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A night after Minnesota failed to gain a four-game cushion over Oklahoma City in the standings, the Thunder ended the 2008 portion of the year on a very high note. Three players notched over 20 points, and OKC used a huge third-quarter push to defeat Golden State.
The Warriors jumped out ahead in the opening quarter and were leading at the half. Then the Thunder took over, holding the visitors to 15 points while pouring in 27 during the crucial third. Coach Brooks has been consistent in his approach, and it paid off during the last 12 minutes of play.
OKC withstood multiple Golden State flurries and came out ahead for the fourth time this season. The Timberwolves, on the other hand, watched as Dallas made another huge comeback on Tuesday night. Much like the Mavs did to the Thunder, Dirk Nowitzki carried his team to victory and kept Minnesota at six wins.
In both games the scores were 107-100, emphasizing how close the race should be the rest of the season. The Thunder need to catch a few breaks and keep the T-Wolves within view. This goal of catching and passing a Division rival takes a burden off the players, who are tired of losing. More importantly every victory takes away the talk of breaking the all-time loss record.
Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, and Chris Wilcox dominated the action on New Years' Eve, and any OKC combination of three playing well together is starting to make some noise. Add in new addition NenadKrstic, and the Thunder look that much different to the rest of the NBA. A few more games like this one, and no squad will come to the Ford Center with smiling faces.
The Golden State Warriors make their return trip to Oklahoma City tonight to take on the Thunder team that they beat 112-102 a few weeks ago. The Warriors built up a 21 point lead at halftime before getting out-pointed by the Thunder in both the third and forth quarters. The majority of the lead was created in the second where Golden State scored 32 to OKC's 17.
Durant had a massive night with 41 points followed by Collison coming off of the bench with 15. Otherwise, it's pretty easy to say that none of the other Thunder players really showed up for the game.
The Thunder probably cannot expect such a big game out of Durant tonight (nor Collison for that matter). However, Durant only had 18 points Monday night which is the same number of points he had in the game prior to the one against the Warriors. Perhaps lightning will strike twice, and if so, we will need quality games out of Green and Westbrook to complete an upset.
The center of the future is hopefully now a part of the team. Nenad Krstic moves from the Nets to the Thunder after a pitstop in Russia. New Jersey didn't match the offer Oklahoma City made, and Krstic becomes the center with the most experience on the roster.
Steven Hill was let go to clear roster space, and Joe Smith is rumored to be on the move as well. Various teams are said to be interested with Toronto the latest on the prowl. OKC's front office has made no comments on Smith's availability, but at least six teams are known to be interested.
While the revolving door at center is hopefully fixed, another rotation spot is very much open. Rookie Kyle Weaver is getting a look at the back-up shooting guard role while Damien Wilkins hasn't made it off the bench. Look for Weaver to contribute more in the upcoming weeks as the Thunder become better acquainted with Krstic and his abilities.
Oklahoma City is not catching any breaks right now. The Thunder played as well as possible to start the Phoenix game and even caught a break when Steve Nash had to leave the contest. But the Suns showed poise, and the veteran squad took advantage of OKC's mistakes down the stretch.
Phoenix won 110-102 on the road, snapping Kevin Durant's streak of 20+ points games in the process. The Thunder are also still waiting on word from the New Jersey Nets about center Nenad Krstic, who could join the team as early as today.
All in all it was not a good night for anyone rooting for the home club. Russell Westbrook dominated the first quarter, but his turnovers in the final minutes doomed OKC. Jeff Green played well at both ends of the floor, but he only made 1-4 from 3-point range.
Joe Smith wasn't available due to injury, and the lack of skilled big men made it easy for the Suns' Shaq to dominate. Durant struggled early and often, hitting only five of the 17 shots he attempted. His recent string of good fortune from beyond the arc also ended as he missed on all five tries.
I will be back later today with an update on the Krstic situation, and a look at a young player getting an opportunity.
Today is the deadline for New Jersey to match the offer sheet signed by Nenad Krstic. He won't be playing for Oklahoma City tonight either way, but he could offer a big lift to the sinking team. While the Thunder await the Nets' decision, other moves may be in the works. The NBA trade deadline is Feb. 19, and some of the OKC veterans are targets for teams with playoff aspirations.
Tonight's opponent has already been active on that front, adding a piece to the mix. Phoenix dealt for Charlotte's Jason Richardson to give the Suns another potent scorer. These two clubs met before the trade, and it was much the same story for the Thunder. OKC jumped out quickly and led going into the final quarter before falling apart in a big way. Phoenix used a 29-17 advantage in pulling out a one-point win at the Ford Center on Nov. 25.
Now over a month later, both teams look much different. Kevin Durant is on a ten-game stretch of scoring 20 or more points, solidifying his place as an All-Star caliber player. Shaquille O'Neal didn't play in the first match-up, but he and Richardson offer different obstacles for OKC.
O'Neal dominates the post, and he should continue that trend against the undersized Thunder post players. Richardson is an explosive combo player that should create problems for both Durant and Desmond Mason. Coach Brooks will have his hands full trying to play defense against the Suns. Phoenix is 5-5 the last ten games but has also played a rough schedule.
If any game of the year should be played with attitude, it is this contest. OKC had the win before and is also coming off a terrible road trip. Durant needs help but might be enough by himself to keep the score close. Jeff Green may be the difference maker from outside, and a shooter's roll is what the Thunder needs right now.
