Archive for Net Proceeds

Lacking in rim protection

For the fair-weather Thunder fan, the time to change the channel was at halftime, after OKC rode a 39-point second quarter to a twenty-point lead, 73-53. After that, the Grizzlies proved nearly unstoppable; with five minutes left, they were down only one. The Thunder pushed back to an eight-point lead, but the Griz were back to within one literally in the last minute. Carmelo Anthony hoisted a trey at 0:25 to stretch the lead to four; Russell Westbrook, who assisted on that trey, jumped about 12 feet above the court to spoil the next Memphis possession. Andrew Harrison fouled out near the very end, sending Westbrook to the charity stripe; Harrison, the Griz’ leading scorer — 10-16 for 28 points, a career high — grumbled a bit about that sixth foul and was hit with his second technical. (Apparently Harrison was subsequently escorted out of the building.) Westbrook duly hit the tech, and that was it: OKC 121, Memphis 114, 3-0 for the season.

Westbrook did rather a lot tonight, climbing back into the rarefied heights of Triple-Double Land, with a 23-13-15 line. Paul George, as usual, did the heaviest lifting on the scoreboard with 28; that Melo trey gave him 19. The Thunder bench, quiet against Cleveland, scrounged up 40 points. Tyreke Evans came second to Harrison with 23. Chandler Parsons was back in limited action, five points in 12 minutes, and I got the distinct impression he was glad to have ’em. Memphis led 50-36 in points in the paint; during that third quarter, in which the Griz outscored OKC 31-19, it seemed like they were just marching in unison to the basket.

And that’s the first half of the season, if you figure 59 is half of 82. All-Star folderol comes next.

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King James continues to rule

It appears that LeBron’s new teammates are fitting in even better than his old teammates; the Cavaliers, having done the amazing El Foldo the last time the Thunder came to Cleveland, were presumably anxious for payback in front of Loud City, and by jiminy, they got it, mostly by working their black-clad tails off. James, not unexpectedly, carried his share of the load and then some, piling up a game-high 37 points, but there were other factors working for the Cavs. For one, Cleveland shot above 50 percent most of the night, finishing a hair above 51. And speaking of 51, the Cavalier reserves picked up 51 points, while the Thunder bench managed only 20. The 120-112 Cleveland win ties up the season series, and the OKC starters, in the process of racking up 92 points, spent many minutes on the court, which probably will not help them tomorrow night in Memphis.

The scarier aspect of these Cavs is not so much that LeBron can pretty much out-LeBron anyone — we all knew that — but the sheer depth they have. I mean, if Jose Calderon can get a DNP-CD, you know there’s some serious scoring going on without him. Of five Cleveland reserves, four finished in double figures; only Kyle Korver came up empty-handed. And Mr. Streak his own bad self, J. R. Smith, took nine faraway shots and connected on six for all 18 of his points. Meanwhile, OKC landed four guys in double figures (Paul George 25, Carmelo Anthony 24, Steven Adams 22/17 rebounds, Russell Westbrook 21/12 dimes), and three scored zilch. Telltale stat: Jerami Grant and Raymond Felton, the only bench players to score, had the two worst plus-minus figures in the game. This may not be tragic — hell, LeBron was minus 1 — but it does show you where who got outplayed.

Tomorrow in Memphis, then the All-Star break, then back to the West Coast. OKC is a long way from anything resembling a top-four seed. Then again, it’s only February, for now anyway.

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The Griz they wuz

This year’s Grizzlies aren’t quite the frightening opponents they used to be: only Mike Conley and Marc Gasol remain from the glory days, and Conley’s out for the season. Still, they’ve stuck to the plan: slow it down and keep watch on the details. “Don’t tell me about ‘shorthanded’,” sniff the Thunder, still without Roberson (rest of the year), Anthony and Westbrook (whenever those ankle sprains heal). OKC put a hurt on the Griz in the first quarter, 35-18, and for the most part, they were swapping buckets for the rest of the way toward the 110-92 final for the first of three games against Memphis. (The second will be Wednesday.)

The new-look Griz are every bit as good as their predecessors from the foul line: they hit 22 of 24 charity tosses. And they’ve lost none of their ability to scrounge for second- and even third-chance shots (21-2 over the Thunder). They even outrebounded OKC by a bunch, 47-38. But they weren’t so successful at the tedious business of making shots: 39 percent, and 6-28 from beyond the arc. Gasol, not surprisingly, had a team-high 18 points; Tyreke Evans, JaMychal Green and Ben McLemore were able to put up double figures. The Thunder gave up only 10 turnovers, an improvement over recent weeks, and Paul George rolled up 33 points because of course he did. Slotting into the starting guard slots were Raymond Felton (expected) and Alex Abrines (not expected). They had 30 points between them, 18 on three-pointers; OKC actually tied the franchise record for treys with 16 out of 37. Now if they could just remember how to make a free throw; even without Roberson, they missed 14 of 40.

The Cavaliers arrive Tuesday, with the newer-look Cleveland squad ready to duke it out once more. Then it’s off to Memphis to see these Grizzlies again, after which the All-Star break looms. Afterwards, it’s back to the Left Coast to see the Kings and the Warriors.

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And then there were two

What happens to a team missing three starters? Yeah, pretty much. Roberson we knew about, Carmelo we saw go down in the Golden State game, but what the heck happened to Russell Westbrook? Sprained and not available. Paul George and Steven Adams are indeed great players, but they can’t carry a team alone; they were the only two Thundermen in double figures. Raymond Felton started at the point, and he did acceptably; Patrick Patterson and Josh Huestis started, but neither of them managed to make a shot all night. Meanwhile, four of the five L.A. starters finished with double figures, and Brook Lopez missed by only one point. So the outcome was probably predictable: the Lakers, who edged the Thunder last Sunday in Oklahoma City, utterly thrashed them in Los Angeles, 106-81, evening the season series at 2-2.

How desperate were the Thunder? They called on Number 35. Yep. P. J. Dozier, on one of those two-way contracts where he spends most of his time in the G-League, was activated for this game, and made one of two shots in two minutes. OKC overall didn’t shoot anywhere near 50 percent. Or even 40 percent. At 32-90, they barely broke 35 percent. PG-13, with 29 points, made five of 12 treys, but the rest of the squad was, um, 3-22. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope didn’t have to work that hard to come up with 20 points to lead the Lakers. If there’s anything to celebrate, apart from L.A.’s metamorphosis from definite cellar-dweller to possible playoff contender, it’s the idea that nobody was glued to the bench: everyone active on both sides got at least some playing time.

