Thunder-Clippers: A Look Ahead

Thunder-Clippers: A Look Ahead

If you thought the Thunder-Grizzlies series was a nail-biter, you may not be ready for Thunder-Clippers. People who are sans fingernails from the Thunder’s 7-game showdown with the Grizzlies more than likely won’t make it to the end of this series without experiencing cardiac arrest at some point.

Russell Westbrook 2014 Playoff averages: 25.6 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 8 APG

Russell Westbrook 2014 Playoff averages: 25.6 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 8 APG

Make no mistake, these two teams are very evenly matched. If you’re looking for proof of that last statement, look no further than the 2-2 season-series split between both squads. The first matchup was played back on Nov. 13th, and was most notorious for the Serge Ibaka-Matt Barnes double ejection.

I honestly agree with one commenter’s assessment of it. They should have thrown out double Ts and moved on. It was only a little shoving, it’s not like a punch was even thrown. Either way, Ibaka’s ejection proved costly for the Thunder, as the Clippers took that matchup 111-103.

Former Clipper Caron Butler looks to be taking Thabo Sefolosha's starting SG spot for the forseeable future. 2014 Playoff averages: 7.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1 APG

Former Clipper Caron Butler looks to be taking Thabo Sefolosha’s starting SG spot for the forseeable future. 2014 Playoff averages: 7.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1 APG

Matchup #2 gave us a bit of Thunder revenge a mere eight nights later. An out-of-sync Clippers defense allowed 51.9% shooting from the Thunder, and the Thunder went on to a convincing 105-91 outcome. The thing that stuck out to me about that game was towards the end, when Steven Adams goes to shake the hand of former Thunder player Byron Mullens, and Mullens doesn’t even bother to acknowledge him. Adams, crafty big man that he is, decided to remedy the situation in his own way:

Adams: "Good game... or not. Whatever. At least I'm still The Man."

Adams: “Good game… or not. Whatever. At least I’m still The Man.”

The third matchup was played Feb. 23rd, exactly one week after the All-Star game. The Thunder struggled mightily following the All-Star break, but I thought they played the Clippers well here. The defense did everything you can do short of fouling, but Clippers bench player Jamal Crawford was not going to be stopped in that game. I couldn’t believe some of the shots he was making through the defense the Thunder had on him. He had basically no space, hands all up in his line of sight, and he was still draining jumpers, some of them all-net, which was a big factor in getting the Clippers a 125-117 victory. Here’s video of Crawford’s 36-point performance. Your eyes will pop out of your head as you see some of the shots he was hitting.

Less than a month ago, April 9th, saw the last regular-season meeting between the two squads. It was a game the Thunder controlled pretty much the entire way, but a 4th quarter surge by the Clippers nearly stole the victory. the Thunder were able to hold them off at the end for a 107-101 victory.

Kevin Durant 2014 Playoff averages: 29.9 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 3.4 APG

Kevin Durant 2014 Playoff averages: 29.9 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 3.4 APG

As it pertains to this playoff series, the Thunder are staring down the NBA’s highest scoring team of the regular season (averaging 107.9 points a game). Therefore, the Thunder D will need to be on top of their game at all times. One defensive slip up, and a large enough Clipper run, and the Thunder will see games get away from them. This is a Clipper team that does not let up, and they seem to love the run-and-gun style just as much as the Thunder. The Thunder, on the other hand, counter with the league’s leading scorer in Kevin Durant. According to NBA.com, here are five things to keep an eye on as this series progresses:

Serge Ibaka 2014 Playoff averages: 13 PPG, 7.1 RPG, .6 APG

Serge Ibaka 2014 Playoff averages: 13 PPG, 7.1 RPG, .6 APG

1) The play of Kevin Durant: He was struggling immensely in the Grizzlies series before a disparaging headline and possible elimination forced him to stop thinking, and start having fun. He went from averaging 28 points on 40% shooting in the first 5 games, to 34.5 points off of 56% shooting in the last 2. He can’t think about things too much. He needs to just go out on the court loose, and treat it like a day at the park. When he just let’s his game flow naturally, he’s at his best. Overanalyzing things has a tendency to hurt an athlete’s overall performance, because then hesitation in said athlete becomes increasingly noticeable. Hesitation in this league can prove very costly. Trust me. This is coming from one of the most notorious overanalyzers on Earth. This is actually the reason I time-crunch assignments in my college courses. Waiting until the last possible second to get my assignments done prevents me from overthinking them, and turning in an incoherent essay with my thoughts all over the place because, “Oh, I just thought of this as well”. Because in all honesty, if certain facts failed to pop in your head as you write something, the thoughts that you omitted are more than likely not that relevant to your topic anyway. But, as you may have noticed, I’m beginning to digress here.

Kendrick Perkins 2014 playoff averages: 4.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, .7 APG (Perkins: "You really thought I was gonna smile in this photo?")

Kendrick Perkins 2014 Playoff averages: 4.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, .7 APG (Perkins: “You really thought I was gonna smile in this photo?”)

2) Chris Paul’s sore right hamstring: Sore hamstrings are already tough to deal with on their own, but as Mike Conley proved in Game 7 of the previous series, a sore right hamstring is even tougher to deal with when you’re tasked with guarding Russell Westbrook. While Conley was good for 20 points in that game, he had no answer for Westbrook’s blinding speed. Westbrook’s 27-point, 16-assist, 10 rebound triple-double put him in some elite company. Paul should still get his numbers, as he posted a 22 point, 14 assist double-double in Game 7 vs. the Warriors. Although now Paul is going to try to accomplish what Conley could not, and try to limit Westbrook’s numbers on a bad hamstring, which is far easier said than done.

Chris Paul 2014 Playoff averages: 17.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 9 APG

Chris Paul 2014 Playoff averages: 17.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 9 APG

3) The Ibaka-Griffin matchup: Let’s face it. We all know Blake Griffin is a beast. Oklahoma is familiar with Griffin, seeing as he played his high school and college ball here in the state. Griffin is used to dominating his opposition down low, but Ibaka is not a man who can be dominated very easily, if he can be dominated at all. Plus it seems as though tensions really ratchet up in the post when those two are battling down there.

J.J. Reddick 2014 Playoff averages: 14.3 PPG, 2 RPG, 2.3 APG

J.J. Reddick 2014 Playoff averages: 14.3 PPG, 2 RPG, 2.3 APG

4) Will Westbrook continue to facilitate?: Westbrook’s first 5 games against the Grizzlies saw him take 25.6 shots per game, as he averaged 25.4 points per game on 34% shooting. He actually averaged more points in the final 2 games at 26 off of 51% shooting. His shots per game fell to 18.5 as his assists climbed to 10.5 a game. As long as he can maintain a balance between facilitating and aggression, he’ll help give the Thunder the best possible chance to win.

Matt Barnes 2014 Playoff averages: 8.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.9 APG

Matt Barnes 2014 Playoff averages: 8.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.9 APG

5) How much do these teams have left?: NBA.com asked this question in regards to the Clippers, but I honestly still feel as though it applies to the Thunder as well. Both teams just came off of brutal and highly physical 7-game tests. Granted, the Thunder really seemed to find their stride in their last 2, while the Clippers were trailing for the majority of their Game 7 against the Warriors, so I can see why NBA.com wasn’t as quick to ask that about the Thunder. But these two teams matchup very well, and this series is expected to be just as physical as their previous ones. One key injury could easily derail either squad.

Blake Griffin 2014 Playoff averages: 23.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.6 APG

Blake Griffin 2014 Playoff averages: 23.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.6 APG

I’m noticing that when people are asked to pick a winner, the majority will say either the Clippers in 6, or the Thunder in 7. I’m leaning more towards the Thunder in 7 myself. If the Clippers win, they’ll have to get it done in 6, because if a Game 7 in OKC is forced, I just don’t see the Clippers having anything left for it. The reason? I just feel like they’ll expend most of their energy trying to close out Game 6. Failure to do so would leave that team way too drained to compete in Game 7. The Clippers could potentially take a game or two here in OKC, but it certainly won’t be the deciding Game 7 if it comes down to it.

