Thunder fall to lively Hornets

(Photo by Sam Murch)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — For most of the season, Russell Westbrook’s chase of the triple-double record and his team’s success coincided. The Oklahoma City Thunder’s success rate when he reaches those magical double-digit numbers made the historical ride beyond reproach.
However, the luster is starting to come off as the Thunder have dropped three of their last five games in which Westbrook earned a triple-double. The latest came Sunday afternoon, when the Charlotte Hornets beat Oklahoma City 113-101 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Westbrook registered his 40th triple-double of the season as he posted 40 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. He is now one triple-double away from tying the record held by Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson (1961-62).
But when asked what he feels about potentially tying the record, Westbrook didn’t want to talk about it.
“We gotta win,” Westbrook said. “That’s my thoughts.”
Kemba Walker scored 29 points to lead Charlotte (36-41). He shot 10 of 20 from the field and 6 of 12 from the 3-point arc. Frank Kaminsky came off the bench to post 18 points. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist added 16 points and six rebounds as the Hornets pulled within 1 1/2 games of Miami for the last Eastern Conference playoff spot pending the Heat’s night game against the Denver Nuggets.
Thunder guard Victor Oladipo scored 19 points while Andre Roberson added 12. No other player scored in double figures as Oklahoma City (43-33) dropped its second straight game. The sixth-place Thunder are 1 1/2 games ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference standings.
Oklahoma City didn’t help its efforts with 24 turnovers.
“We were just making bad mistakes, bad decisions,” Westbrook said. “Starting with myself, we have to take better care of the ball.”
Oklahoma City used an 11-1 run to cut the Hornets’ lead down to 102-91. A three-point play by Cody Zeller halted the Thunder momentum.
Leading by 12, Walker drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Westbrook answered right back from the same location.
After getting a stop, Westbrook had an opportunity to cut the deficit, but he missed a layup in traffic. Marvin Williams then hit a pair of free throws to give Charlotte a 110-96 lead.
However, Westbrook knocked in a 3-pointer and was fouled. He missed the free throw and Oklahoma City trailed 110-99.
That was enough to put the game away for Charlotte.
“Every guy who played today contributed,” Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said. “Starters got off to a great start. … Then, really, it was the guys coming off the bench that really got the cushion there early in the fourth.”
The Hornets began the afternoon by spreading the wealth around. Nine different Hornets scored in the first half.
But it was the bench players who sparked the Hornets. Kaminsky and Marco Belinelli combined for 17 points in the first half.
“When our level of play off the bench is very high, we just play with a lot of energy,” Kaminsky said. “Then the starters can get more rest when we are playing well. If we can play like that going forward, I think we will be in a good spot.”
Oklahoma City turned to Westbrook and Oladipo to carry its scoring load. The backcourt duo had a slow start, but picked up the pace in the second quarter as they posted 34 points, but the Hornets still led 59-54 at halftime.
Charlotte picked up its defensive presence in the third quarter and took apart the Thunder. Oklahoma City didn’t score until 6:24 left in the quarter when Westbrook drove the lane and scooped in a layup.
Westbrook scored 13 straight points as he tried to take over the contest. Yet Charlotte still held a 14-point advantage going into the fourth.
“This is one of the best defensive games we played in a while,” Charlotte’s Steve Clifford said. “I know (Westbrook) had 40 and we didn’t make a lot of mistakes on him. He is such a great shot maker. He had 40, but I feel our defense on him was good.”
After the Thunder reserves cut the Hornets’ lead down to 12, Jeremy Lamb hit a string of baskets to get Charlotte’s lead back up to 21.
“It was great. We were on a string on both ends of the floor,” Lamb said. “Played good defense, did good gang rebounding. Even though Russ still had 40 and still had a triple double, we made him take a lot of shots to do it. That was good. Just an overall great win for us.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Thunder get one more shot at Warriors

