Finally Time For Thunder-Warriors Showdown

By Randy Renner

Dang it seems like we’ve been waiting ALL season for the Thunder to take on the Warriors, oh wait, we HAVE been waiting all season.

Whether through some sort of quirk or the intentional deviousness of the schedule makers more than half the NBA’s regular season has gone by and the Thunder and Warriors have yet to play a single game against each other.

That changes tonight inside raucous Oracle Arena in Oakland.

Finally we’ll all get to see just how well, or not, these two teams matchup. Early in the season when the Warriors started 13-0 and the Thunder stumbled to a 7-6 record, most Thunder fans were probably pretty happy OKC wouldn’t have to play Golden State till much later.

Now that the Thunder and the Warriors have almost identical records over their last 32 games (28-4 for GSW, 27-5 for OKC) fans of both teams are eager to see just how they stack up.

It will be a mini All-Star Game too with superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook of the Thunder going up against superstar and reigning MVP Steph Curry of the Warriors not to mention Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.

These teams haven't played since Wednesday, when Curry, Westbrook and Durant showcased their star power.

Curry matched a career high with 11 3-pointers and scored 51 in Wednesday's 134-121 victory at Washington, one day before he and the Warriors met with President Obama to celebrate their NBA Championship from last season.

Durant's 3-pointer with 0.5 seconds left was the winner in a 117-114 thriller over the Orlando Magic. He had 37 points that night while Westbrook posted his third straight triple-double and 27th of his career with 24 points, a career-high 19 rebounds and 14 assists.

It was the 36th straight game KD has scored at least 20 points and it’s the second time in his career he’s had such a streak. In case you’re wondering only one other player in NBA history has multiple steaks of scoring 20+ in at least 35 straight games, some guy named Jordan. Michael Jordan.

Durant and Westbrook together are the highest scoring duo in the NBA this season averaging a combined 51.4 points a game and guess who’s right behind? Yep that would be Curry and Thompson at 51.3 points.

Curry leads the NBA with 29.8 points per game with Durant third at 27.4. The Oklahoma City leading scorer has felt perhaps slightly slighted with all the attention showered on Golden State and San Antonio this season, although he insists his focus is on his own ballclub, which is in third place in the Western Conference.

"We've still got to play the games at the end of the day," Durant said. "It's not like they're canceling our games, they're not talking about us in the media, we've still got to play our games."

These teams go into the weekend ranking as the two best in points per 100 possessions, with Golden State at 113.2 and Oklahoma City at 110.0. The difference is while the Warriors average a league-best 20.7 assists per 100 possessions, the Thunder are at 16.5 due to the isolation talents of Durant and Westbrook.

The Warriors are scoring 123.0 points during their eight-game win streak. Klay Thompson has averaged 33.8 points and 60.2 percent shooting in his last four.

The Thunder are also red hot as winners of 12 of 13. They're averaging 120.2 points in a five-game win streak.

The Warriors love to go small and sometimes super small with the 6-7 Green playing the center spot. The Thunder can counter with extremely athletic big men in Steven Adams and Enes Kanter and don’t forget Serge Ibaka provides head coach Billy Donovan with the flexibility to be able to switch out on smaller, athletic wings.

“Serge has been a guy who gives us a lot of flexibility because if we do want to switch, we can do that,” Donovan said. “If we want him to show out hard on a ball screen and get back to his own man, he can do that. Serge has that flexibility. He can also play inside in the post.”

And on offense those Thunder bigs can cause huge problems for GSW’s defense.

“We have to just try to find ways to get them the ball and use it to our advantage when they’re in,” Westbrook said.

This game, like all games, will probably come down to the little things. Playing smart, playing focused, don’t make silly mistakes.

“We have to be smart,” Durant said. “You can be physical and use your athleticism all you want, but if you’re not smart and don’t think the game, no matter who you play against you can lose.”

“It comes down to controlling the basketball and not turning it over a lot,” Durant continued. “It’ll be a battle of who can take care off the ball and who can capitalize off of turnovers.”

Tipoff is set for 8:10 tonight and you can see it on either ESPN or Fox Sports Oklahoma.

 

Triple D And Dagger 3 Save Thunder

By Randy Renner

The Thunder’s “Big Three” came up huge for their team in the closing seconds of another thriller with the Orlando Magic last night.

