklahoma City, and it would have been a genuinely lousy time for them to do it now. But it’s unreasonable to expect any team, especially any George Karl-coached team, to just lie down and die, and the Thunder, still seemingly stunned after several recent misadventures, had a great deal of trouble putting Sacramento away. In the end, OKC prevailed, 116-103, but the Pelicans trounced the Suns 90-75, so no ground was gained on New Orleans, and perhaps worse, Perry Jones came down on his ankle with 24 seconds left.

On the upside, the offense was spread around a bit: Russell Westbrook collected the night’s only double-double — 27 points, 10 assists — Enes Kanter knocked down 25, Dion Waiters 22, and Anthony Morrow 19 off the bench. Inexplicably, the Thunder attempted thirty-one treys, nailing ten. (Half of those were scored by Morrow.) Sacramento led the rebound race, 50-47, but somehow OKC gave up only seven turnovers, the Kings yielding on sixteen.

The Kings’ brace of youngish guards, Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum, scored 20 and 17 respectively. Derrick Williams led the bench with 17. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Kings’ presence was the brief appearance of Gursimran Bhullar, from Punjab via Toronto, a seven-five, 340-pound behemoth on a 10-day contract, who played the last 63 seconds, blocking a shot and serving up an assist. Sim, as they call him, is the first NBA player of Indian descent.

Three games to go: at Indiana Sunday, vs. Portland at the Peake on Monday, and at Minnesota on Wednesday to close it out. Somehow the Thunder must win one more than the Pelicans, who face the Rockets and the Wolves on the road, and then the Spurs at home. I don’t even want to know what the Las Vegas line is.


We wuz strolled

There are only three inevitabilities in life, says Scott Brooks: death, taxes, and the Spurs winning 50 games. That latter has certainly been true for the last 16 seasons, and San Antonio had already won 51 when they arrived at the Peake tonight to trash what was left of Oklahoma City’s playoff hopes. Which is not to say that the black-suited blackguards didn’t have any help from the boys in home white, and all you have to see to prove that is the first-quarter score: San Antonio 29, Oklahoma City 10. Ten. The Thunder managed 31 points in the second, but still lost ground, and after 16 in the third — well, let’s just say it was over long before that. The final was Spurs 113, Thunder 88, the worst thrashing administered to OKC since, well, the last time they played the Spurs, in late March.

Andre Roberson returned to the lineup, though not to his usual starting position. He came up with five points, halfway between the two starting forwards, Enes Kanter (9) and Kyle Singler (1). The starting guards, Dion Waiters and Russell Westbrook, managed 10 and 17; the mostly forgotten Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones collected 11 and 10 respectively, mostly in the fourth quarter. The Thunder, after shooting at a decidedly untorried sub-40-percent clip for most of the game, finished with 41; but 5-19 from downtown is not good, and 15-28 from the foul line is a couple of steps into the Horrible range.

Meanwhile, San Antonio strolled through this one with relative ease, what with Kawhi Leonard matching his career high (26 points) and the team shooting a spiffy 53 percent. The Spurs made only nine free throws, but then they took only 13. Tony Parker (two points) did not return after halftime, having gotten some sort of owie; however, Boris Diaw and Manu Ginobili happily took up the slack. (Diaw played the most minutes of any Spur, at 26; he scored only six, but he was +26 for the night.) If there’s a saving grace in any of this, it’s that the Spurs are already on the plane, heading for Houston, where the Rockets would like to give them a bit of red glare.

While all this happened, or failed to happen, the New Orleans Pelicans moved into the eighth and final playoff slot, half a game ahead of the Thunder, by dint of having beaten the Golden State Warriors 103-100. (And the Birds own the tiebreaker over OKC, should it come to that.) With four games to go, I think the operative word is “tired.”