DeAndre Jordan 2014 Playoff averages: 12.1 PPG, 15.1 RPG, 1 APG

DeAndre Jordan 2014 Playoff averages: 12.1 PPG, 15.1 RPG, 1 APG

Game 1 comes to us from The Peake, and tip-off is scheduled for 8:30pm CST. The game will be featured at the back-end of TNT’s double-header, and you already know you’re going to want to catch this one. I have a feeling this series could produce even more drama than the last one.

Let the Memphis Conspiracy Theories Begin

Let the Memphis Conspiracy Theories Begin

Blaming refs, blaming league officials, blaming any outside force they can think of is exactly what almost all fans do once their team has been eliminated from the postseason. Hell, the conspiracy theories out of Memphis had already started before Game 7 even tipped.

Kevin Durant led all scorers with his 33 points. Here he is with that scowl I like to see from him. Get mad, KD!

Kevin Durant led all scorers with his 33 points. Here he is with that scowl I like to see from him. Get mad, KD!

I was seeing ignorant drivel on my Facebook feed to the likes of:

“They only suspended Z-Bo because they can’t afford to have their MVP ousted from the 1st round.”

“That wasn’t a punch! That was a shove!”

“The Grizz would have won if the refs weren’t playing for OKC.”

The last statement made me laugh. If that were the case, why did the Grizzlies take 34 free throws to the Thunder’s 30 in Game 7? Why did they take 28 free throws to the Thunder’s 25 in Game 6? Why did the Grizz take 26 free throws to the Thunder’s 19 in Game 5? Why did they take 23 free throws to the Thunder’s 20 in Game 4? The refs gave the Grizz chance after chance. It’s not the NBA’s fault that the Grizzlies couldn’t cash in at the line.

Russell Westbrook's 27-point, 16-assist, 10-rebound triple-double proved historic.

Russell Westbrook’s 27-point, 16-assist, 10-rebound triple-double proved historic.

And to the idiots saying Zach Randolph only pushed Steven Adams and didn’t punch him, this tape proves otherwise.

And some sad Memphis fans still willfully put blinders on and called it a push on the video. The butthurt in the comments section is very strong. I guess I’d be disappointed too if my team had a chance to eliminate a #2 seed in Game 6, only to suffer a monumental 2-game collapse and blow the series. Quit making excuses for a thug like Randolph! He has a history of pulling this crap, and that history is what likely prompted the decision to suspend him. If you can’t hold your emotions in check, you’re in the wrong league. This is not Rucker Park, or The Cage on West 4th St. No blood, no foul does not apply to the NBA. This is a league of professionals, and anyone who fails to conduct themselves in a professional manner suffers the consequences. It doesn’t really matter anyway, because what’s done is done. Hell, I’m done with the Randolph issue. Let’s take a look at these Game 7 numbers.

Serge Ibaka dropped 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

Serge Ibaka dropped 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

The Thunder used a total team effort in Game 7 to advance. Kevin Durant’s 33 points led all scorers to take the floor. Russell Westbrook’s 27-point, 16-assist, 10-rebound triple-double marks his 2nd Game 7 triple-double for his postseason career, making him only the 2nd player in NBA history to accomplish the feat, with Rajon Rondo being the 1st. The stat line also makes him the 3rd player in NBA history to score at least 25 points, dish out at least 15 assists, and pull down at least 10 rebounds in an NBA playoff game. Oscar Robinson was the first to accomplish this feat, and Chris Paul (who the Thunder will see in the next round) has accomplished it on two separate occasions. Not only that, but Westbrook’s 16 assists ties a postseason franchise record that was set by Nate McMillan back in ’87, when they were still the Seattle Supersonics. Serge Ibaka was good for 12 points, and Caron Butler scored 15 as he once again started at SG in place of Thabo Sefolosha. While you figure Sefolosha would be a little miffed at being benched, it looks like he took it in stride. I’m sure he feels like any lineup changes that result in an NBA Championship are more than welcome. I know that’s how I’d feel about it if I were in his position. But to conclude, Reggie Jackson came off of the bench to drop 16 points. With a 120-109 victory, those 16 points were the difference between an 11-point victory and a 5-point defeat. When at least one bench player scores big, the Thunder put themselves in a much better position to win.

Caron Butler scores 15 starting in place of Thabo Sefolosha for the 2nd straight game.

Caron Butler scores 15 starting in place of Thabo Sefolosha for the 2nd straight game.

Marc Gasol’s 24 points led the Grizzlies, but Mike Conley deserves some credit for dropping 20 points while playing on a bad hamstring. Courtney Lee dropped 16, and Tony Allen was good for 15 points starting in place of Tayshaun Prince and playing with an eye injury. Beno Udrih came off of the Grizzlies bench to score 12.

Reggie Jackson was good for 16 points off of the Thunder bench.

Reggie Jackson was good for 16 points off of the Thunder bench.

I will bring you the Thunder-Clippers series preview tomorrow. In the meantime, I’m just going to enjoy the series victory. Stay basketball-hungry, my friends.

Thunder Respond To Being Pushed To The Brink With Best Postseason Performance So Far

Thunder Respond To Being Pushed To The Brink With Best Postseason Performance So Far

I’ve noticed this all through the regular season. It’s the reason the Thunder gave up so many 20+-point leads during the regular season, and is the reason the Thunder experienced a 3-2 deficit in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs. There is so much hype surrounding this current Thunder squad that they have a tendency to buy into it themselves at times. It’s understandable. You hear over and over again how good your team is, how good the individual players making up the squad are, and how the GM is building a solid winner, and you can’t help but let some of it go to your head. Buying into hype isn’t always a bad thing. You have to have a certain level of confidence when you hit the court, or a loss is as good as guaranteed. The problem is that you can buy into the hype too much, and start taking things like NBA Championships as a lock before you actually obtain it. This is why the Thunder don’t always play up to their potential. Sometimes they act as if an NBA Championship is a mere formality, treating it as though it’s a guarantee at season’s end.

All three major Thunder contributors are pictured here. Westbrook dropped 25 points for the game, Reggie Jackson was good for 16 off of the Thunder bench, and Kevin Durant's 36-point, 10-rebound double-double marked his best peformance of the series to this point.

All three major Thunder contributors are pictured here. Russell Westbrook dropped 25 points for the game, Reggie Jackson was good for 16 off of the Thunder bench, and Kevin Durant’s 36-point, 10-rebound double-double marked his best performance of the series to this point.

The thing about the NBA is that, especially in today’s NBA, nothing comes easy. Sure, back in the older days, some things were pretty much a formality. Red Auerbach’s Celtics teams winning NBA Championships throughout the late-50s & mid-60s became a formality. And a few decades later, Michael Jordan’s Bulls teams in the 90s were pretty much a lock for a title, much to the chagrin of legends John Stockton and Karl Malone. But even though the Heat have taken the last two titles, I’m not sure if you can call them a lock this year. One key injury could completely derail that team.

Zach Randoplh tries to back down Kendrick Perkins. Perkins' defense was a major contributor in Randolph only scoring 16 for the game.

Zach Randolph tries to back down Kendrick Perkins. Perkins’ defense was a major contributor in Randolph only scoring 16 for the game.

Last night’s Thunder performance was “night-and-day different” from the last 4 outings. They were spacing the floor much better on offense, there was great ball movement, much better shot selection, and they played like a team with something to prove.  One thing I’ve noticed about this Thunder team is that they sometimes need a good, solid hit to the mouth before they start taking things seriously. It’s a lot like when I did amateur boxing. I was always one of those guys who didn’t really get moving until I took a good one to the chin. Then I was like, “Oh yeah. I’m in a fight right now. I’d better pick it up.”

All of the major Grizzlies contributors are in frame here. Marc Gasol was held to 17 points total, while Tony Allen dropped 13 bench points, and James Johnson contributed 15 additional bench points.