First Russell Westbrook got a rebound and a bucket to tie the game at 114 and then Serge Ibaka blocked a shot at the other end, getting the ball to Dion Waiters who pitched it to Kevin Durant. Head coach Billy Donovan waived off a possible timeout deciding instead not to give the Magic time to set their defense. Durant then made a left to right crossover move on Orlando’s Aaron Gordon, something he’s been working on “since I was six years old,” and then launched a long-range dagger 3-ball that splashed home with half a second left killing the Magic’s hopes of an upset and sending another sellout crowd at The Peake into a frenzy.

“Billy trusts us and we definitely trust in him,” Westbrook said. “He read off of Kevin and we had numbers. It was a great call.”

“Without having a set up or giving them any time to think about the play, it caught them off guard and off balance a little bit,” Durant said.

"When you have the two players Billy has, you don't need a timeout," Orlando coach Scott Skiles said. "Just give them the ball and get out of the way."

That long three gave Durant 37 points on the night, Ibaka’s block that helped setup the play was his sixth of the game.

“Serge set (Oladipo) up for that block," Durant said. "That was a huge play. Russell made a huge play right before that, grabbing that rebound and then also making a layup. That set me up for the shot at the end. There's much more than just me making that shot."

Westbrook finished with a massive triple-double, his third straight and fifth in the last eight games. His numbers on the night, 24 points, 19 (!!!!) rebounds and 14 assists were the highest in those categories since Larry Bird posted a 28-19-15 night in 1982.

But for Russ, it was just another night at the office.

“I just try to go out and find a way to help us win,” Westbrook said. “Tonight coach emphasized helping the guys on rebounding. They’re a team that does a good job offensive rebounding and I tried to eliminate that by helping our bigs out, getting the ball and getting out on the break.”

Westbrook's 19 rebounds surpassed his previous career-high by four and are the most by a point guard since Jason Kidd had 19 on November 16, 2007, also against Orlando, according to STATS LLC. The last player with a primary career position of point guard to record 20 or more rebounds in a game was Fat Lever, who had 22 on April 20, 1990, against San Antonio.

When asked if there’s a particular method to his rebounding madness Westbrook said nope.

"I go get the ball, man, I don't have a method. I just try to work harder than the next guy and go out and compete at a high level every night. That's it."

Westbrook’s longtime teammates have kind of gotten used to Westbrook’s super-human feats but Donovan is still amazed by what he sees on the court from his All-Star point guard.

“The thing that stands out to me more than anything else is his will on 50-50 plays. There are some times where there is no scouting report,” Donovan said of Westbrook. “It’s his quickness, his drive, his perseverance and his toughness … He’s always engaged in the game. He has an incredible fire to him and an incredible competitiveness to him. He’s really a unique, unique player. His will to just chase it physically on every single possession is really remarkable.”

Of course the Thunder really should never have put themselves in the position to have to hit a last second shot to beat Orlando. The Magic came in scuffling around having lost 11 of their last 13 games.

But they have some talented players who tend to play well against OKC. Oladipo was on fire most of the night, finishing with 37 points on 13-for-19 shooting and Mario Herzonja hit four of his six 3-pointers. The Magic shot 49.5 percent overall and 43.5 percent from beyond the arc.

The Thunder were saved by the heroics of their heroes and by their usual dominating presence on the boards. OKC outrebounded Orlando 50-39 and 19 of those rebounds came off the offensive glass.

That’s how the Thunder have won a lot of their games, going 29-5 in games where they outrebound their opponent.

Despite the continued inconsistencies on defense you can’t argue with success and the Thunder are on a big time roll right now having now won five straight, 12 of 13 and 27 of 32.

That success coupled with what the Golden State Warriors have been doing all season sets up what looks to be a tremendous showdown game between the Thunder and Warriors in Oakland on Saturday night.

Rolling Thunder Seem Ready For Stumbling Magic

By Randy Renner

Most people would probably call tonight’s contest against Orlando a trap game.

A game against a lesser, but still talented opponent, falling smack in the middle between games against the high profile (and Kevin Durant’s hometown team) Washington Wizards and the highest profile Golden State Warriors.

The Thunder easily dispatched the Wizards and now many fans and media are looking ahead and can’t wait for Saturday’s nationally televised showdown between the NBA’s most dynamic offensive teams, the Warriors and the Thunder.

