Thunder Jolting Foes At Both Ends

 

OKLAHOMA CITY — Talk to me about the Los Angeles Lakers about a dozen games after the next time Steve Nash and Pau Gasol lace up their sneakers on the same night. Then we’ll see if this teetering Lake Show soap ultimately goes tragedy or action thriller.

On Friday night at a rocking and raucous Chesapeake Energy Arena, where they’re already primed for the playoffs, the humble hometown servants were once again dynamite. The surging Oklahoma City Thunder singed the short-handed Lakers 114-108 for a seventh consecutive victory.

It wasn’t as close as the final score looks, with the game effectively put at arm’s length with OKC’s electric, 41-point second-quarter.

So let’s forget for a moment the team that generates daily headlines and focus on those quiet defending Western Conference champs. Give the wheezing team that’s riding a determined Kobe Bryant into the ground a rest, and concentrate on the club that continues to ascend on the massive wings of its dynamic young superstars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, neither of whom have even entered their prime.

Twenty games in and it certainly appears that any overreaction to the James Harden trade five days before the season’s first tip was just that. The Beard will always be loved in OKC, but missed? Well, you wouldn’t know it.

While Harden was putting up 29 points for his Houston Rockets and getting whacked in San Antonio, his old mates up I-35 were delivering a spectacular whooping that started with Westbrook’s scintillating pop-a-shot 27-point first half (he finished with 33 points, including a career-best five 3-pointers, eight assists and just two turnovers) and ended with Kevin Durant applying the finishing-touch free throws on a 36-point, nine-rebound, four-assist demolition.

“That’s easy to say,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said when asked if his team should have defended Westbrook better during his 14-point, four assist free-for-all in the second quarter. “I don’t think anybody in this group is going to guard him.”

And that includes Nash when he comes back. But forget about that for now.

Yes, the Thunder fall into those lulls that trim big leads into not-as-big leads, as was the case Friday. And there’s still “Russ The Wild Roller Coaster Ride” where 10-for-16 and 27 points in the first half and 2-for-10 and six points in the second half is possible.

So be it. This juggernaut is averaging a league-best 106.2 points, so find me anyone who’s complaining.

All-in-all, the Thunder made no statements of superiority on this night. They needed to beat an injured Lakers team that dropped to 9-11 and 2-6 on the road. But what they did do was continue their evolution as an all-around basketball team.

Offensively, OKC moves the ball swiftly and effectively as any team, a development that lends credit to Harden’s replacement, Kevin Martin, who spreads the floor and has buried nearly half his 3-point attempts, and the expanded range of Serge Ibaka, an elite shot-blocker whose scoring has spiked from 9.1 points last season to 14.4 and a career-best 59.5 percent accuracy rate.

Westbrook is averaging nearly nine assists a game, putting him in the rare air of the game’s best passers. As a team, the Thunder has risen from last in the league in assists to seventh. They had 10 on 15 baskets in the second quarter as Durant, Westbrook and Martin combined to outscore L.A. 35-26 and dish two more dimes.

“Our offense has always been a drive-and-kick,” said Durant. “We have so many good one-on-one players and with adding Kevin Martin, he’s more of a spot-up, catch-and-go type of guy, so we’re getting assists from him, and Serge [Ibaka] is shooting the ball well. Everybody’s just moving the ball.”

The defensive end, rarely discussed as a weapon, is also surging. OKC’s defensive rating has risen from top 10 last season to top five. Examples: After Durant’s 3-pointer made it 83-66 in the third quarter, Westbrook pressured full-court and denied Lakers guard Chris Duhon the inbounds pass. Two minutes later, with Durant draped on Kobe, who grinded out every one his team-high 35 points, Westbrook trapped and nearly forced a steal.

When Durant wasn’t enveloping Kobe with his spindly limbs, defensive specialist Thabo Sefalosha had a hand in his face. Quick hands and quicker rotations forced turnovers and missed shots and opened the floor for layups and dunks the other way.

Three steals and 14 missed Lakers shots led to 20 Thunder fastbreak points in the warp-speed second quarter.

“I told our guys that we have to really lock into the defensive end and I told them we really have to play with our hands,” OKC coach Scott Brooks said. That’s how we’ve always been a good team — deflections, steals, blocks, rebounds and go. And I thought that second quarter we did that as well as we did throughout that game.”