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — The last time Golden State paid Oklahoma City a visit, it was the biggest spectacle of the NBA season. With Kevin Durant making his first trip to Oklahoma City in a visitor’s uniform, it spawned cupcake chants that rang throughout the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
But the one indelible image that came out of the Feb. 11 confrontation was Durant standing on one side of half court going back and forth with his former teammate Russell Westbrook, who was yelling, “I’m coming. I’m coming” and Enes Kanter pats him on the chest.
It was the most exciting moment of what ended up being another blowout win by the Warriors over the Thunder. However, when Oklahoma City (40-29) hosts Golden State (55-14) Monday night at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, both teams will look drastically different than their previous confrontations. But that hasn’t changed the intensity of the contest.
“The most important thing is not worry about them,” Kanter said. “Just worry about us. If we play our game, then we’re going to be fine.”
For the Warriors, they will be without Durant, who torched his former team in each of their three wins. He is still recovering from a grade 2 MCL sprain and tibial bone bruise that has sidelined him since Feb. 28.
However, Durant will be in the building as he makes his first road trip since his surgery.
The Warriors picked up Matt Barnes to replace Durant. He has started to fit in to what the squad is doing as of late.
“He’s not a great shooter but he’s a guy who you have to honor if you’re out there defending him,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told the Associated Press. “He doesn’t have to make shots to be effective. He does everything else so well. He’s already picked up our offense, like that. He’s been a tremendous addition.”
What hasn’t changed is how dangerous Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are for the Warriors. They are the core that guided the Golden State back from a 3-1 deficit during last season’s Western Conference Finals. So the Thunder players and coaches know exactly what they are capable of, even without Durant.
“They are not much different,” Thunder center Steven Adams said. “They still pose a threat. They are really unselfish with the ball.”
Oklahoma City has also made wholesale changes since their Feb. 11 defeat. Almost two weeks later, the Thunder added Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott.
This will also be the first time against Golden State that Oklahoma City will be healthy. Kanter missed the last game with a fractured arm while Adams sat out the game before with a concussion.
Having both bigs in the lineup along with Gibson could provide the Thunder with a physical advantage they will look to use.
“When you re-post, the defender is relaxing,” Kanter said. “That’s when the bigs should bury their defender. My teammates are doing a really good job of reading that.”
But it’s defense Oklahoma City will need to make sure is on a high level. Golden State is still the No. 1 scoring team in the league.
However, one of the least noticed elements of the Thunder during its recent win streak is the defensive improvements. They are holding teams to 99 points a game over their last five contests.
On the season, the Thunder have been one of the best in not allowing opponents to take 3-pointers. They are fourth in the NBA with 24.4 3-pointers attempted by opponents. However, during their current win streak, they brought those numbers down to 20.8.
Golden State takes 31 per game.
Oklahoma City have also cut down the amount assists they allow during games. They went from 21 to 16 over the past five contents.
“We’ve made strides in a positive direction,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “There are more to be made. The only thing you can do is come in here intentionally every single day and be committed and focused on how you want to play offensively and defensively and be committed to doing those things and not get to a place of complacency.”
NOTES: A report came out late Sunday night detailing from anonymous sources how upset the Golden State organization is with Oklahoma City over its treatment of Kevin Durant during the Feb. 11 matchup. According to the report, the team sources blamed Thunder officials for letting the fan base get riled up and treat Durant badly.
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Thunder dismantle Kings

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — On March 7, Russell Westbrook scored a career-high 58 points for Oklahoma City. It was one of the best individual performances the NBA has seen this season.

However, the Thunder lost that game as the team stretched its skid to four games at that point.

Since then, the Thunder seemed to have turned the corner. While Westbrook is still the focal point, his teammates have found their roles and their contributions have increased.

That was the case in Oklahoma City’s 110-94 victory over Sacramento on Saturday afternoon at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“We know we have the talent to score the ball inside or outside,” Thunder center Enes Kanter said. “We just need to focus on the defensive end, play with an edge.”

Westbrook led all scorers with 28 points, making 9 of 20 shots from the field, and had eight rebounds and 10 assists. He was two rebounds away from his 36th triple-double of the season.

