Archive for Net Proceeds

Pecked to death

The New Orleans Pelicans pay attention. Recent events would persuade even the casual viewer that the way to handle the Thunder is to let them run up a big lead early on and then watch them fritter it away, a little at a time, until it’s too late for the boys in blue to do anything about it. The big lead here, halfway through the first quarter, was 25-6. By the end of the first, Oklahoma City led by only 9; they stayed at about that distance for the next 12 minutes, and then totally fell apart. The Pelicans took the lead before the end of the third, and with 18.5 seconds left, the Bad Birds had themselves an unsurmountable lead. Yeah, I know: it was only six points. But in terms of sheer clutch, the Thunder seem to have burned up their pressure plate. And Anthony Davis, always a threat to OKC, was even more so than usual tonight, nailing 36 points and grabbing 15 rebounds as the Pelicans won by, um, seven: 114-107. And it might have been worse had not DeMarcus Cousins elbowed Russell Westbrook in the face midway through the third, earning a Flagrant Two and a free trip to the locker room.

That Davis line is instructive: 18 of 22 free throws, 9-19 from the floor, and only one futile trey attempt. The Pelicans shot 50 percent or better most of the night, finishing at 51. As is Alvin Gentry’s wont, the New Orleans reserves didn’t get much in the way of playing time, though Darius Miller’s 11 off the bench trumped any individual Thunder reserve. (Jerami Grant was the closest, with 10.) So dire was the situation that a Westbrook triple-double (22-16-12) wasn’t enough to save the day.

Were the Thunder thinking forward to the holidays? Not likely. Were they thinking forward to Wednesday and the Warriors? Possibly more likely. I suggest black ops: call up P. J. Dozier from the Sports Drink League. You’ll recognize him at once: he wears number 35.

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They knew it wouldn’t last

Of the Elite-Adjacent teams in the NBA, the Thunder have generally had the best luck, or perhaps the least bad luck, against the Spurs. And in San Antonio tonight, OKC ran off an 18-0 run in the first quarter on the way to a 23-point lead; the Spurs diligently chipped away at that lead. The fourth quarter opened to a 78-78 tie, and as they so often do, the Spurs managed to outexecute the competition. It didn’t help that the Thunder got the back of the zebras’ hooves in that fourth quarter; it also didn’t help that Paul George took four free throws in the waning moments and managed to collect only two points. A busted play seemed to bring on the horn that much closer — there’s some of that bad luck, since the Spurs didn’t have to do much beyond watch Russell Westbrook stumble — and San Antonio won it 104-101, starting up OKC’s two-game road trip behind the eight-ball.

Still, many of the numbers were close. Item: OKC shot 39-88, 44.3 percent; the Spurs hit 34-78, 43.8. But some were less close. Item: San Antonio made 14 of 35 treys for 40 percent; the Thunder, nine of 23 for 39.1. And some weren’t close at all. Item: The Spurs were 24-28 from the free-throw line, the Thunder 14-23, a good twelve percentage points (and 10 points, not inconsiderable in a three-point game).

LaMarcus Aldridge gave OKC the most trouble, pulling in 26 points and nine rebounds, five off the offensive glass. Danny Green scored 17 and took away four steals; Pau Gasol picked up 14 and a +21 for the night. The usual suspects accounted for most of the OKC scoring, with Carmelo at 20, George at 18, and Westbrook’s line was a curious 15-9-9. Shooting 5-22 will do that to you.

Not that they’re going that particular route, but the Thunder get to head east on old US 90 to New Orleans, where the Pelicans will be waiting on Sunday. The Bad Birds are 8-7 at this writing, a game in front of OKC for the moment. And they’ll have to be in the moment to win that one, because it’s too easy to be distracted by the coming of the Warriors.

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The night Chicago tried

In 1974, British songwriters Mitch Murray and Peter Callendar put together a semi-historical pop tune, a hit for Paper Lace in the UK and for Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods in the US. It was legitimately tuneful, but the Brits weren’t at all familiar with the City of the Big Shoulders: the narrative takes place on the “east side of Chicago,” which would be somewhere in the middle of Lake Michigan.

This year’s Chicago Bulls seem to be treading water: they’ve won only two of their first twelve games. And they didn’t start out auspiciously tonight: after 12 minutes, they’d scored a feeble seven points. When you come out for the second quarter down 20, and for the second half down 24, it’s very easy to say “Fark it, the next one can’t be this bad.” They didn’t say that, though, and for the last two periods they outscored the Thunder 45-34 for a reasonably respectable 92-79 final. And if the Bulls generated some terrible stats along the way, so did OKC: Chicago shot 26-75 from the floor, which is a pretty dire 35 percent, but the Thunder nearly matched for direness, at 26-72 for 36 percent. And the Bulls were better, if not exactly good, on the long ball, hitting 11 of 29; OKC put up 30 and saw only eight go in.

In fact, this may tell you everything you need to know about the game: Carmelo Anthony was back, and posted a double-double — 18 points, 11 rebounds — despite shooting a beyond-mediocre 3-10. (Off the bench, Jerami Grant produced a 15-11 line hitting five of nine.) Melo did, however, stroke sweetly from the stripe, hitting 11 of 12; the Bulls in aggregate made 16 of 20. Chicago’s big scorers were starting power forward Lauri Markkanen and reserve point guard Antonio Blakeney, each with 16. That Westbrook fellow? Twenty-one, but nothing like his triple-double days.