Early burnout

The story of this game was written fairly quickly: the Thunder jumped out to an early 10-3 lead, and yet were down 27-17 after the first quarter, the Rockets having burned them with an 18-0 run. After that, it was not quite catching up for most of the rest of the afternoon, hindered by foul trouble and the failure to connect on several shots right at the rim. Still, with 3:06 left, the Thunder did manage to catch up, a Russell Westbrook trey tying it at 100-all. James Harden scored the next eight Houston points, and then fouled out; it was 108-104 Rockets when Harden retired from the game, and Houston kept making free throws. On the last blast, it was 115-112 with 3.4 seconds; the last Thunder shot was two feet short of the rim, and that’s the way it ended.

Harden was something like 0.03 points ahead of Westbrook for leading scorer in the NBA; The Beard will gain some infinitesimal fraction after his 41-6-6 performance. Westbrook finished at 40-11-13. Thunder shooting was fairly blah at 44 percent, a little better (14-30, 47 percent) from downtown. OKC had a 51-42 edge in rebounding, 17-12 offensive, but what mattered more were those 18 turnovers; the Rockets gave up only 10. And while big numbers were gotten by some — Enes Kanter had yet another double-double (21 points, 17 rebounds) and Anthony Morrow still hit from outside (22 points, 6-8 for three), big stops were still hard to come by, what with the best defenders still on the injured list.

Speaking of injured, Dwight Howard, who had been for several weeks, came back with a minutes limitation; in 23 minutes he scored 22 and hauled in eight rebounds. Trevor Ariza came up one board short of a double-double, scoring 12; Josh Smith led the bench with 14. But the difference was Harden, who was pretty much everywhere for 38 minutes before incurring that sixth foul.

The Spurs will be in on Tuesday. Nobody said this was going to be a breeze.


The great bologna machine

Better teams than this Thunder squad have been ground down into lunch meat in the FedEx Forum this year, and there was little reason to hope for anything other than cold cuts, given the ectoplasmic nature of the OKC defense, plus a particularly blah night from Russell Westbrook, who scored his first second-half points with 3:30 left, and, just to hammer it home, a circus shot by Nick Calathes to end the third quarter. What’s more, there were “horrific calls,” as radio guy Matt Pinto put it. (Then again, there was a moment late in the fourth in which Pinto pointed out semi-helpfully that Westbrook was doubled by “two men.”) As close as OKC would get in that final frame was four points, at 92-88. And about the moment I marveled on Twitter as to how good Jeff Green was these days, Green inadvertently kneed Westbrook in the face, dislodging the Iron Mask. Russ delivered one of two free throws, but it was already over. Memphis 100, Oklahoma City 92, 3-1 in the season series, and that last playoff seed is slipping away.

All five Memphis starters scored in double figures, led by yes, Uncle Jeff with 22. Marc Gasol added 19. And not to snub Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, or even Zach Randolph, who rolled up 40 among them, but arguably the most interesting line came from Calathes, who hit all five of his shots and several Thunder players, fouling out in a mere 13 minutes. The same OKC sub-D that gave up 72 points in the paint to the Mavs day before yesterday yielded 60 to the Griz. Memphis was terrible on the long ball (4-21), but hey: 60 points in the paint.

Not that the Thunder were all that swift on the long ball either (4-17), or the short one (36-88, 41 percent, seven back of the Griz). And while Enes Kanter scarfed down 17 rebounds to go with a game-high 24 points, the night’s only double-double, Westbrook managed only 17 points on 5-20 shooting, if “shooting” is the word, and Dion Waiters, having curbed his tendency to take too many wasted threes, came up with a measly 3-11 around the rim. And here’s a first: Kyle Singler in double figures, with 13 points, including three of the Thunder’s four three-point makes. (Anthony Morrow, also with 13, got the other one.)

The Griz now climb into a tie with Houston for the #2 seed in the West, though the Rockets hold the tiebreaker. Guess who’s coming to OKC Sunday? It’s going to be one of those weekends.