All of the major Grizzlies contributors are in frame here. Marc Gasol was held to 17 points total, while Tony Allen dropped 13 bench points, and James Johnson contributed 15 additional bench points.

And pick it up is exactly what Kevin Durant did in the face of a disparaging headline from The Oklahoman that referred to him as “Mr. Unreliable”. From my standpoint, I don’t see why The Oklahoman issued an apology. As it came to this series, they weren’t wrong. Some people took it as an attack on Durant’s character or entire body of work in the NBA. I actually find it sad that The Oklahoman had to clarify that the headline was only in reference to his performance in the Grizzlies series, which even Durant failed to disagree with, saying:

Johnson decides fouling Durant just isn't worth it.

Johnson decides fouling Durant just isn’t worth it.

“That’s what they’re supposed to write. I didn’t come through for the team.”

Honestly, I love the looks on their faces. They play better when they have something to prove.

Honestly, I love the looks on their faces. They play better when they have something to prove.

And if the headline is what it took to wake him up, then so be it. I personally think Durant plays better when he has a chip on his shoulder anyway. Most players do. Give fantastic NBA players something to prove, and they’ll more often than not, do just that.

Point Guard vs. Center? You know Westbrook isn't afraid of the challenge.

Point Guard vs. Center? You know Westbrook isn’t afraid of the challenge.

Hell, Durant put up a 36-point, 10-rebound double-double playing with that chip on his shoulder. If disparaging headlines gets Durant to play this well, maybe the next headline should read, “KD Pushes Down Little Old Ladies Just Trying To Cross The Street. Is The NBA Stardom Going To His Head?” Heck, he might go off for 50 points after reading that one. The headline wasn’t even about Russell Westbrook, but it seemed to help his play too, as he took a step back in the 1st quarter to let Durant make his case. That ended up netting Durant 14 points in that one 12-minute period. (Interesting note: The Thunder are 5-0 in the postseason when Durant scores 14 or more in the 1st quarter.) But even in taking that step back, Westbrook still finished his night with 25 points. Reggie Jackson’s 16 points off of the bench were a major help as well.

Beno Udrih tries to run with Jackson.

Beno Udrih tries to run with Jackson.

And in a good coaching move, Scott Brooks opted to start Caron Butler over Thabo Sefolosha. In fact, Sefolosha never saw the floor. Yet, the defense was as good as I’ve seen all series long, and Butler’s presence gave this Thunder starting 5 a 4th scoring option. This lineup change alone is most likely how the Thunder were getting such good floor spacing last night, because all three perimeter players were 3-point threats. You can’t pack the paint in that scenario. And speaking of paint performances, hats off to Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams for the way they frustrated the Grizzlies’ paint offense last night. Ibaka’s 4 blocks were actually outnumbered by Adams’ 5 from off of the Thunder bench. You give Adams a couple more years of development, and I think he ends up filling in the missing piece to a Thunder title run.

It wasn't even Steven Adams' house. He told Tony Allen to get that mess out of here anyway.

It wasn’t even Steven Adams’ house. He told Tony Allen to get that mess out of here anyway.

And the Grizzlies’ offense in the paint found themselves increasingly frustrated at the Ibaka/Adams block party that was taking place last night. Marc Gasol was held to 17 points, while Zach Randolph managed 16. Neither had a double-double to speak of, which is rather unusual when you talk about that big man duo. Tony Allen and James Johnson were able to combine for 28 points off of the Grizzlies bench to no avail (Johnson: 15, Allen: 13).

Westbrook takes the wide-open shot.

Westbrook takes the wide-open shot.

I said in the series preview not to be surprised if this went to 7 games. This series has gone almost exactly as I envisioned it, with the only difference being that I had the winners of Games 5 and 6 switched. Oddly, last night was the first Game 6 loss by the Grizzlies in franchise playoff history (They are now 4-1 all-time.). That’s the most likely reason you heard a few Thunder fans lose faith in the squad’s ability to extend the series. Plus, this 2-game losing streak at the Grindhouse comes off of the heels of a 15-game Grindhouse winning streak. Now, even though the series just turned into a winner-take-all matchup, I feel like it’s the Grizzlies’ back against the wall after they just got handed the most lopsided defeat of the series. Game 7 comes to us from The Peake tomorrow night at 7pm CST. So far, it looks like TNT has acquired the rights to broadcast. I’ll let you know if anything changes TV-wise. One thing that is certain, however, is that the matchup will definitely be broadcast via WWLS The Sports Animal. You know you don’t want to miss this one.

Thunder-Grizzlies Postseason Match-Up Marks The 3rd Meeting In 4 Years

Thunder-Grizzlies Postseason Match-Up Marks The 3rd Meeting In 4 Years

Is anyone really surprised that these two teams will butt heads in yet another playoff series? This marks the 3rd time in a 4-year span that these two teams will square off. It’s almost as if these two teams are linked.

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Banner celebrating the Thunder’s 4th consecutive Northwest Division Championship.

2011 was the first meeting. It was the second trip to the playoffs for the Thunder, who were itching to prove they belonged there after pushing the Lakers to 6 games in the 2010 playoffs only to lose at literally the last second due to Pau Gasol’s tip-in. They did so by downing the Nuggets in 5 games to move on to the Western Conference Semi-Finals. Another Gasol by the name of Marc was looking to make an impact for the Grizzlies coming into this series as well. The Grizzlies had just knocked off the Spurs, requiring 6 games to seal the series.

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PG Russell Westbrook: 21.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 6.9 APG

The series itself didn’t start well for the Thunder either, as the Grizzlies came into Oklahoma City Arena (as it was known at the time, because Chesapeake didn’t acquire the naming rights until July of that year) and took Game 1 in rather convincing fashion, 114-101 in a game were the Thunder were outscored in all but the 4th quarter, which ended in a tie. Game 2 saw the Thunder redeem themselves at OKC Arena with a 111-102 final. However, due to the Game 1 loss, the Grizzlies were now the ones with the home court advantage, and it would require the Thunder taking a game at FedEx Forum in Memphis to reclaim it.

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SG Thabo Sefolosha: 6.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.5 APG

The first attempt at that didn’t go so well, as the Grizzlies took it 101-93. Fortunately for the Thunder, it required an OT period for the Grizzlies to get it done. Game 4 saw 3 overtime periods played to determine a winner, which ended up being the Thunder. The Thunder used a 14-4 3OT period to seal a 133-123 victory to knot the series up at 2 games apiece. This meant that Game 5 at OKC Arena would be pivotal to the series.

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SF Kevin Durant: 32 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 5.5 APG

The Thunder took that pivotal Game 5 using some super-stingy defense. The end result was a 99-72 victory that finally saw one of the squads build up a winning streak after trading wins each game. That win put the Grizzlies behind the 8 Ball (No. Not the Memphis rapper. Although chalk that up to an odd coincidence.), because now it was win or go home.

Serge+Ibaka+Oklahoma+City+Thunder+v+Los+Angeles+MC3Yfltxmnml

PF Serge Ibaka: 15.1 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1 APG

Game 6 was the last one of the series to be played at FedEx Forum, and the Grizzlies responded beautifully, taking Game 6 95-83 to force the always-decisive Game 7 back at OKC Arena.

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C Kendrick Perkins: 3.4 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.1 APG

I really feel the Game 7 of this series instilled much of the confidence and swagger you see in the Thunder today. By taking Game 7 105-90, the Thunder proved to themselves and the rest of the world that they could survive tough postseason tests against top competition.

Mike+Conley+San+Antionio+Spurs+v+Memphis+Grizzles+WCvrw40IrZhl

PG Mike Conley: 17.2 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 6 APG

Last year’s postseason was the one where the Grizzlies got their revenge. taking advantage of Russell Westbrook’s absence after an injury suffered when a Rocket by the name of Patrick Beverly (who is now officially Public Enemy #1 in the OKC area) tore the meniscus (the cartilage in your knee that absorbs shock) in Westbrook’s right knee going for a steal after the whistle was already blown. With Westbrook out, despite the Thunder being able to take Game 1 93-91, the Grizzlies went on to win the next 4 straight, taking the series in 5 games.