On the road again: Friday at San Antonio, Monday at New Orleans, just in time to welcome the Warriors next Wednesday. And as Pete Callendar noted, every place has an east side, doesn’t it?

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Go ask Dallas

The Mavericks have not been doing well this season, and the faint scent of Trap Game filled the arena, especially since the Thunder are now missing two starters: Carmelo Anthony reported in with back pain, and Steven Adams still has yet to recover from his calf contusion. Dallas was missing three players — Seth Curry, Josh McRoberts, and Devin Harris — and this is Dirk’s 20th season. The perfect time for the Mavericks to pull off the upset. But it didn’t happen: despite some serious brilliance from Harrison Barnes and some sturdy plays from the new guys, the Mavs stayed behind so long that Kyle Singler got to play. And both Paul George and Russell Westbrook had semi-epic performances, PG-13 tossing up 37 points and Brodie following with 27. At the end, it was Oklahoma City 112, Dallas 99, the Thunder shooting a solid 50 percent and a way-better-than-average 15-32 on the long ball.

Things we’d like to have explained: How come Wesley Matthews didn’t make but one point all night? Since when does Dirk argue with the officials? (He got a T for his trouble.) And whatever happened to OKC board domination? The Mavs outrebounded the Thunder, 41-37. Meanwhile, Josh Huestis made three of seven treys in 22 minutes, during which time he rolled up six personal fouls. I don’t think Billy Donovan groused too much: OKC made 25 of 33 free throws, which is not good, but Dallas only took 18, making 14. The one double-double for the night: Barnes, with 22 points and 13 rebounds.

One game remaining on the home stand: the Bulls will be here Wednesday, and we should see a Grant Brothers tieup. (Jerami, if ‘Melo is still out, will start for the Thunder; brother Jerian plays for Chicago.) If OKC prevails, they’ll be back to .500.

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Fire rekindled

It takes some doing to blow an entire 20-point lead, but the Thunder managed exactly that tonight; early in the third, they led the Clippers 82 to 62, but at the 5:36 mark, it was 105-105. It’s as though the well-oiled machine suddenly starts coughing, sounding like Jack Benny’s old Maxwell. But at some point, the Marvel Mystery Oil started working: by the time the clock dropped below 1:00, the Thunder had outscored Los Angeles 14-4, and the Clips weren’t going anywhere. The final was Oklahoma City 120, Los Angeles 111, and “Takin’ Care of Business” played as the fans headed for the exits.

What was different about this game, after that string of losses? Steven Adams was hors de combat with a calf contusion, and Dakari Johnson (!) started in the middle for the very first time. For the 23 minutes he was there, Johnson almost made you forget about the Kiwi Kid: he wasn’t the strongest rebounder to be seen, but he shot decently (3-5 from the floor, 3-8 at the stripe, nine points) and wound up +26 for the night, second only to Paul George — and PG-13 had a phenomenal night, with 42 points. With that much going on, Russell Westbrook was content to run distribution: 22 points, three rebounds, eight assists. And all those rebounds Westbrook might have gotten went to Andre Roberson, who pulled down eleven of them.

Much is said about Blake Griffin, most of it deserved, but historically, no current Clipper has been as hazardous to the Thunder’s health as Lou Williams, who came off the bench to rack up 35 points in 39 minutes. (Griffin had an okay 17, but it took him 19 shots to get there.) Austin Rivers, expected to be off for the night, played through the presumed pain and scored 17 of his own. And in the two-spot for the night was the wondrously named Sindarius Thornwell: it was the rookie’s first taste of double figures. The Clips owned the boards, 46-40, but did not assist well (13-23).

Up next: the seemingly anemic Dallas Mavericks, winners of two of their first twelve, on Sunday night in front of Loud City.

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Ta-ra-ra Mudiay

Emmanuel Mudiay wears number zero for the Denver Nuggets, which inevitably invites comparisons to that other point guard, the one in Thunder blue, who wears the cipher. Tonight, anyway, Mudiay finished with the more inspiring line: he didn’t miss a shot until the 1:30 mark, and finished 8-10, 4-4 from the three-point circle, one free throw, seven rebounds, five assists. A team-high 21 points, off the bench, even. Russell Westbrook also got seven rebounds and five assists, but shot a dire 6-22, 1-6 on the long ball, and missed all three of his free throws. Thirteen points. Not good. But maybe it didn’t matter so much: the Thunder are still having problems executing late, and the Nuggets were happy to commit a shot-clock violation in the closing seconds. Raymond Felton got a totally useless layup near the end, and Mudiay dribbled it out. Denver 102, Oklahoma City 94, the Thunder’s seventh loss against four wins.

For OKC, Carmelo Anthony did most of the heavy offensive lifting, with 28 points on 10-20, 6 of 10 from outside. PG-13 pulled 13 points. Felton’s last-second layup gave him 12, to lead the bench. Meanwhile, Paul Millsap picked up 17 for the Nuggets, and Nikola Jokić got the night’s only double-double, 15 points and 11 baords. Denver collected one more rebound than OKC; perhaps more important, Denver rang up assists on 27 of 38 made shots. The Thunder hit the same 38 shots (in eight more tries), but only managed 16 assists.

So this road trip was a total bust. The Los Angeles Clippers will be waiting when the Thunder get home. The Clips may not be at full strength: Blake Griffin will likely be his usual borderline-thespian self, but Danilo Gallinari and Austin Rivers are both unwell, and Patrick Beverley’s status is, well, Patrick Beverley. It would be nice to win that one at home, but it’s hardly a certainty, if you know what I mean.

