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.

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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.

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A rousing defeathering

I had a feeling I was going to regret this:

The Hawks, the East’s top team by a considerable margin, will be here Friday night, having already thrashed the Thunder in Atlanta. They’ll be missing Kyle Korver. At this point, God only knows who’ll be missing from the OKC lineup.

God, of course, called it correctly: Enes Kanter, roughed up in the Boston game, was out, Serge Ibaka was already out, and Kevin Durant will be out for the duration. Despite that, the Thunder jumped out to an early lead, which Atlanta gradually eroded; the Hawks dominated until halfway through the fourth quarter. But OKC had other ideas: after tying it at 105 on a 9-2 run, the Thunder ran off the next ten points. The Hawks pulled back to within six, but they’d never catch up: the Thunder won it 123-115, on the strength of Anthony Morrow’s six treys (of 10), of Dion Waiters’ implausible 26 points as a starter, and of all manner of Westbrookery, with Russell recording yet another triple double (36-10-14).

There’s even a Telltale Statistic: Oklahoma City turned the ball over only 12 times, none of them in that fourth quarter, in which they outscored the Hawks 33-20. Atlanta’s three-ball had kept them comfortably ahead, but the Thunder ended up 13-30 from deep, only marginally behind the Hawks’ 13-29. There was the usual OKC rebounding superiority: 44-34. And for a change, there were blocks: two from Waiters (!), two from Steven Adams (12 points, 16 rebounds) and two from Nick Collison (13 points, five boards).

Despite all that, seven of nine Hawks finished in double figures, including all five starters, but the two top finishers came off the bench: Pero Antić with 22 and Dennis Schröder with 21. Al Horford did compile a double-double: 10 points, 11 rebounds. Still, this was Westbrook’s game, despite sub-meh 8-24 shooting; he hit all 17 of his free throws, and those 14 assists overshadowed six turnovers.

The Heat will be here Sunday afternoon, and the Lakers will follow on Tuesday. Neither is a pushover, but both can be beaten. If you don’t believe me, just ask God: his NCAA bracket isn’t even broken.

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Definitely not snowbound

First, because I thought it was swell:

It was almost 29 minutes into this game when the Celtics took their first foul shot. (Actually, there were two, and Brandon Bass made them both.) One might applaud the Thunder’s ability to not foul, but Boston didn’t need to draw fouls so long as they were hitting over 55 percent from the floor, which they did through two quarters and half of the third. Then the OKC defense kicked in, and the sputtering offense suddenly found the rim: down four at halftime, the Thunder banged up Beantown 40-24 in the third. The Celtics, of course, didn’t wait around to be beaten, pulling back to within five at the 2:31 mark, and to within four at 0:09. What kept the Greenies at bay was, yes, Mr. Death Hammer himself, whom the Celtics had to foul to buy time; three times Russell Westbrook knocked down a pair of free throws to offset Boston treys, and four was the margin at the end, 122-118.

Westbrook’s flaming, it should be noted, was a product of sheer ferocity. It certainly wasn’t his shooting, 8 for 26, one of six treys. But 19 free throws out of 23 tries gave him 36 for the night, and ten assists gave him one of three Thunder double-doubles, the others coming from the Bruise Brothers, Enes Kanter (22 points/10 rebounds) and Steven Adams (14/13). Anthony Morrow knocked down 20 from off the bench. The Celtics still outshot the Thunder, 52 percent to 48, and dished up 32 dimes to OKC’s 19, but Boston left 11 points at the stripe, the Thunder only six.

It was Marcus Smart’s night, really: 25 points, including 7 of 12 from outside. Bass, who made those first two free throws, finished with 20, as did Kelly Olynyk from the reserves. (Both Smart and Jay Crowder gathered nine rebounds.) Weirdly, both benches scored exactly 40 points.

The Hawks, the East’s top team by a considerable margin, will be here Friday night, having already thrashed the Thunder in Atlanta. They’ll be missing Kyle Korver. At this point, God only knows who’ll be missing from the OKC lineup.

