Thunder "Weren't Ready To Play," And Spurs Make Them Pay

By Randy Renner

Second nights of a back-to-back are generally problematic and that is at least part of the explanation for the Thunder losing to the Spurs last night.

Of course the Spurs also were playing on the second night of a back-to-back too and appeared to have boundless energy.

So the real reason comes back to something we've talked about before in this space, something in fact I wrote about just yesterday, the Thunder have a problem on defense...they're not playing any.

Thunder superstar point guard Russell Westbrook took things a step further when he spoke briefly with reporters after OKC's embarrassing 130-91 blowout loss to the Spurs.

"They just played harder than us," he said. "We just weren't ready to play. Simple as that."

Not ready to play on either end of the floor apparently.

The defense was worse than it's been lately and lately it's been pretty bad. And last night the offense couldn't make up the difference.

"They wanted it more, they played with a sense a of urgency and we didn't," Westbrook said.

Why the Thunder didn't come out with a sense of urgency is a mystery seeing as the three game lead in the loss column they have over New Orleans and Phoenix could evaporate over the coming days. They're lucky both the Pelicans and Suns lost last night or the lead would already be down to just two games.

The Spurs did about whatever they wanted to the Thunder, they scored a shocking 71 points in the first half and shot a ridiculous 58.0 percent for the game. From out beyond the arc the Spurs hit an even more ridiculous 61.9 percent (13-for-21).

The Thunder offense, which has been humming along for the last couple of months, sputtered badly in San Antonio generating just 91 points on 40.0 percent shooting. Westbrook and Enes Kanter each had 16 points, about 10 under their recent averages.

And to add injury to the insult of a blowout loss Steven Adams was hurt again. He fell hard on his right elbow during a battle for a rebound. Adams had to leave the game and did not return. Coach Scott Brooks wouldn't say last night how bad the injury is, only that "We'll know more (Thursday)."

As we all know another injury to a key player is the last thing the team needs right now...the first thing it needs is to collectively fix what's wrong with the defense.

 

Thunder Roll Again But Defense Still A Problem

By Randy Renner

The Thunder offense has been rolling in February and March, despite the absence for most all of that time of Kevin Durant.

Last night was no exception OKC scored 127 points with a very balanced, inside-outside attack that the Lakers had no hope of stopping or even slowing down.

The problem has been on defense and last night OKC gave up 117 points on 51.8 percent shooting to a Lakers squad that had only been averaging 98.9 points on 43.7 percent shooting.

And now the Thunder are heading out on the road where they are just 14-21 this season and just 1-4 since February 26th.

The Thunder have been to get comfortable with each other at home lately where they've played eight of their last nine games. That home stretch has offered opportunities for practice sessions which had been rare before the All-Star break. Those practices have come in handy as the Thunder break in a batch of new teammates acquired at the trade deadline.

The injuries to Durant and all the others through the season and then the trades have given Scott Brooks and his coaches opportunities to change some things up and no where is that more evident than Oklahoma City's new post game featuring Enes Kanter.

Kanter has a lot of work to do on defense but his scoring and rebounding numbers have been through the roof. Last night he had a double-double after the 1st quarter and went on to score 25 points and grab 16 rebounds. Steven Adams, the other half of the "Bruise Brothers" dropped 16 points and pulled down 10 rebounds and Mitch McGary, getting increased playing time because of Nick Collison's injury had seven points and 10 rebounds.

So the Thunder's trio of young bigs scored 48 points and grabbed 36 rebounds. That dimension of the Thunder's game has changed things dramatically and given more opportunities for Russell Westbrook to orchestrate a more diverse offense and dominate. Westbrook had 27 points and 11 assists against the Lakers.

Dion Waiters has come on strong too ever since a lengthy discussion and film session with Brooks. He had 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting last night and Anthony Morrow has made teams pay for giving him so many open looks, he had 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting from beyond the arc.

The question now becomes can the Thunder's offense play on the road? This season they're averaging 100.5 points in road games. This month, in just three games away from The Peake, the numbers are better 109.3 points but OKC lost two of those three games because the defense gave up an average of 109.3 points also.

Improvement has to come on defense and the Thunder's first big challenge with their revamped roster comes this week out on the road beginning in San Antonio tonight and continuing in Salt Lake City on Friday and Phoenix on Sunday.