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Kings rule

What do you do when you run out to a 25-10 lead in the first twelve minutes? If you’re the Oklahoma City Thunder, you do an abrupt about-face and score 16 in the second. And 16 in the third. The Kings were up 67-57 at the beginning of the fourth, and when a 1-8 team is up ten on you, you’ve got problems. OKC pulled to within one a couple of times, and promptly dropped back both times. At the two-minute mark, Sacramento led 85-80. With 16 seconds left, it was 89-86, following a Russell Westbrook trey, but that would be the last points the Thunder would score. The Kings, 94-86 winners, are now 2-8, and the Thunder fall to an ignominious 4-6.

For the most part, the Kings starters have been no big deal this season. But the bench tonight was superb, with Buddy Hield at a game-high 21, Justin Jackson 16, and De’Aaron Fox 10. And old reliable Zach Randolph, thought to be dead in the first half, knocked down 18, all in the second. OKC had five in double figures, including a Westbrook double-double (20 points/12 rebounds), but the Thunder shot a dire 34 percent. Worse, they put up 37 treys and made only ten. And the Kings, hitherto the worst-rebounding team in the entire Association, ruled the boards, 47-44.

Things may get better, or they may not. Last stop on this road trip: Denver. So far, Oklahoma City has beaten no one in the Western Conference, and the Nuggets, who beat the Brooklyn Nets tonight, aren’t likely to roll over and die. And once that’s done with, it’s back home on a back-to-back, against the Clippers. Yikes.

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And so it goes

It didn’t happen until the third quarter, but it seems to have set the mood for the entire evening:

Yep. Melo drew a Flagrant Two, which earned a trip to the locker room and two free throws for Jusuf Nurkić, tickled by Anthony on that play. Said ESPN’s Royce Young: “I mean … if this is ejection worthy, you’re gonna see four or five ejections a game now.”

That said, the Thunder messed up enough on their own without having to blame one particularly egregious call (and several less so). As has been the case all season, when this team is good, they are very, very good, but when they are bad, they are wretched. The Trail Blazers led 78-67 after three quarters. Slowly OKC began to get a grip on things. With 3:40 left, they’d cut Portland’s lead to three; they’d get it down to two. With 20.5 left and the Blazers up four, Russell Westbrook missed on a trey but drew a foul; he then missed the first two free throws, deliberately missed the third — and got hit with a lane violation. And that was pretty much the end of that; with five seconds left, Damien Lillard dropped in two free throws, his 14th and 15th, and the horn seemed to be saying “Finally.” Portland 103, Oklahoma City 99, and the Thunder haven’t won a game at the Moda Center since before it was the Moda Center.

Pretty much all the Blazers’ offense came from three players: Lillard (36 points/13 assists), Nurkić (25), and C. J. McCollum (22). But it’s just about all they needed. All the Portland starters finished on the plus side, all the Thunder starters on the minus. (The reverse was true for the reserves, with Raymond Felton (15) outscoring the entire Blazers bench.) ‘Melo had 15 points before being thumbed; Paul George came up with a respectable 27, and Westbrook managed 25 despite shooting 10-25 and 2-7 from the stripe.

So OKC has yet to beat anyone from the West. They’ll get their next chance on Tuesday at Sacramento.

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Like a Bosstown

The Celtics without Gordon Hayward are damned near as scary as the Celtics with Gordon Hayward. It took a while for them to get going — the Thunder dominated the first half, jumping out to a 55-37 lead — but the second half was all Beantown, with the Celtics doing a 30-16 number on OKC in the third quarter, tying it up halfway through the fourth, and shortly thereafter jumping ahead, including an unheard-of 5-point play. (Kyrie Irving nailed a trey, Russell Westbrook fouled him, and while Irving missed the free throw, no one boxed him out and he promptly stuck it back.) With Irving and Al Horford doing the heavy lifting, the Thunder could come no closer than a single digit, and the Celtics went home with a 101-94 win, their seventh W in a row after starting 0-2.

Consider this: Irving got all of three points in the first half. He had 22 in the second. And Horford was 8-10 — 4-4 from outside the circle — for his 20 points, 13 of which came in the fourth quarter. The Celtics shot only 43 percent, but the Thunder barely broke 40. There were three Thunder double-doubles, but the guys getting them didn’t shoot all that well: Westbrook 7-20 for 19; Paul George 9-20 for 25; Carmelo Anthony 3-17 for 10. (The Celtics had one double-double: swingman Jaylen Brown, who scored only 10 but hauled in 12 rebounds.) Boston had a narrow 49-48 rebounding edge, and a less-narrow 23-20 on assists.

Things may not get better on the road: the first stop, on Sunday, is Portland, where the Thunder haven’t won in literally years. (Seven games in a row; let’s call it three and a half years.) And then it will be: Tuesday at Sacramento; Thursday at Denver; and then back home Friday, where the Clippers will be waiting. A 2-2 split will leave OKC at 6-6, assuming they can get a 2-2 split.

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No fawning

However hot these Bucks may have been, the Thunder came up with a way to cool them off. The worry, that no one would be able to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo, was dealt with in a most expedient fashion: they more or less conceded him his points — the big Greek scored a game-high 28, a smidgen below his average — and concentrated on keeping him out of circulation and, if possible, making him foul. (Which he did, four times, three in the first half.) With that problem solved, the Thunder defense put the kibosh on the rest of the team — no other Deer made it to double figures — and the offense collected enough points to make it easy. The final was 110-91, and it wasn’t really as close as it sounded.