Courtney-Lee

SG Courtney Lee: 9.6 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 1.5 APG

I was going to go into some numbers for this upcoming series, but if you ask me, John Schuhmann already did great work of that in Sekou Smith’s Hang Time Blog on NBA.com.

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SF Tayshaun Prince: 6 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.6 APG

Numbers Preview: Thunder-Grizzlies

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PF Zach Randolph: 17.4 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 2.5 APG

And you can get great analysis of the individual match-ups here:

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C Marc Gasol: 14.6 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 3.6 APG

SportVU Preview

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Nick Calathes. Rookie reserve PG for the Grizzlies who will most likely miss the entire postseason after being served a 20-game suspension yesterday for failing a drug test.

As far as this postseason series goes, I wouldn’t count on a sweep. As a matter of fact, if you ask me, don’t be surprised to see this series go to 7 games once again. Both teams feature stout defenses and improved perimeter shooting. I still see the Thunder taking this series, I just don’t see it being the walk in the park some Thunder fans are trying to make it out to be. My prediction: Thunder in 7. (I just see them needing all 7 games to finally put away a Grizzlies team that can be rather pesky. Never sell your competition short.)

Thunder 2 For 2 In California Back-To-Back

Thunder 2 For 2 In California Back-To-Back

A couple of streaks ended Tuesday night, as the Kings held Durant to just 23 points. Granted, he didn’t play one minute of the 4th, and seemed like he was happy the media focus was about to disperse back throughout the entire squad, instead of the brightest spotlight being squarely on him.

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Kevin Durant dunks as (from left) Ben McLemore, DeMarcus Cousins, Jason Thompson, and Travis Outlaw all look on. Durant’s 23-point performance ended his streak, but he did drop 27 against the Clippers. Cousins had a 24-point, 14-rebound performance, while Outlaw also added 24 points. McLemore and Thompson were both good for 11 apiece.

“I don’t like all the attention when it’s a team game. I’m glad it’s over.”

Serge Ibaka battles Thompson for the loose ball as Durant and Caron Butler look on. Ibaka scored 19 against the Kings, and 15 against the Clippers. Butler didn’t do much in the Clippers game, but went off for 23 points against the Kings.

Another bright spot for the Thunder is that Kendrick Perkins returned for the Spurs affair, and now Thabo Sefolosha is officially back as well, as he was cleared to play just in time for the Kings contest. Now our starting five is finally healthy, and just in time too.

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Reggie Jackson throws down. Jackson only had 9 points against the Clips, but scored 13 against the Kings.

A Thunder 2-game losing streak also snapped when the Thunder found victory at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, using a 16-0 run to start the 4th to create the breathing space necessary to win. They were only up 8 (85-77) to start the 4th, and found themselves up 101-77 with 6:24 to play. After that, it was all the Kings could do to pull back within 20. Once the final buzzer sounded, the Kings still took a 107-92 pasting that jumped the Thunder to 56-21, while dropping the Kings to a horrid 27-51.

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Jeremy Lamb shoots the fadeaway over Jared Cunningham. Lamb didn’t do much against the Clippers, but dropped 10 points against the Kings.

Durant was good for 23 points, while Serge Ibaka posted 19, and Russell Westbrook added 13. While Jeremy Lamb posted 10 points off of the Thunder bench, Caron Butler had the hot hand in this contest, scoring 23 points off of 8-for-10 shooting, including 6-for-6 on his 3-ball attempts from off of the bench.

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Butler fires one over the outstretched arm of Derrick Williams.

DeMarcus Cousins posted a 24-point, 14-rebound double-double, while Travis Outlaw added 24 points of his own. Jason Thompson and Ben McLemore were good for 11 points apiece as well. The Kings got almost nothing from their bench, as 4 bench players combined for a total of 15 points.

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Cousins tries to score around Ibaka.

The Clippers, on the other hand, were (and still are) sitting in the #3 seed for the Western Conference, knowing full well that their playoff appearance is guaranteed at this stage. As of Wednesday night, they were still an outside threat to potentially steal the #2 spot from the Thunder, so this game was all about the playoff seeding.

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Durant and Blake Griffin square off. Griffin finished with a 30-point, 12-rebound double-double.

As of tonight, however, the #1 spot is officially going to the Spurs, as the Thunder are 3 1/2 games back with only 4 games remaining, counting the Clippers victory. The Spurs, however, only have 3 games remaining, meaning even if they lose out, the Thunder would still be half-a-game back for the #1 seed.

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Serge “Air Congo” Ibaka

Oddly, the Clippers managed a maximum lead of 1 on the Thunder for the whole game, while the Thunder had their’s pushed to 17 at one point. Although this particular 4th quarter nearly went the Clippers’ way. The Thunder were up 94-79 with 7:08 to play, when the Clippers sparked a 16-0 run to pull within a single point (94-93) while taking just over two minutes off of the clock. The Thunder lead was only 2 (102-100) with just over 1 minute remaining, yet free throws were the only made baskets in that final minute. Seeing as the Thunder made 5 free throws to the Clippers’ 1 in that time frame, the Thunder escaped Staples Center with a 107-101 victory that puts the Thunder at 57-21 while dropping the Clippers to 55-24. With the Clippers now 2 1/2 games behind the Thunder, and with only 4 games left on the Thunder schedule, the Thunder only need 2 more victories to secure the #2 seed.

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Russell Westbrook takes advantage of a wide lane to the rack, as Griffin defends. Nick Collison, Darren Collison, DeAndre Jordan, Durant, and Chris Paul watch. Jordan’s 10-point, 12-board performance allowed him a double-double as well. Chris Paul ended his night with 25 points.

Westbrook went off in his home city of L.A., dropping 30 points and pulling down 11 boards. Durant was right behind him with 27, and Ibaka dropped 15. We didn’t get our usual bench production in this one though, as 5 bench players combined for 26 total points.

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Durant dunk mode!

Two double-doubles by Clipper starters weren’t enough to seal the win here (Blake Griffin: 30 points, 12 rebounds. DeAndre Jordan: 10 points, 12 rebounds.), even after adding Chris Paul’s 25 points. Although Darren Collison deserves credit for a decent game off of the Clippers bench, scoring 12.

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Cousins making Westbrook’s shot a bit tougher.

4 teams are still vying for 3 remaining playoff seeds (the Trail Blazers have since clinched), but tonight’s opponent, the Pelicans, are not among those teams. They’re simply looking to play spoiler coming into OKC, as that’s really all they can do. The Thunder took the first contest in this series 109-95 back on Dec. 6th, and a win tonight will claim the season series outright for the Thunder, despite another match-up to take place this coming Monday. Tonight’s affair tips at 7pm CST, and will be broadcast via Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.

Westbrook Factor Shows In Loss To Mavericks Versus Win Over Bulls

Westbrook Factor Shows In Loss To Mavericks Versus Win Over Bulls

Sunday’s 109-86 loss to the Mavericks marked the first loss in 12 games for the Thunder in “The Battle Of I-35”. But when you’re playing without 60% of your starting lineup, wins are not very easy to come by. Just ask the Lakers. Even Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle made mention of Russell Westbrook’s absence by saying,

Shawn Marion puts one over Kevin Durant while an open Samuel Dalembert watches from the perimeter. Durant led all scorers with 30 points, but Marion's 19 points, coupled with Dalembert's 10 helped seal a win for the Mavericks.

Shawn Marion puts one over Kevin Durant while an open Samuel Dalembert watches from the perimeter. Durant led all scorers with 30 points, but Marion’s 19 points, coupled with Dalembert’s 10 helped seal a win for the Mavericks.

“They were down a great player so we caught a break there. You still gotta go out and play. They’ve had a great record with and without Westbrook. It’s a game we needed, so it’s a plus for us.”

Dirk Nowitzki with the faeaway over Reggie Jackson. Nowitzki posted 17 points, while Jackson had 13 filling in for Russell Westbrook.

