With 11 games remaining in the regular season, Thunder coach Scott Brooks admitted he has added some nuances to his team's attack.
“Yes, we've added a few things recently, on both ends,” Brooks said. “I think it's important to just continue to sprinkle in some things that can help us down the line. It stimulates our players' growth and their improvement. They want more.”
The defending Western Conference champions are 52-19 (.732) and have become a marked team in recent seasons, which certainly wasn't the case the franchise's first season in OKC when it finished 23-59 (.280).
“Three, four or five years ago, we couldn't have done that,” Brooks said of adding to his team's repertoire late in the season. “We've been together awhile and they understand that we can do other things and we have multiple defenders who can defend multiple players. It kind of gives us a little excitement.”
The 12-game winning streak the Thunder assembled earlier this season cracked the NBA's Top 100 in terms of length — barely — coming in exactly at No. 100.
Having won 26 straight entering Monday night's game at Orlando, the Miami Heat is No. 2 on the all-time list behind the Los Angeles Lakers' 33-game winning streak set during the 1971-72 season.
“Just to do what they're doing now, with the parity we have in the league, it's pretty amazing because there's so many games you have to have everything go right to win,” Brooks said of the defending champion Heat. “You travel, go back-to-back, the injuries you overcome, the foul trouble, everything about it. Give them a lot of credit because they have the mental mindset to be able to do that night in and night out. That's pretty phenomenal.”
0-1 VS. WIZARDS
Next up for the Thunder is a 7 p.m. home game Wednesday against the Washington Wizards (25-44), who hosted Memphis on Monday night.
OKC's previous meeting with the Wizards this season was on Jan. 7. The Thunder was cruising with a 26-7 record, while Washington easily had the worst record in the league at 4-24 and was missing three starters that night because of injuries.
The Wizards stunned OKC with a 101-99 upset despite being without point guard John Wall (knee), center Nene' (knee), forward Cartier Martin (knee), forward Trevor Booker (knee) and shooting guard Jordan Crawford (ankle), who has since been traded to the Boston Celtics in exchange for Leandro Barbosa and Jason Collins.
Wall returned for Washington the first game after beating OKC and has since averaged 15.9 points, 7.6 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals.
Commencing with that upset of the Thunder, the Wizards had gone 21-20 (.512) heading into Monday night's game.
Sunday night's 103-83 loss to the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena left the Trail Blazers (33-37) three games behind the Los Angeles Lakers (36-34) for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“It's just how the season has gone,” Portland shooting guard Wesley Matthews said. “And it's frustrating. It's frustrating, it's irritating, but at the same time, there's so much promise. We're just not quite there.”
The Thunder did not have a formal practice Monday, but players showed up at the practice facility for a developmental day and treatment. … OKC shot an acceptable 36.4 percent from 3-point range against the Blazers, marking the first time in five games the Thunder shot better than 30 percent beyond the arc. … OKC's recent slump from 3-point range has seen it slip from second in the NBA to No. 5 in 3-point percentage at .377. … The Thunder leads the league in free-throw percentage (.826), blocks (7.5) and point differential (9.2), is second in scoring (106.2), third in field-goal percentage (.481) and opponent blocks (4.1) and is fifth in rebound differential (3.1).
Matthews on how physical the Thunder plays: “They've got two guys (Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka) that patrol the paint and they're physical. They're physical and they get away with being physical. I guess that's one of the perks of being one of the best teams in the league. Perkins kind of patrols the paint. Serge takes care of stuff at the rim. They've got pretty good on-ball defenders.”