Archive for Net Proceeds

Drama and then some

The Portland Trail Blazers have no love for Oklahoma City, and with two players missing tonight, Jerami Grant with a sprain and Dennis Schröder with something or other, they thought they were smelling blood. Their 68-49 halftime deficit persuaded them otherwise. However, the Blazers came out of the locker room loaded for bear, and not a Teddy bear either, putting together a 33-19 third quarter. But that’s as far as they would get. Russell Westbrook had his tenth consecutive triple-double, 21-14-11, which got chalked into the record book; but Paul George, yes, Paul frigging George had a triple-double, 47-12-10. (Do I hear calls of “M-V-P”?) Oklahoma City 120, Portland 111, 3-0 in the season series, and for icing on the cake: Jusuf Nurkić fouled out.

It wasn’t Damian Lillard’s idea by any means: he rolled up 31 points on 9-22 shooting, nailing 10 of 11 free throws. (Yes, he missed one. That never happens.) Reserve power forward Jake Layman demonstrated good power: 17 points and four blocks. C. J. McCollum was somehow held to 13 points.

Even a pair of triple-doubles is never the whole story. Raymond Felton was unglued from the bench and turned in 13 points and a plus-13, trailing only PG-13 (!); Deonte Burton hauled in a career-high 18; and who knows what Steven Adams might have done if he wasn’t obviously hurting.

There’s still that trip to New Orleans on Thursday. We’re assuming Anthony Davis will be playing, though we’re not about to guess how many minutes he gets. And then there’s that whole All-Star Game, about which the following can be said: at least it’s better than the NFL Pro Bowl.


That ultimate question

The answer, in this game at least, was 42. After a spate of weirdness, the Rockets were up three after the first quarter, nothing much to worry about, but in the second, they shot past the Thunder, 42-23, taking a 22-point lead into the locker room. There was wailing and gnashing of teeth, as could have been expected, but the right response came from the Thunder, who scored 42 (!) points in the third to tie it up at 90-all. Then followed what Judge Radar calls “Twelve Minutes of Hell,” and after nine minutes of it, the score was still tied. At :03.4, Paul George bagged two free throws to put OKC up three; Gerald Green got the inbound for Houston, but Steven Adams knocked it off Green out of bounds. One second elapsed. PG-13 got the inbound, P. J. Tucker fouled him, and George added two more freebies to give the game to the Thunder, 117-112.

One might have asked before tipoff whether George or James Harden would have a better game. The nod, I think, goes to PG-13, who put up a 45-11-3 line; The Beard handed in a better-than-respectable 42-2-1. But if you watch the plus/minus metric, George was plus 16, Harden minus 9. After that battle royal, Westbrook’s ninth consecutive triple-double (21-12-11) seems almost insignificant. (Maybe a quadruple-double, since Westbrook chalked up ten turnovers.) And Chris Paul just missed a triple-double of his own, with 18-10-9. Things were obviously pretty close, but there was one statistical category where OKC clearly ruled: rebounds, 53-39. And curiously, both benches scored 22 points, led by the Thunder’s Dennis Schröder with 17 and Houston’s Austin Rivers with 10.

Monday night, it’s the third matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers; the Thunder took the first two, including their first win in Portland since the French and Indian War, so I don’t expect the Blazers to have a kindly disposition. And then to the Big Easy for the last meeting with the Pelicans; the Thunder lead that series 2-1. After that, we can all pop a cold one and watch the dunk contest.


Somewhat de-Grizzed

The Memphis Grizzlies were an unknown quantity coming in: what with trades, rumors of trades, rumors of rumors of trades, and suddenly the Griz have only eight players coming to Oklahoma City. I looked over the roster, and recognized one name. “At least Mike Conley’s still around,” I thought. And indeed he was. But these weren’t the Grizzlies of old, glacial pace and just-short-of-flagrant fouls: these growlers played with commendable speed and an unexpectedly light touch, and they managed to stay withing grumbling distance of the Thunder through the first half, owning a two-point lead before OKC figured out the Griz’ 2-3 (occasionally 1-2-2) zone and started pouring on the offense. The Thunder dominated the third quarter, 32-19, and Memphis never did quite catch up. Oklahoma City 117, Memphis 95, and so ends the two-game home stand.

Short of personnel they may have been, but these Grizzlies, like their predecessors in seasons past, played hard. They managed to retrieve one more rebound than did the Thunder, and hit a credible 20 of 23 free throws. Forward Jaren Jackson, Jr., all of nineteen years old, pulled in almost a point and a half per year, a team-high 27. Reserve forward Bruno Cabocio led the reserves with 16. And as for Mike Conley, he did come up with 15 points, though his 4-15 shooting was a trifle wan.

Then again, Russell Westbrook was only 5-16, but that didn’t stand in the way of Yet Another Triple Double, 15-13-15, his eighth in a row. Paul George rolled out 27; the scary presence, though, was Jerami Grant, with 20 points (8-11) and an absurd +36 for the night. As usual, Dennis Schröder headed up the bench with 16. And not as usual, we got to see both the two-way players tonight: Deonte Burton and Donte Grantham got some exposure, and got to miss one shot each. (According to the box I used, Grantham wears number 71. Who knew? Everything else says #15.)

Three games before the All-Star break: Saturday at Houston, at home against Portland on Monday, and Thursday at New Orleans. Not a pushover in the lot.


Under your spell again

Last week in Orlando, the Magic served notice that they weren’t afraid of Western teams in general and the Thunder in particular. This week in Oklahoma City, the message was repeated, perhaps a little bit louder. Orlando was up 69-62 halfway through; the Thunder response was a 36-23 third quarter. Still, they couldn’t shake the Magic, who shadowed OKC doggedly through the fourth quarter, and both Terrance Ferguson and Dennis Schröder fouled out. (And then Aaron Gordon of the Magic committed his fifth foul, chased down a zebra, and was rung up for a technical; his sixth foul followed quickly, and Russell Westbrook waved goodbye as Gordon departed the premises.) Half a minute to go, and the Magic had closed to within six. And then Evan Fournier fouled out. A lot of fouls, you say? You say truth; each side picked up 27 points at the charity stripe, with Orlando missing seven and the Thunder watched ten go by. That’s it for this series: with a 132-122 win over the Magic, the Thunder have swept them for the season.

