Nearing Halfway Mark, Thunder Playing Better Than Ever


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DALLAS – A few nights ago as his team prepared to play the team with the best record in basketball, Denver Nuggets coach George Karl was asked if he thought the Oklahoma City Thunder’s transition from James Harden to Kevin Martin was complete.

Yes, yes he did, Karl said.

And then the game happened. At halftime, the Nuggets had a six-point lead — well, that is if they only had to outscore Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

“They wanted to kick our butts,” Karl would say after the 20-point beat down, “and they did.”

Two nights later the most efficient offensive machine in basketball directed the buzz saw at the improving Dallas Mavericks. The Thunder loosened their grip on the throttle Saturday night after a couple of 14-point leads and would need overtime to pick up a 32nd win in 40 games this season.

Give full credit to the Mavs, who put an OT scare into OKC for the second time in less than a month. But the Thunder, getting 52 points from Durant on a night he would shoot just 13-for-31 from the floor, and 31 points from Westbrook, answered every Dallas rally for their sixth consecutive win and 11th in 13 games.

Transition? What transition?

“I don’t know if transition is the right word,” OKC coach Scott Brooks said. “I just know that we’re always going to be focused on improving.”

And that’s what the Thunder continue to do with quiet precision as they hit the halfway point of the season Sunday night at Denver. Harden’s a terrific talent, a sure-fire All-Star reserve with the Houston Rockets. But with Martin, his ability to shoot long-range BBs in addition to getting to the hole and the free-throw line — not quite at Harden levels — just might make OKC more complete.

In his first five minutes off the bench in Saturday’s game at Dallas, Martin scored seven points on a 3-pointer, a driving layup and a pair of free throws. The Thunder’s lead grew from 17-14 to 32-22. He would go on to finish with just 11 points and have a poor shooting night, but on the season, Martin is averaging 14.9 points and shooting 42.4 percent from beyond the arc and 91.4 percent from the free-throw line — all highly comparable to Harden’s production last season.

Without the playmaking Harden, Westbrook is handling the ball much more and especially at crunch time when Harden was so effective. Westbrook’s response: He’s averaging 8.3 assists, up nearly three a game from last season.

“He’s just doing a better job running our team, but he’s handling the ball more without James,” Brooks said. “He has more of a role to be the facilitator. Russ is a terrific scorer but he can also help his teammates score and that’s what he’s done. It wasn’t because he all of a sudden started passing the ball more. He has it in his hands more.”

As for worries at the defensive end? Only the grinding Indiana Pacers hold opponents to a lower shooting percentage.

Add it all up and the Thunder aren’t just skating by opponents on most nights, unlike their close call Saturday night at Dallas. They lead the league with a point-differential of plus-9.3. OKC is No. 1 in scoring at 105.7 points a game and 11th in points allowed at 96.4.

The Los Angeles Clippers are right behind OKC in point-differential at plus-9.0 and the San Antonio Spurs are plus-8.4. The Miami Heat own the best mark in the East at plus-5.4, a significant drop-off from its West counterparts.

To illustrate OKC’s improvement, two years ago when they were eliminated by the Mavs in the West finals, it finished the regular season with a point-differential of plus-3.8 and won 55 games. Last season’s run to The Finals, the Thunder’s point-differential ballooned to plus-6.1 as they won 47 games in the 66-game schedule, or the equivalent of about 59 games in normal 82-game season.

If the Thunder can maintain their current pace, they would eclipse 60 wins with a point-differential that would be the highest since the 2007-08 Boston Celtics with a plus-10.3.

That team won 66 games and the championship.

18 Comments

  1. kevin nicholls INDIANAPOLIS says:

    The thunder are the truth but the can’t hang with the heat we seen that on christmas day that was a playoff feel type of game and the thunder are not ready to dethrone the king

  2. Chester says:

    i am worried about all the mins durant and russel are playing with not much depth behind them. martin has been up and down and ibaka has been inconsistent as well. they do need some bench players in the trade deadline i think.

  3. AnnoYouLater says:

    a very solid team that got a lot of consistent players…

  4. GREENALLDAY18BANNER18′sACOMIN”13

  5. John Young says:

    Yet again another positive blog about the best team currently in the nba and half the comments are from haters or people who don’t have a clue. Firstly okc’s record so far speaks for itself, 32 and 8 and in by far the toughest conference. Durant is the MVP of the league so far, he can do it all, Westbrook is having he’s best season ever and justifying a max contract and as far as percentage shooting is going when Durant is hitting 52% of he’s shots what does it matter. I’m sure any team in the league would like a pair of players who combine for over 50 points a game every night. With regards to the heat, yes there a great side and Le bron has been the best player in the league for the last few years but the time has now come where he’s been caught and overtaken. Come nba finals it won’t be okc’s worrying about defending the heat, it will be the heat worrying about how they can stop the thunder from scoring. The thunder are a dynasty in the ascendancy the hat gave Le bron the championship he deserved but unfortunately it’s one and out.

