Thunder Too Much For Lakers

The Oklahoma City Thunder exposed plenty against the Las Angeles Lakers Monday night at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in downtown Oklahoma City.

The Lakers are old, they are slow and they are above all, tired.

However, the one thing Oklahoma City exposed has nothing to do with how many more game the Lakers have played than the Thunder. It has nothing to do with Kobe Bryant’s age or the cohesiveness between Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.

The Lakers just flat out can’t guard the Thunder.

Bryant was asked after Game 1 if his team is able to guard the Thunder and he sarcastically responded, “No.”

Obviously, Bryant thinks that his team can find a way to stop Oklahoma City’s attack. He wouldn’t have five rings if he couldn’t recognize a challenge staring him straight in the face. However, somewhere behind Bryant’s sarcasm there was a shred of truth to his answer, whether he actually believes it or not.

Now that the Lakers have Metta World Peace back from a seven-game suspension, they have two above-average defensive players in their starting lineup. Bryant and Peace are tough matchups for anybody, even Oklahoma City’s superstars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. The problem the Lakers face though is the fact that James Harden, the Thunder’s sixth man, can do as much damage as both Durant and Westbrook, sometimes more.

Harden scored 17 points in just over 24 minutes in game one. He hit nine of 10 free throws, proving there wasn’t a Laker on the court that could stop him from getting to the rack.

“James (Harden) obviously played a very good game,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “Our offense was good and we didn’t turn the ball over. That’s been a problem most of the season and the last series we did a good job of taking care of that and we did it again tonight.”

Oklahoma City’s three superstars combined for 69 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists and no Thunder player played more than 28 minutes.

Westbrook had one of his most efficient games of the season with 27 points on 10-15 shooting with nine assists, seven rebounds and one turnover. He looked more like a point guard than a scorer all while being manned by one of the greatest perimeter defenders in NBA history.

When Westbrook fills up a box score like he did Monday, there aren’t too many teams that stand a chance. And if you’re a team that only has two above-average perimeter defenders like the Lakers, it’s going to be a long night.

World Peace did a solid job defending Durant for most of the game. Durant finished with 25 points and eight rebounds. He shot 50% from the field, but only attempted eight free throws. The Thunder shot 53% from the field as a team.

If the Lakers have any chance of getting back into this series they will have to scramble like Tiger Woods in his prime. They have no chance if they only defend two of the Thunder’s three-man attack.

Thunder Not Worried About First Round

Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks admits that it doesn’t matter whom his team is matched up with in the first round of the playoffs, even if it is the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.

“I’m not one to manipulate who we play and who we don’t play,” Brooks said. “You play who you play. If you win the championship you have to go through four really good teams.”

Oklahoma City entered Wednesday night locked into the number two seed in the Western Conference. Their final opponent, the Denver Nuggets, came in amidst a battle with the Mavericks for the seventh and eighth seeds. The game mattered for both teams.

The Thunder entered the fourth quarter Tuesday night against Sacramento down four, yet Oklahoma City’s starters didn’t see the floor. The Thunder’s second team outplayed Sacramento’s first team and led them to the win. Brooks commented after the game that he had an idea the starters wouldn’t play before the game.

Brooks changed it up in the fourth quarter against Denver. He allowed four of his starters to play much of the frame, including Serge Ibaka, who played all 12 minutes.

Brooks said that Kevin Durant told him he wanted to stay in, so he let him most of the final period. Durant entered the game fighting Kobe Bryant for the league’s scoring title. He finished with 32 points in just over 40 minutes. Bryant will have to score 38 in the Lakers final game to pass Durant.

“We didn’t end the season the way we wanted to,” Durant said. “But the regular season is out the door and now it’s time to worry about the playoffs. We’ve got another level we can get to. I probably won’t watch (Kobe). If I don’t win the scoring title or MVP that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a good year by my standards. I’ve got better in every area I’ve worked on and I score a few points.”

The Dallas Mavericks will have the final say in who will be the Thunder’s first round opponent. If Dallas wins, they will play the Thunder, if Dallas loses, the Nuggets will play the Thunder.

Oklahoma City went 3-1 against the Mavericks in the regular season and 2-1 against the Nuggets. Denver won the final game in Oklahoma City, but the Mavericks and Nuggets each failed to win a game at the Chesapeake Energy Arena during heart of the regular season.

“It’s a new season,” Durant said. “It’s time to get ready and get locked in. At this point, it doesn’t matter who we play.”