Still, Orlando had plenty of firepower, with swingman Terrence Ross coming off the bench to snag 26 points. Fournier had 25, Gordon had 18, and the ever-dangerous (and now one-time All-Star) Nikola Vučević picking up 17. No Grant Brothers competition tonight: Jerian drew a DNP-CD, while Jerami put up a 19-11 double-double. He even outscored Westbrook, whose seventh consecutive triple-double (16-15-16) is starting to look almost ordinary. And Paul George? Thirty-nine points. (Which means PG-13 knocked down 76 against Orlando this year.) Before his unseemly departure, Schröder sprang for 20. And for the first time in 2019, two-way player Deonte Burton got three minutes to play, and a blank line to show for it.

We don’t know what awaits us when the Memphis Grizzlies arrive Thursday: both Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are reportedly about to be dealt. (Trade deadline? Thursday.) The Griz this season haven’t had much of the rabid-Tasmanian-devil quality that made them famous, but you never, ever know for sure.


More of that Bosstown Sound

The national TV audience, presumably, got what it was looking for: a ferocious battle between two near-elite teams. (They weren’t actually watching, of course; the TV was on, but they were busy with preparations for that other sportsball thing later today.) The Celtics, one might reasonably conclude, are a couple of steps closer to the Parthenon than are the Thunder; as good as the OKC defense can be, they were not quite good enough to thwart the Boston offense, which shot more than 50 percent for most of those 48 minutes, finishing with a strong 59 percent. And while, as expected, Kyrie Irving led the Celts with 30, eight of the Boston nine finished in double figures: only Gordon Hayward missed. So Boston gets its fourth consecutive win over the Thunder, 134-129, a record going back two seasons.

The one obvious Boston advantage: ball movement. The Celtics passed around 36 assists, eleven up on the Thunder, including nine from Al Horford in the middle, which at least partially explains how Paul George, with a game-high 37 points, could end up -6 on the dreaded plus/minus scale. (Russell Westbrook, with a 22-12-16 triple-double, was -5.) Interestingly, all the Thunder reserves were zero or higher, with Dennis Schröder (16 point) a +8 for the day.

Aside from Kyrie, Boston scoring punch came largely from two guys named Marcus: Morris, with 19 points, and Smart, with 18. And I do wish the Celtic rotation had some space for Guerschon Yabusele, just so I could hear the announcers fumbling with the name. (Yabusele, a power forward from deepest France known familiarly as the Dancing Bear, was drafted by the Celtics in 2016.)

I am not one to sneer at a 2-1 road trip, but going home looks harder to quantify, with a Tuesday rematch against the Magic, and a Thursday visit from the Memphis Grizzlies, whom we haven’t seen all year.


Cold on the Coast

Goran Dragić will be out for at least five more weeks, and fans of the Miami Heat don’t have a whole lot to look forward to until he gets back. In the meantime, there’s always the question of whether Hassan Whiteside will misbehave, and please please please don’t let anything happen to Dwyane Wade. (Weirdly, there was only one technical called tonight, on Wade, while Whiteside rolled up a double-double — 12 points, 16 rebounds — and committed a mere three fouls.) The most exciting thing that happened tonight, if you ask me, was Wade and Paul George posing with each other’s jerseys after the final horn, and with Wade retiring after this season, I’m in favor of letting him get as much time in the spotlight as he can. (He played 22 minutes, scored seven points, and served up a team-high six assists.) The final — Oklahoma City 118, Miami 102 — was somewhat anticlimactic. but what the hell.

The Miami second unit contributed 48 points to the cause tonight, almost half of which came from Kelly Olynyk with 21. (Compare and contrast: 40 Thunder bench points, 28 [!] from Dennis Schröder.) There was another Russell Westbrook triple-double, 14-12-14, and PG-13’s twenty-three shots resulted in 43 points. (Ten out of 16 treys. I want what he’s having.)

There’s some sort of football game Sunday, which is why the Thunder and the Celtics are playing in the early afternoon. Not that it gets cold in the TD Garden, but temperatures should be in the lower to middle Thirties, which in the age of the Polar Vortex is a farking heat wave. Boston is 21-6 at home; OKC is 16-11 on the road. And things are pretty much always ferocious in Beantown, so if this game goes well, I won’t have to deal with whatever pigskin-fest is trapped inside three hours of commercials later that day.


Slightness of hand

Twenty-five to nine. That’s the run with which the Thunder opened the fourth quarter tonight, and Dennis Schröder got 18 of those points. It couldn’t last, and it didn’t; the Magic promptly ran off eight in a row. Big-time runs dominated this outing in Orlando; there were lead changes seemingly every couple of minutes. But the run that tells the tale is the last one, and despite some statistical marvels — 102 shots taken, a 53-43 rebounding edge, and the ever-frightening Nikola Vučević with his 34th double-double this season — the Magic were unable to thwart Thunder thrust. Oklahoma City 126, Orlando 117, the start to a season series that ends next week back at the ‘Peake.

And the Thunder were hobbled from the beginning: Steven Adams sprained his ankle last time out, and Terrance Ferguson was suffering from back spasms. Filling in: Nerlens Noel and Hamidou Diallo. Both landed comfortably above the zero line in the plus-minus scheme, something Russell Westbrook didn’t do despite Yet Another Triple-Double (23-14-14). Paul George turned in a Paul George-like line, 14 of 24 for 37 points. In the Battle of the Grant Brothers, Jerami (younger, OKC) won over Jerian (older, Orlando), 18-5. And for the first time, we saw Alex Abrines get some minutes and a trey, as one expects from Señor Splash.

The West, behind Golden State and Denver anyway, is jammed up again. From third (OKC) to eighth (the Clippers), there’s a spread of a mere 4.5 games, and the Lakers are still within clawing distance. However, the Thunder is working the East this week; after this Orlando thing, it’s down to Miami on Friday night, and then up to Boston on Sunday afternoon. The Heat are playing .500 ball, the Celtics more like .600. OKC is a respectable 15-11 on the road, but it’s too early to start counting sweeps.


Bucks withdrawn

There was a point, about 75 seconds in, when Milwaukee was up something like 8-0 and the thought that “this is the best team in the NBA” bounced around inside lots of heads, and what’s more, they’d won six in a row coming in. Then the shots began to fall for the Thunder. By the end of the first quarter, OKC was up 31-25; they held the Bucks to 17 points in the second. Milwaukee, of course, fought back; down as many as 19, they closed to within six in the third quarter, though the Thunder were back up ten before the final frame. The Deer weren’t through, though: at the one-minute mark they were down only three. A Paul George triple put OKC up six with :47 left. Jerami Grant stole the ball from the Bucks, tossed it to Russell Westbrook, who was promptly fouled; Westbrook swished one of two foul shots, and Giannis Antetokounmpo responded with a dunk. PG-13 sank two freebies; Brook Lopez pushed up a trey, and Grant delivered two more free throws to finish off Milwaukee, 118-112.

