New Thunder fit perfectly in first game

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — Alex Abrines knew there was a chance he’d get his first start of the season for Oklahoma City. With Victor Oladipo ailing, Abrines was the next man up.
However, what the rookie didn’t expect was to post a career-high 19 points to help the Thunder beat the Los Angeles Lakers 110-93 on Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Abrines knew how important it was for him to see his first couple of shots go through the rim.
“I was feeling pretty good,” Abrines said. “For the shooters, to hit their first shot it gets more easy as you get confidence. So it was important to hit the first two.”
Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook collected his 28th triple-double of the season. He scored 17 points on 4-of-17 shooting from the field to go with 17 assists and 18 rebounds.
Andre Roberson matched Abrines with 19 points as they combined to hit eight of the team’s 10 3-pointers. Steven Adams collected 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder (33-25).
D’Angelo Russell paced the Lakers (19-41) with 29 points on 12-of-26 shooting from the floor. Jordan Clarkson came off the bench to score 14 points and Julius Randle added 13.
Magic Johnson, the Lakers’ new president of basketball operations, was in the building to watch the team for the first time since taking over. For the players, that means they are playing not only for the present but also for the future.
“It’s good. It like you’re starting over and trying to impress,” Russell said. “It’s like coming to a new team. Trying to impress the GM (general manager) and the guys in the front office with your play, with your off the court and the way you handle yourself. So it’s just all different.”
The Thunder reserves made the biggest impact in the first half. Abrines scorched the Lakers for 10 first-quarter points. That included knocking down two 3-pointers.
Oklahoma City also received strong contributions from its newest members. Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, who were traded from Chicago on Thursday, didn’t hesitate to get involved in their first game with the Thunder. The duo combined for 10 points.
“It felt great,” Gibson said. “I didn’t want to mess up. I was able to calm down and have a lot of fun with the guys. It’s a great group of guys, real unselfish. … I had a great time tonight.”
The Lakers stayed in striking distance throughout the first half. Russell and Clarkson were able to knock down a few jumpers while also driving to the rim for layups.
Los Angeles trailed Oklahoma City 58-51 at halftime.
Abrines once again came out on fire to start the third quarter. He hit three quick 3-pointers as the Thunder stormed ahead to a 73-58 advantage.
The third quarter was a disaster for the Lakers. Not only were they unable to slow down the Thunder, their offense fell apart.
Only Russell seemed to be able to get his shot off as they fell behind by 20 points.
Westbrook reached his triple-double midway through the quarter. He gaves his new teammates a front-row view of what the type of season he has been having.
“It’s a lot better to be with him than against him,” McDermott said of Westbrook.
The Lakers finally found their offense in the fourth quarter as Randle and Ingram joined the party. They were able to cut the Thunder lead to nine with four minutes left but didn’t have enough left in the tank to finish the run.
“I think the key was defense,” Thunder center Enes Kanter said. “I think we did a very good job of communication. We did a really good job on pick and rolls. I think the most important thing was everybody give 100 percent effort.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer for Eyeamtruth.com

