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.
Apr 21, 2015, 1:37 AM EDT
Golden State wins Game 2, 97-87
Apr 21, 2015, 12:14 AM EDT
Pierce’s comments made him unpopular north of the border, but his play should bother the Raptors more.
Apr 20, 2015, 11:07 PM EDT
Jimmy Butler’s 31 points led the way.
Apr 20, 2015, 9:59 PM EDT
He was simply the most dominant player in Game 1 of the Mavericks vs. Rockets series.
Apr 20, 2015, 9:56 PM EDT
They did exactly that in Game 1.
Apr 20, 2015, 8:55 PM EDT
John Henson, O.J. Mayo, Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah all got techs.
Apr 20, 2015, 8:50 PM EDT
I could try to use logic and suggest that discussing the complete legacy of Jordan with the incomplete legacy of James is a fool’s errand. But this is the Internet, logic is not always welcome.
Apr 20, 2015, 7:50 PM EDT
What you want to see as a Boston fan is Smart embrace the challenge.
Apr 20, 2015, 6:13 PM EDT
The Bulls should be in no rush to bring Hinrich back for this series.
Apr 20, 2015, 5:32 PM EDT
Also, Tyreke Evans is a game-time decision after his injury in the playoff opener.
Apr 20, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT
Rose was getting into the paint and making plays.
Apr 20, 2015, 4:06 PM EDT
The Clippers need a rebranding, but the leaked images are not winning over new fans.
Apr 20, 2015, 3:22 PM EDT
One of Ollie’s biggest fans? Kevin Durant
Monty Williams on Warriors home games: ‘I’m not so sure that the decibel level is legal there, and I’m serious’
Apr 20, 2015, 2:44 PM EDT
Is Pelicans coach actually serious?
Apr 20, 2015, 2:03 PM EDT
Whom else would Heat president mean?
Apr 20, 2015, 1:26 PM EDT
Smith committed four fouls in 19 minutes in Cavaliers-Celtics Game 1
Apr 20, 2015, 12:38 PM EDT
Full voting included
Apr 20, 2015, 11:57 AM EDT
And he’s not the only Portland player worried about Aldridge leaving
Apr 20, 2015, 11:20 AM EDT
Clippers tougher than Spurs in Game 1
Apr 20, 2015, 10:37 AM EDT
Admittedly, this was not the finest batch of questions in his postgame press conference
- With Anthony Davis and Pelicans drained, Warriors deliver down the stretch 0
- PBT Extra matchup to watch: Can Toronto keep Paul Pierce quiet on the court? 3
- Bulls overcome ugly start to take 2-0 series lead over Bucks 8
- PBT Extra matchup to watch: Dallas has to find a way to deal with Dwight Howard 3
- Man arrested after fight over who is better, Michael Jordan or LeBron James 24
- PBT Extra matchup to watch: Marcus Smart needs to take on Kyrie Irving challenge 2
- PBT Extra matchup to watch: Pelican guards need to stay with Curry, Thompson 1
- PBT Extra: Matchup to watch in Bulls vs. Bucks, Derrick Rose vs. Michael Carter-Williams 6