The Thunder just played Houston for the third time in a span of four weeks, and the teams will meet for the fourth and final time on Jan. 12. However, the Thunder has yet to play its next five opponents â€” Sacramento (Friday), Phoenix (Sunday), at Charlotte (Tuesday), at New York (Wednesday) and Denver on Christmas night.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said it adds to the scouting responsibilities of the staff and players, "but guys know each other's tendencies pretty well. The first time you play a team, you (scout) to know their pet plays, their personality, their go-to plays, their fourth-quarter plays."
The Thunder's strength of schedule has dipped lately and will continue to do so with upcoming games against the Kings (5-18), Suns (12-12) and Bobcats (9-16).
The degree of difficulty then increases with contests against the Knicks (16-10), Nuggets (15-9) and Dallas (20-5).
The Thunder's strength of schedule ranks 17th in the league (.505) this season, but ranks 27th in the last 10 games (.425).
EASY DOES IT
Wednesday's 117-105 victory over Houston featured perhaps the Thunder's most balanced offensive attack of the season. Thabo Sefolosha (a season-high 15 points and nine rebounds) and reserve James Harden (16 points, four assists, four rebounds) excelled, but Brooks said he was impressed with the play of point guard Russell Westbrook, even though his 17 points, five assists and three rebounds were all below his season averages.
"We all look at Russell and the stats he produces game in and game out, and sometimes we just take it for granted," Brooks said. "Statistically, it wasn't one of his better games, but I thought he played good. He really played solid defensively and made some great decisions on the offensive end. I liked what I saw."
Starting center Nenad Krstic (lower back strain) worked on the treadmill during Thursday's practice and took some shooting practice afterward. His status remains day-to-day.
Forward Jeff Green, who missed seven games earlier this year with a severely sprained left ankle, said he still receives treatments on the ankle and on both knees, "but there's nothing's wrong. It just helps prevent you from further injuries down the line."
Asked if a sprained ankle ever fully heals during a season, Green said, "I don't know, but it's been feeling great these past couple games. I haven't even been thinking about it, so I guess that's a plus."
After hitting 7 of 11 3-pointers against Houston, the Thunder has climbed out of the league cellar in 3-point shooting percentage and is now tied for 26th with Washington (32.8). â€¦ Still on a record-setting pace, the Thunder leads the league in free-throw percentage by 4.6 percent over New York (85.8 to 81.2). The NBA single-season record is 83.2 percent by Boston in 1989-90. Last season, OKC shot 80.5 percent from the line which ranks 33rd all-time.
"I don't know if 'easier' is the right word. I think it's enjoyable to watch and to coach knowing that guys work hard on their games and to see them get rewarded with their effort." â€” Brooks, when asked if it's easier to coach when his team's shots are falling.