The Thunder rank second in field-goal defense (42.9 percent) and despite the Lakers’ inflated point total with 33 coming in the final period, OKC held them below 40 percent shooting for much of the game.

Because of their explosive offense, the Thunder probably don’t get enough credit for their defense, even though three starters are more geared to that end — Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins and Ibaka. Brooks said his defending West champs, so dynamic and explosive on the offensive end, are growing tougher on the other end.

That should scare the Lakers and a whole lot of other teams.

“I don’t know where we’re rated [defensively], I just know we’re good because that’s all we focus on,” Brooks said. “Are we better? I think we’re better. It all comes down to toughness. If we play tough, we can get stops.”

33 Comments

  1. Griffin says:

    Lakers are finished. Nash should have retired years ago. Miami will beat NYC. Playoff time, James will check the point guard for NYC and cut off the drive and kicks for threes. If NYC does not see this coming, I need to get paid to coach. OKC will come out of the west and win the ring this year. The NBA is a buisness and needs a rivalry. Miami and OKC is the new boston LA

  2. Gus says:

    DH12 work is to put every ball that drops 3 feet away from the rim back inside. Thats where he is dominant and the best on the league. But I agree with ken when he said about D’Antoni.

  3. Joshua Greenfarb says:

    Did anyone else watch ESPN Sportscenter after Friday Night’s Thunder-Laker game? When Kobe Bryant (congrats for making the 30,000 scoring points SUPER CLUB) averages 30 PPG or more, the Lakers are actually worse as a team! ROFLMAO! I knew he was past his prime and is now relegated to being a ball-hogging MINUS player. When he scores 30 PPG or more, ESPN Sportscenter reported that the Lakers’ win-loss percentage is a dismal .118. Terrible being that low.

    Guess he’s paying for using the 2012 Olympics as a European vacation instead of using that time to get into game shape. Am I the only one with the guts to point that out?

  4. Review the Stats says:

    Hope they win the championship this year. Lots of talent and nice hardworking guys on OKC Thunder.

  5. DWM says:

    Westbrook looks like a teenage mutant ninja turtle.

  6. Javier says:

    not having James Harden will hurt the Thunder in playoffs.They needed big buckets from Harden against the Spurs

    • Joshua Greenfarb says:

      That’s where Kevin Martin comes in. Kevin Martin is a lethal, Reggile Miller-like pure shooter. Kevin Martin is 6’7″. Harden is like 6’3″. Martin’s length can bother opposing team’s perimeter shooters. Martin is an underrated defender. He just knows how to play the NBA game.

  7. ken says:

    DH12 is horrible unless he 3 feet from the rim. DAntoni should of benched him. Pau is 10 times worth what DH is. The Lakers are slow and have no Chemestry with the entire team. Fire the coach, and swallow your pride for disrepecting the greatest coach of all time and pay him Jim Bust, you loser

    • Nate says:

      HORRIBLE! I have been saying this since his Orlando days. He was constantly demanding the ball and from 10 feet away from the basket where he is completely useless. His game just throws off the flow of the offense. All he is good for is put backs, alley oops, and help side defense, and even then, sometimes he over helps just so he can get a highlight block. His man to man defense is overrated. I don’t know why some commentators mention him as the best defender in the league right now. The Lakers didnt need him with Pau still here and it’s a slap to his face when they picked him up; he won 2 rings shortly after he joined the team… They should have picked up someone with versatility or at least younger and better point guard.

      And as for Kobe, I have always had much respect for him, but his game is way too selfish. He takes too many ill advised shots and yes, he hits some of them (like that crazy and-1 three) but they are not high percentage shots. To me it looks like some of the guys on the squad are confused on where they should be and what play they are running because he’s dribbling too much or taking stupid shots. Too many egos are being clashed here and if they dont fix the chemistry, it would be a waste of talent.

    • merryhairyfish says:

      They can’t fire the coach their coach AGAIN…you do know that Mike Brown is still getting paid his contract, so really their stuck with Mike and D’Antonis contracts.