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.

Fisher, Thunder Still Adjusting To Each Other

Oklahoma City thought they had their backup point guard problem solved when they signed Derek Fisher Wednesday.

However, Friday night’s double-overtime game against the Minnesota Timberwolves proved that it’s going to take some time for Fisher to get used to his new role.

Fisher stepped on the court Wednesday night and the Oklahoma City crowd gave him a 45-second standing ovation, excited to see the answer to the question Eric Maynor left the team in early January. He played well in his Thunder debut against the Clippers, finishing with five points in 19 minutes, an unexpected amount of playing time for a guy stepping into a new system. However, his second game showed that there are still adjustments to be made.

Fisher only made two shots on 11 attempts and played over 35 minutes against Minnesota Friday night. The Wolves forced Scott Brooks’ hand in playing Fisher more minutes than he would have liked by playing four guards for most of the game. Thabo Sefolosha is still working his way back into playing shape and Brooks was hesitant in putting him in longer than usual.

“He (Fisher) didn’t have a good shooting night,” Brooks said after the Thunder’s win over Minnesota. “We decided to go small because they were running two-guards at the power forward spot along with Kevin Love. I’m still monitoring Thabo’s minutes or normally he would’ve been in there. I wish he (Fisher) would have made more shots and he does too. He’s made shots for 16 years and he’s going to make shots for us too.”

This is brand new territory for both Fisher and the Thunder. Oklahoma City has had a quality backup point guard in Eric Maynor, but hasn’t had a guard who brings more experience than Fisher. It can be tough to figure out how to fit a key piece of the puzzle in so early in his tenure.

In Fisher’s case, he goes from being a starter for a team that has won five championships to a backup for a team trying to win their first. Not only can that be a bit demoralizing at first, it can also make a player have to rework his feel for the game.

There’s a major difference between being the starting point guard and being the backup and Brooks has confidence Fisher will figure it out.

“I believe in what he does,” Brooks said. “I’ve seen him play and I’ve played against him. He makes good shots and he finds the right guy. When you miss, you still have to make the right play and he does that.

Minutes also play a big factor when a new player comes to town. Do you immediately put your new guy into his new role or do you ease him into it slowly but surely? It’s tough to say, especially with a team contending for a championship.

Fisher has played an insane amount of minutes in two games with the Thunder. He’s 37-years old and there aren’t too many more 30-minute games left in his future. If Brooks keeps using Fisher like he is, there might not be too many 10-minute games in his future.

Although Oklahoma City has found a quick fix to one of their problems going down the stretch, it’s still going to take some time for it to settle. Fisher made his age a point of pride when he chose to wear 37 as his number in Oklahoma City.

The 16-year vet has a lot of qualities you look for in a player, however, age isn’t one of them.

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Thunder Sticking With What They Have

The NBA’s trade-deadline is fast approaching and the Oklahoma City Thunder will likely stand firm with the roster that has them in first place in the Western Conference.

The fact of the matter is that there really is no reason to make a move. The Thunder has one of the best rosters from top to bottom in the NBA. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden make up one the league’s top trios. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins make up the best defensive big-man combo in the league and when Thabo Sefolosha returns from a foot injury, the team will have a defensive stopper who can limit opponents top scorers.

The Thunder also have one of the best benches in the league. Harden is best sixth man in the league. Reggie Jackson, who took over the backup point guard spot after Eric Maynor’s injury, is developing nicely. Nick Collison is the hustle guy that every team needs, especially in the playoffs. Nazr Mohammed, the oldest player on the team, brings experience and has great chemistry with the second unit. Daequon Cook has developed some confidence while playing with the starting lineup. When he returns to the second unit, he will help Harden put points on the board.

The chemistry the Thunder has developed so far this season is enough of a reason to stay off the trade market in the first place. The locker room atmosphere is as good as ever and everybody gets along. The organization has assembled a group of players who play as a team rather than as individuals and everybody knows their role.

Contract situations also play a role in staying off the market. The team has locked up Durant and Westbrook, but Harden and Ibaka’s contracts are up this summer and the team wants to keep both. There is no reason to go after a guy and give up cash when Sam Presti will have so much on his plate this summer to begin with.

The Thunder has 24 games remaining and should lock up the one seed in the playoffs. The game changes in the postseason and chemistry will play a huge factor. Seven games against one team means that the Thunder will have to figure out the turnover situation that’s plagued them all year. They will also have to develop a better half-court offense. The transition game isn’t as prevalent in the postseason.

