Thunder, Suns Heading In Opposite Directions

By Randy Renner

Just a couple of weeks ago the Thunder were still chasing the Suns trying to get into the playoff picture, now even with the latest Kevin Durant surgery, the Thunder have passed up the Suns and are now solidly in eighth place in the Western Conference.

OKC comes into tonight's game red-hot having won seven straight and nine of their last 10, the Suns playoff chances may be setting, having lost eight of their last 10 and fallen behind New Orleans down into 10th place.

The Thunder are actually now just two games behind the Spurs for seventh and if you want to really get optimistic, Oklahoma City could move to within five games of Portland with a win tonight in Phoenix and if they can follow that up with a win tomorrow night in Portland they'd be just four games behind the Blazers for the Northwest Division lead and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Their 9-1 run through February so far includes double-digit wins over the Clippers, Memphis, and Dallas, all teams they trail in the standings.

Oklahoma City is averaging 111.7 points over its last 10 games, and though Durant has missed half of them, each was a victory. It's unclear when he will return as he deals with foot soreness and is supposed to be re-evaluated sometime here at the end of the week.

All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook is playing the best basketball of his career right now. He had 20 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in a 105-92 win over Indiana on Tuesday for his third triple-double this season. His 11 triple-doubles since entering the league in 2008-09 rank third while his three this season are tied with Michael Carter-Williams and Rajon Rondo for the NBA lead.

The All-Star Game MVP is averaging 29.5 points on 38.9 percent 3-point shooting with 10.1 assists and 8.2 rebounds over his last 10 games - up from 24.8 on 25.9, 7.4 and 5.9 previously.

Westbrook, whose 7.5 fast-break points per game lead the NBA, has averaged 9.4 in the last 10, helping Oklahoma City average 22.5 as a team, a 7.9 increase from its previous average.

"He just continues to stack games up on top of one another," coach Scott Brooks said after Tuesday's win over Indiana.  "He's played well. He's doing a great job of leading us, leading the new guys and leading the group. Making it all come together."

The Suns snapped a five-game losing streak last night with a 110-96 win at Denver, though it was against a Nuggets squad that had dropped 16 of 18. The Suns had allowed 111-plus points in four straight before limiting undermanned Denver to 38.3 percent shooting.

Brandon Knight's 19 points led six players in double figures.

"It's all new and all coming so quickly," said Knight, who has averaged 17.3 points in three games for the Suns since being acquired from Milwaukee. "It will take time. But it's really just about making basketball plays."

The Suns have been one of the league's worst rebounding teams with a average minus-2.1 margin but are plus-33 over their last two games and recorded a league season-high 65 boards Wednesday. Alex Len has 10-plus rebounds in four straight after averaging 6.0 previously.

The Thunder are the NBA's best rebounding team (47.4 per game) and they're second in offensive rebounds per game (12.3).

Oklahoma City has won 13 of 15 in the series, including two home meetings this season. Westbrook has averaged 32.3 points on 54.0 percent shooting in his last four trips to Phoenix, but was 5 of 13 for 20 points in a 137-134 overtime home win on Dec. 31 as Durant scored 44. Eric Bledsoe led Phoenix that night with 29.

Tipoff is scheduled for 9:30 but because it's the second game of TNT's national TV double-header the tip could be as late as 9:45.

The Thunder will fly to Portland after the game for Friday night's showdown with the Blazers, that game is also part of a national TV double-header on ESPN.

 

 

Russ Has Another Triple-Double As Thunder Rolls Again

By Randy Renner

The Thunder faced perhaps their stiffest test of these recent hot streak, going up against an almost healthy Indiana Pacers squad that had won six of their last seven games, on Tuesday night. 

Stiff test or not the Thunder stampeded the Pacers from the jump, stumbled in the third quarter and then took control again in the fourth to cruise to a 105-92 win that wasn't really that close. 

Russell Westbrook registered his third triple-double of the season with 20 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.  

"I'm just blessed and happy to play the game I love," Westbrook told reporters afte the game. "I'm just continuing to learn and just takes what the defense gives me." 

It wasn't so much that the Pacers were giving Westbrook anything he was more in the mood to just take whatever he wanted and prevent the Pacers from getting much of anything they needed.

"We have the best rebounding point guard in the game and it all starts off with the contesting of their shots," said Thunder head coach Scott Brooks. 

