Thunder Make Jazz Sing The Blues

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By Randy Renner

So this is what it's like to win a game.

Streamers fell from the rafters at Chesapeake Energy Arena, everyone cheered and smiled and felt good.

It's been too long.

The Thunder played their best offensive game and still were pretty solid on the defensive end, Jeremy Lamb emerged from witness protection to score 21 points on 7-for8 shooting overall and 3-for-3 from deep and the Thunder beat the Jazz 97-82.

"We've been close so many times so it really feels good to win," said head coach Scott Brooks. "We have a lot of things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving and I'm thankful we've stuck together through this."

The win snaps a six game losing streak, the longest for Oklahoma City since the 2008-09 season, the Thunder's first in OKC after moving from Seattle.

The bench played a pivotal role, leading a 16-4 charge to close out the first quarter after Utah had jumped out to a 25-15 lead.

Overall the Thunder bench outscored Utah's second group by a stunning 44-3 margin.

The Thunder ended up with three players scoring at least 20 points. Reggie Jackson led the way with 22 on 10-for-18 shooting, while also handing out eight assists. Lamb had those 21 points plus four rebounds and a couple of assists and Serge Ibaka had 20 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots.

Anthony Morrow also had a hot night, scoring 12 points all on threes.

The Thunder out rebounded Utah 45-38 and also managed to get the fast break going, scoring 15 points in transition and going 6-for-6 in those opportunities.

It was a great way to head into the Thanksgiving holiday and look ahead to the visit from teammate Derek Fisher and his New York Knicks on Friday.

There also still remains a possibility (although I think a very slim one) that Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook could return to play.

Both men have continued to increase their workloads in practice but neither has been medicinally cleared yet.

That will be the big story on Friday, one way or the other.

Telfair Released

Just after Wednesday's win over Utah the Thunder released one of their point guards but not the one most expected. Sebastian Telfair was cut loose and Ish Smith, who'd been signed through the hardship rule will remain on the roster.

Smith's second 10-day contract was due to expire Thanksgiving Day and with Russell Westbrook's return coming soon, someone had to go. Everyone assumed it would be Smith, but the Thunder have liked him for a while and were interested in him over the summer but he hooked up with the Rockets.

Houston released him at the end of training camp and so he was available when the Thunder had to go shopping for an emergency point guard.

Smith has played in six games, averaging 2.2 points and 0.8 assists. Telfair, whom the Thunder signed as a free agent over the summer, appeared in all 16 games this season, averaging 8.4 points and 2.8 assists.

The Thunder roster is now back to the regular league maximum, 15 players.

Thunder Must Play Better Against Utah Tonight

By Randy Renner

The Oklahoma City Thunder will have to player a much better overall game tonight against the Utah Jazz than they did earlier this month in Salt Lake City.

The played very well for a while that night, long enough and good enough to grab a 17-point lead in the second quarter but as quickly as they got too comfortable with that cushy lead they gave it all away and ended up losing by 15.

The Thunder have beaten the Jazz (5-10) in six straight at home, but little went right, except for the start in that 98-81 loss Nov. 18 in Utah.

Alec Burks scored 20 points on 5-of-8 shooting with a career-high 14 rebounds, while Enes Kanter had 16 points and 15 rebounds. The Utah center has averaged 15.8 points over the past five games.

The Thunder are out to try and snap their current six-game losing streak, their longest stretch without a win since the 2008-09 season. That of course was the team's first season in OKC, the one that started 3-29.

If anything positive has come out of this miserable start for the Thunder, it's been what head coach Scott Brooks sees as the team's defensive progress while holding opponents to 40.7 percent and 92.5 points on the losing streak. Golden State, one of the league's top shooting and scoring teams, shot 35.5 percent (their worst of the season) against the Thunder Sunday night.

"Our defense is something that has improved during this time," Brooks said. "That's something we've talked about as one of our staples and that's definitely been the case during this stretch of games in November."

No Durant Or Westbrook Tonight

Thunder superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook practiced again today with the team during a light shootaround and then were seen being given some treatment by team trainer Joe Sharpe and team physician Dr. Donnie Strack.

Neither will play against Utah but Brooks left open the possibility, or at least he didn't absolutely rule out the possibility, that one or both could perhaps play Friday against the New York Knicks.

