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

Thunder revamp lineup with 5-player trade

 

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – While most of the teams in the NBA have a timid approach when it comes to making trades, the Oklahoma City Thunder never have been in that category. 
As the 2016-17 trade deadline approached Thursday, Thunder General Manager Sam Presti once again showed he is not afraid to make moves. 
Presti sent guard Cameron Payne, forward Anthony Morrow and forward Joffrey Lauvergne to the Chicago Bulls for forward Taj Gibson, forward Doug McDermott and a 2018 second round draft pick. 
This was the third major trade the Thunder have been involved in since the end of last season. Only seven players remain from the unit that lost to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. 
The move strengthens the Oklahoma City bench and provides more consistent scoring around MVP candidate Russell Westbrook. 

Russell can help both of these guys, and both of them complement him,” Presti said. “I think we’re a better team this evening than we were this morning.”

Gibson leaves Chicago averaging 11.6 points and 7.0 rebounds a game. McDermott is posting 10 points a night while shooting 37 percent from 3-point range. 
Gibson, who had been with the Bulls for eight years, says he didn’t find out about the trade until after Thursday’s practice. 
“We were joking about (trades),” Gibson told the Daily Herald. “Nobody really took it seriously the whole practice. When (Jimmy Butler) heard the news, he texted me because everybody just left and didn’t know what was going to happen. 
“He texted me that he loved me of course and he’d see me in the summer. Continue to keep doing well and go get the bags. That’s his words.” 
The Thunder return back to action Friday night for their first game since the All-Star break. It is doubtful Gibson or McDermott will be in uniform when they host the Los Angeles Lakers at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. 
The Lakers are still feeling the impact of the takeover of Magic Johnson, who was named president of Basketball Operations Tuesday. 
The Hall of Famer met with his team for the first time Wednesday in the Lakers’ first practice since before taking off for All-Star weekend. It didn’t take long for Johnson to sell the talented, but young Lakers on where he wants to guide the franchise. 
“The Lakers organization isn’t a losing organization,” guard D’Angelo Russell told NBA.com. “He wants to get back to where we were.” 
Johnson led the Lakers to five NBA titles in his 12-year career. Along with Larry Bird, he is credited with turning around the NBA in the 1980s. 
But Johnson might have an even tougher challenge doing the same for the current Lakers (19-39), which sit one game out of last place in the Western Conference. 
Johnson’s first move as president was to trade sixth-man Lou Williams to the Houston Rockets for Corey Brewer and an unprotected first-round pick. Los Angeles also showed interest in trying to pry Paul George away from the Indianapolis Pacers, but was unsuccessful. 
“Everything happened so fast,” Lakers coach Luke Walton ESPN.com. “The initial thought is why do it right before the trade deadline, but Magic came in and we got to work right away.” 
However, whether the Lakers made any trades or not, Westbrook really wasn’t concerned. He made it clear, he doesn’t care what changes are made to other teams. 
“Like I’ve always said, I never worry about other teams,” Westbrook said. “I don’t care if the Lakers have Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar), Kobe (Bryant), it don’t matter. All my job is to worry about my team and who we got here and we go out and compete.” 
One of the pleasant surprises for Oklahoma City was having center Enes Kanter return to practice for the first time since he fractured his forearm Jan. 26 in a game against Dallas when he slammed it into a chair. 
The Thunder have been without his 14 points and almost seven rebounds a game and it has showed. 
Kanter took part in drills Thursday and Friday, but coach Billy Donovan hasn’t said whether he will be available when the Thunder host the Lakers at Chesapeake Energy Arena. 
“Him being out there with the team, it’s just good to have him back,” Thunder center Steven Adams said of Kanter. “Just a lot of energy.” 
Oklahoma City (32-25) has 25 games left on its schedule. Only seven of those are against teams with winning records. As they fight to move up in the standings, the players admitted to looking at the standings and talking about what they have to do going forward. 
“We want to try and create some rhythm, some momentum going toward the right direction,” Westbrook said.

