Since the All-Star break, the Thunder’s defense has been a well-documented problem.
The boosted numbers — like a 104.7 defensive rating, up from 99.3 before the break, or the 107.1 points per game, up from 98.1 — are hard to hide from.
And after Thursday’s practice, Russell Westbrook didn’t.
The Thunder’s All-Star point guard was critical of OKC’s defense and, particularly, his individual performance on that end, categorizing it as disappointing.
“I gotta step up defensively,” Westbrook said. “That’s what I gotta do for us to win games. No matter how many points I score, rebounds, assists, I gotta defend.”
Particularly, Westbrook said, he has to amp up his ball pressure. In recent games, a lax attitude on that end has led to big games from opposing guards. Jose Calderon torched the Thunder for six 3s on Tuesday, in part, because of Westbrook’s continued insistence on going under screens.
“Letting too many guys off the hook,” Westbrook said. “Letting them feel too comfortable dribbling the ball up the floor, doing what they want. I’m just sitting back, chilling. I gotta set the tone early.”
“It ain’t all on-ball,” he continued. “It’s just me helping, just sitting on defense. I watch film after every game, the whole game at the house, and just watching myself standing around, not helping. I can get a lot more rebounds.”
And Westbrook clearly isn’t the only offender. Without Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, two lynchpins on that end, the other players have struggled to maintain a defensive mindset.
“You gotta have it,” Westbrook said. “If you want to win a championship, you gotta have it. If you don’t, then we gotta find somebody else that do.”
DOG DAYS AFFECTING PLAY
One argument for the Thunder's inconsistent play is that the physical demand of such a long season has produced an expected lull.
“Yeah, 82 games is hard,” Nick Collison said. “It’s hard for everybody, it’s a marathon. So I think the human element comes into play, where you’re physically tired, you don’t feel good going into these games.”
But Collison doesn’t feel that’s a good enough excuse for the recent defensive lapses.
“We’re capable of (better defense),” Collison said. “Just too many breakdowns, a lack of consistency.”
DURANT ON MANZIEL
On Thursday afternoon, the center of the sports world shifted to College Station, where former Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel held his pro day.
Everyone seems to have an opinion on the professional prospects of this polarizing Heisman winner. And that includes Thunder superstar Kevin Durant, a well-known football fanatic who said, in an interview with the Sports Animal, that Manziel impressed him in workout.
“I seen the beginning of Johnny Football’s pro day and I was really impressed that he threw in pads and a helmet,” Durant said. “Everybody is throwing in shorts and a T-shirt and he wanted to take the challenge and do something different. You gotta applaud that.”
Durant went on to tell the station that he’s a “huge” Manziel fan and is “wishing him the best.”
“I would take him in the top five, if I was a GM,” Durant said. “He might not be the tallest or the strongest, but he’s gonna go out there to play to win and give his all on every play.”
After missing the past two games, Hasheem Thabeet returned to Thunder practice on Thursday.
He was on an excused absence for personal reasons. He will be available against the Kings on Friday.