All five starting Bucks made it into double figures, led by Antetokounmpo with a solid 27 and 18 rebounds to boot; however, the bench managed only fifteen in aggregate, or one more than Dennis Schröder. Malcolm Brogdon, who never misses a free throw, somehow missed a free throw. Meanwhile George had a fearsome double-double, 36 points and 13 boards, including a nasty dunk over Giannis late in the fourth; Westbrook racked up yet another triple-double, 13-13-11, and Grant, who drew the stop-the-Greek assignment, picked up 16 points and delivered five blocks. That may explain the final as well as anything. (Well, there’s this: OKC put up 32 treys, made 16.)

Nothing quite as refreshing as winning three straight at home. But the road calls, as it will, and the Thunder will set up shop in Orlando Tuesday evening, in Miami on Friday, and then a Sunday afternoon in Boston. So far, OKC has done well against the East, but the operative phrase, of course, is “so far.”


Plenty of pluck

First off, the Battle of the Diallos: Cherick (New Orleans) 15 points in 16 minutes; Hamidou (Oklahoma City) DNP-CD. The Diallos are not related, but hey, it’s something in an otherwise unexciting game, won by the Thunder 122-116, as was the first OKC/NOP game of the season, back in November. (The Pelicans won the second game, 118-114, in the Big Easy.) And really, the oddsmakers figured on this one being a runaway, what with Anthony Davis and Julius Randle out. out. But the other Birds stepped up, with Jrue Holiday kicking in 22 points and 13 dimes, Darius Miller with 21, Jahlil Okafor with 18, and Elfrid Payton 15 with 12 assists. Considering the Pels were down more than twenty at a couple of stages, losing by six probably didn’t annoy Alvin Gentry as much as it could have.

Meanwhile, the usual suspects did the point-gathering for OKC, with yet another Russell Westbrook triple-double (23-17-16), a double-double from Steven Adams (20-13) and another from Paul George (23-11). PG-13, incidentally, will start for the West in the All-Star Game in Charlotte; if it affected his play, I couldn’t tell you. The Pels did win a couple of statistical categories, most notably free-throw makes, in which they had an indifferent 8-12 for 67 percent. (Thunder? 8-15, 53 percent. Then again, neither side committed a whole lot of fouls, which should be considered a Good Thing.)

Things are likely to get heated Sunday, when the Bucks come to town. Milwaukee is 34-12, the best record in the entire league; they’re on a five-game winning streak, and they’re 13-8 on the road. By any reasonable reckoning, the Deer are downright dangerous. Whether the earlier-than-early start time (5 pm Central) makes any difference, I couldn’t tell you.

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Saddling Blazers

“Both teams,” said radio guy Matt Pinto at the three-minute mark, “are gassed.” The Thunder played in New York yesterday afternoon, the Blazers in Salt Lake City last night. There did seem to be a slowing of the pace late in the game, but I’m willing to consider that it might have been just my imagination running away with me. Or maybe I’m used to seeing Russell Westbrook fading in the stretch, which he most certainly did not do tonight. Oklahoma City 123, Portland 114, 2-0 in the season series, which matters a little bit if you’re in the same division as the Blazers, which OKC certainly is. And with this game in the bag, OKC moves to 29-18, while Portland drops to 29-20. Still, both of them trail Denver by three or four games, and at the moment, Denver is second only to, um, those guys in Oakland.

The Blazers’ offense came from the usual suspects: Damian Lillard with 34, C. J. MacCollum with 31, and Jusuf Nurkić with 22, plus a hefty 15 rebounds. (Portland owned the boards tonight, 50-37.) Neither side got a whole lot from the second unit, 23 for the Blazers, 19 for the Thunder. But OKC’s big-number guys generally got big numbers, with yet another Westbrook triple-double (29-10-14), Paul George being the plussest of the plus-minus (+16) with 36 points, and six in double figures. Still, the second plussest, at +13, was Nerlens Noel, who took only one shot all night and missed it. He did, however, have three boards, two dimes, and two steals, evidently at exactly the right time.

Two more games on this Thunder homestand: Thursday against the Pelicans, who may or may not have Anthony Davis ready following a hand injury, and then Sunday against the Bucks, who at 34-12 have a better record than anyone, including, um, those guys in Oakland.

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In New York, one always takes care of business first. In accordance with this decree from on high, the Thunder opened up a 34-16 lead after the first quarter, and kept the Knicks at bay, which is to say “around 20 points behind,” the rest of the way. Having met the prerequisite, Oklahoma City proceeded to foul like the very dickens, giving New York an opportunity to shave the lead to 14. It didn’t last long, though, and the Knicks were finally knuked, 127-109.

New York did have a decent amount of offense, with the wing guys — Emmanuel Mudiay and Tim Hardaway, Jr. were responsible for about a third of it, with Hardaway knocking down 23 and Mudiay coming up with 14. Alonzo Trier (15) and our old friend Enes Kanter (11) were the stalwarts of the Knicks bench, though Trier earned a tech for bopping Patrick Patterson in the general vicinity of the nose. Meanwhile, Paul George tossed in 31 and Russell Westbrook stopped just short of a triple-double with a 17-9-10 line. Neither of them had to play the fourth quarter, which might be useful, inasmuch as the trip home will be followed almost immediately by a visit from the Portland Trail Blazers. (On the other hand, the Blazers are playing tonight at Utah, so they’re getting even less rest.)

The one fun thing here, I think, was listening to radio guy Matt Pinto invoking all the clichés about “tonight” and variations thereupon, even though the game was over by 2 pm. Then again, if you don’t have phrases to fall back on, you leave a whole lot of dead air.


A cold reception

It was actually warmer today in Philadelphia than in Oklahoma City, but the 76ers, so woeful for so long, are this year as good a team as any, and the Thunder never could pull away from them; and OKC’s nine-point lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter had completely evaporated halfway through. At the 1:46 point, Joel Embiid snowplowed Russell Westbrook into a stanchion; Westbrook overcame his worst impulses and dropped in two free throws to put the Thunder up four. The Sixers, undaunted, came back with a trey; after what appeared to be a busted OKC possession, Terrance Ferguson, responded with three points of his own. Then Jimmy Butler went for the rim and collected an and-one. Two more foul shots from Paul George brought the score to 113-110 Thunder with 21 seconds left. Six seconds later, Westbrook fouled out, and Embiid, the foulee, was given three free throws, all of which he made. Butler intercepted the inbound, and once again drove to the rim for a layup: Sixers up by two with 6.9 left. Within two seconds, George had sprung for a trey and drawn a foul. PG-13 hadn’t missed a free throw all day, and he didn’t miss this one. A Hail Mary buzzer-beater went unanswered, and the final was Oklahoma City 117, Philadelphia 115, the first time a Western team has won in the Wells Fargo (!) all season.

