Archive for Net Proceeds

A veritable clinch of death

It was 40-34 after the first quarter, and long-suffering Thunder fans knew what was about to happen: their team would go strangely inert during the second, and the Raptors would pounce. And that’s exactly what happened, with an unexpected twist: OKC got going before halftime and took a 66-64 lead. After that, things got seriously knotted, tied at 116 with five minutes left, and the seesaw kept going. Then the Raptors totally lost their composure, capped off with a couple of technicals and a trip by DeMar DeRozan to DeLockerRoom, after which it was 132-125 OKC, and with eight seconds left, Billy Donovan sent in the reserves to dribble it out and claim the season sweep. Fred Katz of the Transcript summed it up nicely:

Or so it seemed. It didn’t hurt that the Thunder had a 39-31 rebounding lead, a 31-27 edge in assists. But still: 25 lead changes in 48 minutes. And with Kyle Lowry (22 points) on the bench with six fouls and DeRozan (24 points) um, elsewhere, the Thunder ended that game on a 7-0 burst. Weirdly, the bottom of the plus/minus chart was occupied by Serge Ibaka, who was 2-11 for seven points, a -23 for the day, and a technical late in the fourth during the whatever-the-hell it was that happened to the Raptors as time wound down.

Still, this isn’t going to knock the Raptors out of first in the East; they still own a four-game edge over the Celtics, who tonight play at New Orleans before returning home for a Tuesday match with, um, Oklahoma City. Meanwhile out West, the Trail Blazers are on a 12-game winning streak to cement their hold on third, with the Thunder fourth at 43-29. The logjam continues, though: San Antonio, Minnesota and Utah are all 43-30, and the Pelicans are 39-30. This must be what they mean by “down to the wire.”


Fueled by mistrust

You always know where radio guy Matt Pinto’s loyalties lie, but I don’t know if I’d go this far:

Then again, when Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were Clippers — but never mind, let’s not go there. And besides, how can you hate a guy named Sindarius Thornwell? Okay, Thornwell is more of a defensive specialist, and what the Clips needed tonight were points from people other than Austin Rivers and Tobias Harris. (I always figure Lou Williams for 40 or so; he had a mere 18 tonight.) And the Thunder rolled up plenty of points on the way to a 121-113 win over the Angelenos and a 3-0 sweep of the season series.

The OKC Big Three were about as big as they needed today, but no bigger. (Yeah, Westbrook got a triple-double: 16-10-11.) Tonight, it was new guy’s Corey Brewer’s time to shine; CB had a season-high 22 points and no fewer than six steals. And yet Brewer was somehow minus-four for the evening; meanwhile, the new new guys, Terrance Ferguson and Patrick Patterson, racked up plus-twelves. The Clips controlled the boards, though, 48-46, with almost half of them reeled in by DeAndre Jordan. Does this offset Steven Adams’ 18 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks? Maybe we can ask Matt Pinto.

And now things get hairier. Sunday afternoon, it’s off to see the Raptors; Tuesday night, over to Boston. The two of them combined have won over 100 games.


Fierce birds, considering

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.


Back to the West with you

This started out as a low-scoring game: OKC led the Kings by a modest 19-16 after the first quarter. But putting distance between themselves and Sacramento proved to be surprisingly difficult; the third quarter, in which the Kings scored 39 points, left the West Coasters up one point with 12 minutes left, and Steven Adams was out again, this time with a contusion. The Thunder managed to crank up both offense and defense in that final frame, which is a good thing; perhaps not so good, this was the front end of a back-to-back, which ends tomorrow in Atlanta, which makes for not a whole lot of rest. Still, the Kings came up with a 9-2 run ending with only 30 seconds left to bring them to within three. Those last three points would not be forthcoming, however, and OKC finished with a couple of Corey Brewer freebies to win it 106-101 and take the season series 3-1.

Russell Westbrook played a hair over 36 minutes, and if you asked him if he wanted to be out there that long, he’d probably snicker: “Why not?” He’s almost, but not completely, indefatigable; if he’s thoroughly shagged out tomorrow night, the Hawks, the only team in the East to be guaranteed no trip to the post-season, probably have more than enough energy to make things difficult for the Thunder. And while Paul George and Carmelo Anthony both had 21 points, both played more than half an hour out there. (Westbrook, perhaps needless to say, had another triple-double, 17-10-11.) Kings swingman Bogdan Bogdanović had 19 points to lead the Men In Black, and it’s still kind of fun to see Zach Randolph, 53 years old, and Vince Carter, now in his eighties, keeping up with Sacramento’s youngsters.

Tomorrow: Atlanta. But you knew that. And it’s a 6:30 start. (5:30 Central.) Remind me to find some complaint about Daylight Saving Time, especially if the Hawks make a game of it.