Brooks didn't talk to reporters after today's shootaround but he said yesterday both players still must go through their medical re-evaluations before they are cleared to play. Some of that process might have been happening today.

Both Durant and Westbrook went back on the court and put up a few shots and were seen laughing and joking after the session with the training and medical staff.

Maybe that's a good sign, maybe it doesn't mean a thing.

My guess is still that neither will play Friday, but there's no doubt that day is coming soon and at 3-12 the Thunder can sure use some superstar help.

KD & Russ Still Not Ruled Out For Friday

By Randy Renner

Thunder head coach Scott Brooks told reporters neither Kevin Durant nor Russell Westbrook would play in Wednesday's game against Utah but he didn't go quite that far when it came to Friday's game with New York.

"They will be re-evaluated later in the week and we will be able to make that decision (playing on Friday) from there, but until then we're just focused on the guys we know are playing (against Utah).

Brooks said both players' medical re-evaluations are still on the original schedule which is believed to be Durant on Thursday and Westbrook on Saturday. IF that is the case it would seem extremely unlikely Westbrook would play Friday against the Knicks before being fully re-evaluated by the medical staff.

But the Thunder keeps the details of these sorts of things pretty close to the vest and Brooks wouldn't venture very far down that road however, "I will say this, Kevin and Russell have been participating in some of practice and they look good and they are continuing to progress in the direction we need them too," Brooks said.

Then he got to the bottom line.

"Whenever they get cleared and feel like they can compete in an NBA game, they will play. It's obviously in the near future but it won't be tomorrow."

And like I wrote this morning, it probably won't be Friday either. After practice Westbrook again had his right hand inside a sleeve receiving some sort of treatment.

Both Durant and Westbrook said early in this process that they wouldn't rush back too soon but you figure they're getting a bit antsy given the Thunder's 3-12 record and just the mere fact they haven't been able to play ball in several weeks.

Another guy who's getting closer and closer to getting back to playing status is rookie forward Mitch McGary. When reporters walked into the practice gym McGary was banging around with the other bigs working non post-up moves and drives to the basket. He finished several with dunks and was moving around really good.

"He's progressing well also," Brooks admitted. "He participated in some of practice but it's the same thing with him, don't know exactly when he will be back but sometime in the near future and we will re-evaluate him later in the week."

Sounds like the Thunder medical staff will have a very busy Thanksgiving and with any luck, Thunder fans will have a few more things to be thankful for.

Don't Count On Either Russ Or KD Playing Friday

By Randy Renner

I hate to be little Debbie Downer here but you might wanna pump the brakes a little on all this Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook playing Friday talk.

Yes one or the other of them (Westbrook would seem a little more likely since he's dealing with a finger not a foot issue) could play Friday I guess, but only if 100 percent ready and able.

All this Friday talk started mostly because Friday is the first day they would be allowed to play under the NBA's hardship rule. That day doesn't have anything to do with their medical situations.

The second 10-day contract of Ish Smith, who was brought in to shore up the Thunder numbers after so many injuries, expires on Thanksgiving Day. After that the Thunder could, under the rules, bring back any of their long-term injured players. Durant, Westbrook, Mitch McGary or Grant Jerrett would be eligible to return but again that doesn't mean any of them would be medically cleared to play and physically able to play.

Thunder head coach Scott Brooks wouldn't play the speculation game when he was asked if Friday might be too early to bring Westbrook back.

“I don’t know,” Brooks said. “I just focus on his work that he put in (Monday) and just continue to build off that. He will get evaluated later on this week and then we can make some of those decisions later on.”

Brooks said both Westbrook and Durant participated in most of Monday's practice, including some of the contact drills.

“They looked good,” Brooks said. “But no more than that. They’re going to continue to go through this process, and when they’re ready, 100 percent ready, they will play. But until then, nothing else we know of.”

When reporters were allowed out onto the practice gym floor Durant had already gone back into the locker area but Westbrook was sitting in a chair on the sideline with his right hand inside special sleeve, apparently receiving some sort of treatment.

Both players have steadily increased their workload at practices and have been seen shooting jumpers over the last week or so.

