By Randy Renner
Don’t look now but the Thunder, who started the season stuck in a 7-6 rut that had fans shaking their heads, are now right up there with the Warriors and Spurs as the hottest teams in the NBA.
In fact over the last 25 games the Thunder and Warriors have the same 21-4 record. Golden State has outscored opponents by a few more points and the Warriors have played a bit tougher schedule over that time but 21-4 is 21-4.
With their 109-95 win over Charlotte last night the home town guys will carry a six game winning streak with them on their upcoming four game, seven night road trip.
The biggest difference in getting this going in the right direction? Defense, fewer turnovers, continuing to dominate the boards at both ends and sharing the basketball.
Superstar point guard Russell Westbrook again set the tone last night with six assists in the first quarter. His superstar teammate Kevin Durant had 15 points in that opening 12 minutes, matching his highest total for a first quarter this season.
"First quarter, he's going out of his way to get assists," KD told reporters. "He's playing a video game. Trying to get all the assists early and trying to get everybody involved early, and it's helping us out."
Westbrook dominated, despite going 5-for-14 from the field again finishing just shy of a triple-double with 16 points, 15 assist and eight rebounds, plus he was credited with five steals. Durant led all scorers with 26 points.
"With the weapons we have, the best way for us to play and the best way for myself to play is to find those guys, get those guys shots, and I can score when I need to," Westbrook said.
Here lately Westbrook has really jump started center Steven Adams, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds last night giving him double digit scoring nights in six of OKC’s last 10 games. He’d done that just five times in the 34 games before this stretch.
Another guy who came up big last night and has been playing much better lately is Kyle Singler. His defense has generally been solid all season but his offense has been terrible, especially considering he’s a 43 percent career shooter and a 38 percent career shooter from beyond the arc. He’s been no where near either number this season and wasn’t close after being traded here last season.
Last night though Singler scored a season-high 11 points going 4-for-4 with a glorious running hook shot and three makes from deep. The three games before, he missed just one shot going a combined 4-for-5 so he’s made eight of his last nine shots. Not bad for a guy who for long stretches couldn’t seem to be able to hit the Devon Tower if he was standing just outside the front door.
His teammates have noticed.
“He’s playing great basketball, confident basketball,” Durant said. “He’s defending, rebounding, doing the little things for us.”
Little things add up, especially during the long grind of an 82-game NBA season. Progress has been slow at times and backward steps have been taken by individual players and the team but over this latest stretch of games the Thunder appear to have put some things together.
Now we’ll see how much more consistency they can build with those little things as they begin a long road trip.