Thunder bloodied by unbowedThe Thunder returned to practice on Monday after consecutive losses at Portland and the Los Angeles Clippers. Despite two very disappointing defeats, the team has remained positive. “We can’t panic. That’s one thing we can’t do,” said Kevin Durant. “We lost two in a row. We’re still at the top of our division right now and in good position in the playoffs. We got to stay positive. It’s not the end of the world.” Most disappointing in the past two games was how the Thunder’s offense disappeared in the loss to the Blazers, and the defense shut down against the Clippers. The Thunder scored just 32 points in the second half at Portland and allowed 61 second-half points to the Clippers. Now, the Thunder is looking to put those issues behind it and salvage something of this three-game road trip with a win tonight against a red hot Denver team that has won six straight. “We’re in good shape,” said forward Nick Collison. “All year, we’ve been a team that’s just tried to come out and win the next game, and I don’t see anything changing.”
CHEEKS COMES UP SHORT FOR HALLThunder assistant coach Maurice Cheeks was not named to the Basketball Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2011, it was announced Monday. In February, Cheeks was named one of 12 finalists for this year’s Hall of Fame class. But Cheeks fell short of the required 18 of 24 votes from the Honors Committee for election. The committee selected Herb Magee, Chris Mullin, former Southeastern Oklahoma State star Dennis Rodman, Tex Winter, Teresa Edwards and Tara Vanderveer. Arvydas Sabonis was selected by the International committee, while Tom “Snatch” Sanders was selected by the Veterans Committee. For the first time, two additional selections were chosen as directly elected enshrines. Reece “Goose” Tatum was chosen by the Early African-American Pioneers Committee, and Artis Gilmore was selected by the ABA Committee. Cheeks played 15 NBA season from 1979 to 1993 and had career averages of 11.1 points, 6.7 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 2.1 steals. He was a four-time All-Star and four-time NBA All-Defensive Team member as a player and has been a head coach with Portland and Philadelphia. Cheeks was a member of the 1983 championship-winning Philadelphia 76ers.
SECOND HALF STRUGGLES EMERGEIn three of the past four games, the Thunder has struggled to close out opponents. Oklahoma City lost two of those games and narrowly escaped against Golden State. In three of the last four games, the Thunder has been outscored in the second half by an average margin of 54-41. “I think on the defensive end, we need a lot more focus,” said Collison. “And I think on the offensive end, we need to just continue doing what got us in that position and move the ball. Sometimes we get stagnant on the offensive end when we get leads.” On the year, the Thunder has outscored opponents in the second half on average 51.2 to 46.1 in wins and been outscored 50.3 to 45.4 in losses.
DEFENDING DURANTThe task of trying to defend Durant tonight will fall on the shoulders of Denver swingman Wilson Chandler, considered by many to be an underrated perimeter defender. On Sunday, Chandler helped hold Lakers guard Kobe Bryant to 28 points on 10 of 27 shooting. Bryant scored just four points on 2-for-7 shooting in the decisive fourth quarter. “He’s the same type of player in a sense,” Chandler said of Durant. “He’s going to have the ball in his hands a lot. He’s taller, so he’s tougher to guard when he’s shooting the ball. He can shoot right over you. So I’m just going to try to be physical with him and make him take tough shots.” BY DARNELL MAYBERRY
Thunder bloodied by unbowed