Thunder 98, Hornets 83
News, notes and observations from Wednesday’s 98-83 win over New Orleans….
- The Thunder got off to a slow start, allowing the Hornets to have their way on the offensive end, particularly forward David West. But when the Thunder flipped the switch, it was smooth sailing.
- A 21-11 run midway through the third quarter was the game-deciding difference. It put the Thunder ahead 19 and allowed the home team to cruise to victory. The Hornets shot 6-for-18 in the third period, and West was a one-man show, scoring 10 of his team’s 17 points in the quarter.
- Speaking of flipping switches, I’m starting to wonder if this team is gaining the ability to do that. Now before you go, “Whoaaaa, let’s punch our first playoff ticket before you talk about turning it on and off,” I’m not talking about the Thunder doing it against good teams. It’s something that’s starting to stand out against the bad ones, the teams that you learn that you’re capable of turning it on and off against. Flashback to the Minnesota fourth quarter on Feb. 26 at their place as an example. Throw in tonight’s display and a handful of others from this season and I think the Thunder is marching toward that milestone. No one with the Thunder is likely to want to hear anything about turning it on and off, and certainly never would confess to it. They’ll say they’re not there yet. It’s the right stance to take. But keep watching.
- I had a brief chat with Russell Westbrook before the game about how he planned to defend former UCLA teammate Darren Collison after having so much success against him in New Orleans. Westbrook downplayed his plan of attack, you know, the “I’m just going to do what I do” approach. But then Westbrook went out and won the individual matchup once again and stole the game. Collison had eight points and nine assists, a near double-double that Hornets fans would have love to hear their rookie put up coming into the season. But those are middling numbers compared to the franchise-record 20 assists he dropped on Golden State two nights earlier and the near 21 and 10 he’s averaged since filling in for injured starter Chris Paul.
- Westbrook, meanwhile, had another near triple-double — 17 points, nine assists and eight rebounds — and once again controlled the flow of the game offensively and defensively. The funny thing with Westbrook is, at least publicly, he is so very nonchalant about his production and his development. He speaks as if he’s not doing anything special and always, always talks about getting better. And then he goes out and, well, does what he does.
- Is anybody else growing concerned about Jeff Green’s man-to-man defense? In consecutive games, Carl Landry took it to him, then West had his way tonight. Green does a lot of great things on the floor, but there are a lot of matchups against Western Conference power forwards that aren’t favorable for him. Typically, it’s written off because they can’t defend him at the other end. But at what point in the Thunder’s “process” might Green’s man-to-man defense become a barrier if not improved?
- Thabo Sefolosha was the lone starter who failed to score in double digits, which is fine because he was his normal self defensively. He made a heck of a play on the ball when he chased down Marcus Thornton and blocked his shot from behind. The refs, however, called a phantom foul in which the reply clearly shows Sefolosha got all ball and didn’t get him down low with the body.
- How about Emeka Okafor’s two botched free throws? Kevin Durant had the line of the night when I asked him about it: “I was just playing with him on the video game earlier and he was hitting jumpers, so that was a shock to me.”
- When Okafor’s two freebies sailed short, the sellout crowd inside the Ford Center went nuts, most of them no doubt never seeing such a thing. I thought the sequence sparked the Thunder’s win.
- There were a lot of questions about James Harden tonight. I’m told he disappeared into the locker room in the fourth quarter. By the time I was notified, I looked up and he was on the bench. I didn’t get to speak with Harden after the game, but here’s what I know about what might have happened to him. With 7:43 left in the second quarter, he landed awkwardly on his right foot following a drive to the hoop. He immediately retreated all the way beyond halfcourt in an attempt to shake it off. He walked off the court gingerly for the ensuing timeout but came out to shoot his free throws following the break in the action and even stayed in the game. After the game, he was walking with a slight limp. I don’t know if it was his ankle, foot or knee. But the fact that he stayed in the game tells me he’ll be OK.
- Do you realize the Thunder is 15 games above .500? I don’t care how lofty the loftiest projection was in the preseason, I feel 100 percent comfortable in saying NO ONE predicted this.
- And OKC is now one win away from 40. Amazing.
- Serge Ibaka had another big game off the bench with 12 points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes. The developing theme we’re seeing is when the rookie big man gets minutes, he produces. He’ll be a double-double machine down the road, and I don’t see that point being far off. My only beef with Ibaka is that sometimes, I’m being too kind, too often he goes up soft. With his athleticism, Ibaka needs to be dunking on anyone in the paint. Send a message and, more importantly, finish the play strongly. Instead, Ibaka tries to lay in close ones and it results in missed shots.
- Durant: team-high 29 points, game-high plus-21.
- The Thunder recognized its D-League-owned Tulsa 66ers team during a first-half timeout. Thunder fans, to my surprise, gave the guys a very nice ovation. I say I was surprised, because I wonder how many Thunder fans have seen a 66ers game this season or could name one player not on the Thunder’s current roster. Classy, nonetheless, on the Thunder’s part.
- D.J. White got some burn in the blowout. That jumper is still there. But as Scott Brooks pointed out, he’s still not in the rotation.
- I didn’t catch the halftime act’s name, but it was hands down one of the best of the season. If you didn’t see it, basically it was two “swole” cats with their shirts off, one lifting the other in various maneuvers and, at one point, standing there while the smaller “swole” cat was balancing himself on dude’s head with one hand. Don’t know how you practice that kind of stuff or at what point in the day you and your buddy are sitting around and one of you says to the other, “I know what we should do!” But, hey, it worked out for these two.
- As Mike Baldwin wrote for Thursday’s editions of The Oklahoman, no one still would rather the Hornets were in town. Paul, of course, but not the team or the franchise. I couldn’t help but think of how West would fit in Oklahoma City. But the Hornets have a lot to figure out. When you look at the Thunder, you see eight, nine, maybe 10 guys who could be here for quite awhile. The Hornets? Paul, Okafor (because they’re stuck with him) and……maybe Collison and Thornton. I put question marks on the two promising rookies because, with the way the Hornets’ salary cap has swollen, they might have to be included for a team to take on players like James Posey and Morris Peterson in salary-dump deals. It would be unfortunate for the Hornets and even sadder for Paul, who, after just two tastes of the postseason, could be staring at rebuilding for the second time in his short career.
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