Four games in six days, three wins. Not all that bad, except the Thunder won the games they absolutely should, and lost a home game against the only good team.
It still feels like there’s a palpable level of anxiety circling the fanbase, but Oklahoma City has won four of five since dropping three straight. The Thunder’s last four losses have been to highly seeded playoff teams. And every game has been decided by two possessions or less.
The Thunder have absolutely been a bit inconsistent with their play since the All-Star break, with wins even leaving an odd taste in fans’ mouths. Plus the fact that they may potentially blow the No. 1 seed in the West is upsetting. But the reality is that it’s the stretch run of the season and OKC is technically in first place and definitely primed as one of the four likely contenders for an NBA title. Should we really all be that upset? Nervous, anxious, tense… yes. But this team is good. It’s just a question of if they’re good enough.
Now to the rankings:
1. Kevin Durant (Last week: 1)
KD will say he doesn’t care about things like the scoring title or MVP, and while he probably really doesn’t, I’m sure those are nice things he’d be excited if they came his way in the next two weeks. He has two scoring titles already, but winning again this season means he would have three straight something only George Mikan, Neil Johnston, Wilt Chamberlain, Bob McAdoo, George Gervin and Michael Jordan have done. Nobody has three-peated with scoring titles since MJ in 1998. So that would be pretty cool. KD’s currently at 27.8 while Kobe is sitting at 28.1 (actually 28.07). If Kobe stays at 28.1 — which he might as he hasn’t played the last five games — KD would need to average 31 points per game over his final six to overtake that. Completely doable, I’d say.
As for the MVP, there will be more time to make cases, but it’s a bit frustrating when people act like LeBron obviously is the MVP. What makes it so? KD’s team has a better record and their stats — outside of PER and assists — aren’t all that different. I’ve had a lot of people say, “Yeah, but KD’s turnovers…” Did you know LeBron averaged 3.4 a game to KD’s 3.7? Not that striking of a difference, huh? LeBron has been a better defender, I’ll grant that, but there isn’t some chasm of separation in that area. KD is a really solid on-ball defender. He just hasn’t built the reputation LeBron has for it.
I still think the MVP is up in the air. People are going to lean LeBron’s way because it seems like you’ll be labeled a basketball idiot and have a scarlet “KD” branded on your chest if you don’t, but I don’t think this race is as cut and dry as some make it out to be.
2. Russell Westbrook (Last week: 2)
A return to the normal consistency from Westbrook as he averaged 25.7 points and nearly six assists last week. Only one game he really struggled, and wouldn’t you know it, it was the game OKC lost. To make up for it, he decided to levitate in front of 19,000 people.
And check his per 36 stats for the week: 32 points, six rebounds, seven assists and 46.2 percent from the field. Pret-tay, pret-tay good.
Also, I really liked what Rick Adelman said after the Wolves game against OKC about Westbrook: “Everybody doesn’t have to be John Stockton,” he said. “If they’re really down on him, he can come over here. I’ll let him play.”
3. Serge Ibaka (Last week: 3)
This blocked shots thing is getting kind of ridiculous. Ibaka is averaging 5.3 a game in April, and that’s in just 24.9 minutes a game! He routinely turns in four, five or six block shots a night, most of the time picking up three within the first five minutes of a game. Ibaka completely changes the look of OKC’s interior defense because teams absolutely hesitate to attack with him patrolling the paint.
One thing though that has dipped for Ibaka is his rebounding. He was a terror on the glass in March, but is only averaging 5.9 in April. That’s right, he almost averages more blocks than rebounds. He picked up his first double-digit rebounding game in more than two weeks against the Wolves. But with his consistent scoring, improving rebounding and shot-blocking, is he a candidate to average 10-10-4 next season? Is it really possible?
4. Thabo Sefolosha (Last week: 6)
His perimeter defense has completely returned as he showcased against Monta Ellis in Milwaukee. But he’s also back to shooting the ball a bit. Last week he hit 6-of-12 from 3 and averaged 8.0 a game. Anything extra Thabo provides offensively, especially 3s, make the Thunder so much more dangerous.
5. Nick Collison (Last week: 4)
If the Thunder were to somehow lock up the No. 1 seed with a game or two to play, what I would like to see is a night of trying to pad Collison’s stats. Wouldn’t that be fun? Feed Collison the ball like he was the featured star, let him work in the post, shoot jumpers, whatever. He’s sacrificed stats for this team for a long time, so why not throw him a bone and let him throwback like he was in Allen Fieldhouse with Keith Langford and Kirk Hinrich.
6. James Harden (Last week: 5)
Harden had restored his consistent, efficient bench scoring with 16 against Milwaukee and 17 against the Clippers, but then he sat against the Kings and scored six on 1-of-11 shooting against the Wolves. Also, he hasn’t scored 20 points yet in April, with the most this month being 17. I’m not saying there’s cause for concern, I’m just saying Harden hasn’t played as well as he’s capable lately.
7. Kendrick Perkins (Last week: 7)
Take away the game against Chicago April 1, and Perk has averaged 8.2 rebounds a game this month. He’s become a bit more of an offensive threat with his catching, dunking and big-to-big passing with Ibaka and has of course played quality interior defense. The thing with Perk is that he really should play more of a specialized role of defending bigs and playing in more matchup situations, but I do think he’s rounding into his best form for playoff time.
8. Derek Fisher: (Last week: 8)
OK, we need to talk about this. Fisher had his best game against the Kings, scoring 14 on 6-8 shooting. I think he’s breaking out of that shooting funk he was stuck in. He looks like he’s fitting in better, gelling with the second unit and finding his place.
But he’s playing way too freaking much. Scott Brooks said the night Fisher was signed that he’d play “13-20 minutes a night” backing up Westbrook. Well, he’s averaging better than 20 minutes a game with the Thunder, and has only played less than 15 once. And he doesn’t really back up Westbrook. He’s essentially become the new off guard in OKC’s smallball lineup. Harden is really the Thunder’s backup point guard.
I was fully on board with the Fisher signing when it appeared he’d basically be taking over the exact role Reggie Jackson had been playing. But Brooks is in love with Fisher for some reason. I just don’t see why Daequan Cook’s minutes are being slashed so drastically when he makes so much more sense in those smallball lineups. It’s not hard to picture a playoff game where Fisher inexplicably plays 35 minutes as we all watch Cook and Thabo sit harmlessly on the bench. I’m just confused with Fisher’s role.
9. Nazr Mohammed (Last week: 10)
“One quiet, but very positive development over the last couple weeks has been the resurgence of Nazr Mohammed.” I typed that sentence before I went and looked at his stats for the week — 4.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg. Higher than his season averages, yes, but still nothing to get that excited about. Still, it just feels like Mohammed is playing better. It seems like he’s having more of an impact on the floor, even if he’s just getting five or six minutes a night.
10. Daequan Cook (Last week: 9)
Cook’s minutes last week: 11, 4, 24, 8. What his role is anymore, I do not know.
11. Cole Aldrich (Last week: 11)
The fact Aldrich didn’t celebrate the Thunder’s blowout of the Kings with a ceremonial dunk was one of the most disappointing moments in the season.
12. Royal Ivey (Last week: 12)
13. Lazar Hayward (Last week: 13)
Inactives: Eric Maynor, Reggie Jackson