There’s sort of a complex in being good. All the wins are wonderful, the success is beautiful, but the added stress and anxiety is a foreign feeling. The past two seasons, it was all about steps forward. This season? Forget that. It’s about winning. The team is too good, the players have evolved and the path has been cleared out for the Thunder to make a strong run at an NBA Championship.
But along with that comes the stress and anxiety. An interesting thing happens when your team moves to a record like 29-8. Each loss becomes a pretty painful experience. Each time the Thunder lose, everyone’s forced to start running an autopsy on that game to find where the Thunder’s fatal flaws are. What went wrong? Could it happen again? Is this the sign of something worse? Are the Thunder doomed? Have they been exposed as frauds?
In reality, it’s just a loss and you’ll forget about it as soon as they win their next game. That said, I fully expect the Thunder to win out and if they don’t, I’ll be horribly disappointed.
Now to the rankings:
1. Kevin Durant (Last week: 1)
You know how you know KD has become a cold-blooded closer? Because when he misses in crunch-time now, it’s kind of a weird thing. The two 3s he put up late against the Hawks, I thought were guaranteed to go down. You can’t make ’em all, I guess. But KD’s top moment of the last week had to be the killer 3 he hit in Philly with the whole place booing him. That’s like, legendary type stuff. If KD goes on to have an all-time career, that 3 will be something we talk about. My favorite part about it was that KD didn’t gesture to the crowd or put his finger to his lips or anything. Just backpeddled down the floor. Because he didn’t have to say anything. He knew what he’d done. He knew.
2. Russell Westbrook (Last week: 2)
Westbrook put up two double-doubles last week, but both different. Against the 76ers, the Thunder’s point guard pulled in 13 rebounds to go with 22 points. The last rebound being the classic Westbrook type crunch-time board. That’s something about Russ. He’s a clutch player, and not just in the sense of making shots. He’s just a big play player. Late in games he comes up with important plays all the time, such as a crazy offensive board, a key jumper or a great pass. There’s a reason OKC’s so tough to beat, especially in the final five minutes of a close game.
3. James Harden (Last week: 3)
Since Harden sprained his wrist and has been playing with it wrapped, he’s just 2-12 from 3. That’s after shooting better than 36 percent from deep on the season before that. The wrist is clearly bothering his shooting, which has brought his scoring down a little as well.
4. Kendrick Perkins (Last week: 5)
It was truly amazing to me how many tweets and emails I got following the Atlanta game asking if Cole Aldrich should take Perk’s spot. Maybe I could understand it if that game had happened in late January when Perk wasn’t rebounding well and his numbers looked bad. But after his awesome defensive efforts against Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard, plus the fact he’s pulled in nine or more rebounds five of the last six games (the one exception being against the Hawks where he fouled out after just 16 minutes). I’m excited about Aldrich too, but come on.
5. Royal Ivey (Last week: 7)
Ivey continues to climb because the guy is showing off an incredible amount of value in an extremely limited role. The two 3s against Orlando, including the zone-busting second one, might’ve been as big as any shot KD hit. His defense is better than solid and he’s really making the Thunder miss Thabo less. It’s becoming a reasonable question as to if Ivey might should have that starting 2-guard spot instead of Daequan Cook.
6. Serge Ibaka (Last week: 4)
Just six blocks for Serge last week. What’s the deal with that? It was obvious he wasn’t going to factor into the Orlando game much, and he didn’t. But he was good protecting the rim and on the glass against both Philly and Atlanta. I still would like to see more of Ibaka within the offense. Adding that extra pressure release in his pick-and-pop jumper isn’t a bad thing at all. And I think he has more of a post-up game hidden in him than we’ve seen.
7. Nick Collison (Last week: N/A)
Everything just feels better when Collison is playing, doesn’t it? He returned from injury and performed reasonably well, but against Atlanta, it seemed he fell asleep a couple times in defending mid-range jumpers for Ivan Johnson and Josh Smith. Collison doesn’t typically lapse so maybe it was part of the scouting report, but he was definitely late to contest a couple that went in.
8. Cole Aldrich (Last week: 10)
It’s time. Make him the backup center. He just brings too much energy and effort not to make it happen. He’s still wild and he’s not a great one-on-one post defender yet, but he’s got great hands, runs the floor well and is always active. The Thunder’s second unit could use a spark and Aldrich would certainly provide one.
9. Daequan Cook (Last week: 6)
After going a little trigger crazy two weeks ago, Cook only attempted three 3-pointers last week. And his minutes were slashed as he played just 22, 20 and 14 minutes. I don’t think he’s falling out of favor with Scott Brooks, but obviously there’s a desire to get Ivey a little more time while also trying to mix and match the small lineups.
10. Nazr Mohammed (Last week: 9)
Only 25 total minutes for Mohammed last week. And I’m not sure I remember even one of them.
11. Reggie Jackson (Last week: 8)
He’s a rookie. He’s a rookie. He’s a rookie. He’s a rookie. He’s a rookie. I’m just going to write that on the chalkboard 500 times to make sure I remember while growing increasingly frustrated. He’s a rookie. He’s a rookie. He’s a rookie…
12. Ryan Reid (Last week: N/A)
With Reid, I kind of get the feeling if there was a way for him to crack a team’s rotation, he’d be really productive. Reminds me a touch of D.J. White.
Inactives: Eric Maynor, Thabo Sefolosha, Lazar Hayward