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.
Aug 31, 2014, 12:45 AM EDT
Andray Blatche had 28 points and 12 rebounds for the Philippines, and they still lost.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:01 PM EDT
Rose looked like his vintage self for a night.
Aug 30, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
The statue is in Buenos Aires, in case you were looking to travel to get your picture with it.
Aug 30, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
That’s a higher bar than most realize
Aug 30, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
Klay Thompson scored 18 points and Anthony Davis had 17 points on the night. Finland had great fans, though.
Aug 30, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
Kings rookie rookie honing his 3-point Shootout skills
Aug 30, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT
Will Davis be better than LeBron and Durant in five years? I’ll say this — he’ll be on that level.
Aug 30, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
Role models are not one size fits all.
Aug 30, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Former Tennessee guard, drafted No. 58, will help Philadelphia tank from afar
Aug 30, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Other NBA teams also watching Slovenia closely in World Cup to assess Zoran
Aug 30, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Finland isn’t as good as the teams the USA was destroying in tune ups.
Aug 30, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
He can decide this summer, or he can wait and join a team mid-season. There is no rush.
Aug 30, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
“We talk and he’s ready. He’s 20-year-old Kobe. It’s going to be a crazy environment.” — James Harden on Kobe Bryant
Aug 30, 2014, 12:11 AM EDT
Another Pacer player injured in international play.
Aug 29, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT
Tournament features a record 75 players who have played in the NBA at some point, and we have the complete list.
Chris Paul discusses his signature shoe, hoops with media at launch of his Jordan Brand CP3 VIII (VIDEO)
Aug 29, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT
Chris Paul is way more into sneakers than you are, and articulated it well at the launch of his latest signature shoe in New York earlier this week.
Aug 29, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
Ayon has played for four teams in three NBA seasons, and currently only has offers to play overseas next year.
Aug 29, 2014, 6:43 PM EDT
Allen is undecided on playing next season.
Aug 29, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
Knicks wing acts as security guard in prank
Aug 29, 2014, 3:33 PM EDT
Bulls have Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic
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- James Harden on Kobe Bryant return: “He’s 20-year-old Kobe” 32
- Chris Paul discusses his signature shoe, hoops with media at launch of his Jordan Brand CP3 VIII (VIDEO) 5
- 67RIEFNS No. 1: Tom Thibodeau managing his bigs 22
- Derrick Rose knows injury questions will keep coming. And coming. And coming. 11
- FIBA World Cup preview: USA, Spain, then who else can medal? 2
- Official ‘Clippers’ Number 1 Fan’ on herself and Donald Sterling: ‘I’ll always feel it’s our team’ 21