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Easily collapsible

The Thunder were up ten at the half, fifteen shortly thereafter — and then it all unwound in a big hurry, with the Mavs tying it up after three (a 39-point quarter!) and then holding OKC to eight points in seven minutes. Even radio guy Matt Pinto seemed dispirited for a while there:

But the Mavs didn’t run away with it either, and at 4:18 the Thunder closed the gap to zilch. They’d never regain the lead, though, and with both Steven Adams and Russell Westbrook fouling out late, Dallas pulled ahead by six; OKC shaved it to three, then to two; a pair of Monta Ellis free throws put the Mavs up four, and that’s the way it ended, 119-115. Dirk Nowitzki wasn’t even on the court at the time.

Then again, Dirk wasn’t needed at that moment: matters were well in hand. Chandler Parsons went off for 10-14 and 31 points; those last two freebies from Ellis gave him 24; Rajon Rondo recorded a double-double (11 points, 13 assists) and two Dallas reserves, Charlie Villanueva and Amar’e Stoudemire, had 10 each. About the only thing the Mavs didn’t do was rebound: they pulled down only 37, versus 59 for the Thunder. Oh, wait: the Mavs also didn’t turn the ball over a lot (13 versus 21).

Meanwhile, OKC was failing to connect on half-court shots (7-26 from Three Point Island) and failing to get stops in the second half. Westbrook, before he departed, was 24-8-12, not too far off his regular pace or late; Enes Kanter and Mitch McGary posted double-doubles. (McGary, in fact, got there in the first half.) But even six players in double-figures would not be enough to save the Thunder tonight.

Much was made of the fact that this was the Thunder’s 21st road loss, meaning that there was no way the team could finish with a winning road record. Then again, look who’s coming to town: the Celtics (Wednesday), the Hawks (Friday), and the Heat (Sunday). No way will OKC lose 21 at home — they’re 23-9 at the Peake — but that last playoff slot is most assuredly not going to be handed to them.

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Ground round

Michael Cage: “This game will come down to who can make shots.” Um, yeah, Mike, thanks for that. Nobody was making shots in that dreadful 17-15 first quarter, even with yet another Thunder starting lineup: Westbrook, Roberson, Waiters, Kanter, Adams. There was more motion in the second, which ended at a 47-47 tie; it was 75-70 Thunder after three, but the Bulls scored the first five points in the fourth, so it was back to the teeter-totter, as radio guy Matt Pinto might say. With 1:12 left, it was OKC 99, Chicago 95; with 0:22 left, 106-97; Nikola Mirotić knocked down three free throws to bring the Bulls up to 100, and then Something Weird: Russell Westbrook hit a free throw, missed the second, got his own rebound — and was fouled. Westbrook duly knocked down two more, and that was the end of it: 109-100, a split in the season series, and one game closer (for now) to the playoffs.

As they were the last time these two clubs met, two of the Bull reserves caused major grief: Mirotić, with a game-high 27, and E’Twaun Moore, with 11, only the second game for Moore this year in which he scored in double figures. (The first was against, yes, OKC.) It was evident early on that Enes Kanter really couldn’t guard Pau Gasol; then again, Gasol wasn’t defending Kanter especially well either. Gasol finished with 20 points and eight rebounds; Kanter had 18 points and 18 boards. The Bulls were basically obliterated on the boards, 52-33; what kept them in the game was the Thunder getting turnover-happy (17, versus only 11 for Chicago).

Starting Adams and Kanter together, made possible by Serge Ibaka’s bad knee, made for a fearsome front, and Adams too picked up a double-double — 14 points, 11 rebounds — before fouling out with about two minutes left. Dion Waiters, D. J. Augustin and Anthony Morrow contributed 11 points each to the cause, and there was another scary-looking Russell Westbrook line: 36-11-6. Russ hadn’t shot well — 12-27, 2-6 from outside — but it turned out to be well enough, and he still draws fouls in mass quantities.

