Jan 12, 2013, 9:30 AM EDT
Kevin Durant is a better player today than he was when the Thunder lost Game 5 of the NBA finals last season. His ball handling has improved allowing him to take on more playmaking. His defense is better. He is rebounding more.
Russell Westbrook is more of a floor general. His play seems crisper, more confident. And he’s still one of the most athletic players in the NBA.
Serge Ibaka might win the NBA’s most improved player award this year — he has developed a very reliable midrange catch-and-shoot jumper and is shooting 57.1 percent on the season. He used to play only for his defense, now he starts because you have to guard him.
But the Thunder today are a better team, a hungrier team than the one the Heat beat in the finals last season. Their defense is about the same but their offense is 3.5 points per 100 possessions better this season — it is the best offense in the NBA.
That growth is because Durant and Westbrook are just 24 years old and still on a steep improvement curve. Ibaka is 23. With every new experience — like losing in the finals — they learn. They get better.
“When we made the (Harden) trade, we knew that we were still going to be a good team…” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “Our players are better. They came back better this summer. I thought the Olympic experience for all of them, even Serge with Spain, I thought everyone came back a little better.”
All of that showed in a rout of the Lakers Friday night. The Thunder defended and got out on the break to get some easy buckets. They moved the ball, made the extra pass, got good looks and then their shooters knocked them down.
Kevin Durant showed a mean streak, scoring 42 points and seeming at points to really enjoy taking it out on the Lakers. At one point he drove baseline and dunked over Antawn Jamison, then glared with a fire he rarely makes so public. Westbrook had 27 points but also 10 assists. The Thunder role players get their jobs and execute them.
And they are not tolerating lapses — up more than 20 with 9:42 left in the fourth quarter, the Lakers scored back-to-back buckets on lazy defense by the Thunder. Brooks called time out and chewed out his team. He put the starters back in for a few minutes to fully seal the game. And to send a message about effort and building good habits.
The Miami Heat are not building good habits, they are coasting through this season. Which is still enough to lead the Eastern Conference. It’s not easy to imagine a scenario where another team comes out of the conference. The Heat are the defending champs, if you want a ring you have to go through them.
Oklahoma City might just be a team that can do that. Because their stars are better than they have ever been.
May 26, 2015, 2:29 AM EDT
In the four Rockets’ elimination games this season, Smith has 63 points on 22-of-34 shooting (64.7 percent).
May 25, 2015, 11:59 PM EDT
MVP runner-up shines while MVP misses substantial portion of Houston’s Game 4 win
May 25, 2015, 10:45 PM EDT
He was not ejected.
May 25, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
It’s a sign Thomas may be around for a little bit.
May 25, 2015, 10:21 PM EDT
It didn’t count.
May 25, 2015, 9:59 PM EDT
Scary moment in Houston.
May 25, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
What do they know?
May 25, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT
The league had been exploring moving Game 1 up to June 2.
May 25, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT
Horford was ejected from Game 3.
May 25, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
Cavaliers star says he will research case further before saying more
May 25, 2015, 2:59 PM EDT
Doc Rivers decided to offer his mid-level exception money last summer to Spencer Hawes instead of Pierce. He’d like that one over.
May 25, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Expect a resilient Rockets team on Monday night.
May 25, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Cavaliers center shakes it off
May 25, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
It probably won’t happen, but…
May 25, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
Cavaliers guard disagrees
May 25, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
LeBron finished with 37 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists .
May 25, 2015, 12:30 AM EDT
The Hawks’ night goes from bad to worse.
LeBron James posts triple-double, Al Horford ejected as Cavaliers take 3-0 series lead with OT Game 3 win over Hawks
May 25, 2015, 12:09 AM EDT
The Cavs are one win away from the Finals.
May 24, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
He’s not wrong.
May 24, 2015, 9:46 PM EDT
A trend is becoming clear: Do not mess with Dellavedova.
- Elimination game Josh Smith is a thing, Rockets live to play another day 0
- Rockets show it’s better to have James Harden than to not have Stephen Curry 3
- Stephen Curry leaves game after taking a hard fall, cleared to return (VIDEO) 6
- Rumor: Paul Pierce might opt out of contract with Wizards, join Clippers 15
- Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets Game 4: Three things to watch from Houston 7
- LeBron James posts triple-double, Al Horford ejected as Cavaliers take 3-0 series lead with OT Game 3 win over Hawks 30
- Kyrie Irving out for Game 3 for Cavaliers with knee tendonitis 3
- Lil B says James Harden is officially under the Based God’s curse 31