Another Triple Double For Russ As Thunder Roll Past Lakers

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

Russell Westbrook did not have one of his better shooting nights, had one of his worst actually going just 2-for-12 through three quarters and finishing 4-for-18.

But the future Hall of Famer didn’t let his shooting troubles impact the rest of his game as he picked up his 28th triple double of the season with 17 points, 18 rebounds and 17 assists leading the Thunder to a 110-93 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

It’s just the ninth time in the last 32 years a player has had a 15-15-15 game but it’s the second time Westbrook has accomplished it in his career.

“Russell Impacted the game in so many ways,” said head coach Billy Donovan. “I know he didn’t shoot the ball particularly well but with the rebounds and the assists and the way he got guys involved, he was terrific tonight, just phenomenal.”

Two guys who benefitted quite a bit from Westbrook’s game were Alex Abrines and Andre Roberson. Abrines started his first game when Victor Oladipo wasn’t able to go because of back spasms.

Westbrook consistently found an open Abrines out on the perimeter and the Spaniard responded by hitting five 3s and scoring a career-high 19 points.

“Alex has great poise,” Donovan said. “He has a calmness about himself and he has a great feel for the game.”

Roberson also dropped a career-high on the Lakers with 19 points on 8-for-9 shooting overall and 3-for-3 on threes. The eight made field goals are also a career-high and the three 3s ties a career high.

“I thought they both did a terrific job,” said Donovan of the duo.

Roberson also grabbed seven rebounds and had a steal and a block.

And then there were the new guys and the return of Enes Kanter. Kanter struggled shooting in his first game back from a broken right arm, going just 2-for-12 but as he gets his rhythm back his numbers should get better.

As for Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, their debuts as members of the Thunder went probably better than most might have expected.

Gibson had 12 points and four rebounds and McDermott had eight and four. The pair admitted they were very tired after flying into Oklahoma City at midnight after being traded to the Thunder and then getting out of bed early to begin physicals and paperwork for their team.

“I thought they did really, really well,” said Donovan. “They didn’t get a chance to go through shootaround, we spent about 15 minutes with them on the court going over some plays and terminology. They asked a lot of questions in timeouts so considering everything they were great.”

Steven Adams turned in what’s becoming a pretty normal game for him 15 points and 10 rebounds and Jerami Grant added seven points on 3-for-3 shooting.

OKC held the Lakers to just 39.6 percent shooting overall and 20.0 percent (7-for-35) on threes.

The biggest problem the Thunder had was holding onto the ball. They turned it over 17 times and on several of those the Lakers turned the giveaway into transition points. L.A. scored a whopping 28 points off those Thunder turnovers, scoring 22 on 10-for-13 shooting in fast break situations.

Some of that can be attributed to guys getting used to new situations and new teammates. A few days of practice should help.

The Thunder will host the new-look New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday evening and then the Utah Jazz, now leading the Northwest Division, in what has become a showdown game on Tuesday night.


 

New Guys And Kanter Available Tonight, Dipo May Not Be

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

It has been a crazy 30 hours or so for Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, the Thunder's newest players.

The flew into town late last night, were surprised to see several dozen fans waving Thunder flags greeting them at the airport and then spent a hectic day at the team's practice facility before coming to The Peake.

Both men say they are "excited" to be a part of the Thunder and that they "plan on" playing tonight against the Lakers.

You can hear what they had to say when they met with reporters this afternoon by clicking on the box below.

After Gibson and McDermott spoke, Thunder head coach Billy Donovan told reporters in addition to the two new guys, Enes Kanter would be available to play tonight but starting shooting guard Victor Oladipo is suffering from back spasms and would be a game time decision.

Oladipo walked off the court pretty gingerly following warmups so chances don't look good for Dipo tonight. Donovan said at the time he hadn't decided who the Thunder would start in place of Oladipo if he can't play.

You can listen to all of Donovan's chat with the media by clicking on the box below.

Thunder Pull Off "Great Trade Robbery" With Chicago

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

Thunder fans like to say “In Presti We Trust” in homage to OKC general manager Sam Presti and from all indications Presti has pulled off another steal.

Minutes before the NBA trade deadline hit Thursday afternoon the Thunder sent backup point guard Cameron Payne, backup forward Joffrey Lauvergne and backup shooting guard Anthony Morrow to Chicago for Bulls starting power forward Taj Gibson, small forward Doug McDermott and a 2018 second round draft pick.

"I think we're a better team this evening than we were this morning," Presti told reporters in a Thursday night news conference officially announcing the moves. 