Going home, the Thunder will face the Grizzlies on Sunday and the Cavs on Tuesday; they then have to fly to Memphis on Wednesday, and then comes the All-Star break. Maybe two of those three guys will be back.

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Oracle surprised

Who predicted this one? Forty-two points in the first quarter against the freaking Warriors? The only way that’s happening is if Russell Westbrook got half of them all by himself.

Oh, he did? Then surely Golden State caught up by halftime, right? Um, no; in fact, down 12 after one, they were down 13 after two.

I know! Third quarter, right? Third quarter, wrong. Thirty-six minutes in, it was Oklahoma City 99, Golden State 77. It’s not impossible to overcome a 22-point lead in twelve minutes, but four minutes in, the Warriors were still 19 behind, and Draymond Green had drawn his second technical, winning a free trip to the locker room. And all this was happening while Andre Roberson was still out for the season; what’s more, Carmelo Anthony sprained an ankle six minutes in and did not return. Just inside the five-minute mark, Steve Kerr found a towel on the bench and threw it in; at 2:33 there was an actual Kyle Singler sighting. It was only the Warriors’ seventh loss at home this season. OKC 125, GS 105, and improbably, the Thunder go up 2-0 in the season series.

Perhaps amusingly, Westbrook finished at 34-9-9; there’d be no bid for a triple-double. Besides, Paul George outscored him, with 38. (The only double-double belonged to Steven Adams, with 14 points and ten boards.) The Thunder’s point haul was enhanced by 25 Warrior turnovers, which resulted in 38 OKC points. They even outshot Golden State from the three-point circle, 12-31 versus 8-28. And while that Durant guy is still kinda miraculous in his own right, scoring 33 in 30 minutes, only two other Warriors managed double figures, 21 for Steph Curry, 12 for Klay Thompson. This is the sound of a team being blown off its own court.

Thursday night: Thunder at Lakers. No predictions, but I suspect OKC might be able to keep its spirits up.

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L. A. heading for respectability

The plan, apparently, was to sandbag a bit: hang on just behind the Lakers for three quarters, and then crank it up for the final twelve minutes. This might even have worked if the Thunder hadn’t gone into a shooting slump precisely at the moment when they needed to do that cranking. Outscored 25-18 by Los Angeles eleven minutes into that final frame, the Thunder were down ten with a minute to play. “It is incessant, the incompetence of officials in this league,” grumbled radio guy Mark Pinto after a no-call that put an end to a 7-0 Thunder run. The Lakers wound up with a four-point win, 108-104, a 2-1 lead in the season series, and a rematch coming Thursday night at the Staples Center.

The Lakers are notably short on star power, but they get the job done. All five L.A. starters, plus Jordan Clarkson off the bench, scored in double figures, led by Brook Lopez with 20; forward Josh Hart, despite a -7 by the magic plus/minus pendulum, wangled a double-double, 14 points and 11 rebounds. And the Lakers were handy with the long ball, sinking 13 of 30. (Clarkson was the handiest, hitting four of seven.) OKC was not so fortunate: Paul George (26 points) made three treys, but nobody else had more than one; Russell Westbrook, despite shooting 15-25 for 36 points, didn’t hit any. So it was Carmelo who got the day’s one double-double, with 10 points and 13 boards. (Jerami Grant missed one by a single point.) And George, ‘Melo and Steven Adams all picked up technicals for some arcane reason or other.

A two-game California road trip looks downright perilous, with the Warriors on Tuesday and the Lakers (again!) on Thursday. The best advice would seem to come from Rodney Atkins: “If you’re going through hell,” says he, “keep on going.”

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Slowly pecked to death

This sums it up as well as anything:

When you consider that the Thunder had a ten-point lead over New Orleans after the first quarter, were still up by four at halftime — and were outscored the rest of the way by the Pelicans to the tune of 60-42 — you can practically hear that basketball IQ heading for the exits. Either that, or someone put the idea into their collective heads that as long as they’re having defensive problems in the absence of Andre Roberson, they might as well exhibit some offensive difficulties as well. Maybe this explains it: 19 of the Thunder’s 32 first-quarter points came from ten Pelican turnovers, but the Birds gave up the ball only six times more for the remainder of the game. And if that doesn’t, this does: OKC shot a meager 38 percent, and missed 27 of 36 attempted treys. New Orleans 114, Oklahoma City 100, giving Big Beaky the season series — 2-0 with only one left — and making Thunder fans wonder how long this slide can go on.

I figure, once you’ve let E’Twaun Moore drop 26 on you, you’re history. And in the absence of DeMarcus Cousins, Moore has stepped up in a big way. Meanwhile, Anthony Davis was ravaging the backboards (43 points, 10 rebounds) and Jrue Holiday was playing keepaway (11 points, 11 assists and a steal). Not that double-doubles mean all that much: Steven Adams had one (23 points, 12 boards). Jerami Grant (!) had one (12 points, 11 boards.) Russell Westbrook came perilously close to a quadruple-double, with 16 points, 11 rebounds, 14 assists — and nine turnovers. The big guns were decidedly quiet: Paul George, coming off a spectacle in Denver, managed 4-16 for 15 points; Carmelo Anthony, 6-17 for 13. The one OKC player on the plus side of the ledger (+5) was Alex Abrines, who put up eight shots, all from way outside, and saw four of them go in.

Coming up: a California week, with the Lakers here on Sunday afternoon (and barely after noon at that), then off to Golden State on Tuesday and a rematch with the Lakers at their place on Thursday. Let’s hope Billy Donovan hasn’t been reading Harrison Bergeron.

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Dlessness

The Nuggets rolled up 40 points in the first quarter, 32 in the second, and 32 in the third. All was clearly lost. Then things fuzzed up considerably: in the first 14 11 minutes of the fourth quarter, the Thunder, down double-digits most of the night, thrummed up 28-16 on Denver and pulled to within three points. For a brief moment, OKC was down only one. With 5.6 left, Nikola Jokić added two points to his triple-double, making it 124-121. And then holy crap, with 1.4 left, Paul George tied it with a trey. It was going to take a buzzer-beater, and that’s just what happened, with Garry Harris cashing in a trey at the horn to give Denver a 127-124 win.

