Thunder Turning Up The Heat
By Randy Renner
After a very disappointing blowout loss in Houston last Thursday, the Oklahoma City Thunder appear to have turned a corner in what has been a snakebit season.
The Thunder scored 127 points in two straight games, a solid win over Golden State on Friday and a blowout of Orlando on Sunday. They followed up those offensive explosions with a defensive gem last night in Miami posting a 94-86 win.
That's three straight wins now for the Thunder putting them over.500 for the first time this season (21-20) and putting them alone in ninth place in the Western Conference standings three games behind eighth place Phoenix.
"We have to keep pushing," said Thunder superstar Kevin Durant. "We're not worried about it. We didn't come in here and rejoice because we're over .500."
Durant had an off-night shooting making just nine of his 24 shots (0-for-8 on threes). But he pulled down eight rebounds and dished eight assists. He also gave everyone in Thunder blue a big scare when he hit the deck hard and stayed down for a couple of minutes.
Turns out Durant banged his elbow and doesn't think it will be any big deal.
"I've fallen plenty of times. It's just a little stinger," he said. "I just fell on my arm. I'll be fine."
The Thunder certainly can't afford another injury scare as they try to catch the Suns. Durant said last night he plans to play tonight in Washington, DC.
"I wasn't nervous," head coach Scott Brooks said of seeing Durant on the ground for several moments. "Kevin is as tough as anybody in this league. He's been hit hard going to the basket many times. He's always bouncing up. He went down the court, kept his composure and kept playing."
Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook also had an off-night, at least for a while. Westbrook was 8-for-17 overall and 0-for-2 on threes but he took over the game late, either scoring or assisting on the last 14 points OKC scored. He also had four steals.
"Defensively, he was great all night," KD said of Westbrook. "He just struggled shooting the basketball. We all did. But we all made plays and down the stretch he was the catalyst for it.”
“He led us,” said Brooks. “He led us on a night that we weren’t making a lot of our shots. But he kept his composure and got us in our sets. And we did a good job of being patient and executing and waiting for the play to develop.”
While the shots weren't falling for the superstars, role players Steven Adams (5-for-7, 10 points), Anthony Morrow (5-for-9, 12 points) and Reggie Jackson (7-for-9, 16 points) came up big.
Westbrook was even in a good enough mood after the win to actually use more than a word or two to answer reporters questions.
“We did a good job of playing together and running our offense,” Westbrook said. “I thought we did a great job of sticking to what we do and it worked for us at the end of the game.”
The end is what counts and for three straight games the Thunder have been on the high side when the final buzzer sounded. They have three more games to go on this five-game road trip and none of them will be easy.
They play the Wizards tonight (29-13) who are second in the Eastern Conference and then Friday they'll be in Atlanta to play the 34-8 Hawks, in first place in The East. They finish up the trip Sunday in Cleveland against LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and the rest of the Cavaliers.
So the Thunder may very well have turned the corner but they're not driving down Easy Street just yet.