A few things didn’t happen for OKC: Carmelo Anthony’s streak of 20-plus games ended (he had 17), and Russell Westbrook missed a triple-double by one dime (12-10-9). But Steven Adams had another double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds), and not only did Andre Roberson hit an actual trey, he made both his foul shots. Add Paul George’s 20, and Jerami Grant’s 17, and you have the sort of numbers that usually imply a team more than one game over .500.

The Milwaukee bench were pretty spirited for the minutes they got to play; seven of them got in, and all of them scored at least once. (DeAndre Liggins, who played for OKC in 2012-13, knocked down a three-pointer just in time for radio guy Matt Pinto to point out that Liggins is not a three-point shooter.) And the Bucks had the edge in assists, 24-23, though they were crushed on the boards, 46-31.

There’s lots of rest time between getting back from Milwaukee and greeting the Celtics on Friday night. After that, it’s a West Coast tour: Portland, Sacramento, and (not really all that coastal) Denver. The Thunder has been doing better against Eastern teams than against teams in the West, but then again, we’re only seven games into the season.

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City of the Big Shudders

First, a travel mishap on the way to O’Hare:

A bird? Another plane? Superman? No one is sure, but this looks consistent with bird damage. The team seemed to be a little shaken, but they didn’t seem to have any problems disposing of the Bulls: Chicago was held to eight points in the second quarter, and the Thunder were up 50-31 at the half. The final was a rollicking 101-69. Russell Westbrook, who’d never scored a triple-double against the Bulls, got one tonight — 12-13-13, yet — and promptly disappeared. (It’s not like they needed him for more than 28 minutes, and besides, he got T’d up. Then again, it’s only his first technical of the season.) Things were going so well, in fact, that Raymond Felton, backing up Westbrook, got 12 of his own and was pulled in the fourth to let Alex Abrines run the offense for a few minutes.

The young Bulls were led by rookie forward Lauri Markkanen, drafted 7th this summer, who managed 15 points in 28 minutes. In the Battle of the Grants, OKC’s Jerami, one year older, outscored Chicago’s Jerian 6-2, though to be fair, Jerian actually started for the Bulls yet played two fewer minutes. The balls weren’t falling for Chicago, which shot a dismal 28 percent — 27 percent on the long-ball — and managed only 16 assists. They’re going to be a lot happier when Zach LaVine heals, I’m sure.

Meanwhile, OKC evened up their record at 3-3 and gets a couple of days off before taking on the Bucks in Milwaukee. Scary aspect: they’ll have to deal with Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is averaging a frightening 35 points so far. (His season high is 44, against Portland.) The man is shooting 62 percent, fercryingoutloud. I can’t wait to see who Billy Donovan thinks can actually guard Antetokounmpo.

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And the snarling continues

The NBA’s Schedule Gods probably don’t plan it that way, but now and again the opportunity for a Grudge Rematch presents itself. It was only just this past Sunday that the Minnesota Timberwolves came to Oklahoma City and beat the Thunder on an Andrew Wiggins buzzer-beater; tonight in the Twin Cities, in a game with over thirty different lead changes, the Thunder would get their opportunity for revenge, an opportunity they would politely, or clumsily, decline. The Wolves controlled the boards, which was part of the deal; OKC defensive lapses made up the rest of it. Inside the final half-minute, Minnesota was up by four, 118-114, having put together a 14-7 run. OKC picked up two in 15 seconds; needing to foul, they fouled Jeff Teague, one of the better free-throwers in the league; Teague missed one of the two, and Carmelo Anthony’s trip to the bank went awry. So once again, the Wolves prevail by three points, 119-116, and go up 2-0 in the season series.

All five Minnesota starters delivered double-digit scoring, led as usual by Karl-Anthony Towns with a startling 33 points and an even more startling 19 rebounds. Jimmy Butler, just back from an illness and allegedly not quite up to speed, was fast enough to pick up 25 points. Teague had a double-double of his own, with 17 points and 10 assists. Wiggins, the Sunday hero, managed only 14 here, but that’s as many as the entirety of the Wolves’ bench, who might have scored more if they’d gotten more playing time.

The Thunder divided up into two groups: over 20 (Russell Westbrook 27, both Melo and Paul George at 23, Steven Adams 20), and under 10 (everybody else). And Andre Roberson still hasn’t made a free throw; inexplicably, no one chose to foul him. In fact, the Thunder got relatively few trips to the stripe: they hit 22 of 25, but the Wolves took 35 and collected 27. OKC shooting was mostly good: 50 percent overall, but a mere 8-28 from three-point distance. There’s still a tendency to try to sink the long ball when the payoff from charging the rim might be better.

Tomorrow night at Chicago, Halloween night at Milwaukee. The Bucks might be better than the Bulls; right now, the Thunder is trying to be better than someone. Anyone.

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Hoosier than thou

The Indiana Pacers came to town today, and of course, what everyone wanted to know is how newly arrived Thunder forward Paul George would fare against his old team, and how well Indiana’s new guys, Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, would do against OKC, who traded them to the Pacers for PG-13. George’s night could be reasonably described as meh, with 11 points and six fouls in 19 minutes; Domas’s was equally so, with four points and five fouls in 18 minutes, though his eleven rebounds have plenty of redeeming social value. But VO4 had a night you wouldn’t believe: 11-18 from the floor — 5-7 on three-pointers, for a whopping 35 points. (And, lest we forget, five fouls.) Had Myles Turner not been on concussion protocol, the Pacers might have won this one. As it stands, at the 2:02 mark, the Pacers threw in the towel. Meanwhile, OKC was able to deploy a nicely active Carmelo Anthony (28 points, 10 rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (28 points, 10 rebounds, 16 assists), plus a Steven Adams double-double (17/11), to send them back to Indiana with a 114-96 beating.

