Most of the Thunder’s remaining games are against playoff teams, pretty much all of who have .500 records or better. This is not alarming in itself: okay, it’s a tough schedule by the numbers, but OKC generally acquits itself well against the best teams.
It’s the teams like Eastern Conference cellar-dweller Atlanta that give them fits. Mike Budenholzer’s Hawks, 20-47 at the outset, stayed close to the Thunder through 43 minutes: it was 103-all before OKC took it over. Over the next two and a half minutes, the Thunder put together an 13-0 run to leave the Hawks in the dust, highlighted by Russell Westbrook’s 100th career triple-double. The final was 119-107, and the Atlanta fans gave him a standing O. (Bittersweetness: this was the Hawks’ first sellout all season, and you have to figure they came largely to see if Westbrook could do it.)
Hot for Atlanta: Taurean Prince, who put in some serious time tonight and finished with 25 points. And none of the Hawks’ reserves ended up on the minus side of the great plus/minus divide, which tells you how hard this team was working. (Damion Lee, +9 for the night, led the bench with 13.) And the absence of Steven Adams made the logistics tricky for Billy Donovan: Dakari Johnson got the start at center, and made the only shot he took, but vanished after seven minutes. This left the middle to Jerami Grant, who tossed up a season-high 20 on a respectable 8-14. Carmelo Anthony made six (!) treys and closed out with 21; Westbrook, as noted, turned in a highly Westbrookish 32-12-12. Missing in later action: Paul George, who played 25 minutes (12 points) before taking a very hard fall. At this writing, no prognosis.
Ten teams have a shot at the Western Conference playoffs. One of them is the Clippers, who come to town Friday. At the moment, L.A. is even with OKC in the loss column, as the pundits say, with 29; however, the Clips have somehow won five fewer games, though they’re working on beating the Bulls tonight. On the upside, the Clips are at Houston Thursday, the night before they show up in Oklahoma City.