The Thunder held Indiana to 43.2 percent shooting and they had another big rebiunding night, grabbing 57. Oklahoma City leads the NBA in overall rebounding and are second in offenisve rebounds and they pulled down 15 of those.

"We established things early with our defense and then give our bench a lot of credit, they took the game over with all the threes they hit," Brooks said. 

Yes that Thunder bench bailed out the team late in the third quarter. The Pacers had cut the lead down to just one point (65-64) with 4:32 to play in the third. The Thunder went on a quick 12-1 run highlighted by a Dion Waiters 3-ball off a pass from DJ Augustin. Then Thunder bench mates Augustin, Waiters and Anthony Morrow dropped consecutive 3-point bombs to destroy the Pacers hopes for a rally and stretch the lead out to 20 at 89-69 and that was pretty much that.

Serge Ibaka had another big night, dominating on both ends of the floor, scoring 23 points, hauling in 10 rebounds and blocking three shots. Ibaka has been an absolute beast lately and he was very difficult for Indiana to handle. 

Waiters finished with 14 points off the bench, hitting four 3-pointers and Morrow dropped in 12 on 5-for-9 shooting. 

Enes Kanter continues to get more comfortable, he scored 15 points while grabbing five rebounds and Mitch McGary was solid, if not spectacular at times, scoring nine points, pulling down eight rebounds, blocking two shots and licking up a couple of steals. 

And remember Kevin Durant isn't out there playing. 

The Thunder have now won seven straight and nine of their last 10. They go on the road now for games in Phoenix, Portland and Los Angeles against the Lakers. 

It's a crucial road trip which will further define a season of incredible challenges that have so far been met with grit and determination and now, finally, a winning streak.

 

Thunder Will Catch Pacers At Nearly Their Best

By Randy Renner

When it comes to dealing with injuries the Thunder don't have anything on the Indiana Pacers, in fact the Pacers have probably been hit harder than OKC, at least in the number and length of the injuries.

For much of the season some of the Pacers' key players have been on the injured list, losing a total of 180 games. Thunder players have lost a total of 144 games.

Pacers star Paul George, who broke his leg over the summer during Team USA workouts, is the only one left on the injured list now and it shows. Indy has won seven of the last 10 and the Pacers offense, which had been stuck in neutral all season, is shifting into high gear scoring 104.1 per game over their last seven after averaging 92.6 in their previous eight. They'd been averaging in the low to mid-90s most of the season.

The Thunder of course are dealing once again with Kevin Durant's absence. He will miss his 30th game tonight after having a procedure on Sunday to switch out a screw that had been inserted in his right foot to assist in the healing of that Jones fracture.

The head of that screw had been irritating a bone, which generally doesn't happen in those sorts of things, but it did in this instance. The bone is healing properly and is far enough along so that the change in screws could be made.

Durant will be re-evaluated at the end of the week and the team will have a better idea then  just how long he'll be gone this time.

Thanks to the brilliant leadership and play of All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook the Thunder have been playing their best basketball of the season lately, winning six straight and eight of their last nine.

The Thunder are averaging 115.5 points during their streak after entering the stretch scoring just 99.5 per game and to compliment that high scoring offense they're also holding opponents to just 40.9 percent shooting since January 26th, the best mark in the league. They also lead the NBA in rebounding at 47.2 per game and they're third in offensive rebounds (an area where they've traditionally struggled) at 12.3 per game.

This will also be a great chance to see what newly acquired center Enes Kanter can do as he goes up against Roy Hibbert. Hibbert is playing much better this season than last when there was talk of a trade, the big man is averaging 11.0 points on 45.4 percent shooting and 7.1 rebounds a game.

Indiana backup point guard Rodney Stuckey is coming off consecutive 30-point games off the bench. And the bench is a strong point for the Pacers. That group leads the NBA in bench rebounds at 19.4 a game and is third in scoring at 41.2 points so it will be interesting to see how the Thunder's new and improved bench against Indiana's.

Don't let the Pacers overall 23-33 record fool you, this bunch is as healthy as its been all season and playing better than at any other time this season so tonight's game should be a pretty good gauge of just where the Thunder are at this point.

Tipoff is set for 7:10 this evening on Fox Sports Oklahoma and for those of you outside the state, the game will also be carried on NBA-TV.

We'll have updates today from shootaround and from the arena late this afternoon. Be sure to check out our Twitter feed page for immediate updates.

