Saturday, December 6, 2008

Getting Stronger

I can't help but think of the Rocky movies when getting ready to write the Thunder reviews. Every game Oklahoma City is the underdog, and each result has yet to reach the knockout level. Orlando nearly was caught snoozing but pulled away at the end for another tough OKC loss. The Thunder were again victimized by poor shooting at the free throw line, and the Magic rode Dwight Howard's monster game at home.

The road trip ends tonight in Miami, but enough good things have been displayed to offer hope. It is a very long tunnel with a small light right now, but the Thunder are built to learn first and succeed later. By far the most important element is how the team is sticking together while the losses keep piling. Coach Brooks has every player on notice about playing hard, and two stood out from the pack in Orlando.

Johan Petro and Earl Watson made the most of their time, combining for 26 points in only 39 minutes. They anchored the second squad and were the main reasons OKC shot better than 43 percent overall. Petro made a strong argument for increased playing time, and he will be tested right away against the Heat. Watson and fellow point guard Russell Westbrook were two of five Thunder players to reach double digits, the second biggest feat of the game. That kind of balance will only help when Kevin Durant or Jeff Green is struggling with their shot.

Most of the attention was centered around Howard, who exploded for his first triple-double in the last match-up. Unfortunately for the visitors, the Magic had plenty of other options on the night, knocking down an incredible 13 three-pointers. That left Howard to grab rebounds and keep OKC off-balance. Durant and Green both had off nights and will look to rebound against one of the NBA's brightest stars.

Dwayne Wade has the potential to put up 40 or 50 points every time he plays, and Miami welcomes the Thunder in an intriguing battle later today. Wade is the type of unselfish superstar Durant has the chance to become. KD displayed some of that against the Magic, when his shots were not falling. He paced OKC with 10 rebounds and dished out a trio of assists. Knowing who has the hot hand will be the key to the game, and Westbrook may not have to look far.

If Durant's shots are on target, he is the obvious choice. Green can and should regain his range after failing to knock down a three against Orlando. Option 1, 2, or 3 may very well be Westbrook's for the taking if his drives to the basket keep coming open. High draft picks will be on display and look for OKC to out-do Miami in that battle and on the scoreboard. The Thunder have worked hard the past week and are due a big reward.

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