Can The Thunder Make It Three Straight?

By Randy Renner

Getting Kevin Durant back into the Thunder lineup makes a world of difference. It makes things easier for the offense and much tougher for opponent defenses.

Without KD in the lineup the Thunder are 3-3 averaging 103.0 points on 43.7 percent shooting. Those numbers increase to 114.3 points and 49.3 percent when Durant plays and the Thunder are 6-3 in those games.

Monday night in OKC's 111-89 win at Utah, Durant and his teammates hit a season-high 54.5 percent of their shots and maybe more importantly held Utah under 40 percent shooting.

The four-time NBA scoring champion was 10-for-13 in his first game back since straining a hamstring and has averaged 28.0 points while shooting a career-best 52.4 percent in the nine games he's played.

With both Durant and Russell Westbrook in the lineup the Thunder are averaging 117.5 points per 100 possessions.

As he did last season, Westbrook shouldered a larger load in Durant's absence, averaging 32.7 points and 9.3 assists. With KD back in the lineup some of Westbrook's numbers were down but he remained effective and efficient scoring 20 points on just 10 field-goal attempts Monday night and handed out nine assists.

"You got 30 points that is not in the lineup, so that changes a lot for your team," Westbrook said of the games Durant had to miss, "and when you have that back it makes it easier, a lot easier for us as a team."

The Thunder's increased offensive efficiency with Durant back comes at a bad time for tonight's opponent the 3-11 Brooklyn Nets. They've been disastrous defensively, giving up 104.4 points per game and 46.6 percent shooting to rank worst among Eastern Conference teams.

The Nets are 1-8 on the road but have won their last three visits to Oklahoma City. Brooklyn has won four of the past five meetings overall, though Westbrook missed the last four and Durant the last two.

Both Thunder superstars will play tonight and should make a big enough difference to allow the Thunder to get their third 3-game winning streak of the season.


Thunder Showing More Encouraging Signs

By Randy Renner

Amazing what bringing a former NBA MVP and 4-time scoring champ back into the lineup will do for a team.

And who knows maybe there's a little more to the Thunder's 111-89 beatdown of the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City than Kevin Durant being back.

Durant has said sometimes it takes losing games to get players' attention and head coach Billy Donovan warned back during training camp that things might look ugly at times.

A 3-0 start to the season masked some defensive deficiencies and trouble with turnovers. A three game losing streak brought those problem areas into sharp focus and KD missing six games with a hamstring strain had people wondering if what he had going on was worse than anyone with the team was letting on.

Then came the Dallas game on Sunday and especially the fourth quarter of that game when the Thunder seemed to snap out of a funk. Everything was happening with more intensity. The offense hummed, even with Durant still on the bench in a suit.

The defense, which had been torched at times during the evening, made a couple of critical stops in the closing seconds when the Mavericks were forced out onto the perimeter to try to tie the game.

Last night was even better. Durant of course was back and like Russell Westbrook said after the game, "“It’s like he never left."

Durant scored 27 points in 30 minutes on 10-for-13 shooting overall and 3-for-6 from deep. He also pulled down six rebounds, four steals and a block.

"I just have the mindset that, no matter what, I just pick up where I left off," Durant said, echoing Westbrook. "I think that is what separates good players from great players, is that mindset."

“We know how to get him open," Westbrook added. "He’s one of the best scorers in the world, and he can get a bucket… He has a great mentality, he’s a team guy and is very unselfish. Tonight it showed and it paid off for him.”

The Thunder were coming off an emotional and mentally draining game against Dallas and playing on the second night of a back-to-back in one of the NBA's most difficult environments and the Jazz came in with the NBA's second best scoring defense, allowing opponents only 92.4 points a game.

The Thunder managed to start fast and just keep building the momentum scoring 40 points in the second quarter on 73.7 percent shooting (14-for-19) overall and 66.7 percent (4-for-6) on threes.

When it was over the Thunder had blown past Utah's 92.4 defensive average and had held the Jazz to just 89 points on 38.4 percent shooting.

“We were just being physical,” Westbrook said. “It’s another step in the right direction. I like the way we’re playing defensively. We’re doing a better job. We’re letting our defense run our offense. We don’t go run plays if we get stops, rebounds and get out on the break and use our athleticism.”

But again it's only about five quarters of top notch basketball.

