Stars And Streaks At The Peake Tonight

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

Two of the NBA’s hottest teams featuring two of the league’s top MVP candidates get together tonight inside what should be a raucous Chesapeake Energy Arena.

The Houston Rockets who’ve won four straight and eight of their last 10 take on the Thunder, winners of six straight and seven of their last 10.

Toss in Russell Westbrook’s streak of six straight triple-doubles and the presence of Patrick Beverley who remains (despite Kevin Durant’s move to Golden State) OKC’s public enemy number one because of his hit on Westbrook’s knee that knocked Russ out of action for months and ruined the Thunder’s shot a championship in the spring of 2014 and you’ve got the makings for a dandy.

“They’re evolving and getting better and I would hope that we’re doing the same thing,” said head coach Billy Donovan after Thursday’s practice. “We’re evolving, we’re getting better and we’re improving.”

The Thunder outlasted the Rockets 105-103 on November 16th when Andre Roberson held Harden to just 13 points on 4-for-16 shooting overall and 1-for-5 on threes. Harden also turned the ball over six times that night.

This time Roberson figures Harden will try some different things and so will he.

“Definitely, you go back to the film and he’s gonna see where we kinda messed up and mis-communicated and he’s gonna try to take more advantage of that and those are the areas we kinda need to clean up. That’s some of what we’ve been working on in practice...it’s all about adjustments.”

Roberson has gone up against Harden several times and studied his moves on film and looked for any subtle changes he’s made from game to game. One thing Harden loves to do is try to bait defenders into fouling him and it works more often than it doesn’t.

In last month’s game Roberson didn’t bite and was whistled only twice for fouls. Harden took only seven free throws and missed three of them.

“You gotta realize why he’s doing those moves,” Roberson said. “He’s trying to draw fouls so the best thing you can do is show the refs your hands and stop yourself from reaching and make him try to finish over our bigs at the rim.”

Harden averages 10.5 free throws per game and hits 84.4 percent of those shots. The Rocket with the next most free throws per game? Nene, who averages only 2.5 attempts a game and hits only 60 percent of those. So if you can keep Harden off the line you’re torpedoing a lot of what Houston likes to do.

Of course what the Rockets like to do most of all is fire up the long ball. They shoot (37) and make (14) more threes than any team per game in the NBA. They make 37.7 percent of their attempts (5th) and 37.3 percent of their points are scored from beyond the arc (T-1st).

The Thunder are actually doing a pretty job defending the perimeter. Opponents are hitting 33.9 percent on 25 attempts which is tied for 7th best 3-point shooting defense in the league.

Donovan would love for his defense to hold Houston to 25 threes especially since in that November game the Rockets took 40 shots behind the arc, hitting 14.

The presence of Beverley will add some fire to the crowd and will provide a tougher defensive matchup.

Westbrook’s triple-double streak also adds some intrigue. If he gets another one tonight he’ll tie Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson at seven straight. The NBA record for consecutive triples is held by Wilt Chamberlain who had nine in a row in the spring of 1968.

Should be some big time fun tonight. You can see the game either on Fox Sports Oklahoma or ESPN. Tipoff is set for 7:10.

 

Russell's MVP Campaign Is Making The Thunder A Better Team

By A. Suave Francisco

 

As the season progresses, the Oklahoma City Thunder continue to improve, much like last season. This time may be more impressive, though, simply because they don't have near the amount of firepower they've had in past years. With that being said, Oklahoma City won their sixth-straight game, this time in Atlanta 102-99. Russell Westbrook continued his historic run with his sixth-straight triple-double and 11th of the season. 

This greatness hasn't gone unnoticed, but sometimes people may take it for granted. Westbrook continues to put up unbelievable numbers that the NBA hasn't seen since the 90s. Last season, he was being compared to Magic Johnson and this season he's breaking records set by the likes of Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. 

What's more impressive may be the fact that he's doing this without an All-star by his side. He's truly making his teammates better by the game. Players like Anthony Morrow and Victor Oladipo are getting quality looks, and feeling confident about shooting them. 

Throughout all the criticism early in this season, the Thunder (14-8) sit tied for fourth place in the Western Conference with the Houston Rockets (13-7). This is where some people projected them finishing after 82 games, and they were considered overly-optimistic. Now, just a tad over the quarter mark of the season, they are fourth in the Western Conference and they continue to improve. The Thunder have every reason to think they can compete for as high as third in the conference because the Los Angeles Clippers (16-6) have constantly proven to be a team that starts healthy, with no controversies, but ends the season with a list of issues. 