"We were able to add some things that will help our team," Presti said. "Adding the shooting (with McDermott) to space the floor, giving yourself another frontcourt player and pick-and-roll defender (in Gibson) getting those two guys makes us a better basketball team."

The move also frees up a roster spot for the Thunder which the team could use to acquire another point guard, or perhaps...wait for it...veteran big man Kendrick Perkins who visited Oklahoma City just before the All-Star break and indicated he would love to return.

Presti wouldn't tip his hand much as to what he'll do with that roster spot other than saying the team would love to bring someone in. Could that someone be Perkins?

"Perk's been here and the door is always open to our former players, so he's part of the family," Presti said. "Him being here, I understand that, but I don't want to speculate on who might be the 15th."

Still, it seems like quite a stretch to bring Perk back at the expense of a veteran point guard especially considering OKC’s backup at that position right now is rookie Semaj Christon. Of course Victor Oladipo can be used at that position too and played quite a bit of point guard while Payne was out rehabbing from that broken foot.

The Thunder managed to keep defensive specialist Andre Roberson despite the Bulls pushing for his inclusion in the trade. Roberson will be a restricted free agent after the season and Presti is hoping no team will offer Roberson a contract the Thunder couldn’t realistically match.

Gibson is in the last year of his contract and is making $8.95 million. He will be an unrestricted free agent and it’s not clear right now if OKC would pursue a new deal with Gibson. 

"We always try to keep free agents we think are valuable," Presti said when asked about Gibson's long-term future.

The veteran Bulls starting power forward would probably replace rookie Domas Sabonis in OKC’s starting lineup. The Thunder love Sabonis and his upside for the future but for a playoff push this season Gibson is a far more savvy player who is having one of his best seasons.

Gibson is averaging 11.6 points on 52.1 percent shooting, both numbers better than his career averages of 9.4 points on 49.5 percent. Gibson is also averaging 7.0 rebounds a game and a front line of Gibson and Steven Adams would be a force down low.

McDermott was the best 3-point shooter on the NBA’s worst 3-point shooting team. He’s hitting 37.6 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, which is down from his 39.9 percent career mark.

He’s averaging a career-high 10.2 points this season and a career-high 3.0 rebounds. The Thunder hope McDermott be a much more consistent threat from deep, plus play better defense, than Morrow.

And since McDermott was one of the few real offensive threats the Bulls had defenders tended to stick with him and Chicago used a mix of various ineffective point guards this season and that didn't do much to help the man they call "Dougie McBuckets" either. He won't have that problem in OKC with Russell Westbrook driving and dishing.

Morrow tweeted a thank you to Thunder fans yesterday afternoon saying “Oklahoma thank you for all you’ve done for my family and I. I can’t express what this last 2.5 years have been like. It’s been a blessing.”

Morrow is suffering through a terrible season shooting the ball, hitting just 29.4 percent of his threes, well below his 41.7 percent career number. Morrow was also in the last year of his contract and it was becoming doubtful the Thunder would attempt to re-sign him.

McDermott on the other hand is signed through next season making $2.48 million this season and $3.29 million in 2017-18.

OKC didn’t want to give up on Payne but the second year player struggled this season coming back from a foot injury, plus playing in the shadow of Westbrook didn’t help. The Bulls are hoping Payne can blossom in Chi-Town and can even take over the starting job.

The Thunder flew McDermott and Gibson into Oklahoma City last night via private jet and today the duo will be at the team's practice facility for physicals and paperwork so it's doubtful they will be ready to play tonight against the Lakers but Sunday against New Orleans might be realistic.

In another bit of Thunder news Enes Kanter came through yesterday’s full contact practice in good shape and though neither he nor head coach Billy Donovan would commit to Kanter being a go for the Lakers game it certainly looks like that is a distinct possibility.

Thunder Working The Phones As Trade Deadline Approaches

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

The NBA’s trade deadline arrives at 2 o’clock in Oklahoma and as they have in years past the Thunder and GM Sam Presti will be working the phones right up to that moment.

The Thunder are a bit limited right now in what they can offer teams, namely a first round 2017 draft pick. The Thunder have the pick but because their 2018 first rounder is already with the Utah Jazz from the Enes Kanter trade OKC cannot make that 2017 pick part of a deal.

The NBA doesn’t allow teams to trade away first round picks in consecutive seasons.

Most of the teams the Thunder have been talking to want a first round pick, especially for this year, in return. Plus a player or two depending on the deal.

The Denver Nuggets haven’t budged off a 2017 first-rounder (at least) in return for Wilson Chandler so the Thunder have now put any deal for Chandler on the back burner.