So with all the talk of trades focused on Orlando, Fla., the Thunder have decided to stay quiet and ride the roster that has them in first place. It’s probably best too, the organization doesn’t want that circus.

Oklahoma City Hates To Lose

It’s easy to see that the Oklahoma City Thunder hate to lose.

It’s not just the record that proves it either. It’s also the attitudes of the players and coaches. If you walk around the Thunder locker room after a loss you won’t see guys laughing or goofing around. You won’t hear guys trying to figure out where they’re going out for the night. You see guys who can’t wait to get back out on the floor and remove the taste of losing from their mouths.

The Thunder laid an egg against one of the worst teams in the NBA Friday night when the Cleveland Cavaliers upset the Western Conference’s best team with a 96-90 victory in Oklahoma City. However, the Thunder bounced back Saturday against the Charlotte Bobcats to the tune of a 122-95 victory keeping their back-to-back loss count at one for the season. Oklahoma City lost back-to-backs against Dallas and Portland on consecutive nights at the start of January.

“I’m glad we went through that last night against Cleveland,” Kevin Durant said after Oklahoma City’s win over Charlotte Saturday night. “You never like to lose, but it’s a lesson that I’m happy we learned and we had to get through it and bounce back. We did that tonight and I’m proud of our guys.”

After last season’s Western Conference Finals loss to Dallas, Oklahoma City has asserted themselves as a team that hates to lose. The loss that knocked the Thunder out of the playoffs and sent the Mavericks to the Finals marks the last time Oklahoma City has lost three games in a row and since that loss as well, OKC is 3-1 against Dallas.

In fact, since their back-to-back losses against Dallas and Portland, Oklahoma City has yet to answer a loss with less than two straight wins afterwards.

Learning from mistakes and improving on what went wrong the night before has led to Oklahoma City’s hatred for losing, but don’t just look at the win-loss record. Look at the reactions. Remember Blake Griffin’s dunk over Kendrick Perkins in L.A.? Remember Durant’s reaction after the game. He hated it and he didn’t just hate the fact that Perkins got posterized, he hated the fact that they lost.

That’s the attitude that each player brings for the Thunder and it could be the reason why Oklahoma City has a chance to be crowned world champions this season.

NBA’s Real “Big Three” Is In Oklahoma City

“Not three, not four, not five.”

Those were the words of LeBron James after the superstar and his teammates Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh were introduced together for the first time before the start of last season. James proclaimed that he and the Heat were good enough to win multiple championships thanks to the formation of the “Big Three”.

Little did he know, another “Big Three” was forming halfway across the country in Oklahoma City.

The Thunder’s “Big Three” put the NBA on notice in Wednesday night’s 115-104 win over the Phoenix Suns at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. Russell Westbrook scored 31 points while Kevin Durant and James Harden dropped 30 apiece making them the first trio in the franchise since 1988 with three 30-point scorers in one game.

The triplets’ performance was so dominating that Serge Ibaka’s performance went unnoticed. Ibaka finished one bucket shy of 20 points and 20 rebounds.

When James and Bosh joined forces with Wade in South Beach, James’ statement of winning multiple championships seemed like an accurate prediction of what the NBA could become over the next five seasons.

However, the emergence of Oklahoma City in last year’s playoffs shone light on who will become Miami’s toughest competition. Durant and Westbrook turned into one of the most prolific duos in the league while the development of Harden steadily moved right along. Now, Harden’s progression has reached another level and the gap between the two teams has been closed and locked shut.

So, which Big Three will have more success in the near future? Each team is different, but they put up similar numbers. Durant, Westbrook and Harden average 68.7 points, 12.5 assists and 16.9 rebounds per game. James, Wade and Bosh average 68.3 points, 13.5 assists and 20.9 rebounds per. 

Since the numbers are so close, it’s almost impossible to determine who will beat who just by studying the stat sheet. The best way to contrast the two teams is by looking at who has a better foundation. Which team has a better mix and which group is more of a threat against defenses across the league? 

The Thunder has developed a better foundation for two reasons. They have a superstar point guard and their three players have never played with anybody else. Unlike Oklahoma City, two of Miami’s Big Three were acquired through free agency and have spent the first half of their careers in different cities. 