For that to happen, Russell will either have to continue this pace or depend on his ever-improving role players to step up over the course of the season. Role players being: Oladipo, whose seemingly found his rhythm in this new offense. Morrow, a player that everyone knows can shoot and has finally received the playing time he's always deserved. Jerami Grant, growing every game, at just 22 years old. Along with Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, two players that have the potential of being the best frontcourt in the NBA. 

Everything mentioned is obtainable as long as this team continues to make strides through the remainder of the season. At this rate, Oklahoma City is on track to win between 48-52 games, which would be nothing short of amazing considering the hand they've been dealt following a stressful summer of free agency. 

The Thunder will try to extend their win streak to seven in a row on Friday against the Houston Rockets, a team they've already defeated at home earlier in the season. 

Westbrook, Thunder Power Past Pelicans For 5th Straight Win

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

Despite Billy Donovan’s urging not to take what Russell Westbrook is doing “for granted,” it is starting to become expected that the Thunder superstar will get a triple-double.

In Sunday’s 101-92 win over New Orleans that’s exactly what Westbrook did scoring 28 points to go along with 17 rebounds and 12 assists. It is his fifth straight triple-double (the longest such streak in the NBA since Michael Jordan recorded seven straight in the spring of 1989) and his 10th of the season.

10 triple-doubles in 21 games.

Westbrook is already light years ahead of his pace last season when he had 18 triples for the entire season, tying for the most in the league since Magic Johnson also had 18 in the 1981-82 season.

In fact Russ actually had a quadruple-double because he also turned the ball over 10 times but the Pelicans couldn’t take advantage of the givebacks scoring just seven points off 16 Thunder turnovers.

Aside from Anthony Davis and then former OU star Buddy Hield, late in the game, the Pelicans struggled to score at all, shooting just 36.7 percent. Davis scored 37 points and Hield had 16, just a Buddy bucket away from his career-high. They were the only New Orleans players in double figures.

Davis did most of his damage in the first half when he scored 24 points on 9-for-17 shooting as the Thunder scrambled to defend him when center Steven Adams left the game late in the 1st quarter with a sprained left ankle.

It’s not clear how badly Adams is hut, he limped into the lockerroom and did not return to the game. Adams was not available to reporters after the game and Donovan wasn’t sure what his status would be for Monday night’s game in Atlanta.

At halftime some adjustments were made as coverages rotated and switched between Domas Sabonis, Joffrey Lauvergne, Enes Kanter and Jerami Grant depending on who was in the game. Davis was 5-for-15 over the final 24 minutes for just 13 points.

The second half was also better for the Thunder’s long range shooters. After going an almost unbelieveable 0-for-15 on threes in the first half, the Thunder rebounded to shoot 46.2 percent (6-for-13) from beyond the arc in the second half.

The Thunder got 17 points from Kanter plus 10 rebounds, 15 from Victor Oladipo and 13 from Andre Roberson who was 6-for-8 from the field.

OKC dominated in the paint and on the break, outscoring New Orleans down low 62-42 and in transition 25-12.

The Thunder have now won five straight and head to Atlanta to play the Hawks on the second night of a back-to-back Monday evening.

 

Anthony Davis Doesn't Do It Again, OKC's Defense Holds NOLA

A. Suave Francisco

Defense has been a major problem for the Oklahoma City Thunder since the second week of the season but Billy Donovan and company found a remedy for that as they defeated a slightly below average New Orleans Pelicans team 101-92 on Sunday night at home. Russell Westbrook claimed his fifth straight triple-double and his tenth of the season with 21 points, 13 assists, and 17 rebounds. 

Stopping Anthony Davis may have been the only gameplan OKC had coming into this game, due to him being the only player that has been producing for New Orleans. Early on it didn't look like that plan was working after he notched 24 points in the first half. Early in the third quarter things still didn't look great either with his point total at 32. It wasn't until late in the third that OKC found a working formula for Davis scoring the ball. That working formula was primarily Jeremi Grant, a player that probably should've started the game. 

