Thursday, December 4, 2008

On the Road Again

In the first of three straight road assignments, Oklahoma City played catch-up but couldn't make the easy shots in the 103-97 loss to Charlotte. As much as I thought about posting just that for a recap, it would be a shame not to point out what the Thunder did well last night. First, however, I do need to give some props to the home team.

The Bobcats surprised me with their depth, and it was their superior play in the paint that ultimately locked up the victory. Emeka Okafor and Sean May combined for 35 points and 24 rebounds, the second number only four off what OKC achieved all game. That doesn't bode well as the Thunder next travel to face Dwight Howard and the Magic on Friday.

Chris Wilcox had his hands full in the middle, and Jeff Green isn't a true 'power' forward in the NBA. Orlando's Howard destroyed everyone to the tune of a triple-double last month at the Ford Center, and it will take a total team effort to remain close in the re-match.

But enough about the bad things and on to the highlights. The Thunder were never truly out of it last night, and Kevin Durant showed off a shooting touch that can only help the rest of the road trip. Durant made three of four triples and finished 9 of 12 shooting overall. His accuracy from 3-point range transferred to Green and Damien Wilkins as well, and OKC made a superb 7 or 11 from beyond the arc.

Another strength was the point guard duo of Russell Westbrook and Earl Watson, who dished out 16 assists. The pair kept the offense moving all game while helping the Thunder shoot nearly 55 percent in the process. Westbrook's inexperience did show with a game-high five turnovers, something Coach Brooks is going to have to tolerate in the transition. Watson and Joe Smith anchored the veteran second team, as OKC outscored the Bobcats from the bench.

The main reason the Thunder couldn't overcome Charlotte really had nothing to do with the hosts. It wasn't because of anything Durant and Co. failed to do so far this season. The one constant thing going for the two-win club was free show shooting, and this was where OKC gave the game away on Wednesday. After having perfect games from the charity stripe, the Thunder missed ten of 28 attempted, for a 64.3 percent. The Bobcats, on the other hand, shot over 80 percent from the free throw line to lock up their fourth win in the last six games.

OKC still found positives in the defeat, something that couldn't be said last month. A few more things bounce the Thunder's way, and this team will be fighting to get out of the division cellar by Christmas.

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