The homestand ends here at 3-1; it’s off to Dallas tomorrow night. The Mavs, darn them, have tonight off.

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Not entirely toothless

And yet another starting lineup tonight: Serge Ibaka complained, though probably not loudly, of a sore knee, giving Mitch McGary a chance, and Kyle Singler was swapped out for Dion Waiters. (If Scott Brooks has learned anything during this annus horribilis, it’s how to mix up the rotation.) Weirdly, Singler seems to score more as a reserve, and in these Durantless days, we had the unusual sensation of four Thunder starters in double figures. (No, not Roberson. Get real.) The Timberwolves, on the other hand, were more or less intact, though Ricky Rubio tweaked his ankle in the second half and did not return, and Kevin Garnett did not appear at all. And through the third quarter, the Wolves made a game of it. Came the fourth quarter, and the Thunder woke up from dreaming about Chicago on Sunday; Russell Westbrook, who’d had a so-so night, scored 15 in the fourth after 14 in the first three, not to mention 12 assists and 10 rebounds. (Can you say “triple-double”? Sure you can.) Waiters and McGary picked up 12 points each, and Enes Kanter had a stirring 23 points and 15 rebounds. The final was 113-99, with the last three OKC points coming from the recently appendixless Steve Novak; it’s 3-0 for the Thunder over the Wolves this season.

Still, some of those Wolves did some pretty remarkable things. Hotly hyped rookie forward Andrew Wiggins lived up to his billing, collecting 19 points, more than half of them from the foul line. Sophomore center Gorgui Dieng hauled in 14 rebounds while scoring 21. And Kevin Martin was in decent form, knocking down 14. The Minnesota reserves came up with 30 points, 17 of which came from Justin Hamilton. And we do have to play these guys once more this season: in the finale on the 15th of April, a date which will live in infamy for other reasons.

But Sunday, there’s Chicago at high noon, and you can’t get much more ominous than that, unless you have to get on the plane to Dallas right afterwards, which the Thunder do. Dallas, for its part, spent this evening stomping the Clippers.

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Swiped and locked

Right off the bat, you get the Telltale Statistic: the Clippers executed 11 steals tonight, the Thunder only five, and two of those came very late. That level of non-defense undid Oklahoma City early: seven minutes in, L. A. was up 28-11. There was enough rally in the Thunder to tie it a couple of times in the second quarter, but there was no stopping the Clips, even without Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford; things were so dire for OKC that they had to resort to fouling DeAndre Jordan. (Jordan took it in stride, hitting 12 of 22, 15 percentage points above his average from the stripe.) Eventually, Loud City was bored enough, or demoralized enough, to yell at head zebra Joey Crawford to pull up his damn pants already. The Clippers won the game, 120-108, and the season series, 2-1, and the Thunder fell half a game behind the New Orleans Pelicans for the eighth and last playoff spot.

The numbers, except for steals and turnovers (OKC 20, Clippers 14) were actually pretty close: the Thunder got one more rebound (39-38), the Clips three more assists (22-19), and while there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the Los Angeles longball, their 15-30 was only a tick or two above the Thunder’s 12-25. Maybe it was who got those treys: Chris Paul was 5-8, Matt Barnes 6-7, J. J. Redick 3-6, and somewhere Spencer Hawes made one. So it’s no surprise that CP3 ended up with 33 points, Barnes with 22, and Redick with 25. Meanwhile, Jordan was collecting those freebies and reeling in 18 points and 17 boards.

Maybe a Westbrook triple-double would have helped, but Russ was merely good, not great: 24-9-7, and a whopping 10 of those 20 OKC turnovers. He had help offensively: Anthony Morrow came up with 26 off the bench, including 6-9 from outside, and Enes Kanter and Serge Ibaka added 18 and 15 respectively. Just don’t look at the plus/minus: all the Thunder starters were minus, all the reserves were plus, and the opposite was true for Los Angeles.