Jamal Murray was the picture of hotness tonight, with 33 points on 14-33, almost enough to eclipse Jokić’s 29-13-14. (When your big man gets 14 assists, something remarkable is going on.) Harris’ final trey gave him 25. The Nuggets shot a spiffy 51.5 percent. The Thunder, surprisingly, hit 52 percent. (Big diff: the three-ball, which Denver deployed at 15-38, while OKC went 9-28. George’s late trey gave him 43 for the night, five off his career high; Jerami Grant, a +18 where almost everyone else was minus, came up with 18, and Russell Westbrook just missed a triple-double with 20 points, nine boards, and 21 assists. As usual, there were grumbles about the officiating, but that’s not even news anymore.

And somehow the Thunder have to come home and play the Pelicans Friday night. DeMarcus Cousins is out; however, Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis can cause enough havoc on their own. Speaking of New Orleans, it was with the then-Hornets, including two years here in OKC, that we were introduced to Rasual Butler, by all accounts one of the true gentlemen of the game. He now plays in the Celestial League.

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A cauldron full of hurt

At the 56-second mark, it was Oklahoma City 96, Washington 96; there had been over a dozen lead changes, and everyone knew the next score would be pivotal. Guard Tomas Satoransky, in for the injured John Wall, drew a foul and sank his first two points of the night; after an empty Thunder possession, forward Otto Porter drew a foul and sank his 24th and 25th points of the night. And with half a minute left and no timeouts, there was yet another empty Thunder possession, and Markieff Morris … oh, hell, you know how this goes. The Wizards win this one 102-96, which evens up the season series and puts an end to OKC’s eight-game winning streak.

If seeing balls not go through the net is your idea of fun, this was your game. The Wiz hit a hair over 38 percent; OKC, a hair under 38 percent. Three-pointers? 28 percent both ways. The Thunder did have an edge of nine rebounds; Washington had an edge of eight assists. But maybe this is instructive. Last time out, which is to say “last week,” both Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook put away more than 40 points each; tonight, Beal was held to 21 — but Westbrook scored just 13. And there’s this: apart from Carmelo Anthony, the Thunder was a bearable 7-20 from the three-point circle. With ‘Melo, they were 9-32. Then again, the Wizards were only 7-25, a percentage difference measurable in frog hair.

Starting a road trip with a loss pretty much always sucks. The next game, in Denver against a Nugget team that, like the Wizards, is a smidgen over .500, will be a similar challenge, unless the Thunder can dispel some of their discombobulation — or Andre Roberson heals at a speed unknown to modern medicine.

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Philadelphia freestyle

Last time these two teams met, it took 63 minutes to settle the matter, and I don’t think anyone would have been surprised if it had happened again: a 15-0 Thunder run in the third quarter produced a nine-point lead, which the 76ers managed to erase in a mere five minutes. There were the usual complaints about the officiating, one of which was made by Russell Westbrook, who was T’ed up for daring to utter such a thing. And there were more holes than usual in the Thunder defense, which was perhaps unavoidable with Andre Roberson out for the rest of the year. But in the waning moments, the Thunder started to pull away, going up nine with two minutes left. Said Judge Radar: “Just keep scoring and eat the clock.” The Sixers didn’t give in until the last 45 seconds or so, and OKC goes to 30-20 with a 122-112 win over Philadelphia, who two nights ago thoroughly thrashed the Spurs in San Antonio. I wouldn’t assume anything from that just yet.

The Sixers did make half their shots, and their two big scorers did better than that: Joel Embiid was 10-16 for 27 points (with 10 boards), and Ben Simmons went 10-14 for 22. Philly’s 50 percent comes from going 38-76; OKC’s 49 percent came from going 45-92. Not too often you see a 16-shot difference in a game that wasn’t a blowout. What’s more, the Sixers racked up 40 rebounds, only one behind the Thunder. And the usual suspects powered OKC: Westbrook just missed a triple-double (37-9-14), Paul George rolled up 31, Steven Adams 20 (with 13 boards, and what’s more, he missed only one shot all night), and Carmelo Anthony 16.

On the road again. John Wall missed the last Wizards game with an injury, and it’s not known whether he’ll be back for Tuesday’s rematch with the Wiz. And watch out for these Sixers: they’re pretty damned tough, and despite this loss, they’re 7-3 over their last 10, better than anyone else in the East.

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Motorvated

In one of those weird schedule quirks, the Thunder drew a Saturday-afternoon game in Detroit, to be followed by an early-Sunday match with the 76ers back in Oklahoma City. The Motor City marauders won the earlier clash in OKC by a single point; revenge was an obvious motive, but minimizing playing time for the starters on the first day of a back-to-back was just as important, and while Task A was handled with aplomb — OKC 121, Detroit 108 — the starters all had to spend 30 minutes or more on the court, except for Andre Roberson, who apparently ruptured a patellar tendon and had to be carried off in a stretcher, in which case Dre, who was +32 for the day, is likely to be out for the season, and no amount of rest is going to make up for that.

Thunder expat Reggie Jackson was out today, so the only serious offensive threats among Detroit starters were Tobias Harris (21 points) and Andre Drummond (12 points, 13 rebounds). The Pistons’ reserves, however, came up with 64 points, twenty more than the starters, more than enough to keep Detroit in the game while the OKC bench marked time. I continue to marvel at Ish Smith, a well-traveled man who’s played for nearly half the teams in the league at one time or another, including a 30-game stint with the Thunder; he went 7-8 for 15 points in 35 minutes.

The triple-double man did it again: Russell Westbrook turned in a 31-11-13 report card, and those 13 assists went to folks like Paul George (26 points), Carmelo Anthony (21 points, now over 25,000 career points), and Steven Adams (13 points on 6-9 shooting). No one else scored more than half a dozen; Roberson had five before going down.

And the Sixers will be waiting tomorrow. These are not the Philly Phlops of old; this year’s Sixers are in 6th place in the East, half a game (at this writing) behind the Wizards, and they have a better road record than do the Thunder. Two nights later, it’s back on the road, against Washington for the second time in a week. Life goes on.

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Spells largely bound

If you were expecting a sizzling display of offense, you were probably perplexed by the 25-20 first quarter. Late in the third, the Thunder and the Wizards were tied at a modest 68. After that, all manner of scoring broke loose, and finally we got what we were waiting for: Bradley Beal vs. Russell Westbrook. Beal did not disappoint: 41 points (18 in the fourth quarter), 12 rebounds, seven assists. And you have to figure that Beal’s brilliance gave Westbrook some serious incentive; in the 39-point fourth quarter, His Zeroness tossed in 19 for a season-high 46. No triple-double, but nobody cared, and the Thunder, as always, sent the Wizards home with a loss, 121-112.