The old rivalry persists

You seldom see the Thunder and the Spurs in close proximity in the standings. But neither of these teams has exhibited consistent brilliance this season, with the result that both of them were sitting in third place in their respective divisions, OKC at 38-29, San Antonio at 37-28. The Spurs, minus Kawhi Leonard, have had their troubles, and after trailing most of the night, they opened the fourth quarter with four points in six minutes. With the Thunder up 21, though, the Spurs roused themselves to an 11-0 run and got that margin down to seven before OKC regrouped and forced the issue. In the end, it was a ten-point difference: Thunder 104, Spurs 94, and OKC now leads the season series 2-1.

Perhaps the most remarkable statistic from this game involves free throws. OKC has not been good from the stripe, hitting only 16 of 24 tonight, but San Antonio managed only 4-7. Somehow the Thunder committed only 13 fouls all night. Steven Adams, who turned his left ankle late in the third quarter, had four of them. Four Spurs finished in double figures, three of them from the bench: Rudy Gay and Davis Bertans came up with 14 each to lead the team. (Manu Ginobili, a typically reliable scorer, took no shots.) The oft-criticized Thunder reserves were on point tonight, contributing 50 points, nearly as many as the starters. Carmelo Anthony had a terrible night, with only two; Russell Westbrook cracked the triple-double mark (21-12-10) with 1:18 left, serving up his tenth dime to Jerami Grant (15 points) for a trey.

One game remains in this homestand: against Sacramento, on Monday. The Kings, in 12th place in the West and definitely not going anywhere in the post-season, are nonetheless capable of giving the Thunder fits.


Reflections in a scalded eye

In Phoenix last week, it took the Thunder 47 minutes to catch up to the Suns, and then sixty seconds to dispatch the desert-dwellers by eight. In the friendlier confines of the ‘Peake, it was an easier task: the Suns were held to 15 points in the second quarter, normally the period where OKC’s defense plays hooky. Phoenix came back with 29 in the third, but the Thunder rolled up 39 on the way to an 88-67 lead and a 115-87 win, giving the Suns the dubious distinction of being the first team this season to be eliminated from the playoffs. Phoenix, apart from Devin Booker, just didn’t shoot well, finishing at 34 percent. Booker was a blah 10-22, but he did collect 30 points (and a flagrant-one) for his trouble. Tyson Chandler, manning the middle, came up with ten; no one else from Phoenix managed double figures.

The noteworthy aspect of this game, perhaps, was Corey Brewer’s first start in Thunder blue; he picked up 17 points on 6-10 shooting and finished +26 for the night, about average for the OKC starters, led by, um, Russell Westbrook with a 27-9-8, 11-14 and zero three-point attempts. (The one double-double for the night: Steven Adams, 18 points on 7-8 shooting and 12 rebounds.)

Given the way the Thunder has seesawed between awesome and awful, perhaps beating a team that has yet to win its 20th game sounds more impressive than it ought to. Then again, the last two ganes on this home stand are against San Antonio and Sacramento, two squads that have had the Thunder’s number more often than one might have expected. And the Northwest is still knotted, from third-place Portland (39-26) to tenth-place Utah (35-30). Four games top to bottom. This is gonna be fierce, folks.


Before and afterburner

The Houston Rockets last lost a game during the War of 1812, or so it seems, but the Thunder, which has actually beaten Houston once this season, managed to stay within a couple of points through the first quarter. But every couple of minutes, they slipped a little bit farther behind, until early in the fourth they found themselves looking up at Houston from a hole 19 points deep. The Thunder managed to pull to within nine with a minute and a half left, but the Rockets do know how to burn up clock, and by the time it was all over, Houston had won its 53rd game in a row, or so it seems, by 122-112, and had evened up the season series at 1-1 with only one to go — in Houston, of course.

Former Thunder beat writer Darnell Mayberry credits Chris Paul for much of the Rockets’ brilliant red glare:

CP has been fantastic, and the Rockets are now 39-6 with him in the lineup. He’s given up the ball more, greatly reduced his patented mid-range jumper, embraced more 3s and integrated seamlessly with Harden, another ball-dominant superstar. Absolutely unreal what he’s done.

And remember those days with the Clippers when CP3 was the premier flopper in the land? CP3 doesn’t seem to do a whole lot of that anymore. Or maybe it’s just that Harden is at least as histrionic, and no one had ever noticed it before. Still, Harden worked hard, gathering 23 points this evening and serving up 11 assists. CP3 numbers, kinda sorts. (Paul had 25 and 5 dimes.)