    • Joshua Greenfarb says:

      I’ll give DH12 credit for Friday’s Thunder-Laker game. He did put up great numbers, even though the game was pretty lopsided. He needs to perform well more consistently and for a full 48 minutes. I will still give credit to Kobe for pouring in 30+ points. But can he keep hitting difficult shots like that? We’ll see.

  8. AnnoYouLater says:

    the difference between harden and kmart is…kmart is a consistent shooter and doesnt need a lot of shot attempt…while harden is good at foul shots but kinda of inconsistent

  9. LA says:

    Good game to watch. Mind you Westbrook has never shot like that in his entire career, and the Lakers were without two of their starters. Going to be an exciting playoffs for sure once Pau and Nash are ready

    • Joshua Greenfarb says:

      IF the Lakers get there and IF they don’t trade Pau Gasol. Sorry to break this to you, son. They should’ve kept Ramon Sessions. He’s having a very good season with Charlotte. Instead, they get rid of him and attain Steve Nash who is injury-prone and far past his prime.

      Want to hear a secret? Nash left Phoenix for L.A. for 3 reasons.
      1. No more pressure to win (he can watch Kobe ball-hog).
      2. He can relax and retire while still being a multi-millionaire NBA player into his 40s.
      3. He no longer has to be the #1 or #2 guy. Kobe said, “I come first. That’s how I’ve been successful.” Well, the Lakers as a team are NOT a playoff team. No team success!

      • Joshua Greenfarb says:

        Kobe, there’s no “i” in team. He’ll probably never fully understand that.

      • Chigchig says:

        you really think there not making the playoffs at all? tell me when the last time kobe had an all star C on his team and didnt make the playoffs.. in the first weeks of the season the lakers have had 3 different coaches who all are completely different from each other.. and come seasons end will be better then the wolves undoubtedly..

        to say the lakers have no team success is correct if you are short sited as this year soley.. they have 2 of the last 4 rings and in the last 2 years got beaten by the team that either won it or represented the west in the finals

  10. RememberThisDay says:

    why is it such a big deal to beat the lakers?? there not a good team (check the standings) il be worried about the thunder if they were dominating teams like memphis or new york .. nash could never guard westbrook (even in his prime) … sick of hearing about the lakers!! minnesota have a better winning record & yet we hardly hear a thing about them .. give the t-wolves some love y’all

    • Joshua Greenfarb says:

      From the start of this season, I predicted Minnesota was going to make the 2013 NBA Playoffs, and the Lakers were NOT going to make the playoffs. So far I am right. Interesting. With Kevin Love FINALLY healthy (who the hell does knuckle-pushups????), the T-Wolves are dangerous and hungry. Too bad Brandon Roy got hurt; he was making a decent comeback. Hopefully, they can get him back ASAP, at least as a role-player. Adding Kirilenko is sweet. Kevin Love is an MVP-caliber player. This guy can average 25 PPG, get you 15 RPG, and shoot 3-pointers with regularity — as a 7-footer, that’s incredible and really unprecedented. He makes Dwight Howard look like a slow-motion 6’8″ little munchkin.

    • AK47 says:

      Yeah, Lakers are so Overrated. -_-” addition of DH12 and they think they be champions already. -_-” with or without nash, they’ll not get past first or semis, there are younger teams that can gun with the LAL now, even if they have 4 big names in the team.

    • mr person says:

      standings dont show everything

  11. joshuan3 says:

    They should pursue Anderson Varejoe ! Trade away Perkins and Toronto’s pick !

    • Joshua Greenfarb says:

      Don’t tinker with the support beams, unless kind of necessary. Team Chemistry is huge for the mighty Thunder!

  12. i dont think they beat the heat,durant always choke to lebron (the King) james.Miami will still NBA Champion 2013

  13. I dont think they beat the nba champs,durant always choke especially when he face the king lebron james.
    Back to back nba Champs Miami Heat

    • Joshua Greenfarb says:

      Nah, Durant averaged 30+ PPG in last year’s Finals. Guess who is really choking? “The BLACK MAMMA JAMMA MAMBA MAMMA” Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.

  14. will see if they beat the nba champs heat,lebron is always the best

  15. beans says:

    this guy need to get off OKC’s nuts. Westbrook is the reason they lost in the finals and if he keeps takin more shots then Kevin Durant they will lose again. The Lakers will be a different story with Seve Nash