Westbrook paving a new path, on and off the court

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — More than three hours before each game, Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook can be found in the same place. Whether he is on the road or at home. Whether it’s a late West Coast start or even early afternoon in the east. The routine never changes
Before any other players have arrived and almost two hours before the fans are even let into the building, Westbrook is going through warmups on the court.
For close to 30 minutes, Westbrook goes through an assortment of drills while joking, laughing and talking trash with Oklahoma City assistant coach Maurice Cheeks and anyone else who happens to be in his vicinity. His laugh can be heard throughout the nearly empty arena before he scolds assistant coach Royal Ivey for even trying to guard him.
It’s a side of Westbrook seen by very few outside the Thunder organization.
Hours later, as game-time approaches, that side of Westbrook has faded away. In its place are the scowls, the ferocious dunks and the stare-downs — all features of one of the most competitive and unique players in today’s game.
“I just go out and have fun. I don’t know if it’s the most fun I’ve had, but it’s definitely at the top because the group of guys we have,” Westbrook said. “Everybody is so unselfish. Everybody is willing to do great things, and everybody wants to get better. We’re young and blessed to be able to play this game. You can’t do anything but have fun.”
It can easily be said that this NBA season has been all about Westbrook. While many believe the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are destined to meet for a third straight NBA Finals, the Thunder point guard has stolen his share of the headlines with his exploits.
In his ninth year in the league, Westbrook is on the verge of doing something that has only been done once before by averaging a triple-double for the entire season.
That feat is now solely owned by Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson during the 1961-62 campaign. But Westbrook is charging his way up the mountain to not only join the Big O, but do it in a much more spectacular way and in less time on the court. Robertson played more than 44 minutes a game while Westbrook is right at 34.
Westbrook’s stat line looks like something you would see only on video games. Heading into February, he had already compiled 24 triple doubles and was averaging 30.8 points, 10.6 rebounds and 10.2 assists per night. He leads the league in scoring and is second in assists.
Even more impressive, Westbrook is 11th in the NBA in rebounding. He is hauling in more boards than DeMarcus Cousins, Nikola Vucevic and Tristan Thompson, who are all 7-foot centers. No other guard is ranked inside the top 20.
This season alone, Westbrook has already passed up LeBron James, Fat Lever and Larry Bird on the all-time list for career triple doubles. He sits in fifth place by himself, trailing only the likes of Wilt Chamberlain (78), Jason Kidd (107), Magic Johnson (138) and Robertson (181).
Yet, Westbrook doesn’t want to focus or elaborate on the historical milestones he is reaching.
“I definitely don’t take that for granted,” Westbrook said. “Like I’ve said before, every night I step on the floor I try to compete at a high level and I am thankful that I can play the game that I love every night.”
More often it’s opponents of the Thunder who are more impressed with what Westbrook is doing than the man himself.
“He is putting up phenomenal numbers, I think it really just comes down to heart, passion and will,” Phoenix Center Tyson Chandler said. “Every second he is going full speed, giving 100 percent. He is just putting his will into the game. I have the utmost respect for Russ because at the end of the day, you know what you are going to get. He is going to give you everything he has got every time he steps on the floor, and I really respect that.”
One of the coaches who has faced Westbrook the most during his career is the Dallas Mavericks skipper Rick Carlisle. From regular-season matchups to postseason battles, he has had a front seat view to Westbrook’s exploits.
But even Carlisle is amazed how much Westbrook has elevated his game.
“It’s historic,” Carlisle said. “He is averaging a triple-double. It’s amazing. He has boundless energy and never seems to lose it. The team is playing well. They are a load to deal with because of his greatness as a starting point. The question is whether he can continue it. I don’t see any reason he can’t. To this point, it’s been an amazing accomplishment and should probably be talked about more than it is.”
Westbrook has always been a talented player. There has never been any question about that since he was drafted fourth overall by the Thunder in the 2008 draft.
What Westbrook had to prove is that he was capable of being the type of leader franchises are built around. Up until this season, he’s shared leadership duties with Kevin Durant. But when he left Oklahoma City for Golden State, the Thunder fortunes fell on the shoulders of Westbrook.
As the season has gone on, the questions regarding Durant have become fewer and fewer. Even most visiting media have moved on.
But that will change with the Warriors coming to Oklahoma City on Feb. 11 and the All-Star game right around the corner, where both Westbrook and Durant will be on the same team.
Yet, Westbrook contends the only players he thinks about are the ones in a Thunder uniform.
The first thing Westbrook did to solidly himself as the face of the franchise was to sign a contract extension in the offseason that will keep him here through at least next season.
The next step was to transform himself into a player that can not only be great, but make those around him better. It’s a task he looks to be getting a handle on.
“I remember my first game was at Charlotte, and from the first game he gave me so much confidence. I mean whenever I am out there on the floor with him, he just gives me so much confidence,” Thunder forward Enes Kanter said. “He makes the game so much easier for everyone around him. That is what a really special player does. And then you see him on the court, and he’s not just cool on the court, but off the floor too he is a really good friend and a really good locker room guy that is always talking to players and tries to get the young guys involved too. He’s amazing.”
Off the court, Westbrook has never hidden from his responsibilities to his organization or community. Whether it’s appearing at various team-wide community events and Christmas shopping sprees, or using his foundation to build reading rooms at elementary schools and hosting Thanksgiving dinner for underprivileged families, he doesn’t shy away from his responsibility.
That includes speaking up on tough topics. Earlier in the year, he stated strong opinions against the election of Donald Trump as President. Friday, he said current players in the league need a better understanding of the importance of Black History Month.
“A lot of people may not know. We’ve got a lot of younger guys in the league that may not understand African-American culture,” Westbrook said. “For me I know that was important, that’s something I studied in college. To be able to know your history, know your background, know where you’re from, and how we’re able to do the things we do today, I think it’s important, not just for people in the NBA, but everybody across the world to have a good understanding of what Black History Month is.”
These are comments fans would not have heard two or three years ago.
The 2016-17 season has in many aspects been a new start for Westbrook. While he isn’t reinventing himself, he is providing more glimpses of who of who he is and who he can become.
“It’s the things off the floor,” Westbrook said on the fun he’s having. “Being able to chat with guys, not just on the basketball court but in the locker room, taking guys out to dinner, and having team events. To be able to do that and to see another guy do well and you are happy for them, that’s a blessing to be able to do that inside of a team. Nothing can break that bond.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer at Eyeamtruth.com