Still, you look at the box, and you notice that Washington rolled up 72 second-half points, and how often do you see that from anyone? And it wasn’t just Beal: John Wall piled up 21 points (and 12 assists), and Markieff Morris added 20 more. The Wiz collected 39 rebounds, only one fewer than the Thunder; their undoing was at the foul line (12-16, while OKC was 22-29) and in the turnover count (they gave up 23, which the Thunder cashed in for 36 points). The Washington reserves didn’t do much, mostly because Beal played all but two and a half minutes of the game. And hey, the man was on fire; Scott Brooks knows enough not to get in the way of the conflagration.

On the OKC side of the court, we saw some bifurcation: Paul George did lots of scoring (18 points) and Carmelo Anthony did lots of rebounding (eight boards, only two behind Steven Adams. And as has often been the case lately, one particular bench player stood out; this day it was Terrance Ferguson, who hung around for 24 minutes and knocked out 11 points, nine of them on 3-6 three-point shooting. OKC didn’t come close to Washington’s three-point prowess, but 51 percent shooting overall is nothing to snicker at.

And now the schedule gets wonky. Saturday night, it’s off to Detroit; Sunday afternoon, it’s back home against the Sixers; then back on the road, to Washington (!) and Denver. Thirty-four games left, and OKC is sitting in fifth place in the West. They’re going to have to do more than just sit, though.

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Nets never neutral

Well, we’ve seen how the Brooklyn Nets play in Mexico City, and we didn’t like it much. How do they play in Oklahoma City? Just as hard to like, especially in the second quarter, in which the Nets flattened the Thunder 33-17. Not much happened in the third to make anyone think otherwise.

Then came the fourth, which opened with a 10-0 Raymond Felton run, and suddenly OKC was back in it. Six lead changes in six minutes, and with 3.3 seconds left, the Thunder held a most tenuous one-point lead. Carmelo Anthony managed to keep the Nets from inbounding, which cost Brooklyn its last timeout; Andre Roberson lasered in on Spencer Dinwiddie, and the Nets guard was forced into a shot 27 feet from the goal that traveled only 25 feet. Came the horn, and it was Oklahoma City 109, Brooklyn 108, evening the season series and making some of us grateful the Nets are in the East and we don’t have to play them a third time.

Seriously. Yeah, the Nets are now 18-30. But they shot their young hearts out (47 percent) and peppered the cylinder with 38 three-point shots, 16 of which actually made. (Until the fourth quarter, the Thunder had made only two downtown shots.) And get this: 27 assists for Brooklyn, 12 for OKC. The Nets had six players in double figures, but no one at 20 or more; this is what the pundits call a “balanced attack.” The one thing OKC really excelled at was not turning the ball over: they coughed it up only four times for five Brooklyn points. No double-doubles for OKC: Jarrett Allen from the Brooklyn bench had the only one of the evening. (For you Westbrook watchers: 32-5-6.)

Thursday Washington arrives. We have not seen these Wizards, but they’re five games over .500 and can score a lot of points in a hurry, something they learned from — Scott Brooks? It ought to be fun.

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Welcome to Cleveland

The blowout warnings came out early: Kevin Love took sick three minutes in, and the Thunder had a startling 43-24 lead after the first quarter. Things that can’t last, though, won’t last, and while Love never came back, the Cavaliers, aided by the officials if you believe radio guy Matt Pinto, started to crawl out of the hole, starting the second quarter with a quick 10-0 run. But by halftime, the Cavs had shaved only three points off that lead, and in the second half the Thunder methodically tore down the house that LeBron built. Four minutes into the final frame, OKC was up 122-99, and they weren’t done yet; if Cleveland had planned a celebration of King James’ 30,000th career point — he needed only 25 — they’ll have to make it up some other day. Oklahoma City, which hadn’t won in the Erie City in years, danced away with a 148-124 win.

LeBron, it was speculated, seemed a bit listless, and his departure early in the fourth quarter may have reflected that mood. I don’t know. It seemed to me that he was playing pretty hard until it became obvious he was going to fall short of 25. (He finished with 18 on a reasonable 8-17, but wound up -33 in the eyes of the plus-minus gods.) Isaiah Thomas, fast and slippery, led the Cavs with 24. Meanwhile, four of five Thunder starters broke 20: 36 for Paul George, 29 for Carmelo Anthony, 25 (and 11 rebounds) for the 12-13 Steven Adams, and 23 (and 20 assists) for Russell Westbrook. (The fifth, Andre Roberson, knocked down eight, though it might have been nice if he’d made a free throw. Still, it’s good to have him back.)

Lots of Eastern Conference foes on the calendar: against the Nets and the Wizards at home next week, then off to Detroit, back home against the 76ers, and then off to see the Wizards again. It’s going to be, um, interesting.

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California trouncing

On such a winter’s day (low this morning: 2° F). Things did not start out well for the Lakers, with Lonzo Ball unavailable due to an injury and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope destined to vanish with a sprained Achilles after fifteen minutes. Worse yet, Andre Roberson was back in the Thunder defense, and while he produced only four points, he came up with three steals, a block, and a +20, better than anyone except Steven Adams and Carmelo Anthony. And Adams had the night’s only double-double, with 21 points and 10 rebounds, while ‘Melo’s hot hand led to a game-high 27 points. So things didn’t work out for Los Angeles: their expected sources of offense (Brook Lopez, Kyle Kuzma) were dried up, and while they were perfect at the foul line, only twice did they actually get there, for four points. OKC wins this one, 114-90, which might give the Thunder a mental boost before setting off for Cleveland.

Which is not to say they wiped the Lakers off the map: L.A. had a small edge in fast-break points, and they came up with more assists (25 versus 22). But that was about the extent of the good news for the Lakers, who were down only 60-54 at the half but were held to 36 points the rest of the way. And this is without any pyrotechnics by Russell Westbrook, who scored a quiet 19 points and only occasionally did something superhuman.

One interesting set of numbers down the left side of the box score: the Thunder’s 48-percent shooting, in which the starters participated as follows: George 5-14; Anthony 10-15; Adams 10-12; Westbrook 8-22; Roberson 2-2. And Adams, perhaps the best percentage scorer in the league, missed one of two free throws.

