By Randy Renner
If you didn't see it with your own eyes it's kinda hard to describe just how bad things were for the Thunder in the first quarter at Houston last night.
Pathetic is a pretty good word, so is embarrassing. And you could also use the word Russell Westbrook did, "disappointing." In fact that was pretty much the only word Westbrook said in his very brief postgame chat with reporters.
The Thunder looked good for a moment, jumping out to a quick 4-0 lead, but the Rockets went on a 12-0 run that expanded to 23-2 a few minutes later giving Houston a 23-6 lead. The first quarter ended with the Rockets soaring out to a 40-18 lead. The 40 points are the most scored by a Thunder opponent in any quarter since the team moved here from Seattle.
For the rest of the game the Thunder managed to stabilize things, actually outscoring the Rockets by 11 points but the damage was done early.
The poor start was even more surprising since the Thunder seemed rested and ready after a five day break between games and a chance to have four days of quality practice sessions. Meanwhile, the Rockets were playing on the second night of a back-to-back and looked far more refreshed and up to the task.
“We have to start the game better,” said Kevin Durant, who finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds. “For me as the leader, I have to make sure we start games better. I can’t afford to come in here and say that after every game. We can’t dig ourselves a hole like that and it starts with me.”
But the Thunder have been digging deep holes lately. Their defense has gone into hiding and the offense has struggled at times too.
Houston torched the Thunder from beyond the arc last night hitting 16 of their 36 attempts (44.4 percent). James Harden was 6-for-8 on threes.
“Everything was open. Even the bank was open,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “They had four banked 3s. I’ve never seen that before.”
I supposes you could blame that on bad luck, but mostly it was just bad defense. The Thunder were late on rotations, especially at the beginning of the game.
“Teams are hitting shots on us,” Durant said. “They’re spreading us out. Our defense is to get into the paint, but once teams start hitting 3s on us naturally we start to shift out a little bit and that’s when they start getting layups. Sometimes it’s tough luck on our part. But sometimes it’s just better offense beating great defense. But I think the effort is there, the energy is there. Sometimes they’re just better than us.”
Hmm, okay maybe Houston was just better last night. But the last time these two teams played the Rockets couldn't hit the ocean from the beach, shooting less than 30 percent and scoring just 69 points and the Thunder played a rag-tag bunch of backups and backups to backups that night. Neither Durant nor Westbrook was available for that game.
Maybe Golden State was better last week in Oakland, but blow out better? No contest better? And how about Sacramento last week? You tellin' me the Kings were better? BLOWOUT better??
Over the last six games Thunder opponents are a shocking 82-for-183 from beyond the arc. That's 44.8 percent.
The Rockets average making more 3-pointers than any other team in the league (11.9 per game). Tonight the Thunder will face the team that is second in the NBA in 3-point shooting. Golden State is hitting 38.5 percent from beyond the arc, plus the Warriors are third in the number of made threes per game (10.1) so it will be bombs away again.
Durant though is confident the extra work he and his teammates put in over the last few days will payoff.
"I know it’s going to show after a while,” Durant said. “The work never goes unnoticed. We got to continue to just trust and rely on what we do and hopefully wins come after it.”
Thunder center Kendrick Perkins is tired of all the talk about getting better.
"It’s enough talking about it," he said. "We just got to go out there and do it now. We got to be better.”
Coach Brooks and his players, when asked about the problems, generally say they're all correctable.
The problem is, the same problems seem to be happening over and over again. Miscommunication, late close-outs, late rotations. If all that correctable why isn't it being corrected and why is KD so sure it will be?
“Because we did it before,” he said. “We struggled before and we got out of it. We don’t make no excuses and we figure it out. That’s the type of city we are, and that’s the type of franchise we got. So it’s just a matter of time.”
But time is starting to slip away. The Thunder now find themselves 18-20 on the season and 6-7 over their last 13 games.
It's not a good look and it hasn't been for a while. To quote Westbrook once again it's just been "disappointing."
The Thunder are in the middle of trade discussions with the Brooklyn Nets and the Charlotte Hornets on the possibility of a 3-way trade between the teams.
According to sources and reports from various media outlets the Thunder are trying to acquire former All-Star center Brook Lopez. The Thunder would send Kendrick Perkins and his expiring $9.6 million contract to the Nets who are trying to dump salaries. Lopez is making $15.7 million this season and has an option for $16.7 million next season.
The Thunder would also send Jeremy Lamb and Grant Jerrett to Charlotte and the Hornets would send Lance Stephenson and Jerrett Jack to the Nets.
Reports indicate both the Thunder and Hornets are on board with the deal but the Nets aren't quite there yet, apparently concerned about both Stephenson's attitude and his salary.
When healthy, Lopez has been a pretty strong offensive force, but he hasn't been healthy a lot lately with a history of foot and ankle issues.