Despite Oladipo’s hot hand, the Pacers did not shoot well: 34 percent, whether for two points or for three. Not wonderful for a team that had averaged over 50 percent up to that point. Nor did they defend particularly well: only two blocks, both by Oladipo, and a decisive rebounding deficit. They did, however, collect 35 free throws, making 30. And while the Thunder still spent too much time spinning their wheels in the mud, they did manage to shoot at the 48-percent level, and they weren’t embarrassing from beyond the arc: 10 of 27.

Next three are on the road, and at least there’s not much travel: Friday at Minnesota — the Wolves have already thrashed the Thunder once this season — Saturday at Chicago, and Tuesday at Milwaukee. The Gods of Scheduling sneaked in a single home game (against the Celtics) before another three-game road trip. Things will be getting interesting.

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Snarling all the way

Oh, these Wolves. They have “serious contender” written all over them. The new mix of youths and veterans is proving to be formidable, at least so far this season. They slapped down the Thunder in the first quarter, 28-23, and with the help of what radio guy Matt Pinto called “shaky calls,” managed to hold OKC at bay for almost the entire second half. With 29 seconds left, the Thunder finally tied it up on a Russell Westbrook trey. Karl-Anthony Towns used up 20 seconds to make one last tough shot, Carmelo Anthony answered with a trey, and Andrew Wiggins banked in a three-pointer at the horn to give Minnesota a 115-113 win.

Towns and Wiggins between them came up with 51 points; two starters recorded double-doubles (Towns 27 points/12 rebounds, Taj Gibson 11 points/10 rebounds). The Minnesota reserves didn’t do much — 24 points — but in this case, at least, they didn’t have to. The Wolves hit exactly half their shots and 40 percent of their treys (10 of 25), perhaps more startling, they outrebounded the Thunder 45-36.

Westbrook was about as heroic as usual, picking up 31 points, almost half of which came in the fourth quarter, and ten assists. And he was 4-7 from outside, which sounds good until you notice that nobody else hit more than two. Hoisting too many treys instead of attacking the rim seldom results in favorable outcomes, and so it was tonight. Steven Adams did do the double-double thing (17 points/13 boards), and both Jerami Grant and Raymond Felton picked up 12 from off the bench, but Andre Roberson, for all his defensive suss, couldn’t manage any offense, and the Melo/Paul George pair wound up at 15-39 for 37 between them. Not bad, but tonight not good enough.

Next time out: the Pacers come to town on Wednesday. Ex-Thunder guys Victor Oladipo and Domas Sabonis will be in tow. They should get a warm welcome. Let’s hope they don’t get much more than that.

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Jazz smooth

First road game of the season, and the Thunder made the trek to Salt Lake City in the hopes of starting 2-0. The hope, like the offense, was misplaced; in the first twelve minutes, OKC managed to score only 14 points, and trailed at the half 44-34. Things did not improve in the second half. The Jazz led by double digits for most of the third and fourth quarters, and won it going away 96-87, dropping the Thunder to 1-1.

So, were the Jazz that good, or were the Thunder that bad? The answer is Yes. The Jazz presented a balanced attack, with four of five starters (plus one bench player) finishing in double figures, and if anyone was mourning the loss of Gordon Hayward, Ricky Rubio might have made them forget about it for awhile: the Rickster rolled up 16 points, same as the always-deadly Rudy Gobert. (Forward Joe Ingles led the Jazz with 19, two off his career high.) The Jazz shot just under 50 percent, which was plenty; they ruled the paint, 40-20.

Twenty-plus for Paul George, as expected, and twenty-plus for Carmelo Anthony, also as expected. Not expected: an off-night for Russell Westbrook, who had 13 rebounds and nine assists but only six points on a dreadful 2-11. Utah dominated the usual team stats; the Thunder played reasonable defense most of the night but couldn’t get any offensive flow going. And there were three technicals called on OKC: one on Anthony, one on Steven Adams, and one on (gasp!) Billy Donovan, who was apparently no more impressed with the officiating than was radio guy Matt Pinto.

Next outing: tomorrow night at home, against the OMG look at them! Minnesota Timberwolves, who have looked like contenders before and perhaps actually are this year; if nothing else, they’ve already beaten the Jazz once this season, which is, so far anyway, more than the Thunder have been able to accomplish.

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Knuke the Knicks

So they asked Raymond Felton what it’s like to play your former team. Felton didn’t flinch: “You want to beat the crap out of them.” It doesn’t mean you necessarily have to be rude to them — when Thunder expats Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott were introduced, Loud City gave them a standing ovation — but still, you’re gonna play ’em tough. And the Thunder did exactly that; the Knicks showed occasional flashes of brilliance, and forward Kristaps Porzingis put together an impressive 31-point/12-rebound performance. but OKC finished the first half on a 13-2 run and spent the rest of the game finishing off New York. How finished were the Knicks? Porzingis, game-high, was -17 on the dreaded plus/minus scale. And as Felton dribbled it out, everyone knew it. Oklahoma City 105, New York 84, and Carmelo Anthony came out to give Porzingis a hug.

