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

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: March 14, 2014 at 10:00 am •  Published: March 14, 2014

Oklahoma City Thunder's Serge Ibaka (9) gets a loose ball from Los Angeles Laker's Kent Bazemore (6) in the first half of an NBA basketball game where the Oklahoma City Thunder play the Los Angeles Lakers at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, on March 13, 2014.  Photo by Steve Sisney The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City Thunder's Serge Ibaka (9) gets a loose ball from Los Angeles Laker's Kent Bazemore (6) in the first half of an NBA basketball game where the Oklahoma City Thunder play the Los Angeles Lakers at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, on March 13, 2014. Photo by Steve Sisney The Oklahoman

Get used to these late nights, folks. The playoffs are coming…

  • After a five-game tryout of Perry Jones III in the starting lineup, Thunder coach Scott Brooks went with rookie Andre Roberson in the first five tonight. Roberson didn’t disappoint. He latched himself onto Lakers guard Jodie Meeks from the opening tip, setting the tone defensively by slapping the ball out of Meeks’ hands and leading to a fast break dunk by Russell Westbrook. For nearly the next six minutes, Roberson hounded Meeks all over the floor, keeping up on his curls, cuts and drives and contesting his shots while also closing out possessions with rebounds.
  • Roberson just makes more sense in the starting lineup. He isn’t a “utility defender.” He’s an “actual” defender. He knows what he’s doing in man to man defense, not simply relying on length and athleticism.
  • But Roberson isn’t likely to remain in the first five. Brooks has said the position is fluid while Thabo Sefolosha works his way back from a calf injury. So Roberson could see the same five-game trial run Jones got. And after that, Jeremy Lamb might get the next five. A part of me thinks that’s what Brooks is doing. Sitting Jones tonight wasn’t so much about what Meeks did to the Thunder the last time these two teams met as it was about the next guy being up. We’ll see.
  • I had no idea why Jones was brought in as the first sub with 6:15 left. Worst of all, he was inserted for Roberson, who, again, was doing an incredible job on Meeks. If Brooks wanted to play Perry, fine. Put him in for Steven Adams and move Serge Ibaka to the 5. Ibaka would have then been on Pau Gasol, Jones would have been a much better counter than Ibaka for Ryan Kelly and Roberson could have stayed on Meeks. You throw that lineup out there and say “Let’s get it on.” Instead, the Thunder threw Jones on Meeks, left Ibaka on Kelly and went right back to a lineup that didn’t make much sense.
  • At almost the exact same juncture in the second quarter, Brooks actually used the aforementioned lineup. Well, a similar one. He played Russell Westbrook with Derek Fisher, Caron Butler, Kevin Durant and Ibaka. Roberson soon replaced Butler. The pieces fit so much better.
  • This game was about two things: the defense being dialed in for the second straight contest and Westbrook. I’ll start with the defense.
  • All the things that every sound defense wants to do was done by the Thunder in the opening quarter. Thunder players helped each other when someone was beat, protected the paint, contested shots on the perimeter, rotated with precision when the ball was swung around the perimeter, raced back and matched up in transition and closed out possessions with rebounds.It was beautifully-played defense.
  • OKC led 33-19 after the opening 12 minutes. The Thunder held L.A. to 30.8 percent shooting in the period. The Lakers didn’t have a second-chance point in the frame and were held to just two fast break points in that quarter. Those lone two came with 51 seconds left in the period. L.A.’s first second-chance points came on a Kent Bazemore 3 with 8:59 left in the second. All of that was extremely impressive.
  • The Lakers ended up shooting 39.4 percent for the game. They were out-rebounded, 60-37. That’s the same 23-rebound difference the Thunder owned in Sunday’s meeting, only that time it was 59-36.
  • Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni on why the Thunder had such a rebounding advantage: “I mean, the same as last time. Probably because they are longer, taller, stronger, faster and better jumpers. And we missed a lot more shots.” Well then.
  • On to Westbrook. He was wonderful yet again. He did it all on both ends of the floor before finishing with 29 points, two rebounds, nine assists, three steals, a blocked shot and only three turnovers. Westbrook scored 26 of his 29 points in the first and third periods. But he was just as dominant with the pass as he was with the shot.