Westbrook was asked if triple-doubles ever cross his mind late in games when he’s close.

“I just play bro,” Westbrook said.

Doug McDermott came off the Thunder bench to score 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the floor. Steven Adams added 16 points and 13 rebounds.

Enes Kanter contributed 14 points as Oklahoma City won its fifth straight game and improved to 40-29. The Thunder are tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for fifth in the Western Conference.

Georgios Papagiannis led the Kings with 14 points and 11 boards.

“I’m in a rhythm right now. I started with 11 minutes and then started to get more, so I am just starting to get used to it because most of the time I have been playing for the D-League and when I got here the last few games it was a lot different,” Papagiannis said.

“So just every game and every practice I am trying to get used to the players because most of the time I had been in Reno and everything works right now.”

Skal Labissiere added 13 points and Buddy Hield scored 11 points as the Kings dropped to 27-42.

In the opening minutes of the game, the Kings looked like they might give the Thunder a fight. Led by Darren Collison, Sacramento opened a quick 10-9 advantage.

That was the last bit of hope the Kings had. The Thunder outscored them 20-9 the rest of the quarter to grab a double-digit lead.

The Oklahoma City bench continued to cause problems for Sacramento. Kanter wore out the lighter Willie Cauley-Stein in in the paint as he racked up 10 first-half points.

While Westbrook didn’t have to explode for big numbers, he made enough signature plays to leave an imprint on the game. That include draining a jumper in the final seconds of the first half to give Oklahoma City a 63-41 halftime lead.

Sacramento could never get its offense rolling. Oklahoma City’s Andre Roberson played suffocating defense on Hield. Meanwhile, Cauley-Stein, Collison and Labissiere couldn’t buy a basket.

“It’s hard to come back on a great team like that,” Hield said. “They have been playing together for a while, Russ is always great and then add the pieces of Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, who are playing really well.

“We are a young team, so we just have to keep learning from these losses and keep getting better.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

 

Thunder to host Hield & new-look Kings

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

The Oklahoma City Thunder can’t seem to make up their mind. Just under two weeks ago they were mired in a four-game losing streak and seemed on the verge of seeing their season come apart.
However, since a six-point loss to Portland March 7, the Thunder have rattled off four consecutive victories, each one by bigger margins than the last.
Entering Saturday’s afternoon contest with the Sacramento Kings (27-41), Oklahoma City (39-29) finds itself just a half a game out of fifth place in the Western Conference standings. It’s an impressive move up the standings considering where they were one week into March.
One of those four wins came Thursday with a 21-point victory over Toronto in which Oklahoma City led by as much as 30 in the fourth quarter and Russell Westbrook didn’t have to leave the bench in the final 12 minutes while still picking up a triple-double.
With 14 games left in the season, Westbrook is seven triple doubles away from tying Oscar Robertson’s record for most in a season and eight away from holding the record all to himself.
Westbrook’s chase of triple doubles caused a stir on social media Thursday and Friday when Kevin Durant’s brother, Tony, sent out a tweet seemingly mocking Westbrook.
“Main man chasing the hell out these triple doubles lmao,” Tony Durant tweeted Thursday night during Oklahoma City’s game with Toronto.
This caused Westbrook’s wife, Nina, to respond with a sub-tweet Friday afternoon.
“@LifeOfTonyD35 and it seems like you are chasing the hell out of some attention. You got it,” Nina Westbrook posted.
Neither Russell Westbrook nor Kevin Durant responded to the back and forth.
Most of the credit for the Thunder surge has been given to Westbrook. He posted a triple double in each of the last four wins. Whether they have been at home or on the road, he has played at an MVP level. But his Oklahoma City teammates deserve their share of credit as well.
In its win over Toronto, seven players reached double figures in scoring. It was six in Brooklyn.
One of those who has stepped up is forward is Taj Gibson, who was traded to Oklahoma City in February. He was inserted into the starting lineup after the loss to Portland and Oklahoma City is undefeated since then.
“The biggest part I think for Taj that he has helped that first group with is Taj is a great talker, great communicator,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “For a guy like Russell, Steven (Adams) and even Andre (Roberson), having Taj out there defensively, he is constantly talking. So it allows that group to collectively be on the same page.”
Buddy Hield is looking to have to same type of impact on his new team that Gibson is having.
Hield was part of the mega-trade that sent DeMarcus Cousins from Sacramento to New Orleans. In 11 games with Sacramento, Hield is averaging around 14 points
However, what stood out during the Kings win over the Suns Wednesday wasn’t Hield’s offense. In fact, he scored a total of seven points. It was Hield’s defense that made a statement. After being maligned much of the season for his defensive tenacity, he helped hold Devin Booker to 6 of 26 shooting on the night.
The last time Hield visited Oklahoma City, it was not a good time in the season for him. The rookie from the University of Oklahoma was enduring a subpar campaign when the New Orleans Pelicans came to town Dec. 4.
While the Pelicans lost to the Thunder, Hield had a solid showing with 16 points in only 15 minutes. He later credited the trip back ‘home’ to turning around his season.
Hield is now teamed with a young group of players looking to turn around the Kings franchise. Along with Skal Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein, Hield and the Kings seem to be on the right path. They enter Saturday winners of two straight.
“They are playing a lot of different guys right now,” Donovan said. “I would say with Cousins being out that their front court (players) have maybe had more of an opportunity. I think the guys they put on the floor can create and generate offense on their own. They’ve taken a lot of 3s. They are a very aggressive team.”
Michael Kinney is a freelance writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Westbrook explodes in 4th to take down Pelicans