Close quarters

There was a lot of rumbling in recent days, not so much about holding on to eighth place in the West, but going for seventh place, on the sensible basis that it’s better to play anyone other than the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. The current occupant of seventh, the Dallas Mavericks, might have something to say about that, but hey, they’re 5-5 in their last ten and are averaging something like 90 points a game of late. Then those same Mavericks showed up at the ‘Peake shooting 60 percent and collecting something like three points in the paint every 60 seconds. OKC stayed with them, though: it was tied 101-all after three. Dallas then ran off the first ten points of the fourth quarter, but the Thunder came back; at the 2:20 mark it was 125-all. Defense? Nobody had any, but Dallas’ lack of D wasn’t as blatant as OKC’s. With forty seconds to go, it was Mavs 132-129. Russell Westbrook knocked down two foul shots to pull within one; Chandler Parsons burned up most of the rest of the clock and finished with a turnaround jumper; the Thunder came up empty, Steven Adams limped away, and Monta Ellis completed the rout with a free throw. Dallas 135, Oklahoma City 131, and that’s the last we’ll hear about seventh place; the Mavs have beaten the Thunder three times this year, each time by four points.

Of those 135 Dallas points, 72 were earned in the paint, and seven Mavs — all five starters plus Amar’e Stoudemire and Al-Farouq Aminu — scored in double figures. Ellis (26) and Parsons (22) had the most; Dirk Nowitzki nailed 18, and double-doubles were collected by Rajon Rondo (10 points, 10 assists) and Tyson Chandler (14 points, 10 rebounds). The startling figure, though, is this: 56 of 91 from the floor, 61.5 percent, despite a lousy 4-15 from beyond the arc. Rick Carlisle, if you asked him, would tell you that if you make enough two-pointers, you don’t need treys, and of course he would be correct.

And then you wonder what in the heck happened to the Thunder in a game when Enes Kanter had a double-double and a career high in points (30, with 16 rebounds), Russell Westbrook had a triple-double (31-11-11), and Anthony Morrow outscored both (32 on 11-16 shooting). Well, Adams spent much of the evening in foul trouble; the bench, apart from Morrow, didn’t have much to contribute; and OKC’s 11 turnovers handed Dallas 18 points. The Mavs coughed up the rock only six times, costing eight. And maybe if Westbrook hadn’t started out so cold: he finished at 10-32, 2-11 from outside. (The rest of the team managed 12 treys, half of them from Morrow.)

What could be worse than a home loss this late in the season? Answer: a home loss this late in the season followed by a trip to Memphis. The Grizzlies, you should pardon the expression, are always loaded for bear.


Solar flareout

So here we are at a back-to-back. From the very beginning, it did not look good: the Suns were up eleven after the first quarter, and the Thunder cut that lead only to eight at halftime. Then things started to move. From that 62-54 deficit, OKC, with Russell Westbrook running at about 105% of top speed, tied it up at 71. Phoenix eventually righted themselves, and the Suns led 79-76 after three. The Thunder scored the first four points of the fourth to take the lead; there were a couple of bucket exchanges, and suddenly OKC went on a 13-0 run to go up a dozen — while Westbrook was resting. With 3:30 left and the Thunder up 11, the Suns decided that fouling Steven Adams was the thing to do. Adams duly missed two foul shots, Phoenix started moving again, and Scott Brooks replaced Adams with Enes Kanter. That was it for the Suns, with the Thunder finally winning one on the road, 109-97, taking the season series 3-1 and probably (though not mathematically) eliminating the Suns from the playoffs.

For reasons known but to Scott Brooks, only eight Thunder players saw action; seven scored, and six scored in double figures. It was the end of Kanter’s double-double streak: he had 11 points and nine rebounds. Next door, Adams, despite 1-4 foul shooting, came up with 13 points and 16 boards. Anthony Morrow and D. J. Augustin were hitting left and right in that final frame, with D. J. scoring 19 (4-5 from beyond the arc) and AMO 11 (3-5). Westbrook engaged in the usual Westbrookery: 33-9-7 despite missing his first five shots. And there’s an object lesson here for Dion Waiters (18 points), who was 7-14 inside the circle, 1-6 from without.