Miami also has issues that Oklahoma City has never had to deal with. The burning question in Miami for a year and a half has been who will take the final shot, Wade or James? The Thunder doesn’t have that problem. Durant, Westbrook and Harden have never had to think about who’s getting the last look. It doesn’t matter to them who hits it, as long as it goes down. For some reason, that attitude hasn’t shown up in South Beach and probably never will. 

The Thunder triplets also have yet to deal with the media coverage that the trio in South Beach does night after night. Oklahoma City isn’t exactly the hot spot that Miami is and the focus and scrutiny isn’t as big in a smaller city. Durant, Westbrook and Harden can have a terrible night or an awful week and they won’t have there post game pressers all over ESPN the next day, unlike the Heat.

As much as James and Wade love the spotlight, it can become overbearing if success doesn’t meet expectations. Oklahoma City’s best days are well in front of them so the term overbearing isn’t as strong as it will be in the future, pending OKC doesn’t win multiple championships sooner rather than later. 

So before we start crowning Miami’s Big Three as the best in the league we need to realize that another Big Three is fast approaching in the Western Conference.

However, this Big Three in Oklahoma City has a chance to win not one, not two, not three….well, you get the point.

Perkins Is Oklahoma City’s X-Factor

What do you do when your superstar scorers, two of the best in the NBA, have absolutely no consistency and can’t hit water if they fell out of a boat?

Well, if the rest of the players on the team play tough defense and do all of the small things right, you can still pull out a victory. Kendrick Perkins and the Oklahoma City Thunder don’t seem to have a problem with that.

Perkins, Oklahoma City’s enforcer in the middle, has made an enormous impact since joining the team in February of 2011. The Thunder were a young and talented team in search of a physical presence down low before pulling the trigger on the trade that sent Jeff Green and Nenad Kristic to Boston for the Texas native and since then, nobody has pushed them around.

“Defensively, he’s one of the best in basketball,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said about his starting center. “He competes and trust me when I say this, he does so much more than what the stat sheet says. It’s great to see him have a double-digit rebounding or scoring game, but he means much more to us than just stats.”

In the Thunder’s 95-91 victory over the Dallas Mavericks Monday night, the team shot under 40% from the field, but thanks in large part to Perkins’ performance, they were able to edge out the win. Perkins finished the game with seven points and 14 rebounds, five on the offensive end, and he helped set the tone from the tip. While Oklahoma City’s scorers were clanking iron, Perkins kept them in the game with stellar cleanup work and great defense off the pick and roll.

Brooks’ comments after Monday night’s game are definitely accurate. If you want to see the impact that Perkins brings to a team, don’t look at his stat-line. He only averages 4.3 points per game and 6.3 rebounds, but what he does on the defensive end more than makes up for his lack of offense.

“I keep saying he’s the best defensive big man in the game,” Thunder guard Russell Westbrook said. “Even if he struggles on the offensive end one night, he comes out and does what he has to do defensively. He’s definitely huge for us.”

Perkins not only brings a defensive mind-set mixed with a dose of physicality, he also brings world champion leadership. He has been to the top of the mountain with the Boston Celtics and from the day he became part of the Thunder organization, he’s preached defense and playing hard at all times.

“I want us to play a whole 48 minutes on defense,” Perkins said. “It only takes one guy to mess up a whole possession. It could be me or anybody else, but as a team we need to play good defense for four quarters. We play great in the last three minutes, but good teams find a way to put it together for an entire game.”

It is still too early to determine who is going to be Oklahoma City’s x-factor down the stretch and into the playoffs, but one thing is certain for the Thunder, success on the defensive end starts with their tough-minded center.

Thunder Defeat Lakers Before All-Star Break

The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Las Angeles Lakers 100-85 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena Thursday night, the last contest before the start of All-Star weekend in Orlando, Fla.

The Thunder weren’t rolling early. They let the Lakers take an early 23-19 advantage after the first quarter, mostly due to poor shooting. Oklahoma City shot 36.8% (7-19) from the floor in the opening frame, including 2-6 from beyond the arc. Kevin Durant, who will be participating in the All-Star Celebrity Challenge, the 3-point Competition and the game itself, got off to a quick start with nine of his 33 points coming in the first 12 minute. Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka combined for 10 points while Ibaka pulled down four rebounds.

Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant got off to a quick start as well. Bryant came into the game as the NBA’s top scorer and got started with 10 opening quarter points on his way to a 24-point effort. The Lakers tried to assert themselves down low very early in the game. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum combined for eight points and seven rebounds to start the game and the team outscored Oklahoma City 10-4 in the paint.