Pelicans can’t slow down surging Thunder

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and New Orleans Pelicans center Anthony Davis have a lot in common. Besides being among the best athletes to ever play their respective positions, both have shouldered the weight of their teams by themselves this season.
So it was no surprise that when the top two scorers in the NBA faced off Sunday, each would put up amazing numbers and make improbable highlight-reel plays.
But the key was going to be which of the superstars would get the most help from their supporting cast. On this night, it was Westbrook who received the most support as the Thunder held on to a 101-92 victory over the Pelicans at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“I’ve been incorporating my teammates since I’ve been in the league,” Westbrook said. “I want to make sure that’s known. Now it’s just finding guys and making it easy for them. Finding better ways. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned different tricks and have passed them on to my teammates.”
Despite the help, it didn’t to overshadow the individual brilliance of Westbrook, who collected his 10th triple-double of the season. His 28 points, 17 rebounds, 12 assists and 10 turnovers extended his triple-double streak to five consecutive games. That’s the longest of his career and the longest in the NBA since Michael Jordan posted seven straight in 1989 with the Chicago Bulls.
“It’s just a blessing,” Westbrook said. “I’m very, very blessed to be able to play the game I love. Like I’ve said before, I never take it for granted. Every time I step on the floor, I’m blessed beyond belief.”
Thunder center Enes Kanter posted 17 points and 12 boards. Victor Oladipo added 15 points as Oklahoma City improved to 13-8.
“Everybody helped out,” Kanter said. “It was team defense and we did a pretty good job.”
The Pelicans were led by Anthony Davis, who had 37 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots. Rookie Buddy Hield broke out of a slump and scored 16 points as he made his first return trip back to the state where he played college basketball. Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore each scored 10 points as New Orleans fell to 7-14.
“I thought we had our opportunities,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “I thought we had our chances. We just didn’t take advantage of it. I thought we did about as good of a job on Russell in the first half as you can do. That being said, the guy still ends up with 17 rebounds, 11 assists, 27 points or whatever it is.”
After being down by as much as 15 points, the Pelicans cut the lead to seven with three minutes left. Davis had a chance to get the lead down to five, but he missed back-to-back shots on the same possession.
Westbrook made New Orleans pay with a fast-break finger roll to push advantage back to 93-85 with 2:39 on the clock.
Oladipo made 1 of 2 free throws before Hield drained back to back 3-pointers. The Pelicans were only down 94-90.
“It felt better making shots,” Hield said of his second-half performance. “It’s been a long time since I had a feel like that. It felt great just seeing the ball go through the net with me struggling for a couple of games. I felt more confident and I felt like it will help me in the long run.”
Westbrook stopped the run when he went to the charity stripe and hit a pair of free throws. But Davis scored on the other end to put back deficit to four.
Davis came up with a block shot on Kanter and it gave New Orleans a chance to get within one basket. But Hield missed a tough layup in traffic.
That led to Westbrook draining a 3-pointer to put the game away.
“I don’t think I have any words to describe him,” Kanter said of Westbrook. “English is my second language.”
The Thunder hit only hit 6 of 28 from 3-point range, but won the rebounding battle 59-51.
Thunder center Steven Adams had his hands full guarding Davis to start the night. Even though Davis is listed as a power forward, the Thunder put Adams on him instead of rookie Domantas Sabonis, who lacks the size, mobility and experience to guard Davis.
With Adams injuring his ankle in the first quarter and unable to return to the game, Kanter came off the bench and had a strong first half to make up for the loss.
Davis played almost 23 minutes in the first half, so coach Alvin Gentry gave him a long rest in the third. This allowed the Thunder to pull out to a 12-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
“We just missed a lot of easy shots,” Davis said. “I think they got 62 points in the paint. For us, offensively, we just missed a lot of easy shots. A lot of wide-open shots, layups. Definitely just one of those games. They made some big shots at the end.”