Donovan said he thought Sunday's game might have been his team's best offensive game this season, especially while Durant was out and last night the Thunder kept things going on offense while bringing the defense most of the game too.

 It was consistent and it was encouraging to see,” Donovan said. “We made some progress and strides defensively. We’re learning, we’re growing and we’re getting better. We just need to keep building on this. It’s a long season and hopefully it’s something we can build upon.”

We've heard that before too when it looked like the Thunder might be ready to turn the corner only to find themselves in a blind alley. Maybe this time the freeway awaits.



KD brings the best out of this team

By Addam Francisco

With Kevin Durant returning to the lineup after a pulled hamstring on Nov. 10 at Washington, the OKC Thunder looked near perfect out there tonight. Durant lead his team to a 111-89 thrashing of the Utah Jazz with 27 points. This young Jazz team was expected to match up well with Oklahoma City but clearly, OKC had other plans as they improve to 9-6 on the season. The way they are playing right now is the way everyone expects them to play day in and day out. 

OKC seems to finally understand the term "defense creates offense," and it seems like Dion Waiters is leading that campaign. Dion had 12 points and 4 steals. Safe to say that he is a two way player now, after excelling on both ends of the court for the third straight game. His energy on the court helps frustrate and confuse opposing teams. This is a player the Thunder should consider paying this off-season. 

Switching attention to the bench, having another great showing by generating 44 points. Anthony Morrow to be specific, is averaging 14.5 points and 1.5 steals the past two games and is shooting 70.8 percent from three. BILLY DONOVAN....KEEP THIS GUY ON THE COURT! He should get 15-18 minutes per game, that gives him enough time to get into the flow and actually make a difference. 

Russell Westbrook did what he had to do, getting his teammates involved and got the win WITHOUT having to score 30+ points. This team is finally figuring things out by figuring out rotations, distribution of minutes, and playing players that actually make a difference. This is a better team when they share the ball and tonight in Utah, they had 22 assists. Another great sign, is efficiency. The Thunder scored 111 points off only 77 attempts, shooting 54.5 percent from the field and 40.7 percent from three. Russell and Kevin combined for 47 points off 15-of-23 shooting. Keep these stats up and we will see this squad playing deep into the summer time. 

Oklahoma City wont take any extended breaks as they play the 3-11 Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday at the Peake, for the first half of a two game home-stand. Hopefully Morrow and Waiters can keep up this outstanding play off the bench, while KD and Russ keep dominating in the starting lineup. 


After A Big Win How About Some Consistency Now

By Randy Renner

The Thunder have been wildly inconsistent lately and that tends to rub Billy Donovan the wrong way. The norm lately has been brief spurts of offensive and defensive intensity separated by long periods of confusion and bad shots and players too slow to react to what opponents are doing.

Those trends continued into Sunday night's game against Dallas with the Thunder gaining and then blowing 8 to 11 point leads.

Then a funny thing happened toward the end of the game. As the Thunder offense, led by a relentless Russell Westbrook, beat the Mavs from the inside and the outside the Thunder defense came through with a couple of massive stops courtesy of Serge Ibaka, who's offense and defense seemed to have gone into hiding recently.

Westbrook led the Thunder with 31 points, 11 of them in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 117-114 win over the Mavs.

Now the Thunder need to do it again. String together a couple of games where they can find success at both ends of the floor.

"I thought this was the most complete game we've had offensively," Donovan said. "This is probably the closest I thought offensively, to an identity that I'd like to see us play with. The ball was moving. It was going from one side of the floor to the other. Guys made really good decisions. Hopefully we can build on it."

The defense still needs work but Ibaka's two straight late stops in the closing seconds on Deron Williams will maybe provide the spark and getting Kevin Durant back would be nice too but Donovan said before the Dallas game it still might be "a few days" before KD is back on the floor and fully recovered from his strained left hamstring.

"Right now, when I say 'a few days,' really what they're doing right now is I think (the medical staff) is re-evaluating (Durant) every day," Donovan said. "I think they're trying to push him a little bit further each day, up unto a point. But I think he's responded very, very well."

If Durant is sidelined again, it could mean a third straight start for Dion Waiters, who has totaled 30 points over the last two games and was one of six Oklahoma City players to score in double digits Sunday to end Dallas' six-game win streak.

