Observations, news and notes from Wednesday’s game………
* Before I get to the game, a quick note on Kevin Durant. I wrote in this space after Tuesday’s game against Sacramento that I expect to see him return Monday against San Antonio. But after a couple of conversations tonight, it looks like KD will be a go for Saturday at Phoenix. Durant said before the game that he’s able to do a lot more and feels only a pinch of pain. His conditioning, he said, is more of an issue than his foot at this point.
* As for the game, the Thunder looked tired all night in the second game of a back-to-back.
* There were times OKC looked awful and times they gave good effort, especially considering the team still isn’t fully healthy.
* Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook didn’t play the final 10 minutes because, as Thunder coach Scott Brooks explained, the team was down 19 points and he saw no point in keeping them in. And once the Thunder cut the deficit to nine with 3:27 left to play, Brooks said he chose to stick with the lineup that got them there. Coaches do that all the time, and it’s actually a philosophy that I like to see implemented.
* The flipside is Nuggets coach George Karl continued to bring back his starters because, as one Nuggets writer told me, Denver is notorious for giving up leads in the fourth. First Karl brought back Nene for Chris Andersen with 9:17 and the Nuggets up 18. Then he substituted Chauncey Billups for Anthony Carter with 8:03 to play and Denver ahead 16. Carmelo Anthony then checked in for Renaldo Balkman with 6:40 and the Nuggets ahead by 14. My question is this, if you know the Nuggets are notorious for giving up late leads, and Karl doing everything he can to prevent that from happening yet again, why not stick the starters back in this time? Maybe, just maybe, a fire was lit under them when they saw mostly reserves battle back to within nine.
* The Thunder finished with a season-low 13 assists. The starting unit had only two. TWO!
* These are the types of games Westbrook can’t have. He’s got to be better at getting his teammates involved. Finishing with one assist should never, ever happen. Kid is way too talented for that.
* Anthony Carter and Renaldo Balkman. Really? Carter had 12 assists. Balkman had 14 points and 14 rebounds. The performance of those two, along with Andersen’s, characterized why the Thunder lost this game. The Nuggets out-hustled OKC and played better team ball.
* Denver also got a layup anytime it wanted one. Makes you really look forward to the day OKC gets a presence in the paint who will make opponents think twice before bringing it inside. Or one who can at least alter some shots when they do.
* The Nuggets scored 60 points in the paint tonight. It was the fifth time this season they have scored 60 or more points in the paint. They’re 5-0 in those games. And should be.
* The free throw line is becoming quite an advantage for the Thunder. OKC made 30 of 32 tonight.
* Robert Swift scored a season-high 10 points tonight to go with four rebounds and one big-time blocked shot. He made the most of his 16 minutes.
* Swift can barely talk. He’s suffering from a sinus problem. He said he got sick on the flight from Dallas to Seattle last week and lost his voice.
* Thabo Sefolosha didn’t have quite as good of a defensive game as he did in the last two. He had a few lapses tonight, and Anthony easily beat him off the dribble once. But he did have two steals, two blocked shots and is starting to establish himself as a hard-nosed rebounder. Had a team-high nine boards tonight.
* Former Oklahoma State guard John Lucas III was at the game tonight. Lucas, remember, was a member of the Thunder’s preseason roster and was waived right before the start of the season. I caught up with the point guard afterward and he told me he’s now with the Colorado 14ers, the Nuggets’ D-League affiliate. Lucas said he’s working out with the Nuggets regularly and Denver has a strong interest in bringing him in next year, possibly signing him to a two-year contract. The Nuggets would have space for him if all goes well. Anthony Carter and Jason Hart come off the books at the end of this season, and Denver could be in the market for a solid third-string lead guard at a relatively cheap price.