This is no time to take a break from the NBA, Thunder fans.
Sure, your team’s regular season is over after a 106-101 loss to the Nuggets. Yes, the boys in blue will be lying low until the playoffs start this weekend.
But plenty of drama remains.
Who will the Thunder play in the first round?
Who will win the NBA scoring title — KD or Kobe?
All will be revealed Thursday on the final night of the regular season. Told you there was plenty of reason to stay tuned, Thunder fans.
“I’ve heard of split screen,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said, “but I don’t know if you can put it in tri-screen.”
Maybe not, but this would be the time to try. Dallas and Denver still have a chance to be the No. 7 seed that faces OKC in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. Thursday night, both of them will play at 7 Oklahoma time.
Dallas at Atlanta.
Denver at Minnesota.
If you want a rematch of last year’s first-round series against the Nuggets, you have to cheer for a Denver loss and a Dallas win.
If you want a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals against the Mavericks, then you’ve got to pull for a Denver win.
Those aren’t the only games you’ll want to keep an eye on, either. The Lakers at the Kings will determine if Thunder star Kevin Durant wins his third consecutive scoring title. He scored 32 points Wednesday night, meaning Kobe Bryant will need 38 points to best him.
Durant has done all he can, although if Sam Presti really wants the Thunder to model the Spurs, Oklahoma City’s gonna have to work on its scoring-title philosophy.
On the final night of the regular season in 1994, Spurs big man David Robinson trailed Shaquille O’Neal by 33 points in the race for the scoring title. He got more than enough.
He scored 71 points.
The Spurs beat the woeful Clippers easily, but Robinson still played a whopping 44 minutes that night.
But that was hardly the Spurs’ first experience with a scoring-title race. They had a hand in the greatest scoring duel in league history — George Gervin vs. David Thompson.
Heading into the last day of the season, the Spurs’ sharpshooter and the Nuggets’ skywalker were neck and neck. Thompson needed to outscore Gervin by 16 points, and in an afternoon game, he put up a big number — 73 points.
That meant Gervin was going to have to score 58 points that night to win the title. And he did.
Gervin scored 63 points, and while there’s no doubt that he did the heavy lifting, he got some help from his coach. San Antonio head man Doug Moe did everything he could to help his star win the title, including benching players who were shooting instead of passing it to Gervin.
There were no such shenanigans Wednesday night at The Peake.
Now, as for what might go down with the Lakers on Thursday night in Sacramento, that’s anyone’s guess.
If Kobe has 18 or 20 points heading into the fourth quarter, you suppose he might shoot, oh, every time he touches the ball?
Wouldn’t surprise me.
Apparently, it would surprise Brooks. He pointed out that this is a guy who has five NBA titles, one MVP and a pair of scoring titles.
“Does he really, really want it?” Brooks said of this year’s scoring title.
I’m gonna go with, “Heck, yeah.”
Kobe’s a competitor, and he’s not afraid to demand the ball.
Durant’s every bit the competitor that Kobe is, but he doesn’t have that “give-me-the-ball-or-else” mentality.
Tuesday night, for example, Durant scored 32 points but didn’t play the fourth quarter.
“Westbrook, he sometimes has these tendencies to walk by me and put his hand over his mouth — ‘Hey, Coach, I’m ready’ — or he’s cheering — ‘Hey, Coach, I’m ready,’” Brooks said.
Durant never once asked Brooks to go back in the game, never once wanted to go back and pad his scoring-title lead.
“I want it more than him,” Brooks said.
It would be his third consecutive scoring title, and he’s only 23 years old.
“Has anybody done it at that age three times in a row?” Brooks said.
Nope. Durant would be the youngest player in NBA history to ever have three consecutive titles. That would be quite a feather in his cap.
Ditto for OKC’s headwear. “I probably won’t watch,” Durant said of keeping tabs on Kobe. “If I don’t win the scoring title or the MVP or whatever, that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a good year by my standards.”
Rarely do I advocate going against what Durant says, but in this case, Thunder fans, you don’t need to follow your leader. Go ahead and keep tabs on the Lakers. And the Nuggets. And the Mavs.
Your team won’t be on the floor Thursday night, but you have every reason to watch.