Eric Pincus of HoopsWorld says OKC could fall a bit: ”Youth/inexperience may make their final push difficult, but they’ve won seven of their last 10 and haven’t shown any true signs of slowing down. It won’t be easy with 16 of the 23 games coming against playoff hopefuls but the Thunder should be able to survive no worse than eight.”
D.J. White has been sent back down to the D-League. That 66er roster is stout now. Byron Mullens, Kyle Weaver, D.J. White and Mustafa Shakur. White scored 27 last night and Weaver had nine assists. Tonight will actually be a fun matchup as Tulsa plays the Dakota Wizards, Hasheem Thabeet’s team. I’m anxious to see how Mullens does against Thabeet.
This was a conversation in the comments of the Bolts yesterday and Darnell Mayberry has a good story on it today: ”It took a 29-point drubbing at Denver to expose a deep, dark secret simmering in Oklahoma City, a disturbing detail that puts a damper on the delirium Thunder fans have enjoyed all season. What was revealed in Wednesday’s loss, the worst of the season, was the latest bit of evidence that illustrated just where the Thunder ranks in the NBA hierarchy. For all its quantum leaps, the Thunder still struggles to beat playoff teams. For now, it’s only a troubling trend. Come mid-April, it could be a fact that flourishes into a quick first-round exit.”
Dime looking at the best athletes in the league: “It happened in the first half: Russell Westbrook split a double-team on the perimeter, got to the rack 0.2 seconds later and barreled over Nene, which caused Birdman to fall down on the domino effect, then Westbrook dropped off a pass to Serge Ibaka for a dunk. There was nothing particularly special about the dish or the dunk — I was more amazed that, on one play, Westbrook had left four bodies in his wake. It was a show of his strength, speed and agility, plus his ability to stop that moving locomotive on a dime.”
Kevin Durant was a breakout player this year, and Steve Aschburner says Russell Westbrook could be one next year: ”Durant made a statement and gave us all a sign of things to come last year at All-Star weekend, when he dominated the Rookie Challenge game. “You could just tell that Durant was like, ‘I deserve to be in the Sunday game,’ ” Minnesota’s Kevin Love said. Going by that criterion, Durant’s teammate on the Thunder is a possible blow-up selection. Westbrook scored 40 points to help the rookies beat the sophomores, 140-128, on All-Star Friday. And in the what-have-you-done-for-us-lately department, he had 30 points and 13 assists — keeping pace with Durant’s 39 points and 10 boards — in OKC’s victory this week over Sacramento. It’s the first time in NBA history two teammates age 21 or younger had 30-10 games. He had double-doubles in six of seven games before the Thunder lost at Denver Wednesday, is considered to be one of the top pure athletes (if not pure point guards) in the league and is averaging 16.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 7.9 assists.”
Russ was also one of NBA.com’s Five on the Rise: “Westbrook has been on a tear the last month, posting double-digit assists in seven of Oklahoma City’s 12 games and helping the Thunder to a 10-2 mark. In the last week, he’s played even better. While wins over the Wolves, Raptors and Kings are hardly surprising for Oklahoma City, those lesser opponents have given Westbrook the chance to hone his skills. He burned the Kings for 30 points and 13 assists, numbers not overly surprising considering his hot streak. But we were impressed by both his shooting in that game (10-for-19) and overall lately. A career 40.7 percent shooter, Westbrook has shot 50 percent or better in four of his last seven games, a welcome sight considering that Kevin Durant DOES need help every once in a while. With the way he’s been playing, Westbrook has surpassed Jeff Green as the Thunder’s No. 2 option and might be making a late run at the Most Improved Player trophy.”
Durant and Westbrook both made Hollinger’s All-Improved Team: “In fact, the monthly progression in his assist numbers is pretty spectacular — Westbrook earned only six dimes a game in November, but in the months since has improved to 7.5, 7.9 and then last month’s 10.0. The best part? His scoring hasn’t taken a hit, and his turnovers are actually down. Scary thought for future Thunder opponents: He, too, is only 21.”
Hollinger also looks at the most underrated shooters: “Durant’s shooting percentage hasn’t slipped this season. What has changed is his knack for getting to the line. The Durantula’s sweep-under move has been particularly devastating in this respect, and you can see the evidence in his secondary percentages: from 8.9 as a rookie to 10.1 last season to this season’s 12.3. The amazing part? It’s almost all from free throws — he’s making fewer than two 3s a game.”
This was pointed out to me from Mike Baldwin’s chat yesterday. He was asked about the drama since the Denver game and said, “People are reading too much into a couple of fans and bloggers’ comments. Most fans, I’m sure, aren’t panicking.” I’m pretty sure J.G. wasn’t panicking. He even said exactly that.