Thunder numbers were not inspiring: Russell Westbrook took 27 shots to get 32 points, and both Paul George and Carmelo Anthony had mediocre nights. On the upside, new arrival Corey Brewer was sufficiently pissed off to refuse to allow the Rockets to dribble it out; he kept fouling Houston players until he was totally out of fouls. Civility is for the pre-season.

Thursday night, the Suns come to town, and despite about forty fewer wins than the Rockets, Phoenix just as assuredly has OKC’s number. The top of the slide looks farther and farther away every day.


Sputter, sputter

Talk of road wins becomes futile at Portland. Before tonight, the Trail Blazers were 19-11 at home, and the Thunder hasn’t won there since 2014. At no time tonight was there any reason to think things were going to change; the Blazers occasionally left the door open, but OKC seldom capitalized on any opportunities, and Portland got its third win against the Thunder with one yet to come, a reasonably methodical 108-100 chuckler which OKC once again kept switching defenders with no effect and hoisting three-pointers with not much. (I mean, 6-27? “Doc, I miss when I do this.” “Don’t do that.”)

Evan Turner, starting in place of Mo Harkless, turned in a decent line, with 17 points on 6-10 shooting, complementing Portland’s killer guard duo of Damien Lillard and C. J. McCollum, which picked up 28 and 20 respectively. The Blazers’ bench managed to hold court with the starters resting; the OKC reserves, not so much. (Corey Brewer, only just signed by OKC, played 11 scoreless minutes but did pull off a couple of steals.) Russell Westbrook wound up at 30-11-6, shooting a horrendous 12-31. Paul George was 8-19 for 21. And the two of them together made one trey in 13 tries. Upside: Patrick Patterson, starting for the resting Carmelo Anthony, was 5-8 for 12 points and grabbed six boards. Downside: Patrick Patterson, starting for the resting Carmelo Anthony, may be charitably be described as “unpolished.” He’ll get better.

This was a game of momentous import, inasmuch as the West from third down is logjammed, and Portland now owns the tiebreaker over OKC by virtue of winning the season series. (“Logjammed?” you ask. Consider: the distance from the third-place Blazers to the tenth-place Jazz is a mere four games.) And having just lost to a team that’s won six straight, the Thunder next face the Rockets, who have won fifteen straight. At least they have two days of rest between now and then.


Clutch action

We were still in the first quarter when Judge Radar observed:

The Suns were racking up second-chance points like crazy and led 37-32 after one, 67-60 at the half. The Thunder slowly clawed their way back, but there were obstacles:

The result of all this: 116-116 at the 1:00 mark. Russell Westbrook, who’d scored the last two Thunder points, picked up three more on a feed from Steven Adams, got a stop, and burned up as much of the clock as he could, helped get another stop, and … well, nobody gets in Westbrook’s way when he’s on a roll. The Thunder went 8-0 in that last minute and won it 124-116 despite 39 points from Devin Booker, 19 from both T. J. Warren and Josh Jackson, and an 18-10 double-double from Efrid Payton.

And “despite” does seem to be the word: Westbrook, who went 43-14-8 (!), wound up +2 for the night. Adams, ‘Melo and PG all were plus-er, though Anthony and George both were shooting blah-ish 6-18. More interesting: both teams shot 46-96, and both hit 11 three-pointers, though the Suns took only 25 shots to get them, the Thunder needing 34.

Frighteningly, this is supposed to be the easier game of this back-to-back; tomorrow it’s off to Portland, a place where opponents’ winning streaks go to die. The Blazers are one game (and two seeds) ahead, and have won five straight. Meanwhile, the Pelicans, half a game behind OKC, have won seven straight, so the playoff picture could change very, very quickly.


Those dangerous lottery teams

The Dallas Mavericks, it appears, will not be going to the playoffs this year. This doesn’t mean, of course, that they can’t make life miserable for teams that are, especially since the Thunder by no means have a seed locked up. And if they keep collapsing at the wrong time — is there a right time to collapse? — both these teams could finish on the wrong side of eighth place. Two minutes left, and it’s 98-all; first OKC, then Dallas, spent an amazing amount of time trying for second- and third- and even fourth-chance points; the horn went off with the score tied at 100. Overtime ensued, as it will, OKC won the opening tip, and promptly turned the ball over. With 38 seconds left, a Russell Westbrook and-one gave the Thunder a 111-110 lead. Over the next 20 seconds, the teams traded offensive fouls; OKC apparently had just enough defense left to keep the Mavs out of the cylinder. The season series is over, tied at 2-2. And you have to figure that Billy Donovan will have had a few things to say to these guys by the time they get to Phoenix.

