Inconsistency plagues Thunder as they return home

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — The first part of the NBA season continues to be a roller coaster for the Oklahoma City Thunder. From winning six of their first seven games to dropping seven of their last 10, the revamped team has been anything but predictable.
Coming off Friday night’s overtime victory in Denver, the Thunder (9-8) completed a three-game road trip, their longest of the season so far. And they return home looking for answers for a variety of issues that seem to be hurting the team.
One of those is Oklahoma City’s inability to defend the 3-point line with any tenacity. In their last 10 games, they are allowing teams to shoot 42 percent from deep, which is the worst in the NBA during that span.
“That’s the next step that we have to take from a defensive perspective — the awareness, the understanding and the decision-making,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan told NBA.com. “We’re doing a much better job of being in the right spots, but once we’re in that spot and have to get out to the 3-point line, there have been times we’ve been slow getting there or we’ve lost our man on the back side with exchanges. There have been times where we’ve given too much help.”
On Nov. 20, the Thunder allowed the Indiana Pacers to shoot 11 of 22 from 3-point range. Two nights later, the Los Angeles Lakers also knocked down 11 from behind the arc. Even in a win over the Brooklyn Nets, the Thunder allowed them to hit 11 3-pointers.
Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, who has given up his share of uncontested 3-pointers, says it comes down to focus.
“It’s just being focused on when to help and when not to help,” Westbrook said, “having a real sense of urgency on that aspect to not give up so many threes.”
When Oklahoma City faced Detroit earlier in the month, 3-point shooting was not a problem. The Pistons won despite knocking down only 5-of-16.
In the Nov. 14 matchup, Detroit was also without the services of center Andre Drummond. When the Thunder and Pistons meet in Oklahoma City, Drummond will be in the lineup with his 14.9 points, 14 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.5 steals.
However, Detroit will not have guard Reggie Bullock after he suffered a meniscus tear in his left knee during Wednesday’s win over Miami.
“Reggie’s a pretty even-keel guy, so he’s fine outwardly,” coach Stan Van Gundy told Mlive.com. “But I know he’s frustrated, because he wasn’t ready to go at the beginning of the year and that cost him some time. And then he had worked his way back in the rotation. It’s just really unfortunate for him.”
The Pistons have already been missing guard Reggie Jackson with a fracture in his foot. The loss of Bullock weakens an already depleted Detroit backcourt.
The one piece of good news is that the Pistons expect to get Jackson back in early December. However, that doesn’t help them when Van Gundy looks down the Detroit bench to find a defender to put in front of Westbrook, who had another triple-double Friday.
But Van Gundy wants to see what type of mindset his Pistons can take on the road as they face a new round of adversity.
“That’s the kind of resilience we had a year ago. We haven’t necessarily had that all the time this year,” Van Gundy said. “It was really good to see. Now the challenge is to bring that same mindset and effort on the road. We’ve got four in a row on the road, all against good teams, all of them .500 or better. It’s going to be a really tough week — four games in seven days — it’s going to be difficult, so we’ve got to bring the same mindset and energy on the road.”

Westbrook, Thunder stomp out Rockets

Photo by Torrey Purvey

By Michael Kinney, Eyeamtruth.com

OKLAHOMA CITY – When Russell Westbrook is on the court, he doesn’t have much compassion. The same man that was handing out Thanksgiving dinners to the poor Tuesday night, was trying to rip the heart out of the Houston Rockets on Wednesday.

So when the Thunder needed a play to be made, Westbrook wasn’t going to do it nicely. The 6-3 point guard came up with a crowd erupting dunk to preserve the 105-103 victory over the Rockets at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“I just stay in attack mode,” Westbrook said. “I’m honest with myself and I’m honest about my game and what I’m able to do at a high level. Getting to the basket is something I do well. That’s what I try to do.”

Westbrook scored 30 points on 9 of 20 from the field to go with nine assists and seven rebounds. He also shot 10 of 11 from the free-throw line.

Thunder guard Victor Oladipo posted 29 points and 10 rebounds. No other player from Oklahoma City scored in double figures as they broke a four game losing streak.

“We were just getting good looks, shooting with confidence, starting to get comfortable,” Oladipo said. “Lots of guy’s shots are going in and just shooting it with confidence.”

The Rockets had seven players score at least 10 points. Ryan Anderson led the charge with 14 points. James Harden added 13 points and 13 assists. Eric Gordon and Clint Capela also scored 13 points in the loss.

The Rockets shot 48 percent from the field for the game. However, they managed on 6 of 21 shooting in the pivotal fourth quarter.

“We got the looks that we like, the looks that we’re going to take,” Houston’s Trevor Ariza said. “Unfortunately, we just didn’t hit them tonight. We felt like we gave this one away. But they were the hungry team tonight. They came out did what they needed to do.”

With 5:38 left in the fourth, Westbrook nailed a corner 3-pointer to cut Rockets lead down to 100-97. Oklahoma City came up empty on their next three possessions before Oladipo tied the game with another 3-pointer.

Harden missed a jumper and the Thunder came down and took advantage with a Westbrook to Andre Roberson alley-oop dunk to give Oklahoma City a 102-100 advantage with 1:43 left.

Houston got the ball with a one minutes on the clock. Harden passed to Trevor Ariza, who missed a 3-pointer from in front of the Thunder bench.

Oklahoma City got the rebound and Westbrook was fouled. He missed 1-of-2 from the line as the Thunder went ahead by 3.

Harden missed a 3-pointer but the Rockets got the loose ball. However, they threw it away trying to set up another 3-point attempt.

Oklahoma City threw the ball inbounds with 12.4 on the clock. Alex Abrines got the ball and drove to the rim instead of making the Rockets foul him. He missed the layup and the ball went out of bounds.

After a replay, the ball was given to Oklahoma City. This time the ball went to Westbrook, who drove straight to the rim and threw down a ferocious dunk on the Rockets Clint Capela, who stands 6-foot-10. But that didn’t seem to bother Westbrook as he put the game to sleep.

“I It don’t matter,” Westbrook said. “The game is on the line. You get blocked or you make a dunk. It’s one or the other. Fortunately it went in and closed the game for us.”

After a string of subpar games, Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams started out the night looking to have an impact offensively. He hit his first three shots for a quick six points in the first quarter.

The combination of Adams, Oladipo and Westbrook combined to score 23 first-quarter points as the Thunder took 38-32 lead.

It was the Rockets bench that got them back into the game after being down by 13 points. The 3-point shooting of Anderson, Ariza and Sam Dekker gave the Rockets a five-point lead in the second quarter.

However, Westbrook and Oladipo stayed hot and carried the Thunder to a 65-63 halftime advantage. The Oklahoma City backcourt had combined for 35 points on 13 of 19 shooting.

What made the Rockets offensive outburst so impressive was that Harden wasn’t looking for his shot. By the end of the third quarter, he had only 11 points. However, he was controlling the game with his passing like a veteran point guard and not just a guard who plays the point.

However, the Rockets could have used more of the scoring guard, but harden admitted his shot just wasn’t falling and had nothing to do with defense of Andre Roberson.

“I missed shots,” Harden said. “Normal game, just didn’t make shots. Especially down the stretch when we needed to.”

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