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook has the ability to hurt opposing teams in a variety of ways. But regardless of which way the Oklahoma City point guard chooses to rip apart clubs, the foundation is his aggressive nature.

This was on display Friday when he scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Thunder to a 118-110 victory over the slumping New Orleans Pelicans at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The 21 points is the most Westbrook has ever scored in the fourth during his career.
“I think throughout the game, I try to find ways to pick my spots,” Westbrook said. “Tonight was the fourth quarter. Some nights it may be early, some nights it may be late. I just play. The game will tell you what to do. If something is working, I keep doing it.”
Westbrook ended the night with 41 points on 14-of-29 shooting from the field. He also posted 11 rebounds, 11 assists and nine turnovers to notch his 29th triple-double of the season. It was also his seventh career 40-point triple double, which tied Wilt Chamberlain for second most in NBA history.
“I just stay in attack mode,” Westbrook said. “I did a terrible job of taking care of the basketball. But I stayed in attack mode and tried to help us win.”
Enes Kanter came off the bench to score 20 points and grab nine boards. Steven Adams and Alex Abrines each scored 13 points for the Thunder (34-25).
Anthony Davis led the Pelicans (23-37) with 38 points and seven rebounds. DeMarcus Cousins added 31 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out. E’Twaun Moore was the only other player to hit double figures (10). It was the third straight loss for the Pelicans since acquiring Cousins in a trade last week.
“I thought we played well,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. “I thought we did a good job. We started the game the right way. At the end of the day, Russ made all the plays down the stretch. You have to give them credit.”
With the Thunder leading 94-93, Westbrook hit back-to-back 3-pointers before Kanter added two free throws.
That forced Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry to bring Cousins off the bench with five fouls and he promptly was fouled and hit two free throws.
Westbrook came right back down and nailed another 3-pointer. Davis scored four straight points, Moore drilled a corner 3-pointer and the Pelicans were back to within three points with 3:50 left.
A Westbrook jumper pushed the Thunder lead to 107-102. But Cousins responded with four consecutive free throws to cut the lead to one.
Westbrook ended Cousins’ night when Jrue Holiday let him drive straight down the middle of the lane for a tomahawk dunk on Cousins, who picked up his sixth foul on the play. The three-point play gave Oklahoma City a 110-106 advantage.
“Obviously it changed the game from the standpoint of we were able to throw the ball inside and he was playing well,” Gentry said. “It took all of that away. Like I said, Russ made all the plays at the end of the game.”
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With 1:41 left, the Pelicans had the ball and trailed by four. But Holiday missed a 3-point attempt and that set up two free throws on the other end for Westbrook. He hit two more on Oklahoma City’s next possession and that was enough to close out New Orleans.
The Thunder won the rebound battle 53-26 and owned the points in the paint 56-40.
The night started very spotty for Cousins as he and Adams picked up double technical fouls 32 seconds into the game on what appeared to be light jostling for position. One minute later, Cousins was hit with his second foul and had to sit on the bench the rest of the quarter.
“I have to fight through the adversity and ignore the negativity and just do what’s best for the team,” Cousins said.
Despite that, Davis was able to have his way with the Thunder defense. Whether it was Adams, Kanter or Taj Gibson, no defender had an answer for him as he posted 24 points in the opening 12 minutes.
“He had two fouls at the 10:30 mark,” Davis said of Cousins. “It’s tough when he goes out. I tried to make shots and get other guys involved.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