‘Melo had a decent night himself: 22 points. Paul George knocked down 28 points and hauled in six boards. And dare we ask? We dare. Twenty-one points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds for Russell Westbrook, his first triple-double in, um, one game. And Steven Adams went 5-for-5 for his share of the double figures. Andre Roberson? Shot well (3-7), rebounded likewise (six), and nobody fouled him.

Weird to see Kanter wearing the double-zero. He did hit 5 of 10, collecting seven rebounds and three steals. Nobody else from New York hit double-figures, but you have to figure Porzingis had all the marbles tonight. Certainly nobody kept the rock very well: the Knicks gave up 26 turnovers, which the Thunder were happy to turn into 38 points. And I guess I’m amused that perennial D-/G-League stalwart Dakari Johnson played the last three minutes, his first in the actual NBA, collecting four points.

The Jazz await in Salt Lake City Saturday night, and, well, most of these guys won the Northwest Division last year, so a cakewalk it isn’t. I think. With 81 games to go, it’s kind of hard to tell.

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Five and thirty

I don’t think anyone here ever thought they’d see this again:

It was an unusual sight walking into the Oklahoma City Thunder’s practice facility Tuesday and seeing No. 35 on the wing, attempting 3-pointers with assistant coach Vin Bhavnani.

No, Kevin Durant was not visiting his old stomping grounds. It was the Thunder’s newest signing, undrafted rookie P. J. Dozier, who signed to a two-way contract Tuesday.

KayDee, of course, spent nine seasons in Thunder blue as #35. Dozier, a former Gamecock from South Carolina, says he didn’t even think about that:

Despite any apparent awkwardness, Dozier said he simply saw the numbers available, asked for 35 and got it. He said he didn’t think about who had previously worn the number when he asked for it.

“Honestly I didn’t even think twice about [Durant having it] when I said it because I had it in preseason when I was with Dallas,” he said. “I just saw it was open and took advantage of it.”

Turns out Dozier’s second cousin was the late Reggie Lewis, whose #35 jersey was retired by the Boston Celtics.

I have to believe Russell Westbrook, who signed his max contract extension on Kevin Durant’s birthday, laughed when he heard about it.

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Not quite stale in Pepsiland

In the third quarter, the Thunder appeared to have put a lot of hurt on the hometown Denver Nuggets: they led by 21 points despite never (well, hardly ever) making any foul shots.

Cut to 6:37 left in the fourth quarter. Suddenly the lead is down to one. But this is that point you’ve seen often before, where you can practically see the gears shifting. Result: a 13-2 burst. The one starter who played in the fourth quarter, Paul George, seemed to stabilize things for the younger guys. George finally got to rest with the Thunder up twelve, and the youngsters did a decent job of running out the clock. OKC 96, Denver 86, and that’s it for the preseason.

Interestingly, the Thunder Big Three’s numbers fell right together: George with 19, Russell Westbrook with 20, Carmelo Anthony with 15. Then came Josh Huestis, who made some ghastly near-rookie errors and performed some amazing acts of athleticism, sometimes within mere seconds. (He finished with 15 points and nine boards.) Game-high on the scoreboard, though, goes to Denver swingman Will Barton, who came off the bench for a lovely 26.

But enough of that. The Real Stuff is coming Real Soon Now.

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Nearly upended from down under

Melbourne United plays in Australia’s National Basketball League; they’ve won four NBL titles over the years, which suggests that they’re aren’t likely to be pushovers, if only because they lack the pushover mindset.

They certainly didn’t seem fearful in Oklahoma City, forcing the Thunder to work seriously hard to manage to edge Melbourne, 86-85. How hard? Josh Huestis blocked two Melbourne shots in the last few seconds to preserve that one-point lead:

This makes 2-1 for the preseason, which makes it totally meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but we did learn two things:

  • Oz plays some pretty mean roundball, as Steven Adams, who hails from New Zealand, probably could have told you;
  • This season is not going to be a walk no matter how delighted we were with the George and Anthony signing.

Last preseason game: Tuesday, in Denver.

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Where the Birds are

The Thunder wandered over to New Orleans for their second preseason game, and it was a bit more successful than their first. Russell Westbrook actually started, but played only 10 minutes; he picked up 9 points and four assists. But mostly this was Let’s Give Everyone Minutes: the only double-digits player was Paul George, who hung around for 27 minutes and scored 25. The master of the plus-minus proved to be rookie Terrance Ferguson, +13 in 24 minutes, and he might have gotten more if he hadn’t fouled out. The Pelicans core performed decently, though Dante Cunningham went bucketless and Rajon Rondo was on for only seven minutes, gathering six points. The 102-91 final is a W, which is always nice, but it’s still preseason, so take it with several grains of Gulf sea salt.

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Opening act

Once a year, the Thunder play an exhibition game at the BOK Center in Tulsa. It’s a darn nice arena, drawn by the legendary César Pelli and stuffable with nearly 18,000 roundball fans. It’s not quite as loud as Loud City, and tonight the Houston Rockets, with two of the Association’s more dramatic actors — James Harden and Chris Paul — brought their traveling show. And it wasn’t as much fun as it could have been, since (1) three Thunder stalwarts were on the bench with various ailments, and (2) Harden did his level best to strangle Steven Adams. On the upside, the two new All-Stars showed well, with Carmelo Anthony knocking down 19 and Paul George adding 15 more despite not getting a whole lot of help, and Raymond Felton looking pretty good in the point-guard position in lieu of Russell Westbrook. And if we learned anything from this experience, it’s that the Rockets seem even more dependent on the trey than before: they shot 54 of them, making 24. The final was 104-95, which of course counts for nothing, this being the preseason. Next outing: against the Pelicans Friday.