So it’s Saturday afternoon at Cleveland. The Cavs have been streaky all year; after dropping four straight, they’re seven games back of Boston. Do not count on them to be terrible when you need them to be.

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A royal farkup

What happened to the Kings in the third quarter, when their six-point halftime lead suddenly turned into a nine-point deficit twelve minutes later? Then again, Sacramento had led by as many as 15 before halftime. At least some of this was due to Carmelo Anthony, who scored 15 in the quarter, while the Kings in aggregate came up with 16. Think “defense.” Then again again, sudden changes were the order of the day: with 2:51 to go, a couple of Kings banged Russell Westbrook in the face, no foul was called — but Westbrook was charged with a travel. Westbrook objected strenuously, to the point of a technical, and then to the point of another, which earned him a trip to the locker room. (Inexplicably, Buddy Hield was awarded three free throws.) He left with a 19-16-9 line, one dime short of a triple-double, which probably means nothing in the grand scheme of things. At the time, the Thunder were up eleven; the Kings would not make any substantial progress in those waning moments, and OKC gets to send Sacramento home with a 95-88 loss and a 1-1 record in the season series.

The other weird contretemps involved the general terribleness from the foul line. Hield, Sacramento’s high scorer with 16, went 4-4, but otherwise the Kings were a pitiful 11-21. The Thunder, at 14-29, were worse, mostly due to Westbrook and Steven Adams; the Zero Man was 3-7 and the Kiwi a subrespectable 3-11. At least the Thunder could rebound: 58-37, which qualifies as dominance.

But otherwise, this was a fairly fugly experience, and we’ll just say it’s a W and leave it at that. The Lakers will be here Wednesday, by which time it should be, um, somewhat less cold outside.

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My kingdom for a bench

One of the recurrent problems for the Thunder has been the failure of the second unit to hold its own; if the reserves can’t come up with the points, well, the starters can only do so much. So with the Hornets up three after three quarters, we couldn’t be blamed for worrying that the deficit would balloon to 13 and the starters wouldn’t be able to take up the slack. Didn’t happen. Raymond Felton, who hadn’t scored through those three quarters, came up with four big shots in the fourth, and he wasn’t even the leading bench scorer. But this statistic may be more telling: the Thunder bench hit five of ten three-pointers, while the starters went 3-16. And so Oklahoma City picks up a road win at Charlotte, 101-91, splitting the season series and breaking a three-game losing streak.

Despite the absence (yet again) of Andre Roberson, somehow OKC was able to keep Kemba Walker at least somewhat under control: the Charlotte guard came up with 19 points, but he had to take 17 shots to get there. The Buzzers shot just under 40 percent, which did not help their cause, though it was sort of nice to see Dwight Howard, former teammate of Methuselah, come up with a double-double: 11 points and a whopping 17 rebounds, plus three blocks.

Or maybe it was just a good day for centers. Steven Adams had 14 points on 7-11 shooting, 11 boards, four blocks and three steals. It’s the kind of performance that makes you not notice the problems the other starters encountered: Carmelo Anthony was held to seven points, though he did retrieve ten boards, and Paul George had a middling 17 from his 14 shots. Russell Westbrook? Twenty-five points, ten boards, but 10-27 shooting is not inspiring. (The Thunder shot just over 40 percent, which didn’t particularly help their cause.) Still, OKC turned the ball over only nine times, which qualifies as a Good Thing.

The Kings will be in OKC on Monday, followed by the Lakers on Wednesday; Saturday afternoon, it’s off to Cleveland, where the Cavaliers are always a threat and a half despite their current three-game losing streak. ABC thinks this game is important enough to cover, and they may be right.

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Minnehaha

Did anyone really think that the Thunder, thrashed last night by the Trail Blazers, would manage to make their Big Comeback tonight in the Timberwolves’ house? I’m sure somebody did, perhaps as late as halftime, when the scoreboard bore a pair of 47s; it had been just as knotted twelve minutes before, and it would not have been unreasonable to expect a game as close as the three previous Minnesota/Oklahoma City games this season. Then you look at Russell Westbrook’s double-double line: 38 points, 10 rebounds, five assists. Why only five dimes? Because to get one, Westbrook had to get the ball to a teammate to score, and the teammates weren’t scoring. Between them, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony were 10-33. And the Thunder bench in aggregate didn’t reach double figures until Billy Donovan pulled all the starters late in the fourth quarter. (The 10th and 11th points came fro Kyle Singler at the foul line.) Minnesota 104, Oklahoma City 88, the Wolves win the season series, and, should it become necessary, the tie-breaker.

Take out Westbrook’s better-than-presentable 15-23, and you have a Thunder team shooting 17-56. Just barely 30 percent. The Wolves outrebounded the Thunder, 44-41, and OKC came up with only six fast-break points. Six. Fast-Break. Points. Minnesota didn’t have to do a whole lot to dispatch this bunch, and with only three players in double figures, they managed to do what they needed, when they needed to do it, without getting 64-point type in the Star Tribune. Jimmy Butler led with 26; Jeff Teague, back after seven games out, scored only eight, but he apparently hasn’t lost a whole lot of agility.

So Minnesota solidifies its hold on fourth place in the West. Does this mean they’re better than everyone but the Spurs, the Warriors and the Rockets? The Magic 8-Ball will confirm, if not now, certainly at the end of the season. OKC, now third in the Northwest, will go home, lick its wounds, and show up Saturday afternoon in Charlotte. The Hornets right now are 15-23 (didn’t we see those numbers once already?) and stand 11th in the East. On the other hand, when they showed up in OKC in December, they came away with a 116-103 win.

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Falling off the trail

Damien Lillard was out tonight, and you have to wonder if someone in the Thunder brain trust figured that his absence would have made the Trail Blazers into patsies. If someone actually thought that, surely there’s a rail out of town upon which that someone can be ridden; OKC was up two after the first, but defensive porosity gave Portland plenty of scoring opportunities, and the Blazers were more than happy to take them up on it. With 2:53 left and Portland up a bunch, Billy Donovan waved the white flag, the second time in two games he’s had to do that, and the Blazers move on to Houston tomorrow with a 117-106 victory over OKC tucked into their backpacks.

