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Nuggets from my notebook from Friday's win over the Lakers

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: December 14, 2013 at 2:20 am •  Published: December 14, 2013
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That was, well, predictable…

  • Nobody thought this would be much of a contest. Not even Lakers fans. And it wasn’t. Really, how could it be? L.A.’s best player was playing just his third game since coming back from a serious Achilles injury. All three Lakers point guards were out with injury, meaning said best player had to take the challenge of facilitating and slowing Russell Westbrook. And Pau Gasol and Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni got beef. You couldn’t script a worse scenario for the Lakers, or a better one for the Thunder to keep on rolling at home.
  • And that’s precisely what OKC did. Rolled. The Thunder lead by 10 after one quarter, 15 at the break, 20 through three and 30 at one point in the fourth before settling for a 25-point whooping.
  • This was the largest margin of victory in the brief history of the Thunder-Lakers series. The previous high was an 18-point road loss the Thunder suffered on March 24, 2009. (Of note: the Thunder also took a 17-point home win on March 5, 2013).
  • Aside from 11 seconds, this game was a dud. Perhaps it was enjoyable if you’re a Thunder head that just loves blowouts, or a Lakers hater that just loves seeing them getting waxed. But entertaining this game was not. Save those 11 seconds late in the second quarter. That’s when Kobe Bryant took the challenge of guarding Kevin Durant the length of the court and provided a glimpse of the compelling theater that defined this showdown a short time ago. Bryant battled and battled. Durant didn’t back down. But when Bryant became too aggressive poking at the ball, the ref blew his whistle. It sent Durant to the foul line with 11.1 seconds left. Before he stepped to the stripe, Durant shared smiles with Bryant, then respectful pats and that was that.
  • Durant on that moment: “He’s the ultimate competitor. I knew he was going to do that. I knew he was going to challenge me. And a guy like Kobe, if I don’t accept the challenge I’m going to hear about it for a while. So I just wanted to accept the challenge I wish he didn’t foul me. I was going to try to go at him at the end of that quarter. But he’s just the ultimate competitor. I’m just so happy he’s back on the court. You could tell he missed the game. He’s one of those guys where the game is better when he’s playing.”
  • Despite how Durant tried to frame it in answering the ensuing question, it’s clear Bryant is nowhere near himself. He’s looks heavy, slow and rusty, all of which is to be expected. Bryant was thrust into starting point guard duty tonight with all three Lakers point guards out with injury, and he took the challenge of facilitating as opposed to scoring. In the end, he scored only four points, taking just six shots, with only two coming in the first half (one was a breakaway layup). He had a game-high 13 assists, however.
  • Durant on Kobe: “He’s regular Kobe Bryant to me. Of course, not having played for so long and being out with injury, he’s trying to feel out the game a little bit. But he’s going to turn it on as far as scoring. He’s going to turn it on. Very few guys can do that. He’s one of them.”
  • Durant is another one. Tonight, he scored a game-high 31 points in 31 minutes. And it’s become so customary that I sort of felt silly asking him after the game what that feels like. But at some point, we’re going to have to start appreciating what Durant is doing rather than just raising our eyebrows and moving on to the next thing. Durant was at a loss for words when asked, perhaps partially out of modesty and partially because he genuinely had no idea how to answer the question. “It’s just basketball to me,” he said. “I’m just out there having fun and being aggressive, but also playing within the offense.  I don’t know. I really can’t answer that question.”
  • Durant on whether he realizes his point-per-minute efficiency in the middle of a night like tonight: “Nah, I really don’t. I never track how many minutes I’m playing or anything like that. I just try to play hard minutes when I’m out there and just be aggressive for my team.”
  • Durant had a gorgeous hesitation move on Nick Young halfway through the first quarter. It was one of those subtle moves that you might not fully appreciate at first glance. He fooled Young into thinking he’d shoot a simple stepback from the left corner/block area, but gave a mean hesitation, got Young to bite, dribbled once to get a tad closer and buried a beautiful 11-foot baseline jumper. Trust me, go back and watch it.
  • This was one of Westbrook’s best games of the season. His final shooting percentage was a bit of an eye sore on an otherwise fantastic stat line: 19 points, 7-for-19 shooting, eight rebounds, 12 assists, two steals, three turnovers. One, maybe two, of the turnovers weren’t his fault. And take away, maybe, three questionable shots and a few unfinished layups and we’d be talking about how he was the best player on the floor. And the truth is, he still might have been. He was everywhere, offensively and defensively. When it soon became clear that Kobe couldn’t guard him, the Lakers switched Jodie Meeks on him like that would be any better. It wasn’t. And when the Thunder needed a spark to start the first and third, it was Westbrook who delivered. In 23 minutes, 19 seconds in those periods, Westbrook scored 15 points with six rebounds and 10 assists. Them numbers. And the Thunder outscored the Lakers 66-51 in those periods.
  • In the first period, Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka combined for 31 points, eight rebounds and seven assists while making 11 of 20 shots.