Dirk Nowitzki with the fadeaway over Reggie Jackson. Nowitzki posted 17 points, while Jackson had 13 filling in for Russell Westbrook.

I noticed what Carlisle failed to mention was the fact that the great record amassed without Westbrook was in large part due to the suffocating defense provided by Thabo Sefolosha on the perimeter and Kendrick Perkins in the paint. It has been a struggle to win consistently without these two defenders. The Thunder are 5-3 this March, playing the entire month without them. And the Thunder are expected to be without both defenders for essentially the remainder of the season. The Thunder have been unable to string together three wins in a row without them, and may now have serious trouble reclaiming the Western Conference’s #1 seed from the Spurs, as Sunday’s loss puts them two full games behind. Not only are the Thunder struggling to win consistently, but the Spurs are doing exactly that, currently riding an 11-game winning streak. The Mavs jumped to 40-27 with their victory while dropping the Thunder to 47-18. The Mavs have gone 1-1 since Sunday’s night’s win, currently putting them at 41-28.

Jose Calderon scores 2 of his 16 points takig advantage of an open lane to the basket. Nick Collison, Jackson, Serge Ibaka, and Durant were all caught off-guard. Calderon dropped 16 points, while Ibaka added 19 for the Thunder.

Jose Calderon scores 2 of his 16 points taking advantage of an open lane to the basket. Nick Collison, Jackson, Serge Ibaka, and Durant were all caught off-guard. Calderon dropped 16 points, while Ibaka added 19 for the Thunder.

The fact that the Mavericks had five players in double figures illustrates the struggle for the Thunder defense, as sadly, the Mavs had the game pretty much sealed by the end of the 1st quarter. Not that they had the game out of reach, but the Thunder D just couldn’t get stops to save their lives. Shawn Marion led the Mavs’ scoring surge with 19 points, followed by Dirk Nowitzki’s 17, Jose Calderon’s 16, and Samuel Dalembert’s 10. Vince Carter also added 18 points off of the Mavs bench, making him the 27th player in NBA history to reach the 27,000-point plateau. He currently has 27,010 for his career.

Vince Carter's 18 points off of the Maverick bench made him the 27th player in NBA history to eclipse the 27,000-point mark.

Vince Carter’s 18 points off of the Maverick bench made him the 27th player in NBA history to eclipse the 27,000-point mark.

Kevin Durant’s 30 may have led all scorers, but it simply wasn’t enough to seal the deal. Serge Ibaka added 19, while Reggie Jackson dropped 13. The problem for the Thunder was that they only got 22 points out of 6 bench players, meaning more-known-for-his-defense Ibaka nearly outscored the entire Thunder bench.

Westbrook attempts the floater over Carlos Boozer. Westbrook's 17 points were more than enough to counter the 12-point 11-rebound double-double posted by Boozer.

Westbrook attempts the floater over Carlos Boozer. Westbrook’s 17 points were more than enough to counter the 12-point 11-rebound double-double posted by Boozer.

Westbrook returns for the road game against the Bulls at United Center, and the Thunder respond with a tremendous defensive effort against the Bulls. Make no mistake, the Bulls made them work for it. Clinging to a 1-point lead (76-75) with 10:01 to play, the Thunder hit on a 13-0 run that gave them an 89-75 lead with a mere 3:45 left on the clock. That run sealed the deal for the Thunder, as they went on to win 97-85. This win has the Thunder currently sitting at 48-18, while dropping the Bulls to 37-30, although last night’s victory over the 76ers has the Bulls currently sitting at 38-30.

Ibaka goes for 2 of his 15 points over Joakim Noah. Noah finished with 12 boards, but only 9 points.

Ibaka goes for 2 of his 15 points over Joakim Noah. Noah finished with 12 boards, but only 9 points.

NBA.com’s Kent McDill said it best about the Thunder’s decision to rest Westbrook during back-to-backs,

Caron Butler did much better Monday night, posting 12 points off of the Thunder bench. Here he shoots over Mike Dunleavy, who added 11 points to the Bulls' total.

Caron Butler did much better Monday night, posting 12 points off of the Thunder bench. Here he shoots over Mike Dunleavy, who added 11 points to the Bulls’ total.

“If resting Westbrook for one game on a back-to-back allows him to provide a 17-9-9 game, then the plan makes sense.”

Durant throws it down. Durant had a 35-point, 12-rebound double-double Monday night against the Bulls.

Durant throws it down. Durant had a 35-point, 12-rebound double-double Monday night against the Bulls.

Westbrook’s near-triple-double, including 17 points, wasn’t even the night’s standout performance. Durant posted a 35-point, 12-rebound double-double, extending his streak of 25+-point games to 32. This has him 8 short of Micheal Jordan’s record of 40 straight. Ibaka was good for 15 points of his own, and unlike the Mavs contest, two bench scorers alone were good for 23 points (Jackson: 11, Caron Butler: 12).

Durant loses the handle to D.J. Augustin as Jimmy Butler tries to avoid the foul. Butler had 13 points, while Augustin contributed 10 off of the Bulls bench.

Durant loses the handle to D.J. Augustin as Jimmy Butler tries to avoid the foul. Butler had 13 points, while Augustin contributed 10 off of the Bulls bench.

The Bulls gave good effort, as evidenced by Carlos Boozer’s 12-point, 11-rebound double-double. Joakim Noah added 12 boards, but only 9 total points. Jimmy Butler dropped 13 points, and Mike Dunleavy dropped 11. Oddly enough, the lead scorer came off of the bench, as Taj Gibson was good for 16 points. Another bench player, D.J. Augustin, was good for 10.

Jackson battles Taj Gibson for the lose ball. Gibson was actually the Bulls' leading scorer, dropping 16 points off of the Bulls bench.

Jackson battles Taj Gibson for the loose ball. Gibson was actually the Bulls’ leading scorer, dropping 16 points off of the Bulls bench.

Another back-to-back looms starting tonight. 6pm CST will denote tip-off for the Thunder-Cavaliers game, emanating from Quicken Loans Arena. The Thunder look to even the score, as the Cavs took Round 1 by a score of 114-104 at The Peake on Feb. 26th. The Cavs, on the other hand, are looking for the series sweep. Tomorrow night will have the Thunder traveling to Air Canada Centre for another revenge game, this one against the Raptors, who claimed the first match-up 104-98 at The Peake. Therefore, the Thunder are looking to avoid two potential series sweeps in road games to “lesser teams” on back-to-back nights. Not only do both games feature the same 6pm CST tip-off time, but you can also catch both games via the usual suspects: Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.

Thunder Leave No Doubts In Thorough Rout Of Lakers

Thunder Leave No Doubts In Thorough Rout Of Lakers

Well, this one should be pretty short and sweet. Jodie Meeks’ 3-pointer following a Russell Westbrook dunk gave the Lakers their only lead of the game (3-2) less than a minute into it. 5 unanswered Thunder points swung the lead in the Thunder’s direction for good (7-3). While the Lakers tried to hang early, only down 3 (15-12) with 6:35 to play in the 1st, the Thunder went on a 22-7 run that extended into the 2nd quarter, giving them a 37-19 lead with 10:30 to play in the first half.

Kevin Durant shoots as Wesley Johnson gts caught on camera not playing defense. Durant's 29 points tied Westbrook for leaing scorer, while Johnson added 10 points to the Lakers' final score.

Kevin Durant shoots as Wesley Johnson gets caught on camera not playing defense. Durant’s 29 points tied Westbrook for leading scorer, while Johnson added 10 points to the Lakers’ final score.

The Lakers would then hit on a 9-2 run to pull themselves within 11 (39-28), only to be pushed back once again by a 15-4 Thunder run that extended the Thunder’s lead to 22 (54-32). The score was 59-38 with less than 2 minutes until halftime when the Lakers sparked an 8-0 run to cut the lead to 13 (59-46) with just over six seconds until the halftime buzzer. Although a foul by Ryan Kelly allowed Westbrook a chance to hit 1 of his 2 free throws with 4 tenths of a second remaining, which allowed the Thunder to take a 14-point lead (60-46) into the locker room at the break.