You’d barely notice that Lillard wasn’t on the court: Shabazz Napier, filling in at point guard, came up with 21 points, and beside him in the backcourt, C. J. McCollum knocked down 27. Just to make it interesting, Jusuf Nurkić added 20 more. Overall, the Blazers shot 53 percent, a good nine percentage points ahead of the Thunder. Further, the Blazers collected 42 rebounds, versus 38 for the Thunder. OKC, as usual, was led by Russell Westbrook, who finished a rebound short of a triple-double (22-9-12) and Paul George, who managed 22 more. Terrance Ferguson, who seems to be the least-terrible defender available to replace the ailing Andre Roberson, took only two shots in half an hour and missed them both.

The season is now half over, and OKC is 22-19. Extrapolate to the full 82 games and you’re looking at 44-38. Might hang on for seventh or eighth seed in the playoffs, but a long way from getting to start out at home. And tomorrow, it’s up to Minnesota to take on the actual first-place team in the Northwest. The Timberwolves have already beaten OKC twice in three games, so it’s imperative that the Thunder somehow come up with the 2-2 split for the season. I’m not holding my breath.

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Whose house is this?

“This is my house,” said Devin Booker back in April after the Suns had dispatched the Thunder by a whopping 120-99. It’s nine months later, and Booker still owns the joint: after jumping out to a 12-6 lead early, the Thunder wilted like flowers in the Arizona sun and lost to the Suns again, 114-100, Booker leading the way with 26.

The Suns’ chief weapon was the long ball: Booker hit five of 10. Second-year forward Dragan Bender, coming off the bench, made six of eight for 20 points. T. J. Warren, allegedly not well, didn’t put up any three-pointers, but still collected 23. Phoenix ended up with 17-39, 44 percent on treys. And there was the negative-space weapon: not turning the ball over. For a team ranked 29th of 30 in turnovers, giving up a mere nine was startling.

Look again at Bender’s 20. The Phoenix bench had 48 total, versus 21 for the Thunder reserves. Josh Jackson had the Suns’ only double-double, with 17 points and 10 rebounds, earning a +34 for his effort. None of the Phoenix starters were plus at all; then again, neither did OKC’s. Russell Westbrook logged yet another triple-double (26-10-11), and Steven Adams hit a sterling nine of eleven, but the stat that most characterized the Thunder’s play tonight was Kyle Singler’s 0-1 for a plus-two.

There’s a brief stop at home Tuesday to say hello to the Portland Trail Blazers, before hitting the road once more. And the first stop is Minnesota, where the Timberwolves own a 2.5-game edge over the Thunder and a 2-1 lead in the season series. (Weird to see the Wolves fourth in the West, but they by-gosh earned it.) Will they freeze out the Thunder? If OKC plays like they did tonight, look for widespread chills.

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L.A. Story (2)

Injuries notwithstanding — Patrick Beverley is out for the season, Danilo Gallinari and Austin Rivers for shorter periods — the Clippers are still a better team than their Staplesmates, and the Thunder didn’t figure to thrash the Clips the way they did the Lakers last night. At the half, it was knotted at 64-all; the Clippers made a serious run late in the third to establish a three-point lead, but four Thunder reserves (and Terrance Ferguson, who again started in lieu of the ailing Andre Roberson) opened the fourth with an 8-0 run. Lou Williams, perhaps your best buy in Sixth Man of the Year consideration, and the ever-surly Blake Griffin kept Los Angeles within screaming distance for a while. Then L.A. completely spazzed out, and the Thunder won it by 10, 127-117, aided by a 31-point performance by Paul George despite foul trouble, and yet another Russell Westbrook triple-double (29-12-11).

The Clippers, as always, could score; Lou Williams pulled 26 (and 10 assists) off the bench, DeAndre Jordan sprung to a season-high 26 (and 17 rebounds), and Griffin finished with 24. They shot a respectable 45 percent, but fluffed at the three-point line (9-30). (Williams tried 11 of those treys, hitting only four.) Where it hurt for the Clips: guard Sindarius Thornwell (great name), scoreless in 11 minutes, was top man on the plus-minus scale for L.A., with a +11.

Carmelo, like PG-13, had five fouls; also like PG-13, he shot like crazy (9-12 for 22). And let us not forget Ferguson, who got his second start; he wasn’t quite the amazing shooter he was last night, but he did come up with 11 points. I can’t help but wonder if he’ll also start against the Suns on, um, Sunday. We’re nearing the halfway point of the season; through 39 games, OKC is 22-17.

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L.A. Story (1)

The schedulers must have had fun with this one: Thunder vs Lakers tonight, Thunder vs Clippers tomorrow night. The venue, of course, is exactly the same: Staples Center. And both Los Angeles teams have underachieved a bit so far this season, though the Clippers are only slightly below .500 and the Lakers were on a seven-game losing streak. Still, you gotta admit, it cuts the travel budget ever so slightly, and that’s no small thing even in an expensive activity like NBA basketball.

With Andre Roberson still hors de combat, neither Josh Huestis nor Alex Abrines had proved a satisfactory replacement, and Abrines himself is now ailing, so Billy Donovan had to come up with another starting shooting guard. The selection: rookie swingman Terrance Ferguson, all of nineteen years old, who definitely put the “shooting” in “shooting guard.” Ferguson, who wound up playing more minutes than anyone else on the team, pulled off three steals and shot 9-12 — 6-9 on treys — finishing tied for a game-high 24 points with Paul George. (Carmelo had 21, Westbrook 20 with 12 assists.) You wouldn’t have figured that a game starting with ten straight Lakers points would end up as an OKC win as lopsided as 133-96, but it happened. Really it did. Sixty percent shooting? Check. Three dozen assists? Check. Kyle Singler actually scores? Check.

The Lakers, missing Lonzo Ball, gradually lost their composure. They lasted fairly well through the first quarter, forging a 26-26 tie, and with five players in double figures but none over 20, spent the rest of the night trying to play catchup. Kyle Kuzma led the offense with 18; Brook Lopez, unwell recently, came off the bench and managed ten. Cory Brewer, not unwell recently, did likewise.

Tomorrow, the Lakers will be at AM/PM or someplace, and the Clippers will be the home team. I don’t anticipate a 37-point win.

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Dallasized

From last game:

[O]n the last possession, Giannis Antetokounmpo drove to the hoop for a dunk, although somewhere around 18,203 people saw him step out of bounds on the way. (The officials should be ashamed of themselves, insisted radio guy Matt Pinto.)