 

 

Down Three Starters, Thunder Face Lakers

By Randy Renner

Time was when a Thunder-Lakers game got the blood flowing and boiling like no other.

Times change.

The Lakers, from the starry land of Hollywood, are a starless bunch these days. Injuries, poor planning and the death of their iconic owner have left the franchise stuck in mud.

The Thunder still have some of the same stars on the roster that were there during some of those classic games of a few season ago but only one of those stars will play tonight.

Russell Westbrook, the kid who grew up in Lakerland, is now the face of the Thunder and the team's on-court leader. Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka are forced to watch and cheer lead from the bench because of injuries. Nick Collison and Andre Roberson can just watch now also have been felled by sprained ankles.

All four Thunder regulars are more than likely out for the rest of the regular season, Durant could very well be done until training camp next season, while hope remains that Ibaka, Collison and Roberson will be back in time for a first round playoff series.

Tonight though it's the Lakers and the Thunder need to focus in on this and make sure there are no slip ups, the schedule gets much more difficult beginning tomorrow night in San Antonio.

Westbrook had been credited with a triple-double on Sunday against Miami but on Monday the NBA took away one of his rebounds and that took away his 10th triple-double of the season, leaving his stat line with 12 points, 17 assists and 9 rebounds instead of 10.

Westbrook is averaging NBA bests of 31.6 points and 11.3 assists since the All-Star break to go with 9.7 rebounds per game. The Thunder have won three straight overall 19 of 21 at home.

"I'm just trying to find my teammates. A lot of teams our doubling and putting a lot of pressure on me, my job is to find my guys and get them open shots," Westbrook said. "We have a lot of guys down, a lot of guys keep getting hurt. We just need to keep coming out and keep competing."

Westbrook has been looking for newcomer Enes Kanter more and more. Kanter (ankle) sat out against the Hawks before returning to post 27 points and 12 rebounds Sunday, with Westbrook assisting on six of Kanter's 12 field goals.

Kanter is averaging 21.1 points and 12.1 boards in his last seven games.

"He has the ability to score around the basket," Brooks said of Kanter, acquired from Utah before the trade deadline. "We're implementing new sets by the day. ... He's done a good job and Russell has done a good job of finding him."

The Thunder's other young bigs, Steven Adams and Mitch McGary have also played well and with the injuries to Ibaka and Collison the'll get big minutes the rest of the regular season.

The Thunder are 15-4 in their last 19 against the Lakers - including playoffs - after taking this season's first two meetings in Los Angeles. Westbrook had 31 points, five rebounds and 10 assists in a 104-103 victory Dec. 19 before sitting out with a facial fracture in a 108-101 win March 1.

Los Angeles has been outscored by an average of 18.4 points during a five-game road losing streak in the regular-season series.

Snapping that skid could prove difficult for a Lakers team that's dropped four straight and 15 of 16 on the road.

The Lakers had lost four in a row overall before beating Philadelphia 101-87 on Sunday. Jeremy Lin scored a season-high 29 points as Los Angeles shot 48.1 percent for its highest mark in 13 games.

"Obviously, I would love to be in the starting lineup, but nothing's guaranteed at this point," said Lin, who has come off the bench in his last 25 games. "I mean, (68) games into the season, I'm just trying to stay focused on doing what I'm supposed to do when I get in there."

Lin, averaging 11.1 points, has scored a combined 32 on 12-of-21 shooting against the Thunder this season. Lin is expected to start tonight against the Thunder.

We'll have updates from shootaround and from the arena later today here on the website. Be sure to check out our Twitter feed page for live updates.

 

Westbrook, Kanter Combo Blister Heat

By Randy Renner

Despite the longest of odds the Oklahoma City Thunder somehow keep finding ways not only to compete but to win games coming down the stretch. They did it again Sunday afternoon by blistering the Heat 93-75.

Just a minute and a half into Sunday's game against Miami, Thunder defensive whiz Andre Roberson twisted his left ankle and did not return, joining Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison on the injured list. 

Roberson was being counted upon to slow down Miami's Dwyane Wade who'd been averaging almost 30 points over the last 10 games or so. 