Donovan attempted putting Steven Adams on Davis to start the game and got torched. Davis scored 8 straight points until Adams left the game with a sprained ankle. After Adams, they tried Sabonis who accumulated four fouls in a short period of time, and Davis capitalized on that. Enes Kanter had a productive offensive outing, but like his fellow big men, couldn't stop Davis and couldn't keep him off the boards as usual. When 22-year-old Jerami Grant entered the game and got warmed up, he slowed Davis down significantly, scoring just 5 points in the final quarter and shooting 2-for-7 from the field. He ended with 15 rebounds on the night and the Thunder will accept that if Davis isn't allowed to take the game over down the stretch like he did last season. 

The game wouldn't have been as close if Buddy Hield wouldn't have exploded for 13 points in the final quarter. The former Oklahoma Sooner's return was highly anticipated by Thunder fans but their wish almost ended up biting them in a bad place. It looked like Buddy was back in the Lloyd Noble Center hoisting up threes again. After air-balling his first three, badly, he turned around and scored 16 points in 15 minutes on 6-for-12 shooting, adding 4 rebounds as well. 

It felt better when I made shots. It’s been a long time... I haven’t felt like that in a long time. It’s so great to get back in there and get in a rhythm and see the ball go through the net. I’ve been struggling the last couple of games, but I feel more confident. I feel like this helped me in the long run and during the season. It will help me be able to boost my teammates.
— Buddy Hield on his big game against the Thunder.

"It felt better when I made shots. It's been a long time... I haven't felt like that in a long time. It's so great to get back in there and get in a rhythm and see the ball go through the net. I've been struggling the last couple of games, but I feel more confident. I feel like this helped me in the long run and during the season. It will help me be able to boost my teammates."

At the end of the day, this was a solid win for Oklahoma City as they improve to 13-8 on the season, tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for fifth in the Western Conference and just a half-game behind Houston for fourth. The Thunder will play yet another back-to-back in Atlanta (10-11) tomorrow evening. This is a game that theoretically, they should win, provided the Thunder play like the did in the second half against New Orleans. 

 

Another "Homecoming" For A Thunder Opponent

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

So far it’s been a season of homecomings at Chesapeake Energy Arena as Thunder fans have roared for former favorites Serge Ibaka, Dion Waiters, Jeff Green and Scott Brooks.

Tonight a different sort of homecoming as Buddy Hield, the former University of Oklahoma All-American and last season’s college basketball Player of the Year, returns to his adopted home state for the first time as a pro with the New Orleans Pelicans.

"It's going to be fun. A college atmosphere," Hield told NBA.com. "I'm going to have fun and when I get in, stay locked in and try to help my team get a win."

But there is no guarantee Hield will “get in.”. The guy they called “Buddy Buckets” at OU has been struggling to make baskets most of the season and for now he’s fallen all the way out of Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry’s rotation playing just four minutes combined in New Orleans’ last two games.

"Obviously if the situation is right, I want to try to play him in Oklahoma," Gentry told NBA.com. "They deserve to see him play. That's where his whole fan base and the support he's gotten over the years has been. As a coach, you want to be able to reward guys in situations like that, to put him in a situation where he can play in the game."

Hield is averaging 6.9 points on 36.2 percent shooting overall this season and just 23.7 percent from beyond the arc, a place where he built his sharp-shooting reputation for the Sooners by shooting 50.1 percent overall and 45.7 percent from deep. 

In his last five games with New Orleans Hield has hit only two of his 10 threes.

Homecomings have generally been good for former Thunder players who’ve been back at The Peake this season, we’ll see if the same holds true for a former Sooner.

Streaking

The Thunder and Russell Westbrook each have streaks going. Westbrook has four straight triple-doubles and the Thunder have four straight wins. On the other hand the Pelicans come into tonight’s game having lost three of their last four.

Top Scorers

Tonight’s game also features the top two scorers in the NBA. Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis leads the league in scoring at 31.5 points per game, while Westbrook is right behind at 31.2.

Shared Responsibility

No single Thunder player will have the responsibility of trying to defend Davis, instead several players will take a crack and you could see that happen on single possessions. The Thunder like to switch often on the defensive end and you can expect that tonight too. Rookie Domas Sabonis, as long as he can stay out of foul trouble could see the most time against Davis but Steven Adams will go up against him too along with Jerami Grant when he’s in there.

Tipoff is set for 6:10 and you can see the game on Fox Sports Oklahoma.