But before we get to that one the Orlando Magic are stopping by The Peake and if you remember these two teams staged an instant classic in central Florida way back in the first week of the season.

A triple-overtime 139-136 thriller that featured an 18-point Thunder rally in the fourth quarter, topped off with a Russell Westbrook half-court bank shot just to get the game to the first overtime.

That 18-point comeback is the largest ever in the Thunder era of the franchise and the 42 fourth quarter points is the largest scoring outburst in any fourth quarter of the Thunder era.

If the Thunder can keep from thinking ahead to Saturday night those dramatics shouldn’t be needed to get past the Magic now.

The Thunder are rolling winning four straight, 11 of their last 12 and 26 of their last 31. The Magic are stumbling now, in the middle of a five game losing streak on the road while dropping 11 of their last 13 overall.

They did beat Boston in Orlando on Sunday 119-114 before losing in San Antonio a night later 107-92.

"I still believe in our team and I still believe in our guys," said Victor Oladipo, who had 19 points in that Monday loss to the Spurs. "I still feel like a turn and a change is coming for us and we're going to get things rolling again. We just all have to believe it, too."

The Magic must believe they can take down the Thunder considering they probably should have done so in that October 30th triple-overtime game. Westbrook's half-court miracle might have been the highlight but he played a great game overall ending up with 48 points, a season high. Durant's 43 that night were also a season-high until he had 44 last week in New York.

KD is averaging 32.8 points and 10.8 rebounds in the last five games, but Westbrook taking fewer shots and finding teammates more often have been as important to the Thunder's surge. He's averaged 11.6 assists in the last 10 games with four triple-doubles, and Oklahoma City is 22-4 when he gets one (7-0 this season). Russ will be going for his third straight triple tonight.

"It means that my teammates do a great job of getting open, creating lanes where I'm able to be effective, and I'm trying to find ways to get those guys the basketball and trying to play my game," he said.

During the Thunder's seven-game home winning streak, Westbrook has averaged 13.4 field-goal attempts and 14.9 points. They are 19-1 overall when he attempts fewer than 18 shots.

"He's really been efficient," coach Billy Donovan said.

The entire team has been ultra efficient lately. OKC is averaging a whopping 121 points over the last four games with excellent ball movement and shot distribution.

They rank right up at the top along with the Golden State Warriors setting up what could be another one of those instant classic type games on Saturday night.

The Thunder just can’t afford to let their minds wander that way just yet with some business left to handle.

“We still have a game (tonight),” backup center Enes Kanter reminded when he was asked about the Warriors, “our focus on Orlando.”

Just exactly where it needs to be.

Tipoff tonight is set for 7:10 and you can see the game as usual on Fox Sports Oklahoma. We’ll have updates from the arena beginning about 4 o’clock on the Twitter feed page of the website and a full postgame video, featuring comments from Billy Donovan and Thunder players will be up on the site after the game.

Thunder Roll But Is KD OK?

By Randy Renner

A little lost in the excitement of another Thunder win last night was the sight of Kevin Durant wearing a sleeve or light brace on his right knee.

He was also seen putting some ice on that knee when he was sitting on the bench during breaks. It must not have been too serious because it didn’t appear to impact his performance as he scored 28 points and pulled down nine rebounds in OKC’s 114-98 win over Washington. He even went back into the game in the fourth quarter and played a little more than 36 minutes which is right on his average for the season.

Head coach Billy Donovan pleaded ignorance when asked about KD’s knee and why he was wearing the sleeve.

“I don’t know,” Donovan said, “You probably need to ask him.”

But Durant slipped out of the Thunder lockerroom while reporters were talking with Russell Westbrook so no one could ask him.

Knee sleeves, like the one Durant appeared to be wearing, are commonly used as preventative measures, especially when joints (like the knee) are put under great stress when someone spends a lot of time running and jumping.

Sleeves also add some compression which serves to increase blood flow through the knee area which can serve to reduce pain both during and after a stressful performance.

Hopefully it’s nothing to worry about but it is probably something to keep an eye on especially when that game at Golden State looming large on Saturday night.