Westbrook saves best for last in reunion with former coach

(Photo by TorreyPurvey.com)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – If there is one person in the NBA who knows what a motivated Russell Westbrook can do, it’s Scott Brooks. The Washington Wizards coach was the lead man in Oklahoma City for seven years before being fired in 2015.

So as much as he marveld at the recent triple-double streak Westbrook has been on, when the two met up Friday, he wanted to do everything possible to make sure Westbrook didn’t leave with the victory.

Through three and half quarters, it looked like Brooks was going to do just that. But that is when Westbrook took over and led the Thunder to a 126-115 overtime victory over the Washington Wizards Wednesday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“That’s what makes Scotty such great coach,” Westbrook said of Brooks. “He’s competitive. He’s a little fireball himself. He knows how I am.

Westbrook posted 35 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists to garner his ninth triple-double of the season and his fourth in a row. Victor Oladipo added 25 points on 10 of 16 shooting. Enes Kanter came off the bench to score 14 points as Oklahoma City improved to 12-8.

“I thought we did a good job until overtime on Westbrook,” Brooks said. “He’s hard to stop. he’s a terrific basketball player playing at a high level.”

Bradley Beal posted 31 points on 10 of 21 shooting for the Wizards. Markieff Morris tallied 19 points and seven rebounds. John Wall had a double-double with 15 points and 15 assists as Washington fell to 6-11.

With 5:25 left in the game, Beal drained a 3-pointer to put the Wizards up 97-90. Two possessions later, Steven Adams was fouled but he missed both free throws.

Washington forward Markieff Morris attempted to hammer a dunk down on Jerami Grant. However, Grant fouled him to stop the dunk and sent him to the free-throw line. But Morris also missed both free throws.

Westbrook, who was having a horrid shooting night up to that point, finally scored in the fourth by leaping over Morris for a rebound and tipping in the shot.

“You have to want it more than the other person,” Westbrook said. “Plain and simple for me. Every play matters. Regardless of what is going on in the game you can always impact the game in different ways. That’s the type of player I am.

After Morris hit a pair of free throws, Oklahoma City’s Andre Roberson drilled a 3-pointer and the lead was cut to 99-95 with 3:02 left in the fourth.

Otto Porter scored out of a timeout. But Oladipo knocked in a 3-pointer and then scored on a fastbreak dunk as the Thunder closed to within one point.

Morris and Westbrook exchanged layups before Wall scored to give Washington a 105-102 advantage.

After Westbrook missed a drive to the basket, the Wizards had two shots to make it a two-possession game. They missed and the Thunder got the rebound with 17.6 seconds on the clock.

Oklahoma City got the ball to Westbrook, who dribbled around the perimeter before raising up for a long game-tying 3-pointer with 7.6 seconds left. Porter had a chance to end the game, but his buzzer-beating attempt bounced out of the rim and sent the contest into overtime.

“We had a chance,” Brook said. “Then he got free and he hit a tough three. He makes tough shots.”

Westbrook scored the first five points in overtime before Oladipo hit a 3-pointer with 3:48 left to give Oklahoma City a 113-105 lead.

The Wizards never seemed to recover from the fourth-quarter collapse. They scored only two points in the first three minutes of the overtime. That was enough for the Thunder to close out the game.

Westbrook scored 14 of his game-high 35 in the overtime period to ensure the Thunder’s win streak extends to four games. During the win streak Westbrook is averaging 28.8 points, 14.0 rebounds and 14.3 assists.