The Morris twins started for Phoenix; Markieff had 20 by halftime, but finished with only 24. Marcus had 15, as did Eric Bledsoe. Brandon Knight, back from an ankle sprain, had the worst possible night: 1-10 for three points, and then he sprained the other ankle. In his absence, T. J. Warren rolled up 18 points for the Sun reserves.

And that ends March. April opens with a visit from Dallas on Wednesday, followed by a trip to Memphis on Friday, after which there are only six games left, four at home, three of them consecutive. It doesn’t get any easier.


Just slightly out of tune

This promised to be an emotional event, simply because of Enes Kanter’s public dissing of the Jazz organization. “It wasn’t just a one game, two game frustration,” he said: “it was a three and a half year frustration.” And typically for Kanter, he was playing at an extremely high level early on, as the Thunder jumped to a 32-21 first-quarter lead. And then it all went poop: Utah outscored OKC 55-34 over the next 24 minutes. It wasn’t that the Jazz defense was all that wonderful, although it was certainly adequate; it’s simply that the Thunder offense disappeared early in the second and was scarcely ever seen again. Blame Rudy Gobert, occupying Kanter’s old slot in the Jazz lineup: he was seemingly everywhere at once. A late Thunder rally made it a two-point game; Gobert went to the foul line with just under nine seconds left, nailed them both, and that was it. Utah 94, Oklahoma City 89, and it’s scary to contemplate what this game could have been had the Thunder not turned the ball over twenty-three times.

In fact, you might argue that Thunder ineptitude was Utah’s leading scorer: the Jazz got 28 points off those miscues. Of flesh-and-blood players, sixth man Trey Burke led the team with 22, with Gordon Hayward adding 20. Gobert recorded a double-double, 13 points and 15 rebounds. Still, the Jazz did not shoot well: 32-84 (38 percent), 6-29 (21 percent) on the long ball, and 24-35 from the stripe. Only twelve turnovers, though, and the Thunder got only eight points from them.

Russell Westbrook scored most of OKC’s 23 points in the fourth quarter, finishing with 37. As expected, Enes Kanter had another double-double, with 18 points and 11 boards; not as expected, the only other Thunder player in double figures was Anthony Morrow, with 12. OKC shot 43 percent (31-73), 38 percent on treys (6-16), and 21-32 from the stripe. (This was not a great night for people who enjoy seeing the net pierced.) OKC did outrebound the Jazz, 48-42, but Utah came up with six more offensive boards, 16-10.

Redemption, if there is to be any, will have to come tomorrow night against the Suns in Phoenix.


Outward blown

After the 32-28 first quarter, this game was looking like typical Thunder-Spurs: fierce competition, and just wait until you see the fourth. Yeah, right. This one was over at halftime — 71-50 — and it just kept getting worse. Can you say 100-74 after three? About three minutes later, the benches were cleared, and Scott Brooks probably spent the rest of the time trying to come up with synonyms for “defense.” The final was 130-91, and if you think a 39-point lead is tremendous, well, you should have seen it when it was 44. Last time the Thunder visited the Alamo City, they administered a beating to the Men In Black, so this is payback and then some, with one game yet to play in the season series.

How dominant? Only at the very end did the Spurs drop below 60 percent shooting, falling to 58. (They hit 51 of 88; the Thunder, 36 of 90. What does that tell you?) They even hit 62 percent of their treys. Rebounding? Spurs, 50-36. Assists? Spurs, 28-16. Turnovers? Spurs, 11-10. (Oh, well, you can’t have everything.) San Antonio got to play all 13 active men, 12 of them scored, and seven of them scored in double figures. Even more remarkable: one of them was Patty Mills, who has not been having a great year. Tony Parker led everyone with 21; sixth man Boris Diaw had 19. And the only Spur on the minus side of +/- was Manu Ginobili, a modest -3 in 15 minutes.

