Thunder to host Hield & new-look Kings

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

The Oklahoma City Thunder can’t seem to make up their mind. Just under two weeks ago they were mired in a four-game losing streak and seemed on the verge of seeing their season come apart.
However, since a six-point loss to Portland March 7, the Thunder have rattled off four consecutive victories, each one by bigger margins than the last.
Entering Saturday’s afternoon contest with the Sacramento Kings (27-41), Oklahoma City (39-29) finds itself just a half a game out of fifth place in the Western Conference standings. It’s an impressive move up the standings considering where they were one week into March.
One of those four wins came Thursday with a 21-point victory over Toronto in which Oklahoma City led by as much as 30 in the fourth quarter and Russell Westbrook didn’t have to leave the bench in the final 12 minutes while still picking up a triple-double.
With 14 games left in the season, Westbrook is seven triple doubles away from tying Oscar Robertson’s record for most in a season and eight away from holding the record all to himself.
Westbrook’s chase of triple doubles caused a stir on social media Thursday and Friday when Kevin Durant’s brother, Tony, sent out a tweet seemingly mocking Westbrook.
“Main man chasing the hell out these triple doubles lmao,” Tony Durant tweeted Thursday night during Oklahoma City’s game with Toronto.
This caused Westbrook’s wife, Nina, to respond with a sub-tweet Friday afternoon.
“@LifeOfTonyD35 and it seems like you are chasing the hell out of some attention. You got it,” Nina Westbrook posted.
Neither Russell Westbrook nor Kevin Durant responded to the back and forth.
Most of the credit for the Thunder surge has been given to Westbrook. He posted a triple double in each of the last four wins. Whether they have been at home or on the road, he has played at an MVP level. But his Oklahoma City teammates deserve their share of credit as well.
In its win over Toronto, seven players reached double figures in scoring. It was six in Brooklyn.
One of those who has stepped up is forward is Taj Gibson, who was traded to Oklahoma City in February. He was inserted into the starting lineup after the loss to Portland and Oklahoma City is undefeated since then.
“The biggest part I think for Taj that he has helped that first group with is Taj is a great talker, great communicator,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “For a guy like Russell, Steven (Adams) and even Andre (Roberson), having Taj out there defensively, he is constantly talking. So it allows that group to collectively be on the same page.”
Buddy Hield is looking to have to same type of impact on his new team that Gibson is having.
Hield was part of the mega-trade that sent DeMarcus Cousins from Sacramento to New Orleans. In 11 games with Sacramento, Hield is averaging around 14 points
However, what stood out during the Kings win over the Suns Wednesday wasn’t Hield’s offense. In fact, he scored a total of seven points. It was Hield’s defense that made a statement. After being maligned much of the season for his defensive tenacity, he helped hold Devin Booker to 6 of 26 shooting on the night.
The last time Hield visited Oklahoma City, it was not a good time in the season for him. The rookie from the University of Oklahoma was enduring a subpar campaign when the New Orleans Pelicans came to town Dec. 4.
While the Pelicans lost to the Thunder, Hield had a solid showing with 16 points in only 15 minutes. He later credited the trip back ‘home’ to turning around his season.
Hield is now teamed with a young group of players looking to turn around the Kings franchise. Along with Skal Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein, Hield and the Kings seem to be on the right path. They enter Saturday winners of two straight.
“They are playing a lot of different guys right now,” Donovan said. “I would say with Cousins being out that their front court (players) have maybe had more of an opportunity. I think the guys they put on the floor can create and generate offense on their own. They’ve taken a lot of 3s. They are a very aggressive team.”
Michael Kinney is a freelance writer with

Westbrook explodes in 4th to take down Pelicans

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook has the ability to hurt opposing teams in a variety of ways. But regardless of which way the Oklahoma City point guard chooses to rip apart clubs, the foundation is his aggressive nature.

This was on display Friday when he scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Thunder to a 118-110 victory over the slumping New Orleans Pelicans at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The 21 points is the most Westbrook has ever scored in the fourth during his career.
“I think throughout the game, I try to find ways to pick my spots,” Westbrook said. “Tonight was the fourth quarter. Some nights it may be early, some nights it may be late. I just play. The game will tell you what to do. If something is working, I keep doing it.”
Westbrook ended the night with 41 points on 14-of-29 shooting from the field. He also posted 11 rebounds, 11 assists and nine turnovers to notch his 29th triple-double of the season. It was also his seventh career 40-point triple double, which tied Wilt Chamberlain for second most in NBA history.
“I just stay in attack mode,” Westbrook said. “I did a terrible job of taking care of the basketball. But I stayed in attack mode and tried to help us win.”
Enes Kanter came off the bench to score 20 points and grab nine boards. Steven Adams and Alex Abrines each scored 13 points for the Thunder (34-25).
Anthony Davis led the Pelicans (23-37) with 38 points and seven rebounds. DeMarcus Cousins added 31 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out. E’Twaun Moore was the only other player to hit double figures (10). It was the third straight loss for the Pelicans since acquiring Cousins in a trade last week.
“I thought we played well,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. “I thought we did a good job. We started the game the right way. At the end of the day, Russ made all the plays down the stretch. You have to give them credit.”
With the Thunder leading 94-93, Westbrook hit back-to-back 3-pointers before Kanter added two free throws.
That forced Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry to bring Cousins off the bench with five fouls and he promptly was fouled and hit two free throws.
Westbrook came right back down and nailed another 3-pointer. Davis scored four straight points, Moore drilled a corner 3-pointer and the Pelicans were back to within three points with 3:50 left.
A Westbrook jumper pushed the Thunder lead to 107-102. But Cousins responded with four consecutive free throws to cut the lead to one.
Westbrook ended Cousins’ night when Jrue Holiday let him drive straight down the middle of the lane for a tomahawk dunk on Cousins, who picked up his sixth foul on the play. The three-point play gave Oklahoma City a 110-106 advantage.
“Obviously it changed the game from the standpoint of we were able to throw the ball inside and he was playing well,” Gentry said. “It took all of that away. Like I said, Russ made all the plays at the end of the game.”
With 1:41 left, the Pelicans had the ball and trailed by four. But Holiday missed a 3-point attempt and that set up two free throws on the other end for Westbrook. He hit two more on Oklahoma City’s next possession and that was enough to close out New Orleans.
The Thunder won the rebound battle 53-26 and owned the points in the paint 56-40.
The night started very spotty for Cousins as he and Adams picked up double technical fouls 32 seconds into the game on what appeared to be light jostling for position. One minute later, Cousins was hit with his second foul and had to sit on the bench the rest of the quarter.
“I have to fight through the adversity and ignore the negativity and just do what’s best for the team,” Cousins said.
Despite that, Davis was able to have his way with the Thunder defense. Whether it was Adams, Kanter or Taj Gibson, no defender had an answer for him as he posted 24 points in the opening 12 minutes.
“He had two fouls at the 10:30 mark,” Davis said of Cousins. “It’s tough when he goes out. I tried to make shots and get other guys involved.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with

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

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 “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 “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

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

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