In a very disappointing fourth quarter collapse, the Thunder lost last night to the Washington Wizards in a "battle" between the NBA's two worst teams. Making the loss extra depressing is the fact that Washington's leading scorer, Caron Butler, missed the game with a sprained left ankle.
The game was very tight through the first three quarters as the Wizards outscored us by two in the first, we outscored them by two in the third, and both teams were equal in the second. The Thunder couldn't keep it together in the forth and lost that quarter by a decisive 28-19 margin.
We out shot them in every aspect of the game: 48.1% vs. 45.0% from the field, 41.7% to 20.0% from three point range, and 84.2% to 68.8% from the line. So how did Oklahoma City lose this game? We allowed them to take a whopping 23 extra shots from the field (100 vs. 77). The Wizards grabbed 10 more offensive rebounds, 5 more total boards, had 8 less turnovers, and stole the ball 5 more times than the Thunder.
On the positive side, Durant led the way with 25 points and Green followed with 23. Green hit an impressive 4 for 6 from beyond the arc. The only other Thunder member to break into the double digits was Westbrook barely making it with 10. Otherwise it was a pretty unimpressive night for the rookie.
There's not much else that could or should be said about the Thunder's performance last night. The team will be heading home to Oklahoma for a four game home stretch where hopefully we'll find a way to steal a win.
What looked to be another 4th quarter collapse nearly turned into the highlight win Oklahoma City has been working so hard to achieve. Instead Allen Iverson carried Detroit to a last-second victory over the Thunder and cemented his place as one of the NBA's biggest clutch players.
AI's bucket prevented OKC from stealing the game after an impressive showing in the final 12 minutes. When the Pistons jumped out in front by double digits, the Thunder stormed back behind a 13-0 run. Kevin Durant tied the contest at 86, and the dramatic ending sealed another franchise loss to Detroit, the eighth in a row.
Poor free throw shooting plagued the visiting Thunder, and neither club had success on the outside. Durant led all scorers with 26 points, but he was not able to overcome the balanced attack of the Pistons.
If the first part of the back-to-back games was emotional, tonight's homecoming for Durant and Jeff Green will take it to another level. Washington plays the host role although the spotlight will be on the pair of D.C. bred ballers.
It is also a strong chance for a Thunder victory, as the Wizards are stuck in an eight-game losing streak. Injuries have taken a toll on both squads, but the big story is how well OKC rebounds following the Detroit contest.
Unless there is a serious letdown by the Thunder, victory number four should be in the works. Russell Westbrook could use another strong outing, and the new rotation played harder than in past games. Damien Wilkins did not see action against the Pistons, but rookie Kyle Weaver did. Nick Collison was also held out of his second straight game and look for Joe Smith to continue the starting role in his absence.
A tough stretch welcomes OKC back at the Ford Center, and this is the perfect opportunity for Coach Brooks' squad to make a statement. The T-Wolves did their part on Friday, knocking off the Knicks, and it is up to Durant and Co. to follow suit. Time for all that hard work to pay off and to show the rest of the league how much improved the Thunder are.
Tonight the Thunder travel to Detroit to take on the former kings of the East: the Pistons. A scant few years ago, the Pistons were the team to beat, and now mysteriously (or not, your choice), they've dropped. Sure, they're still a playoff caliber team, but not a team you'd expect to see contending for the NBA crown.
Regardless, they are still miles ahead of Oklahoma City. Tonight's game is the first game of a back-to-back series for the Thunder. The second game is against the weak Washington Wizards and is one that the Thunder should be able to win.
Tonight's game is probably not so winnable. Sure, we might be able to steal one here, but frankly, I'm not hoping the Thunder don't "use" themselves up tonight and then fall flat on their faces tomorrow. Sure, I know the point is to "win them all", but we're 3-26, so we know that won't be happening. I'd like the Thunder to win both games of a back-to-back series before the season is over, but this series doesn't have to be the one where that's done.
I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and got everything they wanted. I know I did, so I thought what better way to end the Holiday than by giving the Thunder presents as well.
Oklahoma City has a very long list of wants and needs, but here is a start.
Kevin Durant -- All-Star Honors
Coach Brooks -- Interim tag removed
Jeff Green -- Weight set (Power Forward edition)
GM Presti -- January becomes Let's Make a Deal!
Russell Westbrook -- Same rookie-year 2nd half that Durant enjoyed
Clay's Group -- A packed house no matter what
Joe Smith -- Chance to make playoffs one more time (Chicago?)
T-Wolves -- Kevin McHale out of town
Nick Collison -- Reunion with former Jayhawk Kirk Hinrich
Kyle Weaver -- D-League MVP Honors
Chris Wilcox -- A healthy end to his tenure with OKC
Earl Watson -- Joining best friend Baron Davis in LA
D.J. White -- NBA debut in February
Desmond Mason -- Contract extension to stay home
Some people are easier to shop for than others, but the Thunder are moving in the right direction. A few tweaks here and there, and all the negative talk can be transferred in Minnesota's direction. My last request is more of a pipe dream since it involves two other franchises.
Until Seattle gets the Sonics back, the Thunder will never get any respect. David Stern and the NBA can make this happen by admitting the mistake that is Memphis. Re-locate the Grizzlies for the final time, and move OKC into that vacant Southwest Division spot.
Playing against the Texas teams and natural rival New Orleans will be a harder fit, but it also may be what keeps Durant in a Thunder uniform -- a vital position for the city and everyone involved. But that is a story for another time on a different day. Bring on the Pistons!