What was supposed to be a pivotal showdown between playoff hopefuls turned into a spanking early. And by the time it was over, the Oklahoma City Thunder had gone a long way in assuring it will not slide out of the NBA postseason.
Behind a 122-104 rout of Houston, the Thunder all but eliminated the Rockets from creeping into one of the Western Conference’s final playoff seeds. The Thunder improved to 43-27, a full seven games ahead of the Rockets with 12 games remaining on both teams’ schedules. Houston’s chances of making the postseason now rest on Portland crashing and burning down the stretch. And that seems a remote possibility. Oklahoma City’s victory, coupled with a New Orleans loss to Cleveland on Wednesday night, prevents the 11th-seeded Hornets from finishing ahead of the Thunder as well. "It was a great game for us,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "We came back after a tough loss against the Spurs and played great basketball.” For the moment, the victory puts to rest questions about the direction this Thunder team is headed down the stretch. After winning five straight and eight of nine, Oklahoma City had lost three of its past four games, including what anyone with a pulse would consider bad losses at Charlotte and at Indiana last week. The current four-game homestand began with encouraging effort but a three-point loss nonetheless to San Antonio. Brooks and several players, however, insisted they weren’t growing concerned. "I wanted to just see how the team would react,” said Russell Westbrook. "And I think we did a good job as a team of coming out and competing and playing together.” In a much smaller victory of sorts, the Thunder defeated the Rockets for the first time since April 4, 2006, when the team still was in Seattle and Nick Collison was the only current player on the roster. The Thunder put on one of its best offensive showings this season, leading by as many as 25 points, scoring 101 points through three quarters and shooting 58.8 percent for the game. Thunder-Rockets box score