Kevin Pelton of ESPN Insider asks if OKC’s ready to win a title: “Of course, Oklahoma City has managed to surge without star guard Russell Westbrook, who remains sidelined after undergoing a third surgery on his right knee in late December. The Thunder’s performance as a team — and Kevin Durant’s individual hot streak — has been so good without Westbrook that it’s overshadowed how good the team was with him in the lineup. Any notion that Oklahoma City has been better without Westbrook isn’t backed up by the numbers. Remember, when Westbrook reinjured his knee on Christmas Day at Madison Square Garden, the Thunder were in the midst of a 29-point win over the New York Knicks. That brought them to 21-4 (.840) in games Westbrook played, a 69-win pace over the course of a full season. Indeed, Oklahoma City’s schedule-adjusted differential surges to 10.0 points per game better than average looking solely at games with Westbrook, as compared to plus-6.1 without him (and a .714 winning percentage).”
In a 5-on-5, J.A. Adande says the Thunder are favorites: “If they play the Pacers in the NBA Finals, the Thunder will have the experience edge, having been there two years ago. People forget the Thunder’s first three losses in those 2012 Finals came by a total of 16 points. This version of Durant can make up that difference.”
Anthony Slater: “Funny moment: Later in the game, Serge Ibaka was handed a technical for arguing. But when the ref made the call, from a certain angle, it looked like he pointed at Durant, which would have meant an ejection. This crew of pretty inebriated Blazers fans in front of me were SO SURE it was on Durant, they started group high-fiving, yelling, basically declaring the game to Portland. And man was it funny when they realized it wasn’t on him. One dude was in denial, yelling for two minutes “That’s his second, he should be ejected.” Comedy.”
Nicolas Batum on Durant: “He is the best one-on-one player in the league now. I used to say Melo, but I say him now because he can score from everywhere. The post was his weakness but now he has it … I can’t say it was a weakness, he never had a weakness, but you didn’t have to think about it. He has that now.”
Justin Kubatko: “Thunder is 10-3 vs. teams on pace for 50 wins. No one else has more than 7 wins; Heat is only team with fewer losses (2).”
Matt Moore of CBSSports.com: “I did want to mention that maybe Sam Presti should get a certain amount of credit? Because Jeremy Lamb’s been a right decent shooting guard giving them depth, Steven Adams (listed above) is tremendous, and Perry Jones is contributing. I know the idea that he’s a moron for trading Harden is a narrative monolith, but if the Thunder win a title this year, what will people say then? If you ask me if I’d rather have Harden’s foul-drawing ability (unsustainable in the playoffs) and defensive worthlessness or Serge Ibaka’s defensive brilliance and safety valve shooting? Let’s just say the gap’s a whole hell of a lot closer than it was a year and a half ago.”
Ben Golliver of Blazersedge: “Meanwhile, Durant continues to make his living as the best scorer since Michael Jordan. He posted a game-high 36 points (on 15-for-28 shooting) and 10 rebounds, doing damage from anywhere and everywhere. Along the way, he picked up a technical, was nearly ejected (everyone in the building thought he had received a second technical, which wound up going to Serge Ibaka) and he let everyone know that he was serious about the “KD is not nice” marketing campaign with constant jabbering.”
LeBron on KD: “The way he plays the game every single night is very inspiring, and it’s motivating. . . . Obviously, we know he’s going to be one of the greatest scorers to ever play this game, but the way he plays, just so joyous and happy, and it’s like he’s a kid back in Maryland. And I feel like when I’m on the floor, I’m a kid back in Akron.” Interesting choice going with “scorer” instead of “player” there.