The next morning:

The NBA responded exactly the way you’d think the NBA would:

Which brings us to tonight, with Paul George back and Andre Roberson out, and the Mavericks not at all playing like a 12-25 team. The lead went back and forth pretty much all night; with 37.9 left, Dallas was up by one and had possession. Rookie guarad Dennis Smith Jr. delivered the first half of death blow with a bucket, a Thunder foul, and two free throws, putting the Mavs up five. George did manage to make three free throws, pulling OKC to within two; Smith made one more foul shot, and that was it, Dallas 116, Oklahoma City 113.

Earlier in the game, no one suspected that Smith would be the one to wrap it up for the Mavs; Harrison Barnes (10-15 for 24 points) carried the heaviest portion of the scoring load. But Smith made 13 of his 19 points in the fourth, and when you tack on J. J. Barea’s double-double (12 points, 11 assists) and Dirk being Dirk (13 points), suddenly Dallas seems something like formidable. Josh Huestis, getting his first start, went nowhere; the usual suspects got their points — Russell Westbrook’s triple-double (38-15-11), PG-13’s 25, and Carmelo’s 21 — but that was about it for the OKC offense. (Patrick Patterson, he who complained above, went scoreless.)

So the Mavs, despite their lowly record, go up 2-1 in the season series. (Fourth game is in Dallas in February.) And now the Thunder hit the road. Do not be surprised if the road somehow hits back.

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Bucked over

The story here: after the first quarter, Milwaukee 38, Oklahoma City 18. The Thunder didn’t fall much farther behind, but they never caught up until there were a mere 4.7 seconds left. And then on the last possession, Giannis Antetokounmpo drove to the hoop for a dunk, although somewhere around 18,203 people saw him step out of bounds on the way. (The officials should be ashamed of themselves, insisted radio guy Matt Pinto.) So the Bucks claim the win, 97-95, and a split of the season series.

It wasn’t just the zebras, though. Somewhere in the fourth quarter, the Thunder lost its recently acquired ability to shoot free throws; in one sequence, Russell Westbrook tossed up two bricks, Raymond Felton hit one of three, and Steven Adams’ one make out of two was waved off due to a lane violation. And an ailing Paul George was conspicuous by his absence; Alex Abrines got the start, and missed his only shot of the night. So Westbrook’s 40 points, a season high so far, didn’t help all that much.

Milwaukee was playing the second half of a back-to-back, but they didn’t show that many signs of fatigue until very late. Antetokounmpo, not unexpectedly, collected a team-high 23 points, but four of five starting Bucks came up with double figures, and Eric Bledsoe wasn’t so far behind with eight. Where the Bucks really crushed the Thunder, though, was in ball movement: a 26-16 lead in assists. (Matthew Dellavedova served up nine, same as Westbrook. Then again, Dellavedova, in 25 minutes off the bench, missed four of four shots.)

One more home game: New Year’s Eve, against Dallas. There follows another Western tour, to Los Angeles (Lakers and Clippers on successive nights) and Phoenix, before coming back home to find the Trail Blazers waiting.

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Hunters thwarted

Last two seasons, the Raptors’ annual visit to Oklahoma City produced a Toronto win. Not this year; while they sliced through the Thunder defense for 38 points in the first quarter, OKC started to get the hang of the Toronto offense, and after a 70-50 scoring clip in the middle quarters and one brief fire in the rafters — a light bulb, we were told — the Thunder wrapped up the Raptors, 124-107, OKC’s sixth straight win. (Who knew that this 8-12 club, as of the first of December, would be 20-15 at this point?)

The Raptors’ bench, in fact, was responsible for that early Toronto lead; C. J. Miles, coming off that bench, picked up 20 points in 22 minutes. more than any of their starters. Somehow, DeMar DeRozan was DeTerred: he was held to 4-16 and 15 points. And Jonas Valanciunas was on the receiving end of this Steven Adams dunk:

That had to hurt.

The entire Thunder bench scored only 19, though they played some decent defense in the second half. And this says something: Russell Westbrook (30 points, 13 assists) and Andre Roberson (6 points, 10 rebounds) both finished the night at a sterling +26. (Weirdly, Paul George, with a game-high 33, was +11. It’s not how many you get, it’s when you get them.) Did I mention rebounds? OKC 52, Toronto 34. It was almost worth enduring the brief altercation between Valanciunas and Westbrook, which resulted in double technicals.

Two more games before 2017 winds down: the Bucks on Friday, the Mavericks on Sunday.

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Jingled balls

The difference between Chris Paul and Eric Gordon? Gordon’s not an adept actor, but he’s a reliable playmaker, and if you can’t have CP3, as the Rockets couldn’t tonight, Gordon fills the bill quite admirably. And it’s not like the Rockets were suffering greatly: okay, they dropped two in a row, but who hasn’t this year? (Besides them, I mean.) It’s a Christmas game, the sort of special occasion where the Thunder have excelled over the last decade, and things happen on holidays. Mike D’Antoni, just for the heck of it, decided to foul Andre Roberson as often as possible. Was this the right idea? Well, Dre made the first shot, missed two more, and made the fourth. D’Antoni backed off after that. A minute and a half out, the Thunder were up three; James Harden was nicely positioned for a trey to tie it up, and Roberson swatted it away; Russell Westbrook retrieved it, tossed it back to Dre, who obligingly dropped it into the bucket, and the Rockets put up no further resistance. OKC 112, Houston 107, and the only starter who missed double figures — Roberson finished with eight — proved to be the most valuable player for the night.

Houston wasn’t short of offense: Gordon finished with 20, as did Trevor Ariza, and Harden, still the leading scorer in the NBA, finished two boards short of a triple-double, with 29-8-14. Clint Capela, who had the highest field-goal percentage in the league, didn’t jeopardize that standing: he had 19 points (9-14) and 10 rebounds. But tonight, none of that was enough. Westbrook put up 31-6-11. Paul George dropped in 24, Carmelo Anthony 20, and Steven Adams double-doubled up with 15 points/10 rebounds. The Thunder shot a sterling 54 percent and 8-18 from the three-point line. (The Rockets, as they will, put up 37 treys, but only 12 makes. This is called “defense.”)

After that, you gotta like the Thunder’s chances for the rest of December. Coming to town: Wednesday, the Raptors; Friday, the Bucks; Sunday, the Mavericks. Toronto is the toughest of that threesome, so it’s probably a good thing they’re here first.

