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.