It won't be easy playing in Salt Lake City on the second night of a back-to-back and it hasn't been easy for the Thunder recently in Utah no matter what when Durant has been out.

The Thunder have dropped three of their last four on the road and three straight at Utah, including the previous two without Durant. Westbrook's 37 points weren't enough in a 94-89 loss in their most recent visit to Salt Lake City on March 28th.

The Jazz are entering a stretch in which they get 10 of their next 14 at home after playing just three times there this season, winning twice.

They've dropped four of their last six overall and are 6-6 on the season after falling 102-93 to the Mavericks on Friday despite getting 22 points from Gordon Hayward.

The forward is scoring 16.3 points per game, a drop from his career-best 19.3 last season, but he's averaging 18.0 at home and 22.3 in his last six against the Thunder.

Derrick Favors has a 19.7 average while shooting 62.8 percent over the last three games after scoring 18 and sinking 9 of 14 shots Friday.

The forward had 22 and 11 while adding three blocks in a 99-94 loss at Oklahoma City in his most recent meeting with the Thunder on January 9th. Back spasms forced him to miss the most recent matchup at home in March.

Tonight's game also marks a return of Enes Kanter to the arena where he played his home games before being traded to the Thunder. Last season on a return visit he was soundly booed, he didn't make a pre-season trip to Salt Lake City because of an injury.

Kanter has improved his defense since coming to Oklahoma City and continues to prove himself on the offensive end. He had 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting against Dallas and pulled down four offensive rebounds and seven total.

Durant has not been ruled out for tonight's game, at least as if this writing, but check out our Twitter feed page for the latest updates from shootaround in Salt Lake City today and Donovan's pregame visit with reporters about 90 minutes before tonight's 8pm Oklahoma time tipoff.


Ball-movement wins games? OKC pushes past Dallas

Russell Westbrook elevates for a shot. Torrey Purvey/

Russell Westbrook elevates for a shot. Torrey Purvey/

By Addam Francisco

Friday night the biggest complaint surrounding this Oklahoma City Thunder team was ball-movement, with that complaint comes a low shooting percentage. Well, Sunday night against the Dallas Mavericks Oklahoma City seemed to fix that problem. Six players, including three reserves scored in double figures as the Thunder snap the Mavericks six game winning streak 117-114

When you hear that six players scored in double figures for OKC, you automatically know that ball-movement created good, high percentage shots. Making that extra pass tonight resulted in 52.2 percent shooting from the field, 40.9 percent shooting from three, and 77.8 percent free throw shooting. Leading the team as usual was Russell Westbrook finishing with 31 points, 11 assists, 5 rebounds and 5 steals, but the focus needs to be put on OKC's supporting cast. Serge Ibaka finished with 16 points, and 9 rebounds, along with a HUGE block towards the end of the game that essentially stopped OKC from losing their second straight game.  Dion Waiters also played a great game, scoring 14 points but also improved his on-ball defensive intensity, for the last two games actually. Stats don't show that, but he had one steal and forced at least three more. This is something that people don't credit, the things that don't show up in a stat book. With that being said, three of the Thunder's reserves played extraordinarily well tonight, Nick Collison is a player that's stuck with this team through thick and thin, dating all the way back when they were the Seattle Supersonics. He's gone from a starter to a reserve on the bench, but tonight he looked like old Nick, scoring 10 points and adding 5 rebounds off 4-of-6 shooting. This is a great sign, and Billy Donovan should keep this deep rotation going all year. Include Nick in a lot of these games, he's more useful than his statistics resemble. Anthony Morrow also looked like the A-Mo Oklahoma City loves to see play well, scoring 14 points off 5-of-9 shooting and 2-of-3 from three. A good sign is the fact that he's moving around, it didn't look like he was just posting up in the corner waiting on a shot, he moved around and a couple times he passed up a three pointer for a inside shot. Good signs from Morrow, hopefully he'll continue playing like he played tonight for the rest of the season. Last but not least, Enes Kanter, scoring 12 points, collecting 7 rebounds, but more importantly increasing his defensive awareness. There weren't any stats to support that, but he made multiple players adjust shots, and in result forced a missed basket. 

This is what Oklahoma City likes to see, the Thunder playing unselfish ball, and applying defensive intensity. Tomorrow they will face the young and sparky 6-6 Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City for a back-to-back. Lets keep this winning streak going to extend this record to 9-6.