Westbrook goes for 2 of his 29 points through heavy Laker traffic. Westbrook's 29 points is made even more impressive when coupled with his 9 assists.

Westbrook goes for 2 of his 29 points through heavy Laker traffic. Westbrook’s 29 points is made even more impressive when coupled with his 9 assists.

The Thunder lead was still 14 (74-60) with 6:37 left in the 3rd when the Thunder broke out a 16-3 run that broke the Lakers’ morale. That established a 27-point lead for the Thunder (90-63) with 4:09 still on the clock in the 3rd quarter. Despite the lead, the Lakers were not quite finished, as they immediately sparked an 11-2 run to pull themselves within 18 (92-74), only to be repelled yet again as the Thunder ended the 3rd on a 9-2 run that gave them a 101-77 lead heading into the 4th.

Serge Ibaka gets past the outstretched arm of Ryan Kelly. Ibaka's 15 points and 13 rebounds gave him his 24th double-double of the season, while Kelly finished his night with 12 points.

Serge Ibaka gets past the outstretched arm of Ryan Kelly. Ibaka’s 15 points and 13 rebounds gave him his 24th double-double of the season, while Kelly finished his night with 12 points.

Down 24, I think even the Lakers knew that the Thunder weren’t giving up the lead by this point. After dropping an 18-point lead to the Lakers at Staples Center to find themselves down 18 on Sunday, the Thunder brought themselves back into it, only to suffer a heart-breaking (but certainly eye-opening) 4-point defeat (114-110). I think this game opened their eyes to the fact that they need to go for the kill against anyone they have on the ropes early. The 15-4 run in the 2nd put the Lakers on the ropes. The 16-3 Thunder run in the 3rd was the boot knife that cut the throat of the Lakers’ comeback opportunity. The Lakers still gave effort with an 11-3 run to start the 4th, but the Thunder lead was still 18 (104-86) with less than 10 minutes to play. They honestly gave effort as long as they could, with the Thunder lead holding around 20 for most of the 4th. The lead was an even 20 (115-95) with 5:35 left until the final buzzer when the Thunder sparked yet another run, this one a 14-3 run that established the Thunder’s largest lead of the game at 31 (129-98) with a mere 43.4 seconds to play. The lead would settle at 29 by game’s end, as the Thunder took a 131-102 victory that propelled them to 48-17 while dropping the Lakers to 22-43, effectively relegating them to the Western Conference basement (which an organization like that would certainly view as unfamiliar territory). (Side note: The Lakers’ record is now 22-44 following an abysmal 119-85 beating by the Spurs at AT&T Center last night, propelling the Spurs to 49-16. The Spurs’ current record effectively establishes a full-game lead over the Thunder for the Western Conference’s #1 seed.)

The Thunder's Big 3 (Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka) talk strategy with Caron Butler (Partially hidden behind Ibaka in this shot) and Reggie Jackson.

The Thunder’s Big 3 (Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka) talk strategy with Caron Butler (partially hidden behind Ibaka in this shot) and Reggie Jackson.

Westbrook and Kevin Durant tied for leading scorer with 29 points apiece. Durant’s performance now has him scoring 25+ for the 30th consecutive game, which hasn’t been done since the great Michael Jordan posted 40 straight 25+-point performances in the ’86-’87 season. That means Durant has accomplished something even “King James” himself can’t say he’s ever pulled off in his career. Seeing as LeBron was the really the only top player during his 7-year tenure with the Cavaliers, that actually says a lot about Durant’s silky smoothness as a scorer. And Serge Ibaka has effectively replaced James Harden in the Thunder’s Big 3. His 15-point, 13-rebound performance marks his 24th double-double of the season. He also added an eye-popping 7 blocks in this game. Caron Butler continues to prove his steadiness as a bench scorer, adding 11 points.

Caron Butler pops one over the lackadaisical defense of Jordan Farmar. Butler posted 11 points off of the Thunder bench while Farmar added 13 points off of the Lakers bench.

Caron Butler pops one over the lackadaisical defense of Jordan Farmar. Butler posted 11 points off of the Thunder bench while Farmar added 13 points off of the Lakers bench.

It was truly a team effort for the Lakers. Meeks’ 19 points were added to Pau Gasol’s 14, Kelly’s 12, and Wesley Johnson’s 10. Kent Bazemore and Jordan Farmar even combined for 29 off of the Lakers bench, as they hit 16 points and 13 points respectively. They even broke 100 points as a team, but they just had no chance against a Thunder offense that dropped 131 on them. The fact that they’ve given up 250 points in the last two nights is an obvious indicator of where the Lakers’ deficiencies lie.

Kendall Marshall looks to be the only Laker even trying to battle Ibaka for the rebound.

Kendall Marshall looks to be the only Laker even trying to battle Ibaka for the rebound.

Yes, injuries have pretty much derailed them, but the Thunder are down two starters themselves, yet they’re starting to find the defense they were lacking. Scott Brooks’ decision to start Andre Roberson over Perry Jones III in place of the injured Thabo Sefolosha even paid immediate dividends at the defensive end, as he stole the ball from Meeks on the Lakers’ first possession, setting up the Westbrook slam to start up the scoreboard. Jones is good for beaucoup (many) points at times, but if Roberson keeps putting out this level of effort defensively, this starting lineup featuring Roberson could be leaned on more frequently until Sefolosha’s return.

Kent Bazemore ends up grounded as a battle for the loose ball ensues. Bazemore posted 16 points off of the Lakers bench.

Kent Bazemore ends up grounded as a battle for the loose ball ensues. Bazemore posted 16 points off of the Lakers bench.

Tomorrow evening will see the Mavericks hit Chesapeake for the last of the Thunder’s three-game home stand. The Mavericks are looking to crack the Thunder code for the first time in a 12-game span. The current 11-game Thunder winning streak not only includes this season’s 107-93 victory from Nov. 6th, but also includes the 4-0 sweep from the 2012 playoffs. They shouldn’t feel bad about it though. Since the start of the ’11-’12 season, the Heat have been the only team to find truly consistent success against the Thunder anyhow. The Mavs will get a chance to break the losing streak tomorrow night at 6pm CST, and those without a ticket can catch the action via the usual suspects: Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.

Not Much “Thunder” Since All-Star Weekend

Not Much “Thunder” Since All-Star Weekend

When you lose to a Laker team coming off of its worst loss in franchise history, it’s time to get concerned. When you allow a career performance for the second-straight contest, it’s time to get concerned. When you not only lose an 18-point lead, but then proceed to give up one yourself, it’s time to get concerned.

Jodie Meeks looks to drive past Reggie Jackson. Meeks' 42 points marked a career performance, while Jackson posted 14 from the Thunder bench.

Jodie Meeks looks to drive past Reggie Jackson. Meeks’ 42 points marked a career performance, while Jackson posted 14 from the Thunder bench.

Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins weren’t the only missing pieces, as it looked as though the Thunder’s heart didn’t even bother to take the two-game road trip either. Both games were plagued by not only a lack of communication on the court, but an overall lack of effort that suggested complacency, as though their 43-13 record before NBA All-Star Weekend made them entitled to an NBA Finals appearance. As Sekou Smith writes in his blog at NBA.com, the small market fantasy NBA Finals between the Thunder and Pacers looks to be more of a long shot as the All-Star weekend gets farther in the rear-view mirror.

42 points isn't as hard to achieve when you're given this amount of room to shoot.

42 points isn’t as hard to achieve when you’re given this amount of room to shoot.

http://hangtime.blogs.nba.com/2014/03/11/clear-and-present-danger-for-the-elite/?ls=iref:nbahpt13a

Of course Pau Gasol can get an easy basket when Kevin Durant doesn't even bother to put his arms up. Durant may have notched a 27-point, 10-rebound double-double, but lack of effort like this certainly didn't hurt Gasol's 20-point, 11-rebound double-double performance.