New Thunder fit perfectly in first game

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — Alex Abrines knew there was a chance he’d get his first start of the season for Oklahoma City. With Victor Oladipo ailing, Abrines was the next man up.
However, what the rookie didn’t expect was to post a career-high 19 points to help the Thunder beat the Los Angeles Lakers 110-93 on Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Abrines knew how important it was for him to see his first couple of shots go through the rim.
“I was feeling pretty good,” Abrines said. “For the shooters, to hit their first shot it gets more easy as you get confidence. So it was important to hit the first two.”
Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook collected his 28th triple-double of the season. He scored 17 points on 4-of-17 shooting from the field to go with 17 assists and 18 rebounds.
Andre Roberson matched Abrines with 19 points as they combined to hit eight of the team’s 10 3-pointers. Steven Adams collected 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder (33-25).
D’Angelo Russell paced the Lakers (19-41) with 29 points on 12-of-26 shooting from the floor. Jordan Clarkson came off the bench to score 14 points and Julius Randle added 13.
Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ new president of basketball operations, was in the building to watch the team for the first time since taking over. For the players, that means they are playing not only for the present but also for the future.
“It’s good. It like you’re starting over and trying to impress,” Russell said. “It’s like coming to a new team. Trying to impress the GM (general manager) and the guys in the front office with your play, with your off the court and the way you handle yourself. So it’s just all different.”
The Thunder reserves made the biggest impact in the first half. Abrines scorched the Lakers for 10 first-quarter points. That included knocking down two 3-pointers.
Oklahoma City also received strong contributions from its newest members. Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, who were traded from Chicago on Thursday, didn’t hesitate to get involved in their first game with the Thunder. The duo combined for 10 points.
“It felt great,” Gibson said. “I didn’t want to mess up. I was able to calm down and have a lot of fun with the guys. It’s a great group of guys, real unselfish. … I had a great time tonight.”
The Lakers stayed in striking distance throughout the first half. Russell and Clarkson were able to knock down a few jumpers while also driving to the rim for layups.
Los Angeles trailed Oklahoma City 58-51 at halftime.
Abrines once again came out on fire to start the third quarter. He hit three quick 3-pointers as the Thunder stormed ahead to a 73-58 advantage.
The third quarter was a disaster for the Lakers. Not only were they unable to slow down the Thunder, their offense fell apart.
Only Russell seemed to be able to get his shot off as they fell behind by 20 points.
Westbrook reached his triple-double midway through the quarter. He gaves his new teammates a front-row view of what the type of season he has been having.
“It’s a lot better to be with him than against him,” McDermott said of Westbrook.
The Lakers finally found their offense in the fourth quarter as Randle and Ingram joined the party. They were able to cut the Thunder lead to nine with four minutes left but didn’t have enough left in the tank to finish the run.
“I think the key was defense,” Thunder center Enes Kanter said. “I think we did a very good job of communication. We did a really good job on pick and rolls. I think the most important thing was everybody give 100 percent effort.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer for Eyeamtruth.com

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