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Coda

And so the Thunder take the season series from the Jazz, three games to one, and they did it with only one bit of showboating by Russell Westbrook: one assist short of a triple-double (27-10-9) and expected to dribble it out for the last 24 seconds, he followed the script for about 19, then suddenly spotted Steven Adams in the general vicinity of the rim and fired a bullet that way. Adams plonked it into the net, and Westbrook had his tenth assist. Then again, when you’re on a a good team, you can do things like that, and after a fairly dismal start, the Thunder, now three games over .500 for the first time all season, seem to be on the way to goodness. And it never hurts to follow that path at the expense of a division rival. OKC 103, Utah 89, dropping the Jazz slightly deeper into the cellar and climbing to within a game and a half of the Timberwolves.

At least the Utah fans got to see Donovan Mitchell in good form, shooting a solid 12-16 for 29 points. On the downside, only two other Jazzmen made double figures — Derrick Favors and Thabo Sefolosha — and they stopped at 11. (Rudy Gobert, sad to say, is still sidelined.) Utah held on to the ball pretty well, committing only 12 turnovers, but the Thunder coughed it up only seven times. OKC’s half of the box looked fairly weird, with four starters in double figures and Andre Roberson taking only two shots and hitting neither. (Dre is, of course, a defensive specialist.) Behind Westbrook, Paul George pulled off six steals on the way to 26 points, Carmelo Anthony delivered 16, and that last-second bucket by Adams gave him 12.

But now the Rockets are coming to town, and they’re 25-6. Then again, two games ago they were 25-4, so you have to rate this as doable. A lot depends on how well Chris Paul is recovering. Last I heard, CP3 will likely be back, and Luc Mbah a Moute won’t be for a while. And James Harden remains James Harden, still on top of the leading-scorers list. Add to this whatever pressure derives from a Christmas Day game, and — well, it’s going to take more to beat the Rockets than the Jazz.

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Unlazy circles

The Thunder are not particularly good against sub-.500 teams, and you can’t get much sub-er than the Atlanta Hawks, who arrived here with a 7-24 record and without Dennis Schröder, their leading scorer. First quarter ended in a 28-28 tie. OKC dominated the second, 36-22; the Hawks repaid the favor in the third, 31-18. And things see-sawed in the fourth; Thunder runs were followed by Hawks runs, and the boys in blue didn’t start to look like they had things under control until a Steven Adams stickback put OKC up four. Then Adams went down and Ersan Ilyasova tossed up a trey. Nearing a shot-clock violation, Paul George put up a near-miss and was bailed out by Kent Bazemore; PG got one of two free throws for a two-point lead. Ilyasova found his way to the stripe and tied it at 117 with 12 seconds left. Then Russell Westbrook came up with a 27-foot three-pointer that, had he missed, would have gotten all manner of Anglo-Saxonisms aired in post-game interviews. Oklahoma City 120, Atlanta 117, and that last quarter, 38-36 Thunder, was something to behold.

In the absence of Schröder, it was Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli who did most of the damage, with Marco going 10-18 for 27 points and Ersan 7-10 for 22. What’s more, Malcolm Delaney came up with 20 from off the bench. Meanwhile, Westbrook served up 15 assists while wrangling 30 points, Melo made seven treys (!) for 24 points, George 17, and Adams 16. Andre Roberson picked up eight, missing two foul shots and prompting the Hawks to try Hack-A-Dre. Dre, always cooperative, missed the next two as well.

And tomorrow it’s Jazz Night for the last time this season. OKC leads the season series 2-1 over Utah, but the Jazz are 12-5 at home, and they have the night off tonight, which the Thunder obviously didn’t. The Rockets come to OKC on Christmas Day, but Houston is, um, 12-1 on the road. Expect ferocity.

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Muted and then some

Poor Rudy Gobert. He had to watch the Jazz being pounded into quarter-notes, and simultaneously wonder if he can do anything about it for the last game in the season series. I thought maybe Edmond’s own Ekpe Udoh might start in the middle for Utah, but Quin Snyder is infinitely sneakier than I thought; he put Derrick Favors in the middle and two guys named Joe up front. But while Favors did present some offense, the two guys named Joe (Ingles and Johnson) scored two points between them, the Jazz shot less than 36 percent, and the Thunder crushed them in OKC, 107-79, now 2-1 through game three. (Udoh, coming off the bench, at least was good for a +8 for Utah, compared with -20 or below for all the Jazz starters.)

It helped that Steven Adams was back from Concussionville, contributing 11 points and nine rebounds to the Thunder cause. The alleged Big Three lived up to their billing for once, with Russell Westbrook hauling in 24 plus 10 boards, and both Paul George and Carmelo Anthony shooting 5-12 for 18 points. With OKC up 53-37 at the half, there were only two questions: “Will they fade in the third and lose a close one?” and “Will Kyle Singler get another DNP-CD?” In this order: no, and yes. OKC shot 52 percent, a little better than half that from three-point distance (8-23, 34 percent), and finally had a decent night at the stripe (19-22, 86 percent). The Jazz were close behind, 42-39, in rebounding, which helped them stay somewhere inside the building.

The home stand ends Friday, against the Hawks; after that, it’s a quick Saturday-night run to Salt Lake against these same Jazz, and then back home for the Rockets (Christmas Day), the Raptors (Wednesday), and the Bucks (Friday).

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None more close

The Thunder had a 15-point lead in the second quarter, and promptly blew it in the 32-18 third quarter. The Nuggets rolled up a 10-point lead, and all of the air was sucked out of the room. It was 94-all with 2.3 seconds left, and it fell to Russell Westbrook to finish it off. He swished the first free throw, but the second one rolled out. Denver had about 1.6 seconds to work with, and surely they were going to put up a shot, especially since OKC still had a foul to give. Defense hardened. How hard? The Nuggets just barely missed a five-count. Finally, Gary Harris got off a buzzer-beater, which never made it to the rim. Oklahoma City 95, Denver 94, and the fact that Westbrook scored only 38 points instead of 39 was forgotten in the din.

Harris turned up to be the Nuggets’ scoring leader, with 17 points. Four more Nuggets cleared the double-figures bar. Were it not for Will Barton’s not good, very bad, awful 2-15 shooting, Denver might have walked away from this one. Of the Thunder starters, Westbrook had that 38, and the other four combined managed only 28. The one sharpshooter from the bench was Alex Abrines, who hit everything he put up: three treys and two free throws for 11.

So it’s back to .500 after seven weeks below. The third game with the Jazz takes place on Wednesday. (The fourth is a mere three days later, in Salt Lake City.) Rudy Gobert is apparently out for a while. Still, one should not underestimate Utah.

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