Jan 12, 2013, 9:30 AM EST
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.
Dec 19, 2014, 9:44 AM EST
Greek Freak makes diving steal again Kings
Dec 19, 2014, 9:08 AM EST
Warriors forward blows dunk, does everything else right in win over Thunder
Dec 19, 2014, 8:30 AM EST
Chris Kringle channels his inner-Allen Iverson
Dec 19, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
He will get another shot at being a head coach in the NBA. He deserves it.
Dec 19, 2014, 1:01 AM EST
Rondo moves the Mavs into contender status in the West. Problem is that is a crowded field.
Dec 19, 2014, 12:46 AM EST
The team officially described the sprain as “mild.”
Dec 19, 2014, 12:02 AM EST
Makes the haul even less impressive for Boston.
Dec 18, 2014, 11:00 PM EST
Phil responds to an article ripping the Knicks for making the deal.
Dec 18, 2014, 10:00 PM EST
Bryant’s contract runs through 2016.
Dec 18, 2014, 9:15 PM EST
Dec 18, 2014, 8:15 PM EST
The Rookie of the Year race is pretty dull now, frankly.
Dec 18, 2014, 7:35 PM EST
Anthony has been advised that sitting out would be smart.
Dec 18, 2014, 6:55 PM EST
The foul was upgraded to a Flagrant 2.
Dec 18, 2014, 6:03 PM EST
The Mavs send three players and two picks to Boston.
Dec 18, 2014, 5:30 PM EST
They don’t want to give up picks.
Dec 18, 2014, 4:45 PM EST
Spurs star made same clutch shot a decade ago against Lakers
Dec 18, 2014, 4:05 PM EST
Down goes Rocky, down goes Rocky
Dec 18, 2014, 3:40 PM EST
Trail Blazers guard just waiting to check into game, when his personal space gets violated
Dec 18, 2014, 3:09 PM EST
The Warriors are +15.8 per 100 when he is on the court. They will miss him.
Dec 18, 2014, 3:03 PM EST
Celtics forward shows up Magic
- Dallas moves into title contender status with addition of Rajon Rondo 27
- Kevin Durant turns ankle, leaves game not to return; X-rays negative. 3
- Report: Celtics ‘pretty pleased’ with return they got in trade for Rajon Rondo 29
- PBT Extra: Jabari Parker’s injury, what does it mean for Bucks, Rookie of Year race? 4
- Reports: Celtics agree to trade Rajon Rondo to Dallas Mavericks 36
- Andrew Bogut undergoes PRP therapy on knee, out indefinitely 9
- Report: Mavericks trading for Rajon Rondo could happen ‘sooner rather than later’ 10
- Carmelo Anthony introduces his latest signature shoe, the Jordan Melo M11 10