The newly revitalized Minnesota Timberwolves will show up Friday night: some of their long-injured players are injured no longer, and, well, Kevin Garnett. You don’t, or at least I don’t, bet against the Big Ticket.

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Slow extinction

The Raptors have not had the easiest time of it of late, having fallen to third in the East after winning only three of their last ten. Still, Toronto is one team that can always be counted upon to give the Thunder a hard time, be they in third place or thirteenth, and they lived up to expectations tonight, following Terrence Ross’s hot hand with the long ball and the general DeStruction wrought by DeMar DeRozan to a 61-58 lead at halftime. OKC responded by cranking up the defense in the third, holding T.O. to 18 points; the Raptors rallied in the fourth, cutting a 12-point Thunder lead to three. This is not the sort of thing Loud City wants to see, and with two minutes left, an Enes Kanter free throw ran the lead back to seven at 103-96. DeRozan, who hadn’t scored since the first half, nailed a jumper, fouled Serge Ibaka, and delivered a layup, but it was still a six-point game with 44 seconds to go; DeRozan then rang up two more buckets. Finally Russell Westbrook, Mr. Triple Double, knocked down two freebies; DeRozan’s streak abruptly ended, D. J. Augustin missed two freebies inside the two-second mark, but the Raptors were wrapped up, 108-104.

Six of nine Raptors, nonetheless, hit double figures, with DeRozan (24) and Ross (20, including six of nine treys) leading the way. Toronto only took nine free throws, but made them all, and delivered 24 assists against only eight turnovers. (The Thunder had 30 assists, a season high, but also coughed up the ball 18 times.)

Scott Brooks played ten tonight, with Steven Adams backing up Enes Kanter in the middle. Kanter collected a double-double, with 21 points and ten rebounds, but Adams, playing 16 minutes, scored six and retrieved six. Westbrook? 30-11-17. His lines are starting to converge toward that. OKC owned the boards, 49-33. And while the Thunder made 42 shots, same as Toronto, it only took them 87 tries; the Raptors had to put up 98.

A four-game homestand continues with the Clippers (Wednesday), the Timberwolves (Friday), and the Bulls (Sunday), followed by a quick trip to Dallas on Monday.

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It’s windy out there

Screenshot from the Oklahoman previewing the game with the Chicago BullsHow good are these Bulls? Yes, they started the day ten and a half games back of Atlanta, but everybody else in the East is at least ten and a half games back of Atlanta. The loss of Derrick Rose (again!) surely hurts: this man collects injuries the way Warren Buffett collects companies. Still, you have to admire a team that, according to that little squib in this morning’s Oklahoman, pulled off four wins against two losses before reaching the fifth and final game in this homestand. For something not at all connected to electoral politics in Chicago, that’s pretty damned impressive. Still, the Bulls, for the moment, are short on guards, though Aaron Brooks is no slouch, and besides there’s Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah to tower over anyone in the neighborhood. The Thunder jumped out to an early lead, which the Bulls entirely erased by the third quarter, but they couldn’t get a lead of more than one, and inside the 2:00 mark the Bulls were down only one at 100-99. Russell Westbrook (of course) drew a foul at 1:07, hit the first free throw, and when the second one didn’t fall, Enes Kanter stuffed it back in. Nikola Mirotić, who’d been firing treys all night, got his second (in nine tries) to bring the Bulls back to within one; a Westbrook jumper made it OKC 105-102. Mirotić, much more deadly at the stripe, knocked down two free throws, and with 4.9 seconds left, the Bulls got the shot of the night: a jumper by E’Twaun Moore. OKC came up empty, and Mirotić finished the job with one more free throw. Chicago 108, Oklahoma City 105, and that’s how good those Bulls are.