The Sixers’ sharpshooters were as sharp as usual: Embiid 31, J. J. Redick 22, Butler 18, and Ben Simmons approaching triple-double levels at 20-15-9. Philly outrebounded OKC 47-45, and out-assisted (is that a word?) them 28-20. But the Sixer reserves contributed only 20 points to the cause, one fewer than Dennis Schröder. Then again, the OKC bench, other than Schröder, hit only seven. For the Thunder, PG-13 knocked down 31, Westbrook 21 (and 10 boards), and Steven Adams 16. And it’s still weird having a shooting guard who, you know, actually can shoot; T-Ferg went 4-8, 3-6 from the three-point circle.

Next outing is Monday against the Knicks in New York for an MLK Day matinee. The Knicks aren’t having a great year, but they can burn you in a hurry if you let them.


Purple reign

Someone on Quora asked today if LeBron were playing tonight against the Thunder. Short answer: no. Neither was Rajon Rondo, who’s been out since Christmas. But it’s not like the Lakers needed their brand-name players: okay, all the L. A. starters finished on the minus side of the Great Divide, but the Laker bench pounded the Thunder reserves unmercifully. (Example: Ivica Zubac, backup center, knocked down 26 points, a career high, on 12-14 shooting, and 11 rebounds to boot.) With 35 seconds left, the Lakers were up three; the score was unchanged thirty seconds later. Russell Westbrook earned three free throws in those waning moments, and made them all. With 2.9 left, the Lakers got one last possession; Kyle Kuzma put up a trey for the win, and didn’t get it.

They could wait. The overtime was almost all Lakers; the final indignity, perhaps, was a technical called on Raymond Felton, who otherwise had a DNP-CD. Los Angeles 138, Oklahoma City 128, and when was the last time you saw an overtime game won — or, for that matter, lost by ten points? The pundits will look for Redeeming Social Value, noting, for example, that the Thunder put up 54 (!) treys and made 22, a respectable 41 percent. Still, L.A. not only owned the boards, they collected rent on them, to the tune of 63-44. Kuzma posted a game-high 32 points. Westbrook? 25 points and 13 assists, but 7-30 from the floor. And someone should give Nerlens Noel a hand for surviving Concussion Protocol.

It gets no easier. Saturday’s trip to Philly won’t even be close to a cakewalk: the Sixers are 30-16 as of tonight. The MLK Matinee at Madison Square Garden — well, the Knicks are terrible, but are they terrible enough?


Hotlanta nights

Nights like this, the Thunder does not need. But nights like this are unavoidable in the NBA; lightly-regarded opponents can put the hurt on you in seemingly no time at all. The 13-30 Atlanta Hawks qualify as certified vendors of hurt, having run up not one but two 45-point quarters on the way to crushing OKC 142-126, despite the absence of Kent Bazemore and Jeremy Lin and Miles Plumlee. Was the return of John Collins a factor? Maybe; Collins was good for 26 points, but Alex Len and Trae Young put up 24 each, and even Vince Carter, born in Mesopotamia in 2811 BC, managed 11. The Angry Birds took only 90 shots, and made 56 of them, a walloping 62 percent. And then there were those 18 made treys out of 37. What’s more, they did all this while giving up their usual worst-in-the-league 18 turnovers and making only 12 of 16 free throws while the Thunder hit 31 of 41.

So what happened? Can’t be the Thunder offense, which, after all, did score 126 points. But the Hawks played like the Thunder defense wasn’t there, and for long stretches it was no illusion. Look at those 36 Hawk assists. That’s the sign of being able to move the ball at will. When you’re faced with this sort of thing, the first impulse is to try to outshoot the other guys. But if they’re shooting 62 percent, a step or two beyond Lights Out, this strategy is doomed. And so were the Thunder, despite leading by three after three quarters. Russell Westbrook had a worthy 31-6-11 line, but that got him a +1 for the night. Jerami Grant had a nice, crisp 21, and he wound up minus-9. The Thunder bench did come up with 30, but Dennis Schröder had 21 of them.

The Lakers are in town Thursday night, and, say the sports guys, Jeanie Buss has put her expensively-shod foot down and refused to send Luke Walton packing. This suggests turmoil, even if LeBron is back to being like LeBron.


Prior incantato

Nobody expected a repeat of Thursday night, when 301 points were scored in 58 minutes by these same two teams. For one thing, it wasn’t in San Antonio. For another, it was announced today that the Thunder will be retiring #4 this spring, which almost certainly motivated anyone who’d ever played alongside Nick Collison, and anyone in Loud City who’d ever seen him play. So the Spurs were up 61-50 at the half, but after that, it was all Thunder; inside the four-minute mark, Gregg Popovich pulled his starters. And if anything neatly encapsulates this game, it was the performance of Dennis Schöder, quiet in the first half but explosive in the second, picking up all 19 of his points. (Then there were those four steals.) OKC 122, San Antonio 112, evening the season series — there’s only one more — and putting an end to a three-game losing streak.

Perennial pain LaMarcus Aldridge, who rolled up 56 points Thursday, was held to 17 tonight; the Spurs’ big gun was Marco Belinelli, with 24 points off the bench. And after that startling display of three-point prowess day before yesterday, the Spurs came back to earth, hitting 10 of 31. Meanwhile, Billy Donovan deployed ten players, and seven of them reached double figures, with Russell Westbrook (24-10-7) and Paul George (18-11-4) posting double-doubles. Steven Adams, apparently healed, scored 12, including (imagine!) 6-8 from the charity stripe. And Terrance Ferguson is still hoisting, and making, the treys; he’s canned over a dozen in three games. Who expected this from T-Ferg? (Yeah, I know: I should have.)

Can you really call it a homestand if there’s only one game involved? I dunno. I do know that the Thunder leave for Atlanta for a Tuesday-night matchup, and come back on Thursday to deal with the Lakers, who may or may not be bringing LeBron, who’s missed seven games with groinitis or something. Whoever writes the schedule obviously doesn’t clear it with me; then again, I obviously couldn’t have expected to have a say in the matter.


