Thunder 107, Mavs 101
Nuggets from my notebook from Sunday’s win at Dallas.
- This is the Thunder’s 50th win of the season. That might not mean much to most, but those are the people who likely weren’t paying attention when this team was barely a cut above trash. Oklahoma City has now won at least 50 games in three of the past four seasons. And last year’s .712 winning percentage in the lock0ut-shortended 66-game season equates to 58 wins when extrapolated over 82 games. It’s become easy to just expect a team with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka to rack up 50-win campaigns for the next 10 years. Easy to neglect each passing season that topples that plateau. But those that have turned Oklahoma City into an NBA power haven’t forgotten where they came from. “We had 40 wins in two seasons, and now we have 50 wins almost every year,” Durant said, perfectly putting the achievement into its proper perspective even after claiming he couldn’t. “So that’s a blessing and shows how much we’ve grown as an organization. It’s great to be a part of. We really can’t take wins for granted because we went a few years without getting many.”
- Westbrook: “It’s a great accomplishment. You can never take that for granted. Winning 50 games and the hard work the coaching staff and everybody put into it is a good accomplishment.”
- Thabo Sefolosha: “It shows that we’re improving. It shows that we keep getting better and we’re a good team. I’m not surprised with it. But at the same time I’m really happy with the growth of the team.”
- Scott Brooks: “Give our guys the credit. They come out every year and try to get better. And we never used our age as an excuse. We’ve always worked on the practice floor, and having 50 wins seasons is a mark that we can be proud of. But we’ve still got a lot of games left and we still want to keep improving going into the playoffs.”
- A little more perspective on the 50-win plateau: Chicago and San Antonio are currently the only two teams that have assembled consecutive 50-win seasons. The Bulls have had two straight seasons of at least 50 wins. The Spurs have had 14 straight seasons of 50 or more wins.
- Miami (three) and the Lakers (five) would have streaks of 50-plus win seasons intact if you extrapolated their winning percentage from last year’s lockout-shortened season. But as it stands, they won 46 and 41 games, respectively, a year ago.
- One more. The Nets have just one 50-win season in their NBA history. The Knicks haven’t had a 50-win year since the 1999-2000 season. The Warriors haven’t had one since the 1993-94 season. And the Wizards haven’t won at least 50 games since 1978-79. Three franchises, Charlotte, Toronto and the Clippers, have never won 50 games in a season.
- Enough of that, right? You want to read about basketball. Here goes.
- Durant finally decided to wear his cape in the fourth quarter tonight. And all you can say is it’s about time. He scored 19 of his 31 points in the final period, making seven of 11 shots and turning it on when the Thunder needed it most.
- Durant: “I was frustrated with myself early on. I wanted to stick with it, and my teammates kept coming to me so I just tried to come through for them.”
- Durant has been in somewhat of a slump since the All-Star break. But his last three first-half performances have been particularly peculiar. In the 36 first-half minutes against Utah, Orlando and Dallas, Durant has scored just 32 points on 8-for-20 shooting. That’s a 10.7-point average on 40.4 percent shooting. “I just got to stick with it,” Durant said. “I think I have to be aggressive to start the game, just like I was to start the fourth. If I do that it gets me in a rhythm a little bit earlier and I’ll be able to make shots.”
- Here’s the problem with Durant possibly becoming more aggressive in the opening period: that’s Westbrook’s time to go to work, be it by design of by default. Westbrook has developed into the starter log that ignites the Thunder’s offensive firepower. Sometimes it works perfectly. Other times it’s to the detriment of getting others involved. Tonight was an example of the latter. Westbrook scored 14 of the Thunder’s 24 first-quarter points but had just one assist. Though he was making his shots, five of seven to be exact, nobody else was getting into a rhythm. The same thing happened in the third quarter, when Westbrook scored 15 of the Thunder’s 23 points and Serge Ibaka, largely through hustling, was the only other Thunder player to score in the period. In that third period, the Thunder had one assist. It came from Kevin Martin. As good as Westbrook was at attacking in those two quarters, the Thunder still was outscored 49-47. By a below average Mavs team mind you. The question the Thunder must ask itself is whether that’s winning basketball.
- The Thunder has now won 10 straight over Dallas. Amazing how things have changed.