The Thunder started to heat up in the second. Durant kept his stroke on aim with 11 points on 4-6 shooting in the second frame while Westbrook and James Harden combined for nine points and four rebounds. Oklahoma City turned their shooting slump around by going 10-17 from the field, including a 3-pointer from Westbrook and a 15-footer from Durant in the final .8 seconds of the half.

Pau Gasol did all he could to keep the Lakers from falling too far behind before the half. He went 3-3 in the second quarter for nine points while the Thunder defense held Bryant scoreless on four shots.

The Thunder got things going after the halftime break. They cleaned up their offense with 10 assists and one turnover and by the 6:54 mark they built a nine-point lead. They extended the lead 13 points on a Daequan Cook jumper with 1:43 left in the quarter. Cook scored all eight of his points in the frame while Westbrook and Durant combined for 11 points and nine assists.

Oklahoma City’s defense also stepped up in the second half. They held the Lakers to 19 points on 5-19 shooting (26.3) in the third quarter. Bryant was L.A.’s leading scorer in the frame with eight points while Gasol poured in six on 3-6 shooting.

Although the Thunder turned in a poor shooting performance in the final quarter, it was enough to pull out the victory. Harden, who was quiet most of the game, exploded in the fourth for nine points on 3-5 shooting and carried Oklahoma City to the finish line. Harden finished the game with 16 points and four rebounds. Durant scored six down the stretch and Westbrook put in five of his 19 points as well.

Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins didn’t fill the stat sheet like their All-Star teammates, but their production was just as important. The Thunder big men combined for 12 points and 22 rebounds. Perkins finished with three points, but held Andrew Bynum to just 14 points on 5-15 shooting.

“We’re so proud of our bigs every night,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after the victory. “They’re the unsung heroes for us and they bring it every night. Serge (Ibaka) and Perk made their guys earn every spot on the floor and forced them to make tough shots. They deserve a lot of credit for this win.”

The Thunder will start the second half of the season on a three-game road trip that starts in Philadelphia on Feb. 29 and ends in Atlanta on Mar. 3. The team will be back home for their third matchup with the Dallas Mavericks on Mar. 5.

Thunder Coast To Victory Over Celtics

The Oklahoma City Thunder unloaded a 72-point first half on route to a 119-104 victory over the Boston Celtics at the Chesapeake Energy Arena Wednesday.

Oklahoma City found themselves down 15-5 to the Rajon Rondo-less Celtics with 7:34 left in the first quarter, but a 46-15 outpour gave them a 21-point cushion midway through the second.

Clean and efficient play sparked Oklahoma City’s huge, first half run as the team finished the first 24 minutes with 14 assists on 26 field goals and only turned the ball over twice. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden combined for 45 points, 12 assists and zero turnovers in the first half. Harden proved to be the team’s most efficient player with 15 points and three assists on 6-8 shooting in just over 18 minutes.

Thunder reserve Royal Ivey also stepped up in the second quarter. Ivey, who is earning minutes with the absence of Thabo Sefolosha, played over nine minutes in the frame, scored eight points and went 2-3 from beyond the arc. The Thunder’s bench combined for 27 points in the first half while Boston’s bench totaled nine points for the entire game.

“Offensively, we had a great first half,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We moved the ball extremely well and made shots. We are a team that should continue to get better in those areas and with our ball handling and shooting, we have the ability to put a lot of pressure on teams like we did tonight.”

The Celtics started to climb back into the game in the third quarter thanks to Paul Pierce and sloppy play from Oklahoma City. Pierce scored 13 points in the period while his teammates combined for 18 more. The Thunder started to help their opponents’ cause by turning the ball over seven times in the frame and only assisting on two baskets. The Thunder also shot 33.3% (7-21) from the field compared to 47.1% (8-17) by the Celtics.

The Thunder allowed Boston to cut their deficit to six with 3:31 left in the game, however, they answered the Celtics’ late sure with an 11-2 run in the closing moments and locked up their 26th win of the season. Durant and Westbrook finished the game strong with eight points apiece in the final quarter. Durant finished with 28 points, nine rebounds and six assists while Westbrook finished with 31 points, six assists and five rebounds. James Harden and Daequan Cook each finished with 17 points as well.

“They started out hot and hit some shots on us,” Kevin Durant said after the game. “Everybody touched the basketball tonight and we played hard to get a good win. We knew this team was going to keep fighting us, but we did a good job of staying composed and pulling it out.”