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein the Thunder are talking to the Chicago Bulls about power forward Taj Gibson. ESPN’s Royce Young also points out OKC has interest in the Bulls wing Doug McDermott (Chicago’s best 3-point shooter).

Other possible targets according to various national reports are Lakers guard Nick Young and Kings guard Arron Afflalo.

Gibson is on an expiring contract and will become an unrestricted free agent. He’s making $8.95 million this season. Gibson is a power forward, not the wing player we’ve heard the Thunder are hoping to obtain. He’s a career 49.5 percent shooter but seldom shoots from beyond the arc and when he does he usually always misses (career 8.8 percent from deep).

But Gibson is solid, averaging 11.6 points this season on 52.1 percent shooting, both numbers better than his career averages. And his 7.0 rebounds a game this season are also more than his career average.

Gibson is a starter for the Bulls and he and Steven Adams could form an imposing presence down low. But what about rookie Domas Sabonis? Would he still be on the team? Still start? Not known at this point but it’s hard to imagine OKC giving up on him plus there’s no guarantee Gibson would re-up.

Young and Afflalo are both good 3-point shooters. Young has hit 37.3 percent from beyond the arc over his career and this season is swishing 41.3 percent of his attempts from back there. But Young aka "Swaggy P" would bring a lot of baggage with him and that’s something the Thunder usually shy away from.

Afflalo’s name has come up before when talking Thunder trades and free agency. He’s a career 38.5 percent 3-point shooter and this season he’s pretty much right on that number at 39.0 percent.

McDermott is still on his rookie deal and is hitting 37.6 percent of his threes this season which is down from his career average of 39.9 percent.

Who would OKC be sending away in any of these deals? And could one deal quickly lead to another? With Presti one thing we’ve learned over these years is that almost anything is possible.

We’ll update the website as we move through the day and you can follow me on Twitter @RandyRenner for the very latest from Thunderland.

 

Thunder Play Three Spectacular Quarters To Knock Off Knicks

By A. Suave Francisco

A late tipoff in Oklahoma City may have thrown the Thunder off course to start their game against the struggling organization called the New York Knicks on Wednesday night. However, a complete second and third quarter by OKC helped solidify a 116-105 win, improving their overall record to (32-35) on the season. 

New York's Carmelo Anthony started carving away at the Thunder's defense in the first quarter, by shooting 7-of-8 from the field for 19 points, pushing his team to a 39-27 lead on a scorching 72.7 percent shooting. On the contrary, OKC couldn't manage to get anything going offensively, shooting just 34.8 percent from the floor. To make things worse, Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hermangomez were completely bottling up the paint, denying any and everything Steven Adams and Domantas Sabonis tried to orchestrate. 

Andre Roberson's defense wasn't bad in the first quarter, although Anthony scored 19 points. He did everything a good defensive player would do, Anthony just connected on his shots. In the second quarter, Roberson continued to play sound defense and it finally started to wear on 32-year-old Anthony as he went 0-for-3, and scoring only one point. Offensively, the telling story was Westbrook and Victor Oladipo who combined for 20 points in the quarter, while improving OKC's shooting percentage to 44.7 at the halfway mark. 

I thought he stayed with it. He made it tough on him. Carmelo is one of those guys where if he gets going, it’s hard to stop him. But I thought Dre never felt discouraged. He stayed with it the whole game.
— Russell Westbrook on the job Andre Roberson did on Carmelo Anthony after the first quarter.

The momentum the Thunder played with in the second quarter transitioned over into the third where they continued their dominance, outscoring the Knicks 26-20 and extending their lead to 88-80 by the start of the fourth quarter. Westbrook also recorded his 27th triple-double of the season at the seven-minute mark of the third quarter with 21 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds. 

Oklahoma City in previous seasons would give up games in the fourth quarter and one may say it's because the players didn't know their role, especially in those late-game situations. Sometimes Westbrook would try and push the envelope a little too far and take ill-advised shots that didn't go in the majority of the time, or Kevin Durant would go in isolation mode and hope for the best. Now, Russell has proved he's an improved player down the stretch. Against the Knicks, he scored 11 points in the final quarter, effectively diminishing the Knicks' comeback aspirations. 

This was said to be a must-win for the Thunder, with it being their last game before the All-Star break. They have an easier stretch of their season coming up after an 8-day break where they'll play four out of five games against teams with a losing record. They'll also maintain the seventh spot in the Western Conference, just a game and a half behind the Memphis Grizzlies for sixth.