Observations from the Thunder’s 107-101 loss at Memphis on Monday night:
– On Monday, Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook was named Western Conference Player of the Week for the fifth time this season, which is a remarkable feat. So it’s ludicrous to even suggest Westbrook has been pressing since All-Star Weekend, but here it goes:
Westbrook averaged 9.7 assists last week, but that number could have been at least a dozen if Westbrook didn’t call his own number so frequently during sequences late in the shot clock or game clock.
One case-in-point came at the end of the first half of Monday night’s loss at Memphis. With the Grizzlies capping a 21-8 run in the closing seconds before intermission, Westbrook had a wide-open Kevin Durant on the left wing for an open 3-pointer. Rather than make a simple 10-foot pass to Durant for an open trey with 3 seconds left, Westbrook instead drove the lane and threw up a wild 12-footer while trying to draw a foul.
Durant doesn’t get many open looks when going against defensive standouts Tony Allen and Shane Battier, so it’s important to capitalize on such rare opportunities. There have been several other similar scenarios lately, but the Thunder has been winning, so all has been forgiven.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks might have been thinking the same thing Monday, however. While players were on the court warming up for the second half, Brooks chatted with Westbrook, who sat alone on the team bench. It was a calm conversation, during which Westbrook nodded in agreement several times.
Is Westbrook a terrific player? Of course, but when the Thunder roster reaches full strength, the best way to take full advantage of the cast is for Westbrook’s numbers to go up in assists and steals, not in points.
– With each game that passes, you wonder more and more how the Thunder will fare when 6-foot-10, 280-pound Kendrick Perkins joins the lineup.
“We’re definitely excited for him to continue to work and improve his health and he will be back soon,” Brooks said. “I don’t know when, but we’re excited. We need all of our players.”
An exact return date for Perkins has yet to be shared publicly, but Perkins sure seemed to get up and down the court pretty well when spotted late last week. He was wearing sleeves on both knees and there was no noticeable limp.
– Orlando center Dwight Howard was suspended for one game after getting his 16th technical foul of the season. No one one the Thunder is near Howard’s total, but Westbrook does have seven technical fouls, which is tied for 14th most in the league. Serge Ibaka has five.
Westbrook had the most technicals of any OKC player last season with five. In the Thunder’s first season, Desmond Mason led the way with four.
Before this season began, Brooks vowed he was not concerned his players might struggle with the league’s crackdown on technical fouls, and he maintains that stance.
“If it gets close to somebody (a Thunder player) getting suspended, then it would be a concern,” Brooks said. “It’s en emotional game. I believe you need to control it as best you can, but sometimes you can’t. None of us are computers. We can’t turn ourselves off when we need to.”
“I like our guys to be emotional. I don’t frown upon it, but I don’t endorse it (getting a technical). It doesn’t need to be displayed down court every time or in every game, but every now and then your emotions get the better of you. When you get two (in the same game), that’s a problem because now you affect the game without your services on the floor.”
Brooks has yet to receive a technical. “I talk to the referees in a civilized manner,” Brooks said with a smile.
- The Thunder had steered clear from slow starts lately, but not Monday. OKC’s defensive pressure didn’t show up until midway through the third quarter, which coincided with some shots finally starting to fall (0 for 6 on 3-pointers in the first half).
“I feel like we didn’t have enough early,” reserve Thunder forward Nick Collison said. “We just weren’t doing the things we needed to do. We were letting them break us down way too easily. We just didn’t play well for 2½-3 quarters.”
The Thunder fought back gallantly from a 17-point deficit to pull to within one (93-92). “We just got down too much,” Collsion said. “It was too hard to come back.”
– Durant was not pleased with Monday’s result, but he certainly was calm.
“We got down, then tried to get everything back too quickly,” Durant said. “We weren’t getting stops. You’ve got to give those guys credit. They played hard, They played well and got a good win.
“We bit ourselves in the back,” Durant said of the Thunder’s poor perimeter defense. “It’s not the end of the world. We don’t have to have a team meeting about things. We lost one. We need to go back to playing our defense. I think we got away from it a little bit and coasted too long. They got up and got some easy points on us. We can’t panic and continue to play together. That’s the best thing we’ve got to do.”
- The Thunder appears to have a Memphis problem. The Grizzlies won their last two games against OKC without Rudy Gay. No matter what the standings or lineups show, the Grizzlies and Thunder always seem to end up in a close battle.
Collison: “We definitely have a tough time with them. I think they’re a good team. They deserve a lot of credit for beating us the way they have this year. That being said, we’ve still got to play better. If we’re going to beat good teams like that, we’ve got to bring it more than we did early.”
Brooks: “They have size down low. They have bigs. They have defenders on the wing. There’s a reason why they’ve improved every year. It’s because they’re good and they’re getting better.”
– Former Putnam City High School standout Xavier Henry was inactive Monday and has missed 27 games so far. He continues to rehab his bothersome knee, which is said to be scheduled to be revaluated for possibly surgery.