The Thunder improved to 26-7 with the victory and continues to lead the Western Conference by three games over the San Antonio Spurs. They will host the Las Angeles Lakers Thursday night, their last game before the All-Star break.

Oklahoma City Makes History Against Denver

Chants of MVP filled the Chesapeake Energy Arena as Kevin Durant stepped to the free throw line with 19.8 seconds left in overtime Sunday night against the Denver Nuggets. Durant dropped both shots from the charity stripe, giving him his 50th and 51st points of the night and icing the game at 124-118.

Durant’s first career high 51-point effort wasn’t all the Thunder dished out against Denver. Russell Westbrook finished with 40 points and nine assists and Serge Ibaka recorded his first career triple-double marking the first time in NBA history one team had a 50-point scorer, a 40-point scorer and a player with a triple-double in a single game.

The game itself was a 48-minute fast break. The Nuggets got off to a clean and efficient start and held a 15-9 lead midway through the first quarter before Oklahoma City erased it with a 15-2 run. However, the Nuggets went on a 10-0 run themselves to end the first quarter with a 27-25 advantage.

Denver kept the momentum in the second and extended their lead to 14-points with 6:29 before the break. Kosta Koufos was unstoppable during Denver’s run. He nearly recorded a double-double in just the second period with 11 points and eight rebounds. However, Oklahoma City bounced back with another 8-0 run to end the half and cut Denver’s lead to five.

The Thunder turned their 8-0 run into a 20-0 run at the start of the third period and regained a 7-point lead with 8:02. Westbrook sparked the run as he scored or assisted on 15 of Oklahoma City’s first 17 points in the period. However, Denver kept the theme of the game going with another run to tie the game at 83 before the final period. The Nuggets ran off 19 points in the final 5:46 of the third with Andre Miller scoring nine of their final 10.

Denver again got off to a quick 9-point lead four minutes into the fourth quarter and held the advantage until a 15-foot jumper from Westbrook tied the game at 102 with 2:52 left. Both teams battled until Ty Lawson knocked down a clutch 3-pointer with 54 seconds to go and gave Denver a 109-106 lead. Al Harrington extended the lead to five after knocking down two free throws before Durant took over.

Daequan Cook missed a 3-pointer with 34.9 on the clock, but Westbrook climbed through a crowd, pulled down a clutch rebound and found Durant beyond the arc to cut the lead to two with 30 seconds left. Lawson missed a jump shot at the other end and out of a timeout, Durant took the ball straight to the hoop and slammed home a dunk to tie the game with four seconds and sent it to overtime.

Durant and Westbrook scored all of Oklahoma City’s 13 points in overtime and the Thunder’s defense held Denver to just seven giving them their Western Conference-best, 24th victory.

“This is probably an understatement, but that was a heck of a game,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after the game. “It was a game of runs, but sometimes you win that way. As a player, those are the kinds of games you like to play. Those are the kinds of games the fans like to be a part of.”

“It’s always good to play playoff style intensity in the regular season,” Brooks added. “We’ve had quite a few of them, but it’s always good to play games that come down to the last five minutes. That’s how you improve as a team and that’s how you figure out things as a team.”

Thunder Ride Second Quarter Scoring Burst

The Oklahoma City Thunder rode a 38-point, second quarter burst to a 110-87 victory against the Golden State Warriors at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City Friday night.

The Thunder entered the game plagued by the injuries of Thabo Sefalosha, who found out prior to the contest that he will be out at least another month and Kendrick Perkins who is day-to-day with a knee contusion. While the Thunder tried to find a good mix in their battered rotation, the Warriors jumped out to a 24-20 lead after the first 12 minutes.

James Harden, Nick Collison, Cole Aldrich, Reggie Jackson and Royal Ivey played huge minutes to key Oklahoma City’s second quarter outpour that saw the Thunder jump from a four-point deficit to a 10-point lead going into halftime. Harden played the entire quarter and scored 15 points to go along with Collison’s four points and three rebounds. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 14 points in the period as well.

Durant and Westbrook kept things going to open up the second half. Durant scored eight points with four rebounds to open the half and Westbrook poured in six as well. Durant finished the game four assists shy of a triple-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Westbrook finished with 18 points, but left the game in the third quarter with what is being ruled as a light ankle sprain. He is day-to-day.