“He’s doing an amazing job,” Kanter said of Westbrook’s performance. “He’s finding the open man, making his teammates better. Leading this team really well.”

Westbrook picked up four rebounds in the opening quarter. That guaranteed he would head into December averaging a triple-double.

It was Beal who helped the Wizards whittle the Thunder lead down. He matched Oladipo ‘s 14 points with 12 of his own in the half. But Oklahoma City still held a 60-53 advantage at halftime.

As hot as Washington was to end the first half was equal to how cold they were to start the second. But the Thunder didn’t take advantage of the cold shooting and led by nine midway through the quarter.

That is when the Wizards went on a run and tied the game at 84-84 heading into the fourth quarter. Despite his poor shooting up until then, Westbrook stayed on the attack knowing he could still help his team win.

“Honestly, it’s never stop believing into yourself,” Westbrook said. “Regardless if I miss a shot, there are other ways I can impact the game. I try to find a way to insert myself throughout the game.”

Harden, Rockets will test Thunder defense

 

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — After starting the season with a 6-1 record, the Oklahoma City Thunder were being looked at as the surprise team in the NBA. A week later, the Thunder are in a tailspin, riding a four-game losing streak.
That is the situation that awaits the Thunder (6-5) when they play host to the Houston Rockets (6-4) on Wednesday night at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The latest loss came Monday night when Thunder traveled to Detroit on the second night of a back-to-back. Near the end of the first quarter and the start of the second, Oklahoma City allowed the Pistons to go on a 23-6 run. It was an uphill battle from that point on, and Detroit emerged with a 104-88 victory.
“Defensively we started with really good energy,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “In fairness to our guys, you can always expect on a back-to-back that you’re going to be a bit leg weary. Generally that’s going to affect your offense. Sometimes on back-to-backs you can’t put stock or onus on having a great offensive output, but you have to hang your hat on your defense.”
Oklahoma City’s defense is getting precipitately worse, but it hasn’t just been against teams such as the Golden State Warriors or Los Angeles Clippers.
The Thunder’s last two defeats came at the hands of the Orlando Magic and Detroit, clubs that rank in the bottom seven in the NBA in scoring. Each team managed to score over a 100 against the Thunder.
“We’re one of the top teams in the league when we play defensively,” Thunder guard Russell Westbrook told The Oklahoman. “So I’m not really worried about who’s playing and who’s not.”
Having issues with defense, however, is not a good problem to have with the Rockets in town. Houston is 10th in the league in scoring at 107.8 points per game and fifth in 3-point shooting at 37 percent.
Houston has not had a problem putting up points this season. The Rockets are coming off a 115-88 plastering of the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday.
“I thought they came out with the right intensity, they came out the way they should have,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We talked about it and came out in the second half the way we should have. That way we got some good rest. I saw a lot of good things.”
The Rockets might get even stronger Wednesday with the possible return of guard Patrick Beverley, who has been out since the preseason after undergoing left knee surgery.
Beverley and the Thunder have a history that goes back to when he crashed into Westbrook’s knee during the 2013 postseason. Westbrook ended up with a torn meniscus that cost him the rest of the postseason. Thunder fans catapulted Beverley to the top of their most hated list, which he has held onto since then.
Against the 76ers, Rockets guard James Harden posted 33 points, seven rebounds and nine assists. He is now one of only three players in history to average at least 30 points and 10 assists through 10 games. Harden was also named Western Conference Player of the Week.
However, Harden seems to be more focused on making sure his team plays the right way.
“We’re getting better game by game, and defensively we’re getting better and offensively has been better, too,” Harden told ESPN.com. “We take it one game at a time. These next three games will be extremely tough; we’ll be all right as long as we continue to do the things we’ve been working on.”
Asked his assessment of the Thunder in the wake of Kevin Durant exit in free agency, Harden said, “It’s Russ. It’s Russ, and it’s a one-man show.”

Kanter works over Heat big men in Thunder victory

 

Photo by Torrey Purvey

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — There are going to be nights when Russell Westbrook isn’t superman. It doesn’t happen often, but it does take place.

