By Darnell Mayberry, Staff writer
After a slow start to the season, Thunder guard Russell Westbrook looks to be returning to his All-Star form of last season.
Over the Thunder's seven-game winning streak, Westbrook is averaging 21.7 points on 49.6 percent shooting. Westbrook also has averaged 4.9 rebounds and 5.6 assists against 2.5 turnovers.
In the first five games of the season, Westbrook averaged just 16 points on 37.5 percent shooting while dishing out 5.2 assists against 5.4 turnovers.
“He didn't start off the season shooting the ball well,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “But everybody will go through a shooting slump. Unfortunately for him, he started off with like three or four games like that. But he's in a nice rhythm and a nice flow. I had confidence and this team had confidence that it was going to turn around for him. He's being aggressive and he's playmaking and has been a big part of what we do.”
THUNDER IMPRESSING LEAGUE GM'S
The Thunder organization and its players came in first in a number of categories in NBA.com's 10th annual general manager survey, which was released Tuesday.
Among GM's who responded, 67.9 percent think OKC will win the Western Conference, and 71.4 percent say the Thunder will win the Northwest Division.
A 55.6 percent majority believe Kevin Durant will win this year's MVP award, and Durant tied LeBron James as the player GMs would sign if they could start their franchise with any one player. James Harden garnered 21.4 percent of votes as the most likely player to have a breakout season this year.
The Thunder also had 44.4 percent of responding GMs say it has the best home-court advantage.
JAMES HARDEN'S ROAD STRUGGLES CONTINUE
Harden's season-low five points on 2-for-8 shooting at Boston on Monday continued a disturbing trend that is now in its second season.
The Thunder's sixth man simply hasn't played as well on the road as he has at home.
In seven home games, Harden is averaging 19.1 points on 52.8 percent shooting, including a 38.7 percent clip from behind the 3-point line. But in seven road games, Harden's production dips to 13.9 points on 37.7 percent shooting and a 34.3 percent rate from downtown.
The drop-off extends to Harden's playmaking, too. At home, Harden is averaging 4.3 assists against 1.4 turnovers. On the road, Harden is averaging 2.4 assists against 1.9 turnovers.
Last season, Harden's point differential was a minor 0.2 points at home and on the road. But he shot 47.7 percent at home and only 39.9 percent on the road, while converting 3.7 percent fewer 3-pointers.
REGGIE JACKSON ADJUSTING TO NBA LIFE
Asked what aspect of the NBA has been the toughest to adjust to, rookie guard Reggie Jackson didn't hesitate to point to the lifestyle.
“All the traveling,” Jackson said. “It's very tiring. Honestly, I couldn't tell you what today was … I don't really know that dates. It's too much moving. Too much traveling. I don't know how many games we've played. I just take it a day at a time. That's what these guys have taught me so that's really helping out right now.”
JAVALE MCGEE MIRED IN CONTROVERSY
Washington center JaVale McGee was at the center of a mini-controversy over the past two days for a showboating sequence that occurred in the third quarter of the Wizards' game against Houston on Monday.
Midway through the period, McGee took a pass from point guard John Wall on a one-man fast break and threw a pass to himself off the backboard. McGee converted the dunk but coach Flip Saunders took exception to his center's antics, especially since the Wizards were trailing in the game at that point and had lost 10 of 11 games before eventually falling against the Rockets.
“It's a learning experience,” said Saunders. “We pointed it out to him and explained it to him and just keep on trying to explain to him the idea of substance. You want to play with substance rather than playing just for the highlight in that type of situation.”
WIZARDS TURNOVERS TAKING A TOLL
The Wizards enter Wednesday's game averaging just 15.3 turnovers, which is slightly less than the Thunder. But Washington has been burned by opponents scoring off its giveaways, and that could be a deciding factor Wednesday with the Thunder being arguably the best team in transition scoring.
“In our game, we're losing right now as much as anything because we're turning the ball over,” Saunders said. “We've only had two opponents where we've had less turnovers than in a game. One of those, we won the game. It was against Toronto.”
Following practice in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Thunder players and coaches took a group field trip to the memorial honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. … The Thunder wore home white jerseys at Boston on Monday night because of a special request the Celtics put into the league for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day game. Boston wore its alternate green jerseys with the black stripe along the side. The Thunder is scheduled to wear home whites at two more road games this season … The Thunder swept the two-game series against the Wizards last season, winning by an average margin of 17 points … Durant averaged 36 points against Washington last season … The Thunder has assigned forward Ryan Reid to the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA D-League.
Washington coach Saunders on Durant: “I'd say right now if I had to pick an MVP, he'd be the MVP of the league, just the way he's played and how good his team has played.”
The Thunder will face Washington inside the Verizon Center on Wednesday. It will be the only meeting between the Thunder and Wizards this season. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.