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

After slow start Thunder dismantle Knicks

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma City wasn’t just carrying a simple two-game losing streak when it came into Wednesday night. Both losses to Golden State and Washington were blowouts in which they were never in contention to win.
Russell Westbrook wanted to make sure the Thunder were able to put those games behind them before heading into the annual All-Star weekend. Spearheaded by his 27th triple-double, Oklahoma City defeated the New York Knicks 116-105 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“You always want to have a good feeling, a good taste in your mouth going into the break,” Westbrook said. “And then you make sure you come back ready to play.”
Westbrook scored 38 points to go with 14 rebounds and 12 assists. He now sits alone in third place all time for most triple-doubles in a single season.
Victor Oladipo poured in 21 points on 9 of 17 shooting. Jerami Grant came off the bench to score 13 points while Steven Adams added 11 points and eight rebounds to raise the Thunder to 32-25.
Oladipo was particularly impressed with what the Thunder got from Grant.
“He played great today,” Oladipo said of Grant. “He needs to play like that every night.”
Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 30 points on 11 of 20 shooting. Derrick Rose collected 25 points and Courtney Lee scored 16 as New York dropped to 23-34.
With the Thunder leading by seven, Rose came up empty on a layup with under six minutes left in the game. The Thunder got the rebound and passed it ahead to Westbrook, who was fouled attacking the basket.
Westbrook sank two free throws to put Oklahoma City ahead 101-92. Anthony came back down the court and drained a turnaround jumper on Andre Roberson.
Westbrook was fouled again and he made 1 of 2 from the line. However, he grabbed his own rebound and then knocked down a 3-pointer for the four-point play and a 105-96 advantage.
“I did know I missed it,” Westbrook said of the free throw. “Good thing I know when it’s going to be short. I can usually go back and get it real quick. It’s good for our crowd, it’s good for our team. It hurts the other team, obviously. That’s a good play for us.”
After Courtney Lee hit a midrange jumper, Westbrook and Grant hit back-to-back 3-pointers and the Thunder pushed their lead to 111-96.
That was enough to close out the Knicks for the night.
Oklahoma City hit 12 of 23 shots from 3-point range and outrebounded New York 48-39.
“It’s a strange thing, but when you’re not scoring, your defense slacks off,” Thunder coach Jeff Hornacek said. “I think that’s what happened to them in the first quarter and to us almost the rest of the game.”
Anthony was on the attack from the opening tip. Despite the defensive-minded Andre Roberson guarding him, he hit his first six shots of the night.
But it was more than Anthony, who helped the Knicks grow its lead to 17 in the first half. As a team, they knocked down 6 of 9 from 3-point land and it looked like they had taken the Thunder out of the game early.
But Oklahoma City found renewed energy on the defensive end and started forcing New York into turnovers. This allowed Oladipo and Westbrook to get out on the breaks for easy scores.
The Thunder backcourt combined for 20 points in the second quarter as Oklahoma City held a 62-60 halftime advantage.
“Just being aggressive,” Oladipo said. “Being aggressive and shooting the ball with confidence and going out and protecting the win.”

Will the book be closed on KD saga after tonight?

 

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – At 1:15 a.m., Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors made their way into Oklahoma City. After all the talk, preamble and questions, the day Thunder fans have been waiting for finally arrived. They have Durant back in their backyard.

With a build up like no other regular season game since the first game the Thunder ever played in Oklahoma City, tonight’s confrontation between Golden State and Oklahoma City isn’t just another day on the schedule. The biggest question on anyone’s mind seems to be how should Thunder fans treat their former hero.

“Obviously, Kevin’s done a lot for Oklahoma City and our team when he was here, so it’s kinda up to them,” Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook said. “It doesn’t really matter to me one way or another. It’s a basketball game, and we’ve gotta go out and compete.”

Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. central at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. It is being broadcast live on ESPN/ABC, which has given the game a playoff style treatment.

But they are not the only ones. According to Thunder officials, the media credential list compares to recent Western Conference Finals.

Since the day the 2016-17 NBA schedule was released, this contest has been circled on almost every calender through the league. That includes Durant, who knows his welcome will be slightly different than the ones he got when he wore a Thunder uniform for eight seasons.

“As an opposing player, I know how fans are,” Durant told ESPN’s Marc Stein. “I know what’s important to them and their team. It’s way more important than just one player. But I have so many great memories there. It’s something that always going to be part of me until I die. I’m not going in there acting like I’m going to be praised. I know how it is.”

The Thunder are doing their best to try and down play the significance of the game. But even Nick Collison, who teamed with Durant for nine years, still remembers how he felt that July 4 day when Durant made his announcement .