We see them strolling

With Nerlens Noel out under the dreaded Concussion Protocol, the only unanswered question was when the Spurs were going to miss a three-pointer. (Third quarter, if you’re keeping score.) And there was the ongoing puzzlement over how the Thunder rolled up 40 points in the second quarter and still were down seven at halftime. (Answer: at that point, the Spurs still hadn’t missed a trey.) But weird things can happen in San Antonio, and one of those was the first half of the fourth quarter, in which OKC went on a 21-9 run to tie the game at 114. Speculation: Spurs were tired after last night’s clash with the Grizzlies. I don’t think they were that tired. And then Steven Adams came down hard and was carted off to the locker room, and the Spurs seemed, um, reinvigorated. Obvious problem: without Adams and Noel, who gets to defend LaMarcus Aldridge? It turned out that it didn’t matter; Aldridge was on his way to a career-high 56. Still, with five seconds left and the score tied at 130, both DeMar DeRozan (who had a double-double) and Aldridge failed to convert.

Overtime then ensued, as overtime will, and with one minute gone, Adams returned, and dunked at the right time to tie it up at 141. Second overtime then ensued, as second overtime will, and Adams returned to the locker room. Radio guy Matt Pinto pointed out several shortcomings of the officiating (“Tough to win when it’s five on eight,” he quipped), but it had the usual impact on the game, which is to say none, and with a minute and a half left, Adams reemerged, and got put on LMA when Jerami Grant (25 points, 12 rebounds, both career highs) fouled out. Spurs guard Derrick White (23 points, career high) knocked down two free throws; Adams connected on one free throw, deliberately missed the second, to no avail. San Antonio 154, Oklahoma City 147, and whoever set the over/under at 225.5 is probably gulping cough syrup as we speak.

In a rarity, all five OKC starters hit double figures; in fact, all but Adams (19) went over 20. The unexpected spectacle: Terrance Ferguson’s seven treys out of 10 for, um, 21 points. And then there was a triple double from Russell Westbrook, 24-13-24. Those two dozen dimes were, yes, a career high. Pau Gasol actually started at center for San Antonio, but played only 15 minutes. And oh, the first trey the Spurs missed was the fifteenth. The box score will make your head hurt.


A war of attrition

It wasn’t at all pretty: Andrew Wiggins was airborne, he collided with Nerlens Noel, and Noel got the worst of it; they carried him off on a stretcher. That was at the 5:16 mark of the third quarter. Just about one minute later, discouraging words could be heard, and three technicals were assessed, one against Jeff Teague, one against Dennis Schröder, and another one against Teague. This is about the point where you find yourself wondering who’d be the third player to exit unscheduled — Wiggins, with five fouls? Karl-Anthony Towns, also with five fouls? Paul George, also with five fouls? None of that mattered: down 119-117 at :15, the Thunder put up three tries at the rim and saw them all go awry. This puts the Timberwolves up 2-0 in the season series, and as radio guy Matt Pinto noted, Minnesota has won only two games on the road against Western Conference rivals. Guess which two.

You really can’t blame Wiggins for being that far off the ground; he splashed 40 points tonight, a season high, and reeled in 10 rebounds, also a season high. Towns picked up 20. But here’s something that screams at you: the reserve Wolves, only four of them, collected 37 points. Five Thunder bench-dwellers scored only 24. And if you didn’t hear that, hear this: OKC hit 19-26 from the foul line, Minnesota 32-40. Ryan Saunders, interim head coach following Tom Thibodeau’s dismissal (and son of legend Flip Saunders), made a pretty good accounting for himself and his team.

Your usual double-double duet performed as advertised: Steven Adams (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (25 points, 16 assists). PG-13 led the ledger with 27. And someone somewhere is wondering: “But they got 41 points in the second quarter!” If only they’d been able to duplicate that feat in the fourth. Now it’s time to think Spurs: to San Antonio on Thursday, and back home against, yes, the Spurs on Saturday.


Speed and time on their side

The Wizards had never, ever won at Chesapeake Arena. I can’t help but think that Washington coach Scott Brooks, who knows the place well, was determined to do the deed, even without John Wall. And halfway through the fourth quarter, during which period the Wizards had outscored the Thunder 14-2 to go up by 23, it was already distressingly apparent that Brooks had pulled it off. The Wiz, renowned for having no rebounding ability and little defense, dominated the boards and kept OKC bottled up almost the entire night. Billy Donovan started pulling the A-team inside the three-minute mark, and that was that.

Yep. Washington 116, Oklahoma City 98, and you have to wonder what was going on inside the various Thundermen’s heads. It certainly didn’t seem to be the actual game. Bradley Beal, bereft of his usual backcourt partner, took a few more shots than he might have otherwise, but still finished with a game-high 25 on 10-27 shooting. And Tomas Satoransky, filling in for Wall, put up a decently-impressive 15. Otto Porter Jr. led the Wizards bench with 20; the Washington reserves outscored the OKC bench, 42-22. The number that scares, though, is 55: the number of rebounds claimed by the Wizards, the poorest rebounders in the league, which was fourteen more than OKC, which last we looked was about second in rebounding.

There was, of course, a Russell Westbrook triple-double (22-15-13), and Paul George hit 20 alongside Jerani Grant, who was good for 17. But I kept hearing a voice saying “Do better,” and I’m sure it wasn’t mine.

Things get weird again on Tuesday, when the Timberwolves show up in town. After thrashing the Lakers today, the Wolves’ front office sent coach Tom Thibodeau packing. Not sure who’s going to be in charge for this game, but the Wolves have had little trouble with the Thunder this year.


Eventually, they said

The last time the Thunder won at the Moda Center, it had only just become the Moda Center. Then again, no one ever promised OKC a Rose Garden, so to speak. And this year’s Trail Blazers are no slouches, coming in at 22-16. Seeing Portland up by five at the half, therefore, wasn’t too surprising. The third quarter went to the Thunder by eleven, giving OKC a six-point lead; they ran it to ten before a Portland run pushed it back to two. Paul George came up with a timely rebound with 4.3 seconds left, and then sank two free throws. Al-Farouq Aminu tossed up a two-foot jumper as time expired, but it was too late: Oklahoma City 111, Portland 109, the first Thunder win in Paul Allen’s house since 2014.