Of course Pau Gasol can get an easy basket when Kevin Durant doesn’t even bother to put his arms up. Durant may have notched a 27-point, 10-rebound double-double, but lack of effort like this certainly didn’t hurt Gasol’s 20-point, 11-rebound double-double performance.

The Thunder’s 114-110 loss to the Lakers now has them officially a half-game behind the Spurs for #1 seed in the West at 46-17. Although despite a big win, the Lakers only improve to 22-42, which still has them tied with the Jazz for the West cellar. The Rockets will be looking for their sixth straight victory at “The ‘Peake” tonight, as they are only two games behind the Thunder, and are neck-and-neck with the Clippers for the Western Conference’s 3rd seed. There is a lot more than just bragging rights riding on tonight’s game, as the Rockets pull within a game of the Thunder with a victory. If losing the number #1 slot, potentially losing their footing on the #2 seed, and suffering a morale-crushing defeat on their home court isn’t enough motivation to yield an inspired performance from the Thunder defense, then this Thunder team may not be the championship contenders I had them pegged for heading into the All-Star break.

Gasol stares down Serge Ibaka. Ibaka was another man who double-doubled with an impressive 21 points and 15 rebounds.

Gasol stares down Serge Ibaka. Ibaka was another player who double-doubled with an impressive 21 points and 15 rebounds.

There were six Lakers who scored double-figures, led by Jodie Meeks’ career-high 42-point performance. Pau Gasol even double-doubled, as he added 11 rebounds to go with his 20 points. Ryan Kelly posted 12 points, and Wesley Johnson added 11. Even Jordan Farmar and Kent Bazemore got in on the score-fest, combining for 23 from the Lakers bench (Farmar: 12, Bazemore: 11).

Kent Bazemore, who finished with 11 points off of the Lakers bench.

Kent Bazemore, who finished with 11 points off of the Lakers bench.

The Thunder’s big three of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka all managed 20 or more points, with two of them even registering double-doubles (Durant: 27 pts, 10 rebs. Ibaka: 21 pts, 15 rebs. Westbrook: 20 pts.). Reggie Jackson even posted 14 points off of the Thunder bench. But despite scoring 232 points over the last two games, including 110 at Staples Center, the offense still has its issues. Not only are untimely turnovers killing momentum, but shooting entirely too many 3-balls, as opposed to setting up easy buckets can often spell the difference between a win and a loss. The Thunder have lived and died by the 3-ball throughout the OKC era, but they are built to drive the lane at this point.

Jordan Farmar finds his way around Russell Westbrook. Westbrook finished with 20 points, while Farmar added 12 points off of the Lkaers bench.

Jordan Farmar finds his way around Russell Westbrook. Westbrook finished with 20 points, while Farmar added 12 points off of the Lakers bench.

Even Westbrook’s numbers at Staples Sunday afternoon somewhat reflect the argument (5-of-13, or 38.5% inside the arc vs. 2-of-10, or 20% outside) that the Thunder take more 3s than they really need in games. The difference in Durant’s numbers show it better than anyone else’s (4-of-8, or 50% inside the arc vs. 4-of-11, or 36.4% outside.), yet the front-runner for the NBA scoring title played as though he either didn’t notice, or didn’t care at all (and at times it really looked like the latter). I can simply use these two to make my point.

Durant opting to shoot through defense like this most of the day certainly didn't help his numbers any.

Durant opting to shoot through defense like this most of the day certainly didn’t help his numbers any.

In this argument, we’ll assume that both players would have shot similar inside-shooting percentages if every one of their shots were from inside the arc. Westbrook would have gone 9-for-23, or 39.1%. This nets him 4 additional points, which alone would have forced overtime assuming there is no change to the Lakers’ final score.  This means that Durant hitting just below at 9-for-19, or 47.3% would have ended in a 116-114 Thunder victory. But even with that argument, allowing 242 points over a two-game road trip makes the real problem not only very obvious, but rather glaring as well.

Wesley Johnson and Ryan Kelly sharing a well-deserved celebratory high-five. Kelly dropped 12 points, while Johnson finished with 11 of his own.

Wesley Johnson and Ryan Kelly sharing a well-deserved, celebratory high-five. Kelly dropped 12 points, while Johnson finished with 11 of his own.

And the Rockets are hoping the Thunder bring their defensive woes back home, as they’re down 2-0 in the season series, with a 2-2 split now being the best they can achieve. The Thunder took a 117-86 victory sans Westbrook on Dec. 28th, and also managed without him at Toyota Center on Jan. 16th, where they claimed a 104-92 victory. But both games were before All-Star weekend, which prompted the Thunder to lose 5 of their last 8. The Rockets’ current 5-game winning streak includes victories over the Heat, Pacers, and most recently the Blazers, which at least helps the Thunder on their quest for another Northwest Division Title. Fortunately for the Thunder, all 5 of those Rocket victories came within the confines of the Toyota Center, so the Rockets have yet to prove they can take this impressive winning streak on the road. Also, despite being 3-5 over the last 8 games, the Thunder’s 3-game home winning streak is currently active, so the Thunder are actually looking at a 4th straight home victory if they just left their heart here, and hit the court tonight with a sense of urgency and purpose. Will they get it done? Find out tonight at 7pm CST via Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, or NBA TV.

Gerald Green Drops 41 As Thunder D Churns Out Another Shameful Performance

Gerald Green Drops 41 As Thunder D Churns Out Another Shameful Performance

I usually go into quarter-by-quarter recaps, but I can’t do it here. I’ll end up stewing yet again.

Gerald Green's 41-points on the Thunder marks a career-high.

Gerald Green’s 41-points on the Thunder marks a career-high.

The Thunder defense in the last 15 minutes of the game made me absolutely sick. It’s easy to watch Gerald Green drop 41 points when standing around and watching is exactly what you’re doing. Hell, Green had 25 points in the 3rd quarter alone. He’s had some 30+-point games already this season. You disrespect Green by not defending him, and he will obviously make you pay for it. It’s fairly obvious that the Thunder failed to do their homework on this man.

Goran Dragic looks to drive against Serge Ibaka. Dragic ended the game with 22 points, while Ibaka posted 18 for the Thunder.

Goran Dragic looks to drive against Serge Ibaka. Dragic ended the game with 22 points, while Ibaka posted 18 for the Thunder.

Green wasn’t the only one taking advantage of their “deer in the headlights” stupidity that evening. Goran Dragic poured in 22 points, and Channing Frye added 11. I guess letting three starters combine for 74 points wasn’t enough of an embarrassment, so they went ahead and let the Morris brothers combine for 39 off of the Suns bench (Markieff: 24, Marcus: 15).

Markieff Morris dropped an impressive 24 points off of the Suns bench.

Markieff Morris dropped an impressive 24 points off of the Suns bench.

The most telling stat of the game is how the Thunder had given up 101 points by the start of the 4th quarter. And sadly, the Thunder had a 16-point lead in the 3rd at one point. The game ended with a128-122 final that drops the Thunder to 46-16, while lifting the Suns to 36-25.

Russell Westbrook goes for 2 of his 36 points through heavy Suns traffic.

Russell Westbrook goes for 2 of his 36 points through heavy Suns traffic.

It’s not like we were hurting too bad offensively. Russell Westbrook’s 36 points led all scorers, as he seemed to be the only one who could hit any shots at all down the stretch. Kevin Durant dropped 34 points, but was having real trouble getting decent looks towards game’s end. Why? Because unlike the Thunder , the Suns were actually playing defense. Serge Ibaka dropped 18 points, but was having the same troubles as Durant in the 4th.

Kevvin Durant was still good for 34 points, despite the loss.

Kevin Durant was still good for 34 points, despite the loss.

Although I will admit I liked what I saw out of new acquisition Caron Butler. He dropped 14 off of the Thunder bench, doing so via 4-of-8 from downtown, and adding two free throws.