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Forward thinking

Steve Sailer floats a hypothesis:

Michelle Obama has felt oppressed for most of her life by the feminist assumption that became conventional wisdom in American society in the early 1970s that tall, broad-shouldered females like herself should play basketball.

I have heard complaints by several tall women over the years along the lines of “No, I didn’t want to shoot hoops, and I don’t know why they kept asking.” So this doesn’t sound too far out of line.

The passage of Title IX to promote women’s sports in 1972 when Michelle Robinson was eight was one of the banes of her girlhood because it led to numerous suggestions from well-wishers that she had the perfect physique for a power forward.

Surely she didn’t look like a power forward at eight. (Twelve, maybe.) And maybe things have changed: of the 12 members of the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx, winners of six consecutive Western Conference titles, only four of them are below six feet tall — Mrs Obama is five-eleven — and they’re all guards.

But she’s kind of a girly girl who doesn’t like sports and wants to wear high heels, and doesn’t like the change in our culture that encouraged people to mention her height and brawn in the guise of offering helpful pro-feminist You-Go-Girl suggestions.

That said, both of her daughters were entered into sports programs:

Malia and Sasha had to take up two sports: one they chose and one selected by their mother. “I want them to understand what it feels like to do something you don’t like and to improve,” the first lady has said.

A girly girl she might be, but her fashion sense was decidedly impaired early on; she did, however, improve.

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Let me hear you Brightroar

Hmmm…

And the best possible, not to mention satisfactorily quick, response:

It’s either that or Peugeot put up the bucks for the naming rights.

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Somewhere near Cloud Nine

It takes a while before the rookie gets fan mail — unless, of course, somebody does something about it:

I just wonder how Patterson drew 208. I checked the local copy of the postal database, and the alleged “Thunder Drive” is approved by the USPS for 200 through 299 inclusive. There’s a fan mail drop in the arena, but not everyone happens to walk by Section 318 on a regular basis.

And Patterson does have 190,000 Twitter followers and 138,000 Instagram followers.

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Spiteful? Us?

Found on the City of OKC Instagram account:

Sports Illustrated cover with Kevin Durant being recycled

I think they’re sending a message right there.

(Via Adam Kemp.)

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There is NO Game Six

How discombobulating a series? The Oklahoman ran this at the top of page 1A on Monday:

Game 4?

Of course, the team was headed for the Toyota Center for Game Five, and as previously noted, there is no Game Six. But you’ve seen all this before: the Thunder grab a first-quarter lead, the Rockets take over in the second, and OKC spends the rest of the game trying to play catch-up. In this game, however, the Thunder actually managed to regain the lead in the third, and went into the fourth up by five. But we all know what happens in the fourth, and sure enough, it happened again tonight. (tl;dr: OKC missed twelve shots in a row.) The Rockets, when the chips are down, simply have been executing with more sheer skill, and if there’s an iconic image from this series, it’s a scene from the last minute: Andre Roberson missing a free throw, looking like he was going to miss the second one, and somehow hitting it. Figures, doesn’t it? Houston 105, Oklahoma City 99, that’s all she wrote, and if you had “Rockets in five,” come up and claim your prize. (Not me; I figured it would go six.)

I would have bet, however, that the last couple of points would be from James Harden at the charity stripe, and that’s the way it fell. The Beard hit 16 of 17 on his way to 34 points, and it’s scant comfort that he was even worse than Russell Westbrook from the three-point line: two out of 13. Russ hit five of 18. Those of us who thought these teams were jacking up too many treys feel vaguely vindicated. And Westbrook had exactly the line you’d expect on a night when the season grinds to a halt: 47 points, 11 rebounds, 9 (of course not 10) assists.

Oh, well. For now, at least, we’re Spurs (or conceivably Grizzlies) fans, and not just to beat the East either, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

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We have all been here before

For the fourth game in a row, the Houston Rockets came up strong in the fourth quarter no matter what they say about Russell Westbrook’s clutchiness; down 77-73 after three quarters, the Rockets were up five in the last minute. Steven Adams pulled a nifty stunt, missing a second free throw which Westbrook turned into a three-pointer. The Rockets responded with a barrage of free throws, and it ended with Westbrook near the circle and Patrick Beverley apparently giving him the stink-eye. Houston 113, Oklahoma City 109, and the scent of elimination is in the air.

Then again, the miraculous aspect of all this was that Adams made the first free throw; he was 2-5 from the stripe. Still, this was better than Andre Roberson, upon whom Mike d’Antoni chose to inflict The Hack. Dre hit two of eight, which was bad enough, but he’d already missed four. Ultimately, the Thunder managed to connect on only 18 of 32 from the stripe, a dismal 56 percent. Westbrook contributed only one miss, hitting 12 of 13, and had already collected a triple double by halftime, ending with 35-14-14. Still, he shot only 10-28.

This did not quite offset overall poorer Houston shooting (44 percent versus 49), and an indifferent showing by James Harden (5-16, 0 of 7 treys, 16 points). But the Rockets’ three-man bench was more than enough to compensate; Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each contributed 18 points to the cause, and Nené went 12-12 (!) for 28 points. (The entire Thunder bench scored only 22.) And the Rockets outrebounded the Thunder, 45-40, never a good sign.

So it’s back to Houston for Game Five on Tuesday, with the Rockets up 3-1. It’s not impossible for the Thunder to win three straight and move to the second round, but I’m not holding my breath either.