  • Westbrook dished an assist to five teammates tonight, generating another 20 points off his passes. (Who says he doesn’t pass?) And he was getting teammates layups. I mean, point blank baskets that even I could make.
  • One of the more encouraging things about Westbrook’s passing was how he got his young fellas involved. Durant and Ibaka are going to get theirs. They just are, somehow, some way. But Westbrook got Adams and Roberson layups tonight, each of them scoring four points off feeds from Russ. That’s what this team needs most, ball movement transforming every single player into a scoring threat. We’ve seen it in spurts throughout this season. But watch out if the Thunder truly commits to it.
  • Westbrook recently said he wants to play smarter after sitting out so many games. And by the sound of it, he has that approach in mind. “As a point guard, my job is to find a way where I can help others out,” Westbrook said. “That’s what I’m trying to do with each individual guy on the team, find a way to get them going, keep their confidence up and try to continue to keep it going leading into the playoffs.”
  • Westbrook’s first two games in his most recent return were average. He was rusty and working himself back in. His last eight games, for the most part, have been amazing. In his past eight, Westbrook has averaged 24.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, 8.4 assists, 2.7 steals and shot 50.7 percent. It’s impossible to say what’s been the most impressive since he’s been so good in most aspects. But the efficiency jumps out because he’s never been a high-percentage scorer. But in these last eight games, he’s scoring 24 per despite averaging only 15.8 shots. Looks like smarter basketball to me.
  • Westbrook on how much fun he’s having now: “It’s real fun, especially when we win. As long as we continue to win and continue to do a good job of playing together and (help) everybody get in a good groove I think we’ll be all right.”
  • I’m loving the Westbrook to Adams connection. Those two need to be looking for that every single time Westbrook comes off a screen. It’s wide open. And Adams knows what to do with it when he gets it.
  • Reggie Jackson played 22 minutes and flirted with a triple-double. Well, sort of. He had eight points, eight rebounds and six assists. He made three of his eight shots and didn’t turn it over. So the numbers say he had a really good game. And the eye test did as well. He was in command of the offense when he was running it, getting guys open shots while balancing that by creating scoring opportunities for himself as well. Another nice game by Jackson, who quietly has crafted a string of them.
  • Another tense moment came between Jackson and Durant at the end of the first period, though. This time, Jackson didn’t so much as look off KD as much as he just didn’t get it to him as the Thunder was holding for the final shot. Instead of immediately firing it to Durant after he grabbed a defensive rebound with 9.9 seconds remaining, Jackson dribbled slowly up the court as Durant was calling for it. When they crossed halfcourt, Durant still was calling for Jackson to get him the ball. But Jackson went with it, eventually pulling up for a 15-footer that rattled around before falling out. Jones missed the putback and the Thunder came up empty. Durant wasn’t happy about it. He was shaking his head in what appeared to be a mix between disappointment and disbelief. But as the two began to walk toward the bench, they stopped near the free throw line and started discussing the sequence. They stood there, alone as three teammates watched nearby, discussing the matter. By the looks of it, Jackson was explaining that it was a miscommunication and he might have thought KD was going to a different spot on the floor. After roughly 30 seconds going back in forth trying to figure it out, the two smiled, gave each other five and went and took a seat on the bench.
  • Durant’s got to demand the ball in that situation. Forget talking it out afterward. The only thing that should have been said as they stood there was Durant not-so-diplomatically telling Reggie he had better get him the ball next time.
  • I kind of became a fan of Ryan Kelly tonight. After watching him at Duke the last few seasons, I can’t believe dude is in the NBA. But he plays hard, he plays smart and he plays the right way. And he actually got the better of a few Thunder players tonight, blocking a layup attempt by Westbrook in the first half (remember, he blocked a shot by KD out in L.A., too) and scoring on Butler. I was impressed.
  • Did I say that having Ibaka on Kelly made no sense? Kelly finished with 12 points, four rebounds and six assists. Ibaka covering any stretch 4, or a 3 playing the 4, is not just pointless in my eyes but it also puts the Thunder behind the 8-ball.
  • Westbrook’s coast-to-coast drive midway through the second quarter was his latest “I’m back” play. The sweetest part was the in-and-out dribble he used to freeze Meeks at three-quarters court.