Caron Butler finished with 14 points off of the Thunder bench. His 14 included 4-of-8 from beyond the arc.

Caron Butler finished with 14 points off of the Thunder bench. His 14 included 4-of-8 from beyond the arc.

You can blame poor shot selection down the stretch, as with 2:22 to play, the game was tied at 118-all. Leave it to the Thunder to brick an unnecessary 3-ball, and give up 2 points at the other end. No big deal. 2 points would still tie the game. So they opt instead to go for another unnecessary 3, and give up the 2 points that sealed the deal for the Suns. The deal was sealed because with the way our defense looked like swiss cheese, a 4-point lead with only 45.9 seconds to play proved to be insurmountable.

Markieff's brother, Marcus Morris, goes for 2 of his 15 points over Jeremy Lamb.

Markieff’s brother, Marcus Morris, goes for 2 of his 15 points over Jeremy Lamb. His 15 also came off of the Suns bench.

Though most of the blame needs to be shouldered by the defense as a whole. I don’t see how they expect to win if standing around and watching opposing players drain shot after shot is what “Thunder Basketball”  is turning into. An NBA Finals trip will certainly be a pipe dream if they can’t fix their defensive issues. This is the 3rd out of the last 5 games where the Thunder have given up 110 or more.

Channing Frye backs down Ibaka. Frye finished with 11 points.

Channing Frye backs down Ibaka. Frye finished with 11 points.

Although the next game is against the Lakers this Sunday. This is the team that allowed 142 points from the Clippers (Although to be fair, the Clippers managed 125 against a Thunder defense that was actually playing pretty tight that day.). If the Thunder can’t get it done at Staples Center against a mightily struggling (mainly due to the sheer number of injuries their squad has taken) Lakers team, then they should find themselves very concerned at that point. Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, and Nick Young are all listed as out, while Jordan Hill is still day-to-day himself. Although it’s becoming obvious that the absences of Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins are affecting this Thunder squad significantly, especially defensively. The Thunder-Lakers match-up is scheduled for a 2:30pm CST tip-off, and will be broadcast via WWLS The Sports Animal, and ABC.

Westbrook Notches Second-Fastest “Trip-Dub” Of All-Time As Thunder Dominate Sixers.

Westbrook Notches Second-Fastest “Trip-Dub” Of All-Time As Thunder Dominate Sixers.

In terms of game action, there’s not really much to go over. The Thunder started of by getting 3 points the “old-fashioned way”, only to be immediately countered by a 3-ball at the other end. Too bad a 3-3 tie was not only the closest the 76ers would get all night, it also marked the game’s only tie, as the Thunder would subsequently finish off a 10-3 run that put them firmly in the driver’s seat for the remainder of the game. A lead of 37 points was actually established at one point before the Thunder finally settled on a 125-92 victory. This 33-point margin of victory marks the largest for the Thunder this season, with their previous one being the 29-point murdering of the Knicks on Christmas Day. This also completes a 2-0 season-series sweep in which the Thunder dominated both games. In fact, this marks their 10th straight victory over the 76ers, making it look as though OKC really has Philly’s number on the court.

(From left) Russell Westbrook, Derek Fisher, Kevin Durant, Perry Jones III, and Serge Ibaka hiding in the background. Westbrook's 13-point, 14-assist, 10-rebound performance turned into the second-fastest triple-double in NBA history. Durant's 42 points led all scorers, Ibaka added 14, and Jones III logged 12 points filling in for the injured Thabo Sefolosha.

(From left) Russell Westbrook, Derek Fisher, Kevin Durant, Perry Jones III, and Serge Ibaka hiding in the background. Westbrook’s 13-point, 14-assist, 10-rebound performance turned into the second-fastest triple-double in NBA history. Durant’s 42 points led all scorers, Ibaka added 14, and Jones III logged 12 points filling in for the injured Thabo Sefolosha.

Although this game marked the 15th straight loss for the Sixers, tying this for the second-largest losing streak in the team’s history. This current 15-game losing streak matches the one they experienced from Feb. 9th to Mar. 11th of 1994. Yes, you have to go back 20 years to find a period when the Sixers’ game was this rough around the edges. 6 more consecutive losses will set a new franchise record that was established from Jan. 9th to Feb. 11th of 1973, when the Sixers hit a 20-game slide. To put that into perspective, that’s nearly a quarter of an entire NBA season.

Westbrook skys as Byron Mullens finds himself out of position. Michael Carter-Williams opts to jump with him, as apparently James Anderson didn't deem an effort to jump worth the potential foul he might have picked up doing so. Anderson's 20 points led the 76ers. Carter-Williams added 14, and Mullens threw down 15 off of the Sixers bench.

Westbrook skys as Byron Mullens finds himself out of position. Michael Carter-Williams opts to jump with him, as apparently James Anderson didn’t deem an effort to jump worth the potential foul he might have picked up doing so. Anderson’s 20 points led the 76ers. Carter-Williams added 14, and Mullens threw down 15 off of the Sixers bench.

The common link between the two biggest Thunder victories of the season are the Russell Westbrook triple-double performances. He became the 5th player in NBA history to post one on Christmas Day against the Knicks, and Tuesday night’s performance marks not only his second of the season, but the second-fastest accumulation of triple-double numbers in NBA history, as he posted 13 points, 14 assists, and 10 rebounds in just over 20 minutes on the court. You have to go all the way back to 1955 to find the one guy who racked up a triple-double in fewer minutes, when Jim Tucker of the Syracuse Nationals racked one up in roughly 17 minutes of floor time.

Durant flys high.

Durant flies high.

His performance was the only eye-popper for the Thunder, as Kevin Durant racked up 42 points while being one rebound shy of a double-double. Plus, he accumulated those numbers before being asked to sit out of the 4th quarter, making LeBron James’ 61-point performance the previous night look far less impressive now.

Jones III with the throw down.

Jones III with the throw down.

Perry Jones III started his second game in place of the injured Thabo Sefolosha, and is starting to make those scouts who talked about his bad knees look rather pessimistic about his potential in the NBA. For such bad knees, he seems to have an awfully explosive first step. He added 12 points off of 4-for-6 shooting, including draining his lone attempt from beyond the arc. NFL fans who know anything about the Niners can simply point to Frank Gore and say, “He came into the NFL on two rebuilt knees, was expected to do nothing, and yet he accumulated more rushing yards than any other running back in 49ers history.” Is it really hard to imagine Perry Jones overcoming the injury doubts and becoming a solid player at the NBA level? Not for anyone who’s seen people overcome the psychological barrier injuries tend to set up, and subsequently become serious forces in their sport that opposing coaches have to factor into their game plans. PJ III is starting to show me that kind of potential.

Ibaka skys as Henry Sims can't make it in time to provide help. Sims finished his evening with 10 points.

Ibaka skys as Henry Sims can’t make it in time to provide help. Sims finished his evening with 10 points.

Let’s not forget the other two big contributors, as Serge Ibaka dropped 14 points, and Reggie Jackson added 14 of his own off of the Thunder bench.

Jackson gives us his best Westbrook impression.

Jackson gives us his best Westbrook impression.

The 76ers were able to coax a few inspired performances, despite being out of the game for the vast majority of it. James Anderson’s 20 points led the way, followed by Michael Carter-Williams’ 14, and Henry Sims’ 10. Byron Mullens also provided an inspiring 15-point performance off of the Sixers bench.

This is just the kind of night it was for the 76ers. Sims looks to save the ball, only to realize the futility of his effort.

This picture perfectly represents the kind of night the 76ers had. Sims looks to save the ball, only to realize the futility of his effort.

Tonight begins the first of a two-game road trip, as the Thunder  travel to the US Airways Center in Phoenix, AZ to be hosted by the Suns. The Thunder took the lone match-up in OKC by a margin of 103-96 back on Nov. 3rd, but there are two more scheduled in Phoenix. This one is scheduled for an 8pm CST tip-off, which should stand since this is the one game played tonight that isn’t part of TNT’s double-header. This action is set to be broadcast via the usual suspects: Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.