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Thunder Showing Signs Of Maturing

The Oklahoma City Thunder clicked on all cylinders against the Chicago Bulls Sunday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, moving their record to 4-0 in the toughest four-game stretch of the season.

The Thunder’s maturing process proved evident throughout their stretch of games against four of the NBA’s best teams. Starting with a blowout win against the Miami Heat on Mar. 25 and finishing with another blowout victory Sunday against Chicago, the Thunder have announced to the league that their growing pains are soon to be over.

The Thunder passed the first step of the test against Miami a week ago and proved they can defend any team in the league. Oklahoma City forced the Heat into 21 turnovers and held them to 87 points, 14 below their season average.

Oklahoma City also found a groove offensively against the Heat. They moved the ball with efficiency and finished with 26 assists on 39 baskets. Durant proved he is a facilitator as well as a scorer with eight assists and just 20 shots.

Two days after defeating the East’s second best team, the Thunder traveled to Portland and proved they don’t take any team lightly. Oklahoma City defeated the Blazers 109-95 and got a huge game from Russell Westbrook. He took care of the ball with eight assists and two turnovers all while pouring in 32 points.

The Thunder continued their road trip south of Oregon into Las Angeles to take on the Lakers Thursday. In Derek Fisher’s return to L.A., Oklahoma City showed toughness by neutralizing the Lakers’ big men on the glass. The Thunder didn’t let tired legs get to them in the second half where they rolled to their fifth straight victory.

The Thunder did something Sunday against Chicago that they haven’t done all season. They exploded in the third quarter and never gave the Bulls a chance to get back into the game. They combined defense with offense and outscored Chicago 31-12 in the third quarter, ultimately sealing the win.

Oklahoma City averaged 101.8 points per game during their stretch and held their opponents to 88.3. They held the two best teams in the East to 82.5 points per game. Mixed with their high-energy defense was fluent, efficient offense. They averaged 20 assists, 1.4 above their season-average and 13.25 turnovers, three less than their season-average.

“They’re focused,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after their victory over Chicago. “We have a team that plays hard every night. We’re a tough team and when we defend and rebound we can get out in transition and that’s when we’re at our best.”

“We’re a passionate team,” Brooks said. “They’re involved and they don’t want to make mistakes. We leave everything on the floor and we don’t look back. It starts with Russell (Westbrook) and Kevin (Durant) and it’s clicking on down the roster.”

We learned four things about the Thunder during their four-game stretch. They can defend any team, they can run fluid, smart offense, they don’t take anybody for granted and they know how to put a team away.

We also found out that they can beat the best teams in the NBA all in one week. They beat the two best teams in the NBA, one of the best teams in the West and another conference foe in the span of seven days.

“We’re taking it one game at a time,” Kevin Durant said. “We’re trying to improve every game and we’re playing extremely hard. If we do that and box out, it makes up for everything including missed shots. These have been good wins.”

Odds are the Thunder will win an NBA title soon with the mixture of talent on their roster. However, they made a statement last week and announced to the rest of the NBA, the learning curve is thing of the past.

Trey Hunter
Oklahoma City Thunder beat writer for HOOPSADDICT.com, Former Sports Editor for The Vista at the University of Central Oklahoma, Freelance sports writer for The Edmond Sun.
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