“I would just say disappointment,” Collison said. “We wanted to get our team back. We felt like we could win a championship. We had a lot of success here. So definitely disappointment.”

After tonight’s game, will the disappointment, anger and in some cases sadness, be out of the system of Thunder fans? There is no telling because the feelings and emotions run deep with a segment of the fan base.

At some point Durant will be welcomed back to OKC with open arms for all he did for the franchise and city. Just not tonight.

But once all the initial boos are over and the awkward interactions take place, a game is going to be played. And if judging by the previous two encounters, the Warriors won’t be phased by the story lines associated with the game.

Golden State won the first two games by an average of almost 24 points. But they were both played in Oakland.

The Thunder hope having the Warriors in Oklahoma City will be some sort of an advantage.

Another factor that could work toward Oklahoma City’s advantage is that the Warriors are playing the second half of a back to back after making a stop in Memphis Friday night.

The Thunder want to bring the same team effort from its win over Cleveland into tonight matchup.

“You have to be able to do it every night,” Collison said. “We had a good one last night. We have to turn the page and try to do it again tomorrow.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Thunder run past Trail Blazers in 4th

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — Portland had a specific game plan when they came into Oklahoma City. Damian Lillard wanted his Blazers to match the physical prowess and intensity of the Thunder and their best player, Russell Westbrook.
However, when the Thunder are playing at home in front of a raucous crowd, that can be a difficult task to perform. The Trail Blazers learned that Sunday during a 105-99 defeat to at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“They won the effort battle,” Lillard said. “Not that our effort wasn’t there. They got a lot of offensive rebounds. If the ball was loose, they got to them before we did. They out-aggressived us down the stretch. It felt like they wanted it a little bit more than we did. In that situation, we have to fight harder. We have to want it more.”
Westbrook scored 19 of his game-high 42 points in the fourth quarter to lead Oklahoma City. He hit 16 of 34 shots from the field to go along with eight assists and four rebounds. It was the eighth time this season in which he reached 40 points, tying him with Houston’s James Harden for the NBA lead.
“He doesn’t stop,” Lillard said of Westbrook. “As a group, we love the challenge. You know he’s not going to stop. He is a hell of a player having an MVP season.”
Victor Oladipo added 24 points and 13 boards for the Thunder (30-22). Andre Robertson may have had his best game of the season with 11 rebounds and 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
Oklahoma City center Steven Adams finished with 13 rebounds, nine of them on the offensive end. The Thunder outrebounded the Blazers 56-44.
Lillard led Portland with 29 points on 9-of-22 shooting. CJ McCollum posted 19 points and eight rebounds for the Trail Blazers (22-30).
With the game tied at 85-85, Westbrook knocked down back-to-back jumpers in transition to give Oklahoma City an 89-85 lead with 5:37 left.
The Blazers wasted an offensive possession, and Westbrook made them pay with another midrange jumper. After Oladipo made a pair of free throws, the Thunder lead was up by eight points.
Mason Plumlee and Al-Farouq Aminu broke the scoring drought and closed the gap to 94-90. McCullum drained a 3-pointer, and Oklahoma City’s lead was only three points.
After Portland got a defensive stop, it had a chance to close to at least within one. However, the Blazers turned the ball over, leading to a pair of Oladipo free throws.
Lillard was forced into an off-balance shot, which he missed. The Thunder got the rebound, and Westbrook took over. With Aminu guarding him, he faked right at the top of the key and came back left. Aminu got turned around and headed toward the basket. Westbrook was still standing behind the arc and calmly buried a 3-pointer to push the Thunder lead to seven.
As he went back upcourt, he was stomping on the court yelling, “Where are you going?”
That pretty much closed out the game. The Thunder made their free throws to put the contest to bed.
“They outplayed us in the fourth quarter,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “The bottom line, it came down to that. We didn’t do the things in the fourth quarter that you have to do. Westbrook played great.”
The Thunder started the afternoon as if they were in a hurry to get their Super Bowl parties. Adams had three offensive rebounds in the first two minutes of action.
“It was a huge tone that we came to play,” Westbrook said. “It shows that we are fighting. We want to be the team that hits first. Regardless of how many misses, but we played hard all game.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with 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

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