Observations, news and notes from Tuesday’s game………..
* It always amazes me that everyone in the building knows Kobe Bryant will try to take over the game in the fourth quarter if it’s close and yet nobody wearing an opposing jersey can ever stop him. True greatness.
* Thabo Sefolosha, Kyle Weaver and Kevin Durant defended Bryant about as well as you can. Bryant just made tough shots. That trio did leave their feet a couple of times on pump fakes but all in all they did a decent job.
* Thunder coach Scott Brooks gave Sefolosha the start at shooting guard after telling the media he’d stick with Weaver. Brooks said after the game, though, that the move is not permanent and he’s at the point in the season where he’s playing mix and match with his lineup at the shooting guard and center positions to see how different lineups play together.
* Brooks stepped into his post-game press conference and his first words were, “Our defense improved from over the weekend.” My first thought was, ”Well, that didn’t take much.” My second thought was, “Really? 107 points. 52.6 percent shooting.” But toss aside the final numbers and it was obvious the Thunder did play a more solid defensive game. Guys contested shots. They rotated well. They protected the rim. They got back in transition. And the missed assignments were few and far between.
* I thought the Thunder’s most impressive defensive aspect was its rebounding. OKC out-rebounded the Lakers 45-30 and 12-3 on the offensive end. Only two weeks earlier, the Lakers out-rebounded the Thunder 56-46 and 16-10 on the offensive end. Lamar Odom had 18 boards in the first meeting and Pau Gasol had 14. Both finished with eight tonight.
* A close second in the defense department was the Lakers’ 30 points in the paint. OKC allowed 54 the first time around with these Lakers, and 30 is an acceptable number for a team featuring Gasol and Odom and a host of wing players who can get to the basket and finish.
* The key stat tonight was OKC’s six fourth-quarter turnovers that led to eight Lakers points and L.A.’s one fourth-quarter giveaway that the Thunder did not score off of. Combine those figures with Bryant balling in the fourth and that’s your ball game.
* At about 4 p.m. I was having a little fun with a co-worker and made a prediction on Durant’s final stat line. I said 33 points on 12 of 23 shooting with eight rebounds and four assists. Durant finished with 32 points on 11-for-20 shooting with 10 rebounds and six assists. I write this not for any kind of personal kudos for coming close to nailing his stat line but to point out that Durant has arrived as a consistent and efficient all-around performer. He’s reached the point where you know exactly what you’re going to get from him. Pretty incredible for a 20-year-old in only his second season.
* How on Earth does Durant take only one shot in the fourth quarter?
* Russell Westbrook had an off night offensively. But I’m not going to waste time going into his struggles scoring the ball. It happens. What stood out to me were his two assists. At some point young fella’s got to learn to make his teammates better, especially on nights like this when his shots aren’t falling and he’s struggling to get it going offensively. Westbrook is a rookie and he’ll learn to become a better playmaker in time. I’m not one of those who say he’s not a point guard. I think he is now and will be a very good one in time. But right now it doesn’t even look like he’s making an effort to develop his passing skills. And Brooks seems content letting him jack up shots and learn on the fly rather than reining him in and forcing him to learn the position. I’m not saying Brooks is wrong for that. I don’t think there is a right or wrong philosophy. But it’s an interesting argument: Let a player run loose and hope he learns as he goes, or utilize restraint and force feed fundamentals while risking a loss of confidence and comfort on the court?
* It would be easy to point to Weaver’s 16 points off the bench and say he had a good night. I’m not. The rook had a good night because he played 24 minutes, many of them head-up with Bryant, and finished with zero turnovers.
* Nenad Krstic bounced back well from his worst game of the season, finishing with five points, 11 rebounds and a blocked shot. He struggled with his shot, going 2-for-8 but his continued effort on the glass is what stands out. He grabbed his 10th board with 4:32 remaining in the third. Only knock on him tonight is he should have had more than one board in the fourth after playing all 12 minutes. But it was the second time in four games that Krstic had at least 10 rebounds. He’s finished in double figures rebounding only one other time this season.
* Durant is headed to Austin after practice Wednesday to have his jersey retired at Texas during halftime of the Texas Tech game.
* Desmond Mason will be cleared to lose his crutches next week and will begin rehabbing his injured knee.
* Joe Smith did not play for the fifth straight game. He’s no longer injured. His lack of playing time is Brooks’ decision at this point, and it’s making me think the Thunder will indeed come to terms on a buyout with Smith before week’s end.
Jeff Green was nowhere to be found after the game. I saw his clothes still in his locker so he could have been in the training room getting treatment to any number of injuries. He took a few hard shots against L.A. and was already battling several nicks and knacks.
* For those interested in these kinds of things, Sefolosha took Mo Sene’s old locker, which is in between Westbrook’s and Earl Watson’s. Malik Rose is in Damien Wilkins’ old locker. Wilkins has moved over one to take Chris Wilcox’s former locker.