When it does happen, the Oklahoma City Thunder needed other players to step up their game and carry the load. That was the case Monday night with the Thunder taking on the Miami Heat.

Enes Kanter scored 24 points off the bench to lead Oklahoma City to a 97-85 victory over Miami at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

It was Kanter’s second straight game in which he hit double figures in points and rebounds and brought boundless energy off the bench.

“Not just me, but when the second unit comes, coach wants us to bring a lot of energy,” Kanter said. “I think that’s what we were trying to do tonight. Tonight and every night.”

Kanter shot 10 of 12 from the floor and 4 of 4 from the free-throw line while hauling in 10 rebounds in only 21 minutes of action. Victor Oladipo scored 17 points while rookie Domantas Sabonis scored a career-high 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook had his lowest scoring output of the season with 14 points. But he handed out 11 assists, which was more than all of the Heat starters combined. The Thunder are now off to their best start since the franchise moved to Oklahoma City.

James Johnson paced the Heat with 18 points off the bench. Goran Dragic was held to 11 points on 5 of 12 shooting. Luke Babbitt also added 11 points and four rebounds. Hassan Whiteside tallied five points and 12 boards.

“It’s tough to say what the biggest challenge was,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The physicality. Their opportunities in the paint created some rough offensive possession. We simply have to get better and we will. But they really set the pulse of the game.”

The Thunder (6-1) got a scare midway through the first quarter when center Steven Adams hurried off the court pressing his right hand against his side. He went back to the Thunder locker room and returned a few minutes later with his hand taped up.

Even without Adams, the Thunder continued to attack the paint with Kanter. He came off the bench and went at Whiteside and the Heat frontcourt. He posted 10 points and four rebounds in the quarter to give the Thunder a 39-28 advantage.

Miami (2-4) didn’t shoot particularly well in the first half. But they tried to stay within striking distance by running down loose balls and offensive boards. They also were able to take advantage of Oklahoma City turnovers.

Westbrook, who made his first two shots of the game, ended the half missing eight straight. Yet, the Thunder still led 55-47.

Oklahoma City came out of the break on fire. Led by Westbrook and Sabonis, they began the third quarter on a 20-0 run.

Despite the score getting out of hand, the intensity picked up as Westbrook and Dragic both dove for a loose ball and Dragic rolled onto Westbrook. They got up shoving each other and had to be separated.

Miami was unable to get any easy shots against Oklahoma City’s defense. Andre Roberson made life tough for the Heat wing players with suffocating defense.

Kanter then got a pushing match with several members of the Heat, which got Westbrook off the bench screaming encouragements to Kanter.

“We’ve got bigs that are able to compete at a high level,” Westbrook said. “He ain’t going to do the talking, but I’m going to do the talking for him. A lot of my guys don’t talk much. As a leader of this team my job is to support my teammates and instill confidence in those guys and their game.”

The Thunder took a 22-point lead into the fourth quarter. The Heat never made a serious run after that as Westbrook sat out the fourth quarter for the second straight game.

“That’s great, Westbrook said of sitting out the fourth. “If we can do that all year, that would be great with me. Rest is always good, but it’s always good to see that we’re doing a good job of putting teams away early.”

Oklahoma City won the rebound battle 47-41. They also collected 12 more assists than the Heat, who had 12 turnovers and shot 36.9 from the field.

“Guys were missing shots they normally would make,” Whiteside said. “Me being one of them. So it was just a tough night shooting. We are going to come back, regroup and get ready for the Bulls.”

 

 

NOTES: Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook was asked before Monday’s game about the shot-blocking prowess of Miami’s Hassan Whiteside and if it would make him more careful about attacking the rim. “I’m not scared of anybody,” Westbrook said. … Miami G Dion Waiters reflected on his trip to the playoffs last year with the Thunder. “I smelled the Finals,” Waiters said. “I was too close, man. That’s why I hate talking about it. I couldn’t even watch it.” … With Oklahoma City guard Cameron Payne still recovering from a fracture in his right foot, coach Billy Donovan said he’s learning how to take care of himself. “He has a great opportunity to focus in on his body,” Donovan said. “Generally your nutrition at that age is predicated on you’re playing all the time. Now that he doesn’t have playing, he is starting to understand a little more about nutrition.”

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