It helps, of course, to make bank at the foul line. After several games where the Thunder left a hell of a lot of points at the charity stripe, they made 23 of 26 tonight. I’m guessing this is because no one bothered to foul Steven Adams, the usual stalwart defender who made only three shots this time out. PG-13 and Russell Westbrook did the heavy lifting anyway, with George rattling down 37 points and Russ collecting 31.

The ever-speedy Damian Lillard knocked down 23 for the Blazers, with industrial-strength center Jusuf Nurkić adding 22. (Timing issues: Lillard was -7 for the night, Nurkić +6.) Shooting percentages were as close as the final score, the Blazers on the high side of 43 percent, the Thunder on the low. And the pass-crazy Blazers delivered 30 dimes to 18 for OKC. Still, as radio guy Matt Pinto is overly fond of saying, it’s not how many, it’s when.

Sunday night, it’s back home to greet the Washington Wizards, minus John Wall, out for the season following heel surgery. And hey, it’s always fun to have Scott Brooks back in Loud City, a place he knows well.


Purple grain

For a moment there, I thought the Lakers were just going to run away with this thing on the basis of free throws; radio guy Matt Pinto, as seemingly always of late, had unkind words for the zebras and their whistle-blowing criteria. This situation was partially offset by the fact that the Lakers are the worst foul-shooting team in the league. Not that the Thunder is appreciably better; they’re something like 29th out of 30. And the Staples Center crowd, decidedly unhappy with Paul George, was delighted to see him roll up three fouls in the first quarter. Well, fine. Around the four-minute mark, PG-13 delivered five points in a row, and still had three fouls. At 2:17, there was an odd little contretemps; Tyson Chandler popped Terrance Ferguson in the face, and Chandler got saddled with a Flagrant One. Ferguson was sufficiently discombobulated to have to retreat to the locker room, and we all assumed the Lakers would pick Steven Adams to miss those foul shots. Didn’t happen; George ended up at the stripe. And while the Thunder didn’t shoot well at all — 40-105, 38 percent, 7-31 from the three-point circle, 20-31 from the foul line — they reeled in 64 rebounds. gave up only 11 turnovers, and dispatched the Lakers, 107-100.

PG ended up with 37 points, far out front of everyone. Russell Westbrook did that triple-double thing again — 14-16-10 — despite hitting an embarrassing 3-20 from the floor. And here’s the interesting angle: both Dennis Schröder and Abdel Nader knocked down 10 points, but somehow it took Nader half as much time and half as many shots. Go figure. Leading the Lakers was Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with 25, and you can’t get much more Kentavious than that. There was some small fun watching Lonzo Ball, who made one of four shots from the floor and one of five from the charity stripe for three points in 35 minutes. And oh, that LeBron guy is still hurting, groinwise.

If Staples Center is unfriendly to the Thunder, the Moda Center in Portland is downright hostile; it’s been a couple of years since OKC came out of there alive. They get another chance on Friday.


Second verse, say what?

What kind of game was this?

Whistles were everywhere tonight, and I mean fifty-nine of them. Dallas took 34 foul shots, and made 26; the Thunder were 24-35 from the stripe. Both Terrance Ferguson and Paul George rolled up five fouls; Dwight Powell of the Mavs fouled out in 15½ minutes. And once again, Dallas knocked down 14 treys out of 34; OKC made a feeble 6 of 24. But the Mavs couldn’t keep their hands on the ball; we’re talking 29 turnovers, which explains much about why the Thunder took 29 more shots than the Mavs. OKC was up eleven after the first quarter and never looked back, sending Dallas on their way with yet another road loss, 122-102. Payback, sort of.

Then again, Harrison Barnes, had he had any help, might have taken this game over. He had 25 points on 8-11 shooting, including 7-9 on triples. Luka Dončić, dominant last night, was held to 17; no one else in the Mavericks’ corral scored more than 10. And no Dirk; he was unwell. Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook atoned for last night with a 32-11-11 line; Steven Adams drew another double-double (12 points/13 boards), Jerami Grant picked up 16, PG-13 finished with 22, and Dallas expat Nerlens Noel was happy to stick it to his old team with 15 points in just under 15 minutes.

Despite all that, Dallas got the majority of the rebounds. 49-46. And they did pull off seven steals, though they let OKC get away with 13. (Remember all those turnovers? Rick Carlisle will.)

And the Thunder hit the road again, this time headed for Los Angeles, where the big question is “Will LeBron be available Wednesday night?” Then again, the Lakers are playing decent ball, even in these Jamesless days.


First verse, maybe the worse

Let’s get this out of the way:

I can’t blame him. At the time, OKC was 7-35 from Out There. Paul George, doing that Paul George thing, then proceeded to hit two of them. And it’s probably a good thing he was, because Russell Westbrook had a truly horrible night. The Thunder had climbed their way out of a 14-point hole to take a six-point lead, only to see the Mavericks recapture the lead by two with 1.7 seconds left. One final Westbrook trey fell short, and Dallas pocketed a 105-103 lead to go up 2-0 in the season series.

It’s not so much that OKC put up too many treys; it’s that they hit so few. The final tally was 9-38; the Mavs were 14-39. And eight of those Thunder misses came from Westbrook, who finished 0-8 — and 4-14 on the shorter shots. Not his night at 9=8-9. PG-13 finished with a solid 36, though he, too, missed eight treys. Abdel Nader drew the shooting-guard start: he went 1-5 in 15 minutes.

The Mavs were led by Luka Dončić, with 25 points, supplemented by 16 from Harrison Barnes, a 12-17 double-double from DeAndre Jordan, and a ten-dime night from J. J. Barea. We even got to see Dirk for ten minutes; he knocked down six.

Tomorrow night: the mirror image of tonight, with Dallas and the Thunder once more, though this time it will be in Oklahoma City. Assuming the pattern holds, the Thunder wins that one by two, but don’t count on it.


Phoenix phatigued

If the Thunder could play four consecutive quarters like the fourth quarters of this game, they’d be something like 31-3 by now. And they did it without Paul George and Alex Abrines, who were scratched before tipoff, and without Terrance Ferguson, who departed early after taking ill. Through the first 36 minutes, OKC was down three to the Suns, but after that, the combination of Thunder awesomeness and apparent Phoenix tiredness — the Suns had been on a semi-grueling East Coast trip before coming home — it was strictly a boys-in-blue affair, the Thunder outscoring the Suns 37-18 to claim a 118-102 win, a sweep of the four-game season series, and an end to that losing streak before it got beyond two games.