The Warriors ran out of firepower in the second half and couldn’t keep up with the Thunder offense. Golden State’s starters managed to put up 13 in the third, but their bench only put in four for a total of 17. Oklahoma City scored 26 to extend their lead to 84-65 going into the final period.

Daequan Cook’s 17 seconds in the fourth was the most any of Oklahoma City’s starters played in the fourth quarter. Aldrich, Jackson and Ivey each played the final 12 minutes and combined for seven points and two rebounds. James Harden poured in seven points down the stretch and Lazar Hayward scored six to put the Thunder’s 23rd victory in the books.

“The bench was huge,” Kevin Durant said after the game. “With Perk being out tonight and Thabo being out, Reggie and Cole had to step up and that’s what they did. Injuries are part of the game, but guys step up. That’s why we are professionals.”

As a team the Thunder turned the ball over 19 times, but finished the game with 24 assists. Durant had six assists to lead the team and Jackson finished with four. Westbrook, who’s starting to find his groove offensively finished with three assists, three turnovers and three steals.

“We had a few too many turnovers and gave up too many offensive rebounds,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said in his post-game press conference. “Some of the turnovers were in situations where they were out of control and it was sloppy. It’s an area we have to clean up, but it helps when you have over 20 assists.”

Oklahoma City improved to 3-0 against the Warriors this season and will play their second of five straight home games Sunday night against the Denver Nuggets. It will be the first meeting between the two teams.

Thunder Survived Turnover-Plagued Game

The Oklahoma City Thunder survived a turnover-plagued game with a 101-91 victory against the New Orleans Hornets Wednesday night in the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Russell Westbrook took over the fourth quarter with 10 points on 3-4 shooting from the field and 4-7 shooting from the free throw line down the stretch. Westbrook entered the period with just four points on 1-10 shooting and five turnovers. He finished the game with 14 points, five assists and seven turnovers.

“Russell (Westbrook) really didn’t have a good game tonight,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “He came out in the fourth quarter and stepped it up, some shots fell for him and he got to the free throw line. You’re not always going to play good basketball in this league, but you have to keep your focus and energy throughout the game and that’s what turned it around for us and for Russell.”

Serge Ibaka’s play in the first quarter gave the Thunder the cushion they needed to pull out the victory. Ibaka went 5-8 with 10 points and seven rebounds in just over 11 minutes and three of his rebounds were on the offensive end of the court. He finished the game with 14 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots.

“When Serge (Ibaka) blocks shots and rebounds, that’s what helps our team win,” Brooks said. “He has to continue to do that and his offense will come. He’s getting enough looks and he’s being aggressive at putting himself into position to score.”

On a night where Westbrook and Ibaka seemed to be the key, Kevin Durant still managed to put on a stellar shooting performance and kept his team afloat between the first quarter and the fourth. Overall Durant finished with 25 points on 9-13 shooting and converted on all seven free throws he took. He also had seven rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots.

The Hornets were in the game for much of the second half due to sloppy offense and poor decisions by the Thunder. From the second quarter on, New Orleans forced Oklahoma City to turn the ball over 17 times and converted their opportunities for 17 points. The Thunder had a total of 21 turnovers compared to 21 assists. The Hornets turned it over 17 times while Oklahoma City converted for 14 points.

“Sometimes we have turnovers by over-dribbling or trying to do too much,” James Harden said after the game. “When we move the ball, everybody touches it and we can swing it from side to side. That makes it very tough to guard us. It’s still early in the season and we’ve got a long way to go.”

Oklahoma City now faces a brutal schedule in which they play eight of their next nine games on the road starting with the Golden State Warriors Friday night.

Thunder’s Defense Earns Win Over Pistons

Sewing up a 5-year contract over the weekend didn’t slow Thunder guard Russell Westbrook down as Oklahoma City trounced the Detroit Pistons 99-79 at Chesapeake Energy Arena Monday night.

Westbrook set the tone early as he contributed to the Thunder’s first eight points of the game with a lay-up, a dunk and two assists to running mate, Kevin Durant. Westbrook and Durant combined to go 9-14 with 20 of Oklahoma City’s first 29 points of the game.

“We did a good job defensively,” Westbrook said after the game. “We came out and did a good job at making our presence known at that end of the floor. I tried to set the tone in that way.”

Westbrook wasn’t lying. The Thunder locked down in the first half. Detroit combined to shoot 11-41 from the floor in the first half and was outrebounded by Oklahoma City 25-19. Detroit came into the game averaging 20.8 points per game in the first quarter, but was held to 12 by the Thunder.

