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.