What kind of game was this? It was the kind where Nerlens Noel can finish +11 for the night without scoring one point. (He had three rebounds, a block and four steals, easily justifying his 11 minutes of playing time.) It was the kind when your All-Star small forward is ailing, and you replace him with the backup point guard. (Dennis Schröder knocked down 20 points for a game-high +25.) It was the kind when Russell Westbrook doesn’t get a triple-double and you could not possibly care less. (40-12-8, am I right?) And it was the kind where Abdel Nader, who’d scored something like 10 points all year, makes scoring 18 look easy. Still, you have to wonder how things might have gone if the Suns, led (as expected) by Devin Booker with 25 points and 10 assists, hadn’t run out of gas at the end. And here’s a number I don’t remember seeing before: 76 points in the paint. (The Suns had a respectable 48.)

The weird December schedule continues to be weird. Sunday night, the road trip finishes in Dallas; Monday, the Thunder come home to play, um, Dallas. Maybe they can split a plane and save a few bucks.


Coal in one’s crew socls

So you’re looking at the game infomation before tipoff, you notice the absence of Chris Paul, and you chortle: “What, is James Harden going to beat us all by himself?”

A few hours later, you realize that the answer is “Damn near.” Clint Capela had a hair-raising double-double 16-23, with ten of those rebounds off the offensive glass, and four other Rockets landed in double figures, but the star of this show was The Beard, who put up so many shots you had to figure some of them had to fall. Fifteen did, out of 35, and Harden finished with 41 points, kind of what you’d expect from the guy leading the NBA in scoring. And Houston is avenged for the Christmas Day loss last year, wearing down the Thunder 113-109 and tying the season series at 1-1.

As usual, OKC defense against the three-point ball was conspicuous by its not having shown up; the Rockets put up 44 treys, making 14. You can point to that and say “32 percent”; but you can also say “42 points,” and that’s the one that counts. The other phrase that pays is “one and done,” and while both sides reveled in offensive rebounds, the Rockets made them count: 23 second-chance points, versus nine for OKC. Both Paul George and Russell Westbrook were a tad under par, with PG-13 picking up a 28-point, 14-rebound double-double and The Force falling short of a triple-double at 21-9-9. This being the third game in four days, could there have been a fatigue factor? Possibly. But tough noogies if there is.

Three days until the next game, at Phoenix. Fortunately, the Suns are fairly terrible this year; unfortunately, the Thunder only have that one game remaining against them, on Friday. (Rumours that the Suns might shove off to, um, Seattle appear to be unfounded.) For now, it’s Christmas dinner and whatever post-mortems Billy Donovan deems necessary.

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Wolves were waiting

After last night’s ordeal in Salt Lake City, you might have been hoping that coming home to play Minnesota might be simple, even restful. Um, no. The Timberwolves were out for blood, and it didn’t take them long to get the first taste: after twelve minutes, they’d built a ten-point lead. And they kept the pressure on into the second quarter, right until the moment that Karl-Anthony Towns delivered a knee to Steven Adams’ dangly bits. Suddenly the momentum changed, and OKC finished the half with a 19-5 run to take a ten-point lead at the half. Third quarter, no problem, right? Not tonight. The Wolves won that one 33-17, and it took nearly half the fourth quarter for the Thunder to get back in gear. At 1:24, the game was tied at 108; thirty seconds later, an Adams stickback put OKC up by two. Another thirty seconds, and that two-point lead had been cut in half. An Andrew Wiggins layup gave the Wolves the lead at :14. Half of that time expired, Russell Westbrook fouled out again, Wiggins picked up one of two free throws, the ball changed hands two or three times, and the Thunder’s last possession ended not with a goal, but a whiff. Minnesota 114, Oklahoma City 112, the first Wolves road win against a Western opponent since last season.

Wiggins was Minnesota’s go-to guy all night, finishing with 30 points (11-20) in a daunting 42 minutes, a good 15 minutes longer than any of his teammates. Towns, in the middle, knocked down 18. The Wolves shot 49 percent, 52 on treys (14-27), and moved the ball decidedly better, 25 assists to 17. Paul George broke thirty again, with 31 points and 11 rebounds; Westbrook, before winning a free trip to the locker room, posted yet another triple-double, 23-11-10. And you have to wonder if the Wolves simply have the Thunder’s number: since the beginning of the 2017-18 season, Minnesota has taken four of five from OKC.

So it’s off to Houston and a Christmas-afternoon meeting with the Rockets, minus Chris Paul for now but newly fortified with Austin Rivers. We leave with some actual good news:

Good on you, Dre.


Balancing act, sort of

All five starting Jazzmen finished in double figures, which presumably means something; the Thunder starters were nothing like that at all, which presumably means something else entirely. We do know that the Jazz led by six after the first quarter, three at the half, and were third-quartered to death by OKC, 35-20. The Jazz, though, don’t stay dead for long; halfway through the fourth, they’d scored only ten, but the Thunder had scored only five. “Thoroughly discombobulated,” said radio guy Matt Pinto inside the three-minute mark, and OKC promptly missed three of four free throws. At 0:45, the Jazz were back within two. The Thunder somehow could not inbound; the Jazz stole the inbound, the Thunder stole it back, and with 1.5 seconds left and Utah up two, Russell Westbrook fouled out, and Donovan Mitchell obligingly missed the first of two free throws. The Jazz took their last timeout, Mitchell, who was trying to miss the second to give Utah a chance to stick it back for two, and maybe, just maybe, hoisting a trey for the win. To his horror, Mitchell’s free throw actually went, and the Thunder salvaged a 107-106 victory.

By any statistical measure, Westbrook had a terrible night: 3-17 for eight points is pretty horrid, even though he did get 12 rebounds and delivered nine assists. But the man scores big on the intangibles. He could have let Mitchell go by in those last couple of seconds and pick up what looked like an easy dunk, and there’d be five minutes of overtime to recover. Instead, Westbrook reached apparently beyond his reach to get the block; he didn’t get it, but he did hit Mitchell for that final foul, and we know how that ended.

Almost as weird: Steven Adams going nowhere in the first half, and still finishing with a double-double (15 points, ten boards), and watching Paul George do that Incredible Hulk thing, ending up with 43 points and 14 rebounds. George had admitted earlier that he had, um, negative feelings toward Jazz forward Joe Ingles; while Ingles was held to only 13 points, he finished +14 for the night, tops on either team. (Let’s call it a draw.) Mitchell and Rudy Gobert hit 20 each for Utah.