Still, of all the minuses, the minusest was Russell Westbrook, with 16 points, seven assists and four rebounds, a -30 in 26 minutes. Enes Kanter started out with a bang — 10 points in the first quarter — but finished with a whimpering 16, though he did once again collect a double-double, having retrieved 10 rebounds. Dion Waiters got 14; after that, it’s a big jump to Jeremy Lamb’s nine.

What does this mean? Only that the Thunder’s defensive woes continue to be, well, woeful, and that they’re not going to breeze through the last ten games.

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Thirsty Lakers

The third and final Thunder-Lakers game figured to be entertaining, if only because the Lakers, woeful as they are this season, have pretty much always brought their A, or at least B-plus, game to OKC, and with Byron Scott away on personal business, assistant Paul Pressey was calling the shots. The Lakers starting lineup was duly shuffled, with Tarik Black in the middle, Jordan Clarkson as shooting guard, and Jeremy Lin running the point. L. A. came out in a 2-3 zone, which at first baffled the Thunder; the tenacious defense we’d seen in recent OKC games was not in evidence — the loss of Andre Roberson last game was almost certainly a contributing factor — so the offensive guns were brought out. With that condition obtaining, the final score shouldn’t make anyone blink: 127-117.

Those Laker wing guys were pretty sharp, too; Lin had 19 points, Clarkson a career-high 30, and both served up seven assists. Four other Lakers made it to double figures, and that’s with Carlos Boozer getting the night off. (L. A. is embarking on a long road trip.) They shot an excellent 52 percent, highlighting the frequent OKC defensive lapses.

Still, if the opponents are going to score a lot, you can beat them by scoring more. Three double-doubles for the Thunder: Russell Westbrook (27 points, 11 assists), Steven Adams (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Enes Kanter (25 points, 16 boards). Dion Waiters, working to shed his Sir Miss-A-Lot reputation, made 10 of 16 for 23 points and the night’s only plus-20. And the Thunder shot 56 percent, even making more than half their treys (11 of 21). Rebounds, you ask? OKC, 49-28. Wasn’t even close.

A 4-0 homestand is by definition successful. Now comes the heavy lifting: tomorrow night in San Antonio, Saturday at Utah, Sunday at Phoenix. And then it’s April.


Only embers remain

The revolving door for the wounded continues to spin: Enes Kanter was back today, but Andre Roberson rolled his ankle in the first 90 seconds of play and did not return. Still, this wasn’t going to be a tragedy for the Thunder, and the one play that epitomizes the whole game — maybe the whole season — was yet another pass by Russell Westbrook to Steven Adams, who dunked the ball while drawing a foul from Hassan Whiteside. The sixth foul, natch. Adams missed the free throw, but no matter: Westbrook had yet another triple-double (12-10-17), and the outcome of the game wasn’t even close to being in doubt: the benches were cleared inside the three-minute mark, and the only question left was whether OKC could finish at 100 points or more for the twenty-third time. They couldn’t. Still, dispatching the new, improved Heat by a 93-75 count points to something we’d been hoping to see for some time: darn near lockdown defense.

And the Heat were indeed throttled. From the floor, 39.5 percent; from outside the circle, 3 of 18; from the free-throw line, 8 of 15. (Not that OKC can claim any credit for the latter.) While Miami had five players in double figures, team-high was Whiteside, who collected 13 points — 6-8 from the floor — before fouling out. Dwyane Wade, who’d been on fire of late, was held to twelve.

Now look at that Westbrook triple-double again. Only 12 points. He was an iffy 5-16 from the floor. Still, it’s his tenth of the season; the rest of the league has only 17.) And Kanter was there to catch passes, collect rebounds, knock down shots and maybe even chew gum: he finished with 27-12. Adams squeaked in with ten points and ten boards. Mitch McGary led the bench with 14, two ahead of Anthony Morrow.

Oklahoma City is now 40-30, which is a fairly remarkable recovery from that 3-12 start. (Do the math. Over the last 55 games they’re 37-18 for .672.) Fifty wins is not out of reach, but they’d have to go 10-2 the rest of the way. First obstacle: the Lakers, on Tuesday.