  • A few of those questionable shots by Westbrook were 3-pointers. He is hoisting them at a career-high rate this year, and he wasted no time in letting them fly tonight. Three of the Thunder’s first seven shots were Westbrook 3-pointers. He took four for the game, making one. Another one of his 19 attempts was a long, long 2, from just inside the arc. Westbrook is attempting 4.8 3s per game, just over one more than last year’s career high. He’s connecting on just 31.8 percent, which makes you question why he’s taking so many. I asked him after the game whether it’s a matter of him practicing that shot to try to get it down prior to the postseason. “It’s not even that. It’s just if somebody goes under (a screen) I shoot it,” Westbrook said. “It’s easy. Make them honest. Obviously, they’d rather me do that than drive to the basket. But if they keep doing that, they gon’ learn.”
  • Two more thoughts about Westbrook’s 3s. 1) I love his explanation, especially the last sentence. But it’s totally sound logic and basketball 101 for a point guard at any level. If your man goes under the screen, you make him pay by taking and making the shot. I don’t think Westbrook gets enough credit for thinking the game because most of the time his world class athleticism makes it seem like he doesn’t have to or simply isn’t. But he’s a thinker of the game and this was one small example of that. 2) Although I love Westbrook’s explanation, I can’t completely buy it. He’s a career 30.4 percent 3-point shooter. The percentages say, as clear as day, that he doesn’t need to be at nearly five per game. Ever heard the saying ‘You’re open for a reason?’ At times, Westbrook is playing right into the defense’s hands when he’s taking those 3s, especially the ones that come early in the shot clock. Yes, he needs to make defenses pay by burying those shots when they cheat by going under screens. But when there’s time to find a better shot, he also needs to find a better shot. It would help both Westbrook and the Thunder.
  • The Thunder had a season-high 34 assists tonight.
  • OKC’s point total in the first quarter (38), at halftime (66) and for the game (122) were all season highs.
  • Runner up to the aforementioned 11 seconds of riveting theater between Kobe and KD was tonight’s unexpected Steven Adams-Xavier Henry battle of wills at the rim. The two challenged each other over and over and over again late in the game, Henry attempting to use his athleticism for highlight-worthy plays and Adams using his size and strength to stop him. In garbage time, it became a really entertaining challenge.
  • Jodie Meeks just missed another shot.
  • Good test for Andre Roberson starting the game on Kobe. As previously stated, Kobe isn’t Kobe. Still. For a guy who probably had a poster of Kobe hanging on his dorm room wall last year at Colorado, this was a heck of an experience. No, Kobe didn’t go at the rookie by putting pressure on him with his unmatched scoring wit. But in his third meaningful game, Roberson can use tonight’s matchup as a confidence-builder. Just 25 seconds into the game, for instance, Roberson tied up Kobe and forced a jump ball. It’s little things like that that he can take from this game and build on. If nothing else, Roberson can someday tell his kids he stole the ball from Kobe and then dunked on him. You know that’s what the story will have turned into 30 years from now.
  • Shawne Williams wore KD’s shoes tonight. I’ll never understand why an opposing player would do that.
  • Thunder won wearing the alternates.
  • Kendrick Perkins was out for the national anthem tonight and will be from now on. Here’s his explanation on why he had been skipping out on it.
  • Perk outscored Kobe 6-4 tonight. Perk also had four assists.
  • Add Young to the list of players Adams has frustrated this season. He joins Vince Carter, Jermaine O’Neal and Nate Robinson. Young picked up a technical foul early in the second quarter for shoving Adams after Young got frustrated with Adams allegedly holding him. Like the G that he is, Adams just walked away, victorious yet again.
  • To recap my odd sightings tonight: Kobe got chunky (again, understandably) and Ryan Kelly of Duke fame (remember him? Don’t worry. I had no idea he played for the Lakers either) is now skinny. Kelly walked past the media shortly after Mike D’Antoni wrapped up his pre-game press conference and me, Berry Tramel and Anthony Slater all came up short trying to identify him. He’s lost that much weight since his Duke days.
  • Speaking of Mike D’Antoni. He must really hate big men to not be playing Chris Kaman with this beat-up squad. I know 18,000 people who’d take Kaman in a heartbeat. Tonight, he didn’t log his first minutes until the start of the fourth quarter, when the Thunder owned a 20-point lead. Sure, his defense might be atrocious. But what do the Lakers care these days? In the final 12 minutes, Kaman had nine points on three of four shooting with two rebounds, an assist and a blocked shot.
  • I was on in my normal spot on The Ref (1400 AM) today and Dusty Dvoracek threw out a name that him and Teddy Lehman have been using for Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb. And I must say, I love it. Ready for it? “The Law Firm” Huh? Huh? Get it? Jackson and Lamb? Sounds like a law firm. Anybody…anybody? Well, I think it’s a fantastic name for the young duo. Best I’ve heard. And tonight, The Law Firm scored 30 points with nine boards, five assists, two steals and a blocked shot. Not bad.
  • This stat courtesy of Thunder head Andrew Roberts on Twitter @Andrew4Thunder: OKC now has 110 assists in its last four games. That could or could not be a record. Ask Andrew to do some more investigating and get back to us.
  • Up next: Orlando on Sunday.

by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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