In about 80 hours, the Thunder went 2-1 against the Spurs, Pacers and Knicks. They took down San Antonio by closing out extremely well the final five minutes. They used a massive 25-8 fourth quarter to cruise over the Pacers a night later. And then they fell short in crunchtime as the backbones of the two previous wins — defense and rebounding — went mysteriously missing.
Me? I’m actually kind of encouraged by last week. It could’ve very easily been a 1-2 week, or even 0-3. Those were three big time games, with really challenging circumstances.
But as is the NBA season, it’s about moving forward from it all. And with five games left on OKC’s schedule and only 12 days until the playoffs start, the Thunder have little time left to get completely right. Still, momentum into the playoffs is overrated, as illustrated by the Thunder’s 7-7 limp into the first round last year.
The Thunder finish up with a three-game road stretch at Utah, Portland and Golden State, then close up at home against the Kings and Bucks. Like last week, if I tell you the Thunder finish 5-2, do you happily take that today? I think I would. That would put OKC’s season at 61-21, a pretty fine 2012-13 campaign and maybe enough for that top seed.
1. Russell Westbrook (Last week: 2)
Westbrook’s last four games: 27.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, 8.4 assists and just 2.7 turnovers.
His season averages — 23.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 7.6 assists — would put him in a company of Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Gary Payton as the only players to ever put up those kind of numbers.
2. Kevin Durant (Last week: 1)
For some reason, more than a few people have asked me this question: “What’s up with Durant lately?”
Here’s what’s up with Durant lately: His last 10 games, KD’s averaging 28.7 points on 50.5 percent shooting, 41.9 from 3 and 89.4 from the line.
Yeah, what’s up with that guy lately? He stinks.
3. Serge Ibaka (Last week: 3)
It’s pretty well agreed upon that Ibaka’s performance is directly tied into the Thunder’s success. Except, there’s really not a great stat to illustrate it. For instance, the Thunder’s record when he fails to score in double-figures is 14-4. When he fails to grab 10 or more rebounds: 43-15. When he fails to block three or more shots: 24-7.
Still, it’s obvious when Ibaka is making his presence known and impacting the game. He could finish with six points, six rebounds and a block, but had a great game in contributing to the win.
4. Reggie Jackson (Last week: 7)
Jackson is shooting 78.6 percent at the rim this season. That seems good.
Where he has to improve is midrange. He’s shooting 51 percent from 3-9 feet which is good, but just 27.3 percent from 10-15 feet. That’s the territory Russell Westbrook makes a living (44 percent). Between 10 and 15 feet is typically where you find yourself on a pull-up out of a pick-and-roll.
Pretty soon, opposing defenses are going to get hip to this and sag off Jackson daring him to shoot the midrange J. Teams used to try this with Westbrook but he worked his tail off to improve there. Jackson’s got to add that too.
5. Thabo Sefolosha (Last week: 6)
Do Spurs fans consider Thabo a Spurs Killer? Because it just seems like he saves his very best for San Antonio.
6. Nick Collison (Last week: 5)
I don’t know the status of Collison’s face right now, but if he has to wear a mask for a couple games, that would be TREMENDOUS.
7. Kevin Martin (Last week: 4)
A horrible game against the Spurs, then a sort of decent game against the Pacers and then maybe his best 24 minutes of the season against the Knicks. Problem was, it was only 24 minutes.
This is a problem.
Derek Fisher has cut into some of his time, but it’s clear that Scott Brooks doesn’t have the same kind of trust in Martin that he had in Harden last season. For good reason, yeah, because Harden is better. But it’s not like Martin is some slouch. Take Sunday’s game for example. He hits a big 3 in the fourth, which is nice, because it meant he was steadily scoring throughout the game. And then he’s sat down for the final five minutes as OKC turns on its “Iso KD” offense. When the matchups dictate it, Thabo over Martin is fine. But Martin’s on-ball defense has been quietly very good this season (allowing 0.74 points per play in isolation, 0.88 in spot-ups, per Synergy).
He’s not Thabo defensively, but his offense, when used right, brings OKC something. He’s an excellent shooter, and is becoming a bit more attack oriented. Check this: He ranks 29th in the league in isolation plays (0.93 points per play), is averaging 1.09 ppp in spot-ups, 1.31 in hand-offs (third overall) and 1.43 in transition (12th). Martin’s total offensive numbers have dipped because of the way he’s been used, not necessarily because he hasn’t played well.
8. Kendrick Perkins (Last week: 8)
A sort meh week for Perk. He was good against Tim Duncan, average against Roy Hibbert and not all that good against the Knicks. He grabbed some offensive rebounds, which was nice, but got caught out over-hedging in the Felton-Chandler pick-and-roll. That’s often Ibaka’s problem defending screen-and-roll — he stays on the ballhandler for just a beat too long. Perk is typically excellent at hedging and then recovering back to the roller, but when it’s a guy like Chandler that straight dives at the rim, he can get caught out.
9. Hasheem Thabeet (Last week: 9)
I re-watched Thabeet defending Hibbert in the second half and man, he really did good work. Basically, Thabeet kept it simple. His plan was just this: Be tall. He didn’t try and over-complicate things by being overly physical or trying to block shots. He just made things tough.
10. Derek Fisher (Last week: 10)
We’ll always have the 17 he dropped against the Spurs.
11. Ronnie Brewer (Last week: 13)
A couple people have asked why the Thunder would acquire Brewer if they weren’t going to play him. I don’t really have an answer for that, but I will say this: Giving up a second round pick in 2014 for him essentially was picking him up for free. Don’t overvalue a future second round pick. Those are extremely easy to replace, and not worth much at all. Brewer not playing is strange and makes you wonder why, but considering he was essentially a free pickup, it still makes sense.
Inactives: Daniel Orton, DeAndre Liggins, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III