If your first question is “Another triple-double for Westbrook?” the answer is no. Still, in the third quarter Westbrook put up ten points in a mere 1:41, and he wound up with a better-than-respectable 43-7-8. Serge Ibaka, who had two points last night, had 25 this time; D. J. Augustin led the bench with 10. Uncharacteristically, the Thunder were seriously outrebounded, 48-41, and while they didn’t shoot badly — 47 percent, one better than the Bulls — their misses seemed that much more exasperating.

Chicago had three players over 20 — Mirotić, off the bench, was team-high with 26, fourteen of them from the stripe (one fewer than the entire Thunder team), and both Gasol and Mike Dunleavy checked in with 21. The man of the moment, though, was Moore, whose 19 points set a new career high, not to mention the fact that it was ten times his per-game average.

One of those other teams who were ten and a half behind Atlanta, the Toronto Raptors, will be in OKC Sunday evening.

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Really spirited 76ers

So much has been written of late about the 76ers’ alleged tanking that I have to believe that someone in Philadelphia took enough umbrage to do something about it, which is one way to explain the Sixers’ 32-17 lead with five minutes left in the first quarter, 15 of those points coming from guard Isaiah Canaan, who hit five treys in six tries. Weirder still, the Thunder had a 37-34 lead when that quarter ended, the Man in the Clear Mask — that would be Russell Westbrook, recovering from surgery to his jaw — having knocked out 16 points in that quarter. Philly was not impressed; they were up 59-56 at the half and opened the third with a 13-4 run. The Thunder persevered, cutting a 16-point Sixer lead to six by the end of the quarter, tying it two minutes later, and finally taking the lead, 93-90, on a D. J. Augustin trey. It was about this point that the Philly scoring machine ground to a halt: through eight minutes of the fourth they’d hit exactly one bucket, and OKC was up eight. Still the Sixers would not go away: just inside the 1:00 mark, Hollis Thompson, who hadn’t scored all night, swished a trey to pull within three, and then Jason Richardson, who’d scored plenty, knocked down another one to tie it at 110-all. With 4.3 seconds left, Philadelphia got one more shot, Dion Waiters blocked a Nerlens Noel layup, and — “Who’d have foreseen this?” asked radio guy Matt Pinto.

And 1:56 into the overtime period, the Masked Man did it again: notched a triple-double, his fourth in succession and sixth for the season, delivering his tenth dime to Augustin. Serge Ibaka, who’d logged more blocks than points for the evening (four swats, two points), set up Westbrook’s 40th and 41st points; Ibaka fouled out, and Westbrook got two more. The Sixers came back: three free throws by Richardson and a Jerami Grant trey, to make it 117-116. Inevitably, this was followed by a Westbrook bucket and a free throw, giving him 46. Richardson swished two more foul shots to make it a two-point game; Grant was called for a blocking foul, and Westbrook went back to the stripe, hitting one of two. Richardson’s last trey ended up out of bounds, and yet again, Westbrook went back to the stripe, hitting both of them. The last Sixers shot would not fall, and, as one of the records guys noted, “Russell Westbrook joins Vince Carter as the only players with 45 points, 15 rebounds, 10 assists in a game over the last 30 seasons.” In fact, he had 49 points, 16 boards and ten dimes, new career highs in points and rebounds.

Still, despite the 123-118 win, there’s a Telltale Statistic waiting in the weeds: all five Thunder starters were minus for the night (even Westbrook, -12), all five reserves were plus. The bench, in fact, scored more than the starters: 62-61. Waiters, in fact, had a double-double: 20 points, 10 rebounds. Augustin finished with 17, and Anthony Morrow (+34!) checked in with 11.

And dammit, these Sixers are no slouches no matter what you read. Richardson finished with 29, Canaan logged a new career high with 31, and Philly made 15 of 35 treys. (On two-pointers, they were 19-61. Go figure.) What’s more, they managed to earn 44 free throws, hitting 35 of them, and held a 58-54 rebounding advantage. This is called hard work.

After all that, it’s off to the plane for tomorrow night at Chicago. Is anyone tired? Let’s hope not.

Addendum: Oh, and there’s this:

Wow.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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