Perhaps Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook should give a pregame speech more often.
Following a March that made him a strong candidate for NBA player of the month (26.6 ppg; 5.4 apg; 3.0 rpg; .492 FG; .383 3FG; career-low 2.6 turnovers per game), Westbrook had experienced a miserable April heading into Wednesday night's game at home against Denver (20.1 ppg; .378 FG; .276 3FG).
When Westbrook was introduced to address the sellout crowd of 18,203 at Chesapeake Energy Arena after pregame introductions, he had to wait a solid minute for the crowd noise to die down so he could be heard. At one point, a smiling Westbrook playfully put a hand to his ear, a la Hulk Hogan, and the ovation grew even louder.
It was the loudest and longest reception for a pre-game player address in Thunder history, and it's not outlandish to believe it gave Westbrook a much-needed boost in confidence.
Westbrook had 30 points, nine assists, four blocks and three steals against the Nuggets, shooting 10 for 20 from the field and 9 for 10 from the free-throw line.
Before the game, OKC coach Scott Brooks was asked if he saw any mechanical flaws in Westbrook's April slump.
"What I've seen is he's missed some layups that he normally (makes)," Brooks said. "He has an amazing ability to finish with either hand and to get to the rim within seconds and get above the rim. He hasn't made the layups as he did in March. When you don't make your layups, you kind of put more pressure on yourself to make the mid-range shot and then the 3-point shot. Every player will go through a tough stretch of shooting and he's definitely in a tough stretch.
"No question, when you miss your layups, you get frustrated. It sounds easy. It's a layup, but he's going full-speed, there's three other guys and one of them is probably 7-feet tall trying to block that shot and one guy is chasing you from behind. Sometimes he makes it look so easy, but it's not. If he makes a few of those layups, he's not shooting nearly as bad."
In three games against Denver this season, Kevin Durant averaged 35.7 points, which included scoring a career-high 51 on Feb. 19.
Westbrook averaged 31.0 points against the Nuggets with of high of 40 in that same February game. Serge Ibaka averaged 6.0 blocked shots against Denver, which included 11 in that same February game.
Ibaka easily won this year's blocked shot title (3.65) and has 106 more blocks than runner-up DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers. OKC leads the league in blocked shots at 8.2 per game. Washington is next at 6.4. … In the last three seasons, the Thunder has finished second (.805), first (.823) and first (.806) in free-throw shooting. In order to beat out OKC for this year's free-throw percentage title, Portland would have had to shoot 77 for 77 from the line Thursday night at Utah. … In other team categories, the Thunder finished first in opponent defensive rebounds (28.6), third in scoring (103.1), third in field-goal percentage (.471), fourth in opponent field-goal percentage (.427), fourth in point differential (6.2) and sixth in total rebounds (43.7).
FOR THE RECORD
After a 5-0 December, the Thunder's high-water mark was a 29-7 record (.806) following a March 1 victory at Orlando.
The team's low-water mark was its final record at 47-19 (.712) thanks to an 8-7 (.533) record in April.
Other Thunder records:
18-0 (1.000) – shooting 50 percent or better
16-0 (1.000) – opponent scores less than 90 points
44-17 (.721) – opponent shoots less than 50 percent
15-4 (.789) – opponent shoots less than 40 percent
13-1 (.929) – with 10-plus steals
31-5 (.861) – with more rebounds
22-5 (.815) – with more assists
24-6 (.800) – with more second-chance points or tied
28-8 (.778) – with more points in the paint or tied
35-11 (.761) – with more fast-break points or tied
23-7 (.767) – when bench outscores other bench
5-0 (1.000) – when benches are tied
9-2 (.818) – when five players score 10-plus
8-0 (1.000) – when three players score 20-plus
12-9 (.571) – in games decided by six points or less
15-3 (.833) – first game after a loss
3-1 (.750) – in overtime games
26-7 (.788) – at home
21-12 (.636) – on road
34-14 (.708) – vs. Western Conference
13-5 (.722) – vs. Eastern Conference
31-11 (.738) – with usual starting lineup
16-8 (.667) – with makeshift starting lineup
Love's Thunder Alley will open three hours before tipoff of home playoff games. The free block party includes interactive games, concessions, a FOX Sports Oklahoma broadcast stage, playoff merchandise and more. Fans are invited to bring chairs and blankets to watch the game broadcast on the 74-foot wide, 20-foot tall video display located on the northwest side of Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Thunder Alley also hosts the Thunder Rewards Zone, which offers a game-day opportunity to win or buy specially designated tickets. Registration begins four hours prior to tipoff and closes after two hours. Ninety minutes before tip, 100 winners will be drawn at random. The first 25 winners will each receive a complimentary pair of Loud City tickets. The remaining 75 winners will be able to purchase a pair. Please note that arriving early will not increase the chances of winning.
The Thunder Shop inside The Peake will offer extended Saturday hours through the playoffs. On non-game days, fans can shop Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
By John Rohde