The Thunder defense, which had not been very good lately, figured to be even wprse without Roberson but instead the healthy guys who were left played some of the best defense we've seen the Thunder play this season. Miami's 75 points were the fewest the team has scored this season and the Heat were held to just 39.5 percent shooting. 

Russell Westbrook did not have a very good shooting game (5-for-16) but he dominated play just the same with 12 points, a career-high tying 17 assists and 10 rebounds. Enes Kanter returned from a one game absence with a sprained ankle to score 27 points (two shy of tying his career-high) on 12-for-20 shooting. Kanter also grabbed 12 rebounds. 

"Enes had a great game and everybody rebounded and we moved the ball well," said head coach Scott Brooks. "We've had some tough luck this year (with injuries) but we just focus on playing well." 

Steven Adams continued his recent hot streak with his third straight double-double and fourth in his last five games finishing with 10 points and 10 rebounds. 

Rookie Mitch McGary, getting extended playing time now with Collison out, scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds. 

But the defense won this game, never letting Miami get out and run and take control of the game. The Heat had 12 fast break points and had been avaging more than 20 their ,ast several games, the Thunder scored 21 points in transition. 

Neither Wade nor Hassan Whiteside, who'd been terrorizing the NBA recently, did much. Wade finished with 12 points on 6-for-15 shooting and Whiteside had 13 points and six rebounds before fouling out. 

Since learning Durant may be lost for season the Thunder have now knocked off two of the hottest teams in the league Atlanta on Friday and Miami on Sunday.  

They got an added boost on Sunday when the New Orleans Pelicans lost to the Clippers giving the Thunder a three game lead for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

The Thunder wrap up their home stand Tuesday against the 17-50 Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday night then head out on the road for a critical trip that will take them to San Antonio on Wednesday, Utah on Saturday and Phoenix on Sunday. 

What looked like a near impossible mission to just make the playoffs few days ago now once again looks more and more like a sure thing.

One thing we've learned about this team as this snakebit season has worn on is never, ever count them out. 

 

Collison Out "At Least 10 Days"

By Randy Renner

Thunder backup forward and first team glue guy Nick Collison will miss "at least 10 days," with a sprained left ankle according to Thunder head coach Scott Brooks.  "He'll be out until sometime in April."

"There's that saying, if you don't laugh, you're gonna cry, sometimes I feel like crying," Brooks said. 

Collison was finishing up one of his best games of the season Friday night against Atlanta when he rolled his left ankle. 

"I don't feel very good right now," Collison told reporters after OKC's thrilling win over the Hawks. He left the arena in a walking boot and on crutches. 

The news didn't get any better when he arrived at the practice gym Saturday morning.

"Nick has obviously been a fixture in what we do and there's never a good time and the timing on this is not good but we're gonna have the next man up mentality like we've always had," Brooks said. 

On the bright side, center Enes Kanter was back out on the practice floor, moving around well. 

"He has looked a lot better, he's definitely progressing well and we'll just see how he feels after practice today and then tomorrow," Brooks added.

Kanter bruised his right arm and sprained his left ankle during Wednesday's win over Boston. He could not walk without assistance in the lockerroom after that game but has looked steadily better since.

If Kanter can't go against Miami on Sunday, Brooks will likely start Steven Adams at center and rookie Mitch McGary at forward then for backups use a mix of Perry Jones III, Steve Novak and that really tall usher up in Loud City.

Collison was the last player on the Oklahoma City roster who has been with the team the entire season who hadn't missed a game due to injury in what has become an injury plagued season like no other. 

Just yesterday Thunder GM Sam Presti announced superstar forward Kevin Durant was being shut down indefinitely while doctors try to figure out why his surgically repaired right foot is still hurting. Just Tuesday, forward Serge Ibaka underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and is likely out the rest of the regular season.

With everything else that's gone wrong last night's emotional win over the best team in the Eastern Conference couldn't have come at a better time. 

"You'd think after a win like that I would have had a great night's sleep, but I didn't," Brooks laughed, "You're always thinking about the next game, but yeah it was a great performance on a lot of different levels, guys really stepped up. Knowing the news of the day the guys really came out and battled, we made a lot of great plays for each other on both ends of the floor and the crowd was really involved. It was just a great night, a great way to spend a Friday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena."

And then came Saturday's news and more than likely another sleepless night for Scott Brooks.