McGary has been out on the floor working a lot too and it's believed he also is very close to returning to action. Perry Jones, however doesn't appear to be anywhere close to getting back out on the floor after what's been described as a bruised knee suffered about three weeks ago.

“I have no injury update on Perry,” Brooks said. “He hasn’t participated in any parts of practice. He’s just with our medical staff. Just a normal rehab process for his knee. That’s the only thing I know of right now.”

The Thunder will practice today and perhaps Brooks will be able to shed more light on the status of his superstars but until those medical re-evaluations are completed sometime this week even he won't know how much longer his team will have to play shorthanded.

 

Thunder Can't Close Warriors Out

By Randy Renner

To paraphrase what Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said to start his postgame news conference, could you guys just read the last few game stories so I can go on home and pop a top?

Okay, for those of you still with me I will tell you this game against the Warriors was much like most of the others in this 3-12 start to the season.  So much so that Brooks began his postgame news conference by saying, "can we just play the last four news conferences over so I don't have to do this again?"

Sorry coach, if I have to write, you have to talk. 

"I thought we did a great job of competing and playing a style that gave us a chance to win, physical, tough, gritty determination, all the important winning words you can use. Unfortunately we came up short, we missed a couple of shots."

Once again great defense played by a bunch of guys who can't seem to shoot straight.  

The Thunder held Golden State to their fewest points of the season and their worst shooting percentage of the season and still managed to lose 91-86. 

The Warriors hadn't scored less than 95 points, nor shot less than 44.0 percent until Sunday night when they scored those 91 points on 35.5 percent shooting. They hadn't won a game in Oklahoma City either since December of 2008 until Sunday night. 

That 2008-09 season is also the last time the Thunder started a season this badly. 

The thing is, this Thunder team, this patched together bunch of backups and backups to backups, has played its collective butt off in every game except that debacle in Brooklyn earlier in the month. 

Yes they're 3-12 and solidly in last place in the Western Conference but they've had a second half lead in 13 of those 15 games and are playing defense at an elite level.

The offense though...oh the offense. 

This game came right down to the last seconds but consecutive air ball threes from Andre Roberson and Lance Thomas ended their hopes. 

So why were two guys in there at the end who aren't exactly known for their shooting?

"Thomas was on the floor for inbounds passes, the guys who usually do that aren't available and he's been good at that and with Golden State switching up everything (on defense) we wanted Dre out there for his offensive rebounding. The ball found him and he stepped up and took the shot." 

The Warriors had left Roberson unguarded so they could harass Reggie Jackson and Anthony Morrow and the strategy worked. Jackson drove and dished to Roberson who was wide open out beyond the arc. Roberson missed his open look look and finished the night 1-for-4.

Jackson ended the game with 22 points but it took him 26 shots to get there. He grabbed 11 rebounds and handed out eight assists so he just missed a triple-double. Morrow came off the bench to score 16 on 5-for-11 shooting and Serge Ibaka also had 16, but Serge struggled shooting too, making just five of his 17 shots.

Overall the Thunder held the Warriors to 35.5 percent shooting but OKC managed to shoot only a tenth of a point better at 35.6 percent.  

The Thunder held the "Splash Brothers" to reasonable numbers, 20 points for Klay Thompson on 6-for-20 shooting and Steph Curry had 15 points on 5-for-15 shooting. 

The guy who killed them was Marreese Speights, who dropped a season-high 28 points on 11-for-18 shooting.

"Mo Speights was ridiculous, he carried the load for us offensively tonight," said Warriors coach Steve Kerr.  

The Thunder had hoped to keep their heads above water while Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook healed up from surgeries and their defense is good enough this team could be right around .500 if just a handful more shots had fallen. 

Now though, with the reality of 3-12 staring back at him Brooks admitted Sunday night he's started to think about just how deep a hole the Thunder can dig themselves out of when KD and Russ return. 

50 wins is usually what it takes to make the Western Conference playoffs, once in a while 47 or 48 might do it. To get to 50 the Thunder will have to go 47-20 the rest of the way and we still don't know for sure how many more games Durant and Westbrook will miss, plus when they do return it's doubtful they will play every game the rest of the way. 

So the margin for error is starting to get really skinny. 

Brooks, always the optimist, looks at it this way, "it sets us up for a heck of a ride, an amazing regular season run." 

A run that better start pretty soon.