 

 

Thunder Crush Nuggets For Sixth Straight Win

By Randy Renner

Despite the absence of superstar Kevin Durant, who is out for at least the next week after having a surgical procedure on his sore right foot, the Thunder played without a care in the world, dominated Denver and cruised to a 119-94 win.

Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and newcomer Enes Kanter all scored at least 20 points, while the Thunder defense had a choke hold on the Nuggets offense all night. 

"I like the way we came out, we had great energy. Everybody came in and did a great job," said head coach Scott Brooks.  

The Thunder were playing on the second night of a road-home back-to-back but it certainly didn't look like it. They started fast, leading 36-18 after the first quarter and just kept rolling. 

It was OKC's sixth straight win and eighth in the last nine games. 

Westbrook set a new career-high with 17 assists in just 28 minutes, he also led the Thunder with 21 points while grabbing eight rebounds. 

"Russell was nearly flawless," Brooks said then cracked, "although he did miss those two free throws." Westbrook's two misses snapped a streak of 45 consecutive makes from the charity stripe. 

"He's the best point guard in basketball," Brooks proclaimed. "A no excuse player and a great leader." 

Kanter started his second straight game and again had a double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds. He also saved a rebound by leaping into the seats, up and over the first couple of rows in one of the more amazing plays you'll see. 

Kanter has fit in immediately with group, as have the other mew guys, and the numbers Kanter has put up in his first teo games make you wonder what the heck the Jazz were thinking in letting him go. Kanter seems thrilled to be in OKC playing with a group that includes a couple of future Hall of Famers on a team that's capable of long playoff runs every season. 

Ibaka also had 20 points, hauled in eight rebounds and swatted away eight shots. 

It's the third time this season the Thunder have had three players score at least 20 points and remember all of this was accomplished with the reigning MVP not even in the building. 

Durant had a minor surgical procedure done in North Carolina earlier in the day to change out a screw that had inserted during the surgery to repair the Jones fractire on that foot several months ago. The fracture is said to be healing nicely but the screw was causing irritation that led to the pain and discomfort Durant has been feeling the last few games.

He will be re-evaluated within the week and a determination could be made then as to when Durant could resume play this season. 

The Thunder won't practice Monday and will host the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night. 

 

 

Durant Has Procedure On Foot, Out At Least A Week

By Randy Renner

Thunder superstar Kevin Durant will miss at least the next week because of the soreness in his right foot and a procedure done to alleviate the pain and discomfort.

Durant has been bothered by increasing pain in his right foot lately after having surgery at the beginning of training camp to repair a Jones fracture.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti released this statement Sunday afternoon.

“As we have conveyed, Kevin has experienced increased soreness in his right foot recently and as a result we initiated a process to determine the best way to manage it moving forward. In order to alleviate that discomfort, it was determined after consultation with Dr. Robert Anderson, and after receiving a second opinion from Dr. Martin O’Malley, that because the fracture itself has continued to heal as anticipated, there was an opportunity to address irritation from the screw, and make an adjustment to a different piece of hardware within the foot to relieve the symptoms of his soreness."

"The fracture itself is healing excellently by all accounts and we contin ue to feel good about the prognosis moving forward, but in the short term as he continued to have this discomfort, we wanted to determine the best way to alleviate it while still promoting the continued healing of the initial injury."

Presti said Durant is expected to be re-evaluated toward the end of the week to determine when he might be able to return to action.

The Thunder host the struggling Denver Nuggets tonight, who have lost eight of the last 10 and are 20-34 on the season. Indiana (22-33) visits on Tuesday. The Pacers are playing better lately having won seven of 10. Then it's an important back-to-back out west in Phoenix (29-27) and currently a game and a half behind OKC for eighth place on Thursday and then at Portland (36-18, first place in the Northwest Division) on Friday.

The schedule eases on Sunday with a visit to the 13-41 Los Angeles Lakers and then the Philadelphia 76ers (12-42) visit OKC on Wednesday. 

Durant's continued struggles with the pain and discomfort in his foot have concerned Thunder officials recently and they believe this adjustment with the screw will solve the problem.

Durant has missed more games (28) than he has played (27). Before this season Durant had missed only 16 games in his career.

Head coach Scott Brooks said before tonight's game that he will go with the same starting lineup as last night in Charlotte, with Kyle Singer getting the start in place of Durant and Enes Kanter starting at center for Steven Adams who continues to recover from a broken hand.