By Randy Renner
The Oklahoma City Thunder are digging out of the NBA's Western Conference cellar almost as fast as they dug themselves into it.
With last night's 114-101 win over the Milwaukee Bucks, the Thunder have won three straight and five of their last six. Meanwhile, the Phoenix Suns have been stumble-bumbling around, losing three straight and six of the last 10 so now the Thunder are just three games behind Phoenix for 8th place in the conference. 8th place as we all should know by now gets you into the playoffs.
If the Thunder can keep winning this week and the Suns keep losing, OKC can be in that 8th spot by late Sunday night. Conveniently the Suns will be in town on Sunday.
Lest we get ahead of ourselves remember LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who've won eight straight, will be at The Peake Thursday night and no matter how good things are going for the Thunder right now, the Cavs can make life difficult for anybody.
But back to last night.
The Bucks dominated the Thunder earlier in the season in Milwaukee, but the Thunder weren't really the Thunder then. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and several others were still on the injury list.
Last night Oklahoma City was healthy, got big nights from Durant, Westbrook and Reggie Jackson and cruised to the win.
Westbrook led the way with a game-high 28 points on 8-for-16 shooting. He added five rebounds, seven assists, three steals and another one of his trademark monster slams. This one over Bucks guard O.J. Mayo that brought another sold-out crowd to its feet. Durant, playing his first game at home after foot surgery, added 23 points on 7-for-11 shooting to go with nine rebounds and seven assists.
“We’re still trying to work some things out," KD said after the game. "I’m sure a lot of people are expecting us to be back to playoff basketball right now, but we’re just like any other team just trying to continue to just build and keep getting better. It’s going to be tough spots but it’s also going to be some great days as well.”
Serge Ibaka scored 15 on 5-for-5 shooting, and Jackson dropped in 18 points, and added seven rebounds and three assists off the bench.
“A lot of guys chipped in tonight and contributed to the win,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
It was all good at the end but the Thunder scuffled around at the beginning of the game. The defense wasn't very good and the offense turned the ball over and allowed Milwaukee to jump out to a 31-26 lead in the first quarter.
The Thunder had an embarrassing eight givebacks (three each by Westbrook and Durant) in the first quarter alone. That helped the Bucks shoot 52 percent.
Things turned back around for good late in the second quarter when the Thunder defense clamped down and turned the Bucks away without a point on seven straight possessions.
“We have little stretches where we mess up as a team,” said Westbrook. “But for the most part, I think we did a better job today of stopping it quickly and converting.”
You can afford to do that against Milwaukee, they've now lost five of six. Cleveland though has won eight straight. Little stretches of bad basketball against the Cavs could prove fatal.
But the bottom line is the bottom line and the Thunder are back to winning games now and gaining ground on the field in the Western Conference.