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Maximum narrowness

Game Three, unlike the first two, took place in the hallowed hollow that is Chesapeake Arena. Some things happened that were better: Russell Westbrook turned in his triple-double without monopolizing all the shots, the Thunder actually hit three-pointers on a regular basis (nine of 19), and OKC proved more adept at serving up assists (24-10). But some things were distressingly familiar: failure to close quarters strongly, long periods where the Rockets seemed to do all the scoring, and entirely too many fouls against James Harden, especially when the Beard is putting up a trey. An example of the latter, inside the two-minute mark, left the score at 110-108. It was tied at 111 when Harden didn’t exactly travel. Well, he did, but he slid across the floor, and he quickly called a timeout. With 9.5 left, Westbrook was going for a slam, but Patrick Beverley got in his way. It was Beverley’s sixth foul, so that was sort of gratifying, but Westbrook dropped one of the two freebies. With 8.8 left, Westbrook fouled Harden to make sure he couldn’t hit a trey. Harden duly sank two free throws — he made all 18 he tried — and it was 114-113 Thunder. Half a second later, Westbrook drew another foul and somehow nailed only one of the charities. The last Rocket volley missed, and the final was OKC 115, Houston 113. Suddenly it’s a 2-1 series, and Game Four looms on Sunday afternoon.

The Thunder couldn’t do much about Harden, who racked up 44 points seemingly without effort, although the Beard ended up with seven turnovers versus six assists. They did, however, make life miserable for Beverley, which might have been more emotionally satisfying: while the B did reel in seven rebounds, the only shot he made all night was a free throw. Still, they have no answer for Lou Williams. Westbrook was 32-13-11, though he did manage to miss three of his last six free throws. More delightful: more Taj Gibson, who rolled up 20 on 10-13 shooting.

Game Five will be Tuesday night in the 713. If nothing else, by then we’ll know if there’s a Game Six.

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I told you so

She asked, and I answered:

I figured I’d screwed up royally, once the Thunder really got going, leaving the Rockets behind by as many as fifteen. And then OKC let it slip away: with just over eight minutes left, Houston blasted their way to their first lead, and the Thunder’s collapse was, if not epic, certainly difficult to watch. At the 3:16 mark, there was a tie, and there was still a chance. Then Houston rolled up ten unanswered points, and the writing was on the Toyota Center wall. With 1.9 seconds left, the score was, yes, Houston 115, OKC 111, and James Harden obliged me by missing his last two free throws.

Harden was, if not heroic, certainly capable: he shot an okay 7-17, but he made his first 18 free throws before flubbing the last two. Aside from The Beard, most of the Houston offense came from the reserves: Eric Gordon with 22, Lou Williams with 21, and Nené with 7. That’s it: Mike D’Antoni played only eight men. The weird part of this is that the top plus/minus guys, at +18, were Williams and, um, Steven Adams, who fouled out in the fourth. Mention must be made of Patrick Beverley, who got 15 points and two shots to Russell Westbrook’s head. (Neither foul was ruled flagrant.)

Westbrook, in the meantime — well, yeah, he had 51 points, a playoff record, 10 rebounds and 13 assists. The jaundiced eye will look past the triple-double and note that His Zeroness shot 17-43. That’s forty-three shots. The rest of the team went 23-54, which is marginally better, but 41 percent doesn’t make it in the playoffs, especially if your #2 scorer is Andre Roberson, who squeezed out 12 points. Then again, you’ve got Doug McDermott, who led the bench with 11 points in 14 minutes, and you start asking yourself why McBuckets is out there for only 14 minutes.

Friday in the friendly confines of Chesapeake. Drop one of these, and it’s pretty much all over. (Drop two of these, and it’s literally all over.) It’s too early for me to make any predictions, and anyway, since when I was right about anything? (See above.)

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Only a flesh wound

For 48 minutes, anyway, the Thunder learned what will work against Houston, and the answer, apparently, is “Not a damn thing.” Early on, they managed to hold off the Rockets’ three-point attack; Houston duly went down the middle toward the rim. Eventually Houston’s prowess from outside returned, and with OKC having gone from two up after the first quarter to fifteen down after the third, well, let’s say a lot of the reserves saw some unexpected minutes. You can compare lines between Russell Westbrook (22-11-7) and James Harden (37-7-9), but the really scary line for Thunder fans will be Patrick Beverley’s (21-10-3). Areas where OKC normally excels — points in the paint (62-38), rebounds (56-41) — went totally south. And look at this: the Rockets took 10 more shots than the Thunder (91-81), but made 15 more (45-30). In light of these collapses, it’s probably surprising that Houston won this one by a mere thirty-one: the other three first-round games were decided by a total 23. With a 118-87 defeat hung on them, the Thunder are going to have to do some serious soul-searching between now and Wednesday.

Marginally bright spot: Andre Roberson came up with 18 points on 7-10 shooting with seven rebounds. And that’s about it. At the other extreme, Victor Oladipo went 1-12 for a whole six points. This was a thrashing in the behind-the-woodshed sense of the word, and I can’t blame the Rockets for wanting to celebrate it.

There are a lot of calculations that will come out of this game, and the one I want to see is the one that explains how the Thunder got 29 points in the first twelve minutes and 33 points in the last 24. They were no worse than the Rockets on the three-ball (9-29 versus 10-33), but they weren’t making the inside shots worth a darn. If this doesn’t improve … well, you know the rules as much as I do.

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