That Westbrook bucket near the end of regulation was notable largely because there’d been so few of them in the second half; the man is clutch when it’s late, but there are times when it’s had to be really, really late. Brodie did end up with 30 points and 11 rebounds, not so much more than Paul George’s 23-11, and anyway, Steven Adams, though he didn’t miss a shot all night, didn’t take but four shots. He did, however, show up with 12 rebounds, to contribute to a 56-36 rebounding average. Harrison Barnes led the Mavs with 26; Dwight Powell popped up 21; Dirk, blessed, ancient Dirk, got just enough to put his lifetime total over 31,000, sixth since, well, since ever.

No bragging rights here, except that it’s a W fercryingoutloud; the Suns have essentially the same record as the Mavs, and they’re capable of causing just as much grief.


Up from the depths of Florida

For a little over 12 minutes, this looked like the very definition of a trap game: the Magic have not been exactly wonderful this year, but they’d beaten the Thunder once already, and the 38-31 Orlando lead after the first quarter left a lot of puzzled faces in Loud City. Not to worry, said your local boosters, pointing to the 53-39 Thunder advantage in the next two quarters. But the Magic would not go away, and a late 12-point OKC lead diminished to four in a matter of seconds. As the last minute clicked in, Paul George, who’d had a terrible time last game, dropped in a trey from the right corner, courtesy of Russell Westbrook, who was still out there banging despite five fouls. Orlando came back strong, but not strong enough to outlast the Thunder at home. OKC 112, Magic 105, and if you ask me, the difference was in the newly revitalized Thunder bench, responsible for 48 points on a night when ‘Melo knocked down only nine, and worse, Westbrook came in two points short of a triple-double. (Yes, that means he scored only eight.)

PG was back on the beam, and thank goodness for that: he was the only player on either side to break 20 points, with a solid 26. Then again, two of the Magic men checked in with 19 (Evan Fournier and Jonathon Simmons), and the three other Orlando starters delivered double digits — though the reserves could muster only 24 among them. And somewhere along the way, the Thunder remembered how to rebound, outgrabbing the Magic 50-35. Still, OKC’s three-point defense was questionable at best, the Magic rolling up 12 of 29.

There follows another road trip: Dallas (Wednesday), Phoenix (Friday), Portland (Saturday). I’m not sure we can assume any of those will be an easy win.


They knew it wouldn’t last

The Judge summed it up tersely:

Indeed. Paul George missed his first eight shots and finished with five points on 1-14 (!) shooting. You can’t really afford to lose PG-13’s 20-plus scoring, especially if you’re playing one of the elite teams in the league. With every single Thunder player on the wrong side of the plus/minus divide, Golden State delivered partial payback for the two games they’d previously lost to OKC this season with a 112-80 thrashing in Oakland. (Josh Huestis, getting the start at the two, was the least minus, at -1.) The part that stings the most is that the Thunder were up three points early in the third quarter, and then they completely went to pieces.

The Thunder defense was occasionally porous, but their offense was pretty much nonexistent: 33 percent shooting, 9-34 from the three-point circle, and a dire 13-21 from the charity stripe. Against this level of futility, about all the Warriors had to do was show up. (TV dude Brian Davis grumbled at halftime that any game against Golden State was, in effect, eight on five, as the zebras will never call anything on the Warriors; I dunno, but this particular set of officials didn’t seem unusually bad.) OKC did come up with one double-double (Russell Westbrook, 15 points, 12 rebounds), something the Warriors didn’t do — but then again, they didn’t have to. Kevin Durant was at least somewhat hot early on and finished with a game-high 28; Steph Curry kicked in 21.

A quick trip home to meet the Magic on Monday; OKC has been less than effective against teams with really poor records this year, and in their earlier match in Orlando, they lost by 13 to a team that had lost nine straight. After that, three road games in four nights, starting in Dallas.


First-quarter fiends

Have we seen this before? The Thunder pounded the Kings for 44 points in the first quarter, and then promptly folded: in the middle quarters, Sacramento flattened OKC to the tune of 69-41, including a 16-0 run to close the third. (Yes, we have seen this before, on the seventh of November.) So the final frame began with the Kings up 90-85. The Thunder managed to creep to a one-point lead inside the three-minute mark, and at :55, it was a two-point lead. The Kings were not done yet, and with one second left, the score was tied at 107. Finally, Russell Westbrook, who hadn’t made a trey all night, dropped one through to the accompaniment of the horn. OKC 110, Sacramento 107, and:

He’s thinking forward to Golden State Saturday night.

The live box score has been down since the end of the third quarter. Radio guy Matt Pinto said, more than once, that he was sure that Westbrook trey was doomed. Figure 23 for Carmelo, 26 for Paul George, and a Westbrook minimal triple-double. The old guys from the Kings managed to show up the rookies; Zack Randolph (age 36) had a game-high 29, and Vince Carter (age 41) came up with 14. Still, the Sacramento bench more than held its own against the Thunder reserves.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.



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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.