Another Triple-Double For Russ

Westbrook finished the game with 17 points, 13 rebounds (which is an insane number for mere mortal point guards) and 11 assists. It’s his seventh triple-double this season and his 33rd double-double. Westbrook now has 26 triple-doubles for his career and his team is 22-4 in those games.

"It means that my teammates do a great job of getting open, creating lanes where I'm able to be effective, and I'm trying to find ways to get those guys the basketball and trying to play my game," he said.

Westbrook started the game posting up fellow All-Star point guard John Wall on three of the Thunder’s first four trips down the floor. Russ got a couple easy buckets and passed out to Durant for an open three (which missed) but still the message had been sent and it’s something Westbrook has been working on and getting “a lot better” at he believes.

“Every summer I work more and more on different reads and try to find ways to be more effective down there, not just to score but to create mismatches and pass the basketball as well,” something he accomplished last night.

Serge Shows Up Again

Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka has had a roller coaster of a season so far. Some nights he plays like an All-Star and some nights you have to double check the box score to make sure he played.

Last Friday against Houston he scored two points and grabbed just two rebounds, last Wednesday against Minnesota he had six points and four boards. But a week ago against the Knicks he had 12 points and 17 rebounds and last night against Washington he had another double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds.

“He did a great job of being active,” Westbrook said. “He gave us a lot of second chance points, kept balls alive, just did a great job of using his energy.”

It was something Donovan noticed too.

“Serge was great tonight. He was active at the rim with a couple of blocks and I thought it was just an overall great game from him at both ends of the floor.”

Cam Payne Back In Action

Rookie backup point guard Cameron Payne got back in the lineup last night after missing two-and-a-half games with concussion symptoms.

Payne said he felt great being back out there and again seemed to bring a spark to the second unit. He ended up with eight points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals in almost 13 minutes on the floor.

Orlando Next

The Thunder will practice today in preparation for the Orlando Magic, a team they haven’t seen since the first week of the season. Remember that was the game that took three overtimes to decide with the Thunder winning 139-136.

OKC goes into that game on a big time roll having won 11 of the last 12 and 26 of the last 31.

OKC's rebounding pushes past Washington for the win.

By Addam Francisco

Monday night the Washington Wizards came to Oklahoma City hoping to be the next team to hang 100 and pray the Thunder have an off shooting night, but that wasn't the case at all as the Oklahoma City Thunder beat Washington 114-98. Spectacular perimeter defense and rebounding sealed the deal for Oklahoma City tonight. 

Defensively, the team was a lot better than usual. Not quite perfect, but very good. Rebounding may have been the biggest difference in this game for Oklahoma City, as they out-rebounded Washington 53-27 and had 14 offensive rebounds to their 2. That's enough reason there to justify this win, but even defensive intensity played a huge role for OKC as they held John Wall to 17 points off 41 percent shooting and 8 assists which is a little below his season average. The only real shining stars for Washington were Marcin Gortat who also scored 17 points but off a more efficient 8-of-12 shooting and Bradley Beal who scored 18 points off 7-of-15 shooting off the bench. No player for the Wizards scored 20 or more points. That's a testimony to Oklahoma City's defense tonight. 

Second chance points, they killed us. Then we turned the ball over a bit early on. Easy lay-ups and easy chances. When we had the opportunity we turned the ball over. We didn’t do a good job defensively on boards... When we rotated sometimes the still missed the shots. We didn’t come up with the boards, and then they get second-chance points for three’s or lay-ups, thats what put us in binds. When you’re playing from behind you get a team that’s making shots and getting the offensive rebound when they’re missing, it’s tough to win.
— Wizards guard John Wall on OKC's second-chance points.

 

The "big three" for OKC had a very efficient game. Russell Westbrook recorded his seventh triple-double of the season with 17 points off 8-of-13 shooting, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. Kevin Durant scored 28 points and had 9 rebounds and Serge Ibaka scored 19 points and pulled down 10 rebounds (3 offensive) to earn another double-double for him. These guys combined for 64 points off 25-of-43 shooting. Russell took advantage of this game early, by posting up Wall a couple of times for an easy lay-up. 4-of-5 Thunder starters scored in double-figures along with Enes Kanter's 14 points off the bench. 

Oklahoma City improves to (37-13) on the season, which is much better than where they were last year, (25-25) after 50 games. Their next game will be against the Orlando Magic at home on Wednesday.