    • bigwes95 says:

      i think you’re a hater, basically saying lebron won’t win again because the thunder have the best record. guess what, so did the bulls a couple years ago and lost to the heat, the spurs have the last two seasons i think and have lost in the play-offs both times. and lebron hasn’t been caught, and his time of being the best because the heat aren’t having the best record is absurd. and the thunder will have to worry about lebron and wade and bosh. durant and westbrook did score more in the finals than in the regular season, but why didn’t they win? you saying they score a lot and that will make them win is making me laugh. when durant doesn’t score they lose, look what happened when he scored 52. in the fourth he went something like 2-11 and they almost lost it even though they had a 14 pooint lead in the fourth. and for you information, durant choked in the finals by missing a couple game winning/tying shots. the main point of this is to say that durant and thunder have been figured out by the heat, and that the regular season doesn’t matter really at all once the play-offs come around. and the thunder had a better team last year with two all stars, 6th man of the year, blocks leader, scoring leader, and coach of the year, and they still fell even with a better team? just shows how regular season awards and records don’t mean anything. bring up some real information that will say they will win, because they lost to the heat on christmas day too, and just proved that lebro and co. has figured them out :)

      • Marco29 says:

        I think it is Pop who was named Coach of the year in 2012. Spurs would be a toughest challenge for the Heat than OKC. they almost won in Miami without their Big 3…

  6. Marsy says:

    Clearly Max did not know what he’s saying…. SMH!

  7. Witwiw says:

    The thing here is…. who will defend Lebron in the Finals?? Durant again?? He will just fouled out, Ibaka? i don’t think so, plus Ray allen boom!! double team Lebron maybe. but there is Dwade Bosh , and the 3 point shooters of Miami , Miller ,shane , Rio, jones, OKC will last 4 games? mmmm ill give them 6 games this time, Miami on 6

  8. John says:

    What.! The guy who alway carry a bible in his backpack is not humble! Where did this guy Max get his info? He is completely lost.Durant would be the last guy withthat kind of attitude

  9. LYN says:

    Thank You Kings4! Because I have no idea either of what MAX is talking about. Durant is very humble! Now, Westbrook could use a little taming because he does get angry but he is an intense player as all of the Thunder team! 2013 Champions!!!!!

  10. big jebb says:

    If the Thunder stay healthy they won’t be stopped this year.

  11. theholyspectator says:

    rematch of last years nba finals…its gonna be awesome…i have a feeling miami is startin to get back to that championship status from the last two games they played..and once they start of the second half of the season i wouldnt be surprised if they start puttin together crazy win streaks….forget all the other teams, its gonna be okc and heat in june..gonna be extra exciting to watch

  12. Max says:

    OKC? Well OKC goes as goes Durant/Westbrook! Can they stay focused through out Western Playoffs? Can they not get caught up in trying to Call the GAME? Attitude is lousy for these two. Durant, use to be not only a Great Player, but this seaon? Well, Durant called Kobe a bad name to the Media, Durants body language,shows ” I am GREAT, and I am MAD!POUT!POUT! So, easily could Durant become a D.Rose,Ricky Rubio??? He needs a “sit down talk” with Scott Brooks. If a Player starts believing his is GREAT and better than any other player???Well, that GREAT Player has just taken his first step backwards! Seen it before. Can Durant, deal with the Media and does he not only read how Great he is, but does he now, THINK,:( I AM be the best)!! Duncan, never, Nash, never, even LBJ,never, Kobe has learned and MJ, well he had help, but never gave the help (Scottie Peppin)credit. It was all the GREAT MJ. He would not be call GREAT in todays Basketball market, a new type of game. Kobe learned to just play. So many Great Players in the NBA, No room for Players that spout off to the Media, POUT! Just one bad play and they could have their great Career ended. So, best to be thankful and stay HUMBLE!! OKC will have to deal with the best deciplined Basketball team, the SPURS! I am not a Spurs fan, BUT, got to give them their dues, they are a team that has staying power!!!West will have a better playoff than the Championship. Heat run hot/cold. Pacers, just having a Hot streak, Atl. Well they are just Average. Clippers, are just not proven to go if necessary 7 games, maybe more than once! Grizzles, GSW. Same, can play one or two good games, but under the pressure to maybe play 7??????Rockets, good, but off and on,PDX, out after 1st round, IF they make playoffs. OKC will meet the SPURS!

    • Kings4 says:

      You have no idea whatsoever about what you are saying. Durant is very humble, and has conducted himself as he should. Lebrons ego is huge and Kobes is too (I like both those guys), MJ had a big ego as well, but it did not hold him back, it helped him if anything, and you are an idiot if you think he wouldn’t be great today.

    • Kings4 says:

      And in what world is Rubio great?!? I am a huge Rubio fan, and I think he may be great, but probably not on the level of any of the others you mentioned, but as so far he has not proven he is great yet at all.

  13. Finals, here we come!

  14. Jacques Durceille says:

    Well the thunder should be the favorite out west. If Durant continues to be in the holy land of shooting I don’t see anyone stopping them. Clippers might make the conference finals and the spurs too. But OKC is the team to beat. The clippers are the next team to beat. I can’t wait for the playoffs to see if all the predictions will come true.

    I just westbrook could shoot at a higher percentage, Im talking upper 40s, at the 47-48.7% range. 42 percent is the hallmark of a volume scorer. Take a lot of shots, miss most of them but making some. Westbrook still leaves much to be desired from his game play.

    OKC is dangerous but I can still see an upset happening to them. Durant is the number two in the league to lebron. He needs to pick it up one notch to eclipse or be just as good and then we will be in for a real treat.

    Main Points
    Westbrook needs to shoot a higher percentage and become a quality scorer like durant rather than a volume scorer like kobe or allen iverson

    Durant still needs to pick it up one notch. How can he? Up to him to figure out. He needs to be doing what lebron is doing while maintaining his holy land shooting of 50 40 90

    Ibaka/Martin: Need to decide to be the best 3rd and 4th options ever for okc to dominate. settling for bad jumpers will hurt more than it helps.