“From the opening tip we really defended and got after it,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “I thought (Rodney) Stuckey hit a couple of tough shots in the first 10 possessions, but other than that we were really good defensively for the first five minutes of the game.”

Westbrook and Durant continued to put on a show in the second half. The duo combined for 16 points on 8-9 shooting in the third quarter and for the fifth time of the season, neither played a minute in the fourth quarter. Westbrook finished the game with 24 points and six assists while Durant finished with 20 points on 9-13 shooting.

Thunder sixth man James Harden also contributed to the three-quarter blowout. Harden scored 18 points in the first half and extended his total to 24 with six points in the second. He also finished with five rebounds and four assists.

The Pistons didn’t help their cause down the stretch. Not only did they play terrible defense, they also couldn’t make buckets. The team combined to go 17-41 from the field in the second half and attempted just six three’s to try and dig back into the game. The Pistons shot 34.1% for the game and went 4-14 from beyond the arc.

Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins helped Westbrook hold down the fort defensively. Ibaka finished the game with five blocked shots and ten rebounds and the big-man combo held Greg Monroe and Ben Wallace to 12 points on 3-16 shooting.

“I’ve always told Serge (Ibaka) that he has to do the things he does well at a high level,” Brooks said. “He blocks shots and rebounds at a high level and also runs the floor. Him and Perk play so well together. Those two guys read one another, help one another and that’s the sign of a good tandem.”

“We came out with a lot of intensity,” Kevin Durant added. “We got a good win and I thought on the defensive end was where we got our best game of the season.”

Thunder Thrive Despite Tough Schedule

After their win over the New York Knicks Saturday night inside the Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Oklahoma City Thunder finished a span of 13 games in 21 nights to open the season and the team still finds itself on top of the Western Conference.

Having won 11 of their 13 contests after the grueling start to the 66-game season, the Thunder have to be considered one of the most enduring teams in the league. They have battled through four back-to-backs and came away with three victories in their lone triple-dip of the season. OKC’s only two losses came at the beginning of January when they lost in Dallas and at home against Portland in consecutive nights. Since then, they have won six straight.

“We’ve done a good job with our time, practices and priorities,” Scott Brooks said about the Thunder’s tough schedule to start the season. “Our guys (players) deserve the credit. They focus in and play with great energy. They execute and give us a chance to win. We’ve had a tough start, but we managed to fight through it and have played well.”

The only team in the NBA with a better record than Oklahoma City is the Chicago Bulls, who finished with the best record in the league in 2010-2011. The Bulls have also fought through a tough schedule to open the year. They have played in five back-to-backs and swept their triple-dip as well. However, their three games in a row were against Detroit, Minnesota and Washington, three teams that will likely be left out of the playoffs. Although the Thunder defeated Houston twice in their three,-timer, they did beat San Antonio who has the second best record in the Western Conference.

After blowing out the Knicks for three quarters Saturday, the Thunder completed their fourth home game in which the starters didn’t step on the court in the fourth quarter. The team did the same thing against Phoenix, Houston and San Antonio as well.

“We’re young, but we’re definitely going to need our legs during this long season,” Thunder sixth man James Harden said after Saturday’s game. “If we can get guys like me and the second unit to play a lot of minutes it will definitely make things easier.”

Oklahoma City’s bench has stepped up in the team’s tough stretch. Harden, arguably the NBA’s best sixth man, is playing just under 30 minutes per game and is averaging better than 17 points. Nick Collison is playing over 20 minutes per game and is leading the team in field goal percentage. Daequan Cook has stepped up as the team’s 3-point specialist and Reggie Jackson has played solid minutes since the team lost backup point guard, Eric Maynor, for the season.

“With all of our guys, it always comes down to giving consistent effort,” Brooks said. “I don’t have to coach the effort and rarely will we have to talk about not having it one night. I believe that all minutes should be played hard and played well.”

Oklahoma City’s schedule doesn’t get any easier in the near future. They travel to Boston to take on the Celtics in the first of three straight road games on the east coast. They only play three of their next 14 games at the Chesapeake Arena and are set to compete in their first 5-game road trip of the season starting Feb. 4.

“It’s been tough,” Kevin Durant said after Saturday’s game. “I think we’ve gotten through it and have stayed focused. It’s been a long, short season if that makes any sense.”