The Thunder (41-15) hosts New Orleans (20-38) tonight at 7 at Chesapeake Energy Arena and it remains to be seen if OKC coach Scott Brooks will be able to rest his starters the entire fourth quarter for the third time in four games against the Hornets this season.
The Hornets will be short-handed. With this being the second night of a back-to-back for New Orleans, shooting guard Eric Gordan will sit tonight, while rookie center Anthony Davis is out with the sprained left shoulder.
The Thunder routed the Hornets both times it played in New Orleans this season. On Nov. 16, Brooks sat his starters when OKC led 94-67 through three quarters. On Dec. 1, four starters sat in a 100-79 romp while Thabo Sefolosha played 5½ minutes in the final period just to get some playing time.
Three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant, who led the NBA in total minutes played last season, smiled when asked if it’s difficult to sit the entire fourth quarter. “That shows how much we’ve grown as a team and how much better our second unit has gotten,” Durant said Wednesday morning. “I’d bet on seven of those 11 games we were up 12 going into the fourth quarter and our second unit just pushed it up for us, so that’s what we need.”
Entering tonight’s game, Russell Westbrook has sat the entire fourth quarter 12 times because of routs, Durant and Kendrick Perkins have sat 11 times, Serge Ibaka nine and Sefolosha six. By comparison, San Antonio’s Tim Duncan has sat out 11 fourth quarters and teammate Tony Parker has sat for 10, but one of the times the duo sat was in a 107-93 loss at OKC on Dec. 17. Miami’s LeBron James and Chris Bosh have sat out six final periods. The Thunder has been able to sit its starters because the second unit has either held or extended comfortable leads in those games. OKC leads the NBA in point differential at 9.1 per game.
Lack of fourth-quarter time has hindered Durant’s chances of joining Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain as the only NBA players to win at least four consecutive scoring titles. Jordan and Chamberlain each won seven straight. Durant currently leads New York’s Carmelo Anthony 28.8 to 28.4 in this year’s scoring race.
“If I had played a couple more minutes, maybe I would have scored a couple more points, and maybe had a triple-double,” Durant said with a chuckle. “But it’s always all about how the team’s playing. You see me over there (on the bench) always excited for my teammates and see them playing well. … It feels good to see your teammates come out there and play so well, and also give you some rest along the way.”
Here is how many times Thunder starters have sat the entire fourth quarter this season:
13 – Perkins (two non-routs)
12 – Westbrook (all routs)
11 – Durant (all routs)
9 – Ibaka (all routs)
7 – Sefolosha (one non-rout)
- John Rohde