  • Meeks went for a team-high 19 tonight after erupting for a career-high 42 against the Thunder on Sunday. “We just did what we did,” Westbrook said. “He just happened to get lucky the first time.”
  • Westbrook on how “pissed” he was after Sunday’s loss to the Lakers and whether it carried over: “Definitely. I mean, I’m always pissed about losing a game. So I’m pretty sure everybody else was pretty mad, too.”
  • Roberson is still a rebounding machine. Finished with seven tonight.
  • I continue to love the way Ibaka is playing. Since Westbrook has returned, he’s primarily getting energy buckets. He’s found a rhythm in that method. Plays don’t have to be run for him. He’s using his rebounding to get putbacks and his ability to run the floor to get easy looks. And he’s knocking down shots when the ball is swung his way. He played a great game tonight, finishing with 15 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocked shots.
  • It’s more than a little concerning, however, that Ibaka couldn’t or didn’t exploit Kelly on the block. I’m not expecting him to be Tim Duncan down there. But in a matchup like he had tonight, he should have been able to make Kelly pay at the other end.
  • Ibaka busted out the Perk pose after drilling a 3 from the top of the key.
  • Another terrific aspect of the Thunder’s defense tonight was avoiding fouls. Just 19 fouls committed by OKC tonight. In the previous five games, the Thunder was fouling 33.8 times on average.
  • Durant picked up his 13th technical foul tonight…for arguing from the bench. Me and Anthony Slater have an ongoing debate about whether KD will reach 16 before the end of the regular season and garner a one-game suspension. I have no doubt it won’t come to that.
  • The funny thing is just Thursday morning I asked Durant about griping to officials for a Sunday story I’m doing on the art of complaining. “If I think it’s a foul, I’m going to ask them to look at it the next time if they miss a call,” Durant said. “It’s the heat of the moment, but you also have to realize they’re human as well and they can’t catch every single play.” Durant continued. “I don’t know how other guys do it, but I just go up to them and talk to them. In the captain’s circle, we always talk about if I have any concerns I can go talk to them. So they’re always good in the communication department unless there’s been complaining all game from the bench, from both sides. It’s only once a game they usually tell us to just shut up and play. But other than that, we have good communication.”
  • Lamb didn’t get in until 6:52 was left tonight. The Thunder was ahead by 21. I’m confused on this one. But now with Brooks this time. But with some of the fans. I mean, for those questioning why he isn’t playing or calling Brooks out of his name for the decision, what exactly did you think was going to happen when the Thunder signed Caron? Someone’s minutes were going to get axed. And those minutes thus far have belonged to Lamb. And it’s clear why. His defense hasn’t been up to par, and his offense hasn’t been nearly good enough to warrant leaving him on the floor. He hasn’t scored double figures since the All-Star break, and he entered tonight’s game shooting 27.5 percent over his past nine. That tells you all you need to know. But it seems like the same people who are fretting over Lamb not playing are the same people who want Nick Collison to play more, and Roberson to get minutes and Hasheem Thabeet to be worked into the rotation. Everybody can’t play, people. It’s like the moment Lamb’s minutes go back up, criticism will start flying over whose minutes go down.
  • Brooks on Lamb’s minutes: “Right now, he just has to be ready to play. We have a lot of good players. Sacrifices have to be made all throughout the team. And right now, he’s not playing as many minutes as he has in the past. But he’s a player that we love and we’re going to keep working with. And he just has to stay ready. There’s opportunities down the road, and he has to continue to do what he’s done throughout the year and step in and be ready when he’s called on.”
  • Lamb answered six questions on the matter in 15 words, many of them of the “yeah” and “nah” variety. Spoke volumes about his feelings on the matter.
  • I loved the way Lamb handled his interview. He’s supposed to be salty about his current situation. If he wasn’t, I’d be worried about him. The fact that he is tells me he is who I think he is.
  • Reggie Williams made his Thunder debut tonight with 4:36 left in the game, enough time to get up four shots and scored five points.
  • Two notable stats by Durant: he went 11-for-11 from the foul line, and he scored 29 to extend his streak of at least 25 points to a career-best 30 games. If he scores at least 25 Sunday, he’ll move into a tie with Spencer Haywood for consecutive games with at least 25 points.
  • Up next: Dallas 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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