With the Los Angeles Clippers losing 99-92 at Cleveland on Wednesday night, Scott Brooks' magic number to become the Western Conference All-Star coach is down to one.
One more victory by the Thunder between Thursday and next Wednesday clinches the best record by the league's Feb. 15 cutoff date. The coach with the best winning percentage in each conference at that time gets to coach his conference at the NBA All-Star Game in Orlando on Feb. 26.
The best record Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro can have is 19-8. (.704). The best record San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich can have is 21-9 (.700). With one more victory, the worst record Brooks can have is 21-8 (.724).
Can Harden make the All-Star team?
Reserves for the 2012 NBA All-Star Game will be announced Thursday night, and, by all accounts, Thunder guard James Harden is on the bubble of earning his first All-Star selection.
In 25 games, Harden has averaged 16.8 points, four rebounds, 3.5 assists and 0.9 steals. Harden also has connected on 47 percent of his shots from the field and 36.2 percent from the 3-point line.
Only three Western Conference shooting guards are averaging more points than Harden. Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has been voted in by fans as a starter. Golden State's Monta Ellis and Houston's Kevin Martin are the only other two.
Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook appears to be a lock to be named to his second straight All-Star game, which would eliminate one spot. Among all West guards, Harden trails only Bryant, Ellis, Westbrook, Martin, San Antonio's Tony Parker and Sacramento's Tyreke Evans in scoring production. Phoenix point guard Steve Nash averages fewer points than Harden at 15.1 per game. But his NBA-leading 10 assists per game have him in the mix as well.
But while other guards have constructed better statistical seasons, it's the team success that the Thunder has enjoyed that could benefit Harden.
Coaches from each conference select the seven reserves that will round out the 12-man teams from their respective conferences. Coaches are prohibited from voting for their own player. Portland coach Nate McMillan on Monday night said he rewarded guys from winning teams when filling out his ballot, and Warriors coach Mark Jackson said he operated similarly, adding that Ellis might fall short largely because of the Warriors' record.
“He is a talented guy coming off that bench,” Jackson said of Harden. “He's very good. Harden is a different animal on the offensive end.
“I think it's going to be a great group whoever gets selected. There's a lot of guys that's certainly worthy of making the All-Star team.”
SEFOLOSHA SET TO RETURN ‘ANY DAY'
Guard Thabo Sefolosha, who has missed the past six games with a foot injury, said he could rejoin the lineup “any day.”
Sefolosha ruled out Thursday's game at Sacramento but said it's possible he could return Friday at Utah. It seems likely that the Thunder's coaching and medical staffs might opt to give Sefolosha two more games off so that he can rest over the weekend and prepare for a return next Tuesday at home against Utah.
CLARIFYING A SCORE CHANGE
An unexplained score change occurred at the end of the third quarter Tuesday night at Golden State and caused a great deal of confusion.
According to the scoreboard and the official game stats, the Warriors led the Thunder 93-92 after three quarters of play. But just before the start of the final period, the Thunder's score was changed to 91 points.
The change came when officials went back and ruled that a 3-pointer by Westbrook with 4:18 remaining in the third period was actually a 2-pointer.
MORE ON GRIFFIN'S MONSTER DUNK
Jackson praised Kendrick Perkins on Tuesday night for putting himself in harm's way when he challenged a dunk by Blake Griffin on Jan. 30 and ended up on the wrong end of a highlight.
“The thing you love about Kendrick Perkins is if you had to rewind, he'd do the same exact thing,” Jackson said. “He really could care less about being in a poster for Blake Griffin. He was part of the rotation. It was his responsibility.
“The beautiful thing is, watching it, here's what I'm thinking ‘The next one somebody's getting hit.' That shows how much I think of Kendrick Perkins, his professionalism, his old-school mentality. I felt sorry for the next guy that tried it. Fortunately, it didn't take place that night. But he's a guy that's a pro and certainly completes that Thunder basketball team.”
MOHAMMED MAKING AN IMPACT
Reserve center Nazr Mohammed has seen his production take a hit this season. But over the past two games, he's been a pivotal part of the Thunder notching two hard-fought road wins.
Mohammed tied a season-high with seven rebounds Monday at Portland and scored eight points during a 13-2 run to start the second quarter Tuesday night.
“Nazr, the last two games, was a big part of both wins,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He came in and gave us 12 minutes of good basketball (Monday), and (against the Warriors) he was active, moving his feet and protecting what we needed to get done on the offensive and defensive end.”
Brooks credited Mohammed for staying ready to contribute and never complaining despite receiving erratic playing time this season. Brooks called Mohammed a “true professional” who “understands that it's about winning ballgames.”
“I know my role,” Mohammed said. “I'm just trying to go out there and just play hard and get something done when I'm in the game and just hopefully get these wins.”
The Thunder will continue its five-game road trip with Game No. 4 on Thursday at Sacramento. It will be the first of four regular season meetings between the two teams. The Thunder swept last year's four-game series. Tip-off is scheduled for 9:30 p.m.