- Who would have thought Ibaka would outplay Dirk Nowitzki tonight? I can’t think of anyone not named Keri Hilson. But that’s precisely what happened. Ibaka was a beast all night, albeit against an undersized Mavs frontline. He scored 18 points with 16 rebounds and three blocked shots. Nowitzki had 23 points and seven rebounds.
- Hasheem Thabeet missed his second straight game with a sore back, and Brooks rode Ibaka with the second unit throughout the first portion of the second period. It was a good look, as Ibaka’s defense and rebounding sort of anchored that group. Maybe it was a result of Thabeet’s absence, or more of a matchup thing, but I wonder if Brooks will go to that more in the future.
- Thabeet told me he hopes to play Tuesday against Denver. It’s worth noting, though, that a healthy Thabeet didn’t play in the last game against Denver.
- Sefolosha had the dagger tonight on a baseline fadeaway with 12.5 seconds left. If I’m not mistaken, that’s his first since Boston last year in Boston. If it’s not, it’s the most memorable since then.
- Sefolosha: “I felt comfortable with that shot. I was definitely looking for KD or Russ to get open, and I couldn’t get them. I just looked at the time and I had to be aggressive on that play.”
- Big-time show of maturity by the Thunder to not just rely on KD to finish it out. Westbrook hit a critical jumper that broke a 100-100 tie with a minute left and, of course, Sefolosha sank that dagger. Seems like in years past players would have stood and watched Durant doing his thing rather than being aggressive and attacking when needed as well.
- Derek Fisher made his return to Dallas after somewhat of a squirrelly exit , and as expected he was booed rather mightily. On his first defensive possession, Fisher was posted up by Vince Carter and Carter hit a turnaround jump on him. Carter then mean-mugged Fish following the basket as if he wanted him to know he didn’t care for how he left the team. Fisher, though, said he doesn’t have any issues with the Mavs or owner Mark Cuban.
- I have no words for Westbrook’s fast break dunk in the first quarter.
- Mike James was out there balling. Yes, Mike James. He was D’ing up Westbrook, scoring against Westbrook and Durant and keeping the Mavs in it during Durant’s scoring spree. Historically, James has a way of shooting his team into and out of games. But I couldn’t help but think what he would look like on the Thunder if the team just insists on having a 37-year-old on the court.
- There were a lot of Thunder fans in the building tonight. Tons.
- Reggie Jackson had two assists tonight. Go back and watch his first one and the way he set up Nick Collison and tell me he’s not a point guard.
- Fisher checked in before Jackson in the first quarter and subbed out after Jackson in the second. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This, I will never understand. That changed in the second half, though.
- The K-Mart-Collison backdoor and give-and-go was in full effect in the first half. K-Mart duped Jae Crowder two times on three possessions with backcuts. And they were beautiful.
- Shawn Marion didn’t play. He’s got an injured calf. Would have been a good defender the Mavs could have thrown at Durant and a good test for KD before the playoffs start.
- Nowitzki made his first eight shots before missing his first field goal with 7:01 to play in the third.
- After that torrid start, Dirk didn’t make another field goal. He was neutralized. But Westbrook had two really silly fouls against Dirk on back-to-back possessions that gave Dirk four foul shots to tie the score at 101-all. The first foul was a frustration foul. The second was a gambling play defensively.
- OK. Durant’s ankle-breaking play on Carter. I know. I know. Durant didn’t score. It meant nothing. So what. It was still pretty. It was still exciting. A guy falls while guarding you as you dribble, make or miss, it’s a big deal. That’s just basketball. You could tell Durant felt the same way when I asked him about it. “Yeah, yeah,” a smiling Durant said. “I wasn’t disciplined with my shot. I was too happy after the move. I just launched the shot up there.”
- An Asian female reporter was asking questions before and after the game about Spurs coach Gregg Popovich calling Tony Parker the best point guard in the league. First, she bounced her questions off Brooks before the game. “Well I think Russell is,” Brooks said. “Maybe Pop and I should play one-on-one to decide.”
- Westbrook then got asked by the same reporter to give his opinion on the matter. “Uhhhh, that’s easy,” Westbrook said laughing. He left it at that, allowing you to draw your own conclusion.
- Finally, Jeff Caplan of NBA.com dives into the curious case of K-Mart and specifically whether trouble could be ahead if the Thunder doesn’t get him going more often. It’s a topic that has validity and holds enormous consequences. Recommend giving it a read.
- Up next. Denver on Tuesday.
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