The weird December scheduling continues: the Thunder head home for a Sunday-night match with Minnesota, and then scoot over to Houston to take on the Rockets on Christmas Day.


Scoreboard overload

It was, above all else, a game in which records would be shattered, or at least bent out of shape. Buddy Hield, always a thorn in the Thunder’s side, popped up a career-high 37 points; his partner on the wing, De’Aaron Fox, put up 28 and served up 12 assists. On the other side, Jerami Grant tied his career high of 22 points, and Steven Adams seized a career-high 23 rebounds to go with his 20 points. With all that going on, you might not even notice Paul George’s 43 (and 12 boards) or yet another Russell Westbrook triple-double (19-11-17). What matters here, of course, is the W, and for the first time in three tries, OKC left Sacramento in the orange rubber dust, 132-113.

You might guess from all that starter activity that the reserves didn’t have much to do. In the Thunder’s case, two of them — that would be Dennis Schröder and Raymond Felton — were sentenced to one day of inactivity for their supporting roles in Monday night’s multiple-technical fracas. The rest of the OKC bench came up with a modest 14 points. The Kings didn’t do appreciably better, with 15.

A lot of numbers were flying tonight. OKC shot 50 percent — 51-102. (The Kings were 39-83 for 42 percent.) And take out Adams’ 23 rebounds and the boards are tied, 43-43. By any standards, it was furious out there. The stat that grabbed me, though, was Westbrook’s six steals. It would be nice if he could do that again Saturday night in Salt Lake City; things happen in Utah, and not always the things you want. (Ask the Warriors. The Jazz whacked them tonight.)

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A downward tilt to those horns

Ten days ago, the Thunder ventured into Chicago, and were slapped down. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that much of a slap — the Bulls won by just two — but an L is an L. You have to figure that revenge is a dish served with tangy Miracle Whip®, and OKC didn’t spare the condiments in thrashing the Bulls, 121-96. And it’s not like Chicago gave away the store, either: one area in which the Thunder are unquestionably at the top of the league is in third-quarter scoring, where they have had an advantage of better than four points, and the Bulls outscored them in the third, 25-24.

If only they’d kept control of the ball. The Bulls gave up 23 turnovers. (And that really applies to both teams: the Thunder coughed it up 19 times.) Four Bulls cleared double figures: Lauri Markkanen (16, 15 rebounds), Bobby Portis (16), Kris Dunn (12), and ex-OKC Cameron Payne (11 before fouling out). And there was an embarrassing little contretemps: in the third quarter, collars got hot under, as the phrase goes, and two sets of double technicals were incurred. One of those Ts went to Robin Lopez, still pretty sore five minutes later when he forgot where he was and started playing Dodge Ball instead. This got Lopez broomed.

Once again, Paul George took the responsibility for maintaining the ball-to-net interface: 24 points on 8-19 shooting. Steven Adams came up with 19, David Schröder with 18 from the second unit, and there was yet another Russell Westbrook triple-double (13-16-11). So a measure of payback was secured.

Trouble with that, though, is that the next opponent is Sacramento, which has beaten OKC twice this season. They’ll get one shot at the Kings in Sactown Wednesday night, but the fourth game of the series doesn’t happen until late February.

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Foil of L.A.

The absence of Lou Williams has not helped the Clippers, and subtracting Luc Richard Mbah a Moute from the active list further weakened them. Still, they were able to make a game of it, kinda sorta; what undid the Angelenos was the inability to hold on to the ball. Nobody was especially fumble-fingered, but we’re still talking 26 turnovers, one every 33 seconds. The Clips were down as much as 17, then staged a decent recovery in the fourth quarter, cutting their deficit down to six. It might have been four, but Montrezl Harrell bricked a pair of free throws with 20 seconds left, and the Thunder go up 2-1 in the season series with a 110-104 win.

Still, Harrell was the leader of the Clips’ bench, with 21 points on 8-14 shooting. One of the Thunder priorities apparently was keeping Marcin Gortat in the Phantom Zone, and while Gortat did retrieve eight rebounds, he scored only five, and three of those were foul shots. But the Clips do that Hydra thing very well: cut off Gortat, and Danilo Gallinari (28 points) and Tobias Harris (22) rise in his place. They shot 51 percent, 52 on three-pointers, and out-rebounded the Thunder 44-40. Still, Loud City was at its loudest when it looked for a moment like Patrick Beverley might have gotten his second technical foul and a free trip to the locker room. (He didn’t.)

Russell Westbrook has yet to find his shot. Just the same, The Force was one board away from a triple-double, with 13 points and 12 dimes. And Paul George is still able to put the ball in the net: for the night he had 33 points off an 11-19 performance, including 5-9 from Way Out There. (It’s almost enough to let you overlook Westbrook’s 4-17, and anyway three of those four went for three points each.) Jerami Grant is still producing at a high level, with 18 points; Hamidou Diallo headed up the reserves with 10.

The Bulls, who hammered the Thunder in Chicago last week and edged the Spurs tonight, will be in the Okay City Monday. Then back to the road, against the Kings (Wednesday) and the Jazz (Saturday).

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Backhanded on the Front Range

Will Barton? Injured. Gary Harris? Injured. Paul Millsap? You get the idea. Not that the Nuggets had a whole lot to worry about; the Thunder, as radio guy Matt Pinto said in the waning moments, are not playing well enough to beat quality opposition on the road. Sometimes when the offense is wonky, the defense can save the day, but probably not this defense. Denver shot a solid 51 percent, missed only one free throw, led in rebounds (48-43) and assists (a startling 29-14). Add to this an unproductive OKC bench (only 14 points, 11 of them from Dennis Schröder) and a bad night for Russell Westbrook (13 points on 5-15 shooting), and you start wondering how the Nuggets won this by only 109-98.

And this, mind you, despite a zingy second half from Paul George (32 points), a season high from Steven Adams (26 points and 14 boards). Look at the charity stripe. As noted, the Nuggets missed one (14-15). The Thunder missed twelve (17-29). There’s your 11 points right there.

Meanwhile, Nikola Jokić approached the Land of the Triple-Double, with 24 points, 15 rebounds and nine dimes. And there was Torrey Craig, who’d made three treys so far this season: he got three more tonight. Usually this is where the Thunder go astray, jacking up the long ball left and right. Tonight they took only 19, but only seven went in. (Denver was 11-34, a technically lower percentage.)

Lou Williams has not been seen lately, and the Clippers are suffering as a result. They’ll be in OKC tomorrow night. But you gotta wonder if the Thunder are playing well enough to beat quality opposition at home.

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