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.
Jan 30, 2015, 12:22 AM EST
He’s warming up for All-Star weekend.
Jan 29, 2015, 11:30 PM EST
It didn’t look good.
Jan 29, 2015, 10:45 PM EST
Management is displeased with their underperformance.
Jan 29, 2015, 10:02 PM EST
“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
Jan 29, 2015, 9:30 PM EST
The new rule is an attempt to curtail Jay Z-style figurehead owners.
Jan 29, 2015, 8:09 PM EST
He will get a second opinion.
Jan 29, 2015, 8:00 PM EST
Damian Lillard, Kyle Korver, DeMarcus Cousins and more.
Jan 29, 2015, 7:27 PM EST
DeMarcus Cousins and Damian Lillard were left off in the West.
Jan 29, 2015, 6:42 PM EST
A promotional video hyping the matchup features plenty of players, but Kevin Love is noticeably absent.
Jan 29, 2015, 6:00 PM EST
Mitch Kupchak expects Kobe to return next season.
Jan 29, 2015, 5:20 PM EST
Reserves are announced tonight.
Jan 29, 2015, 4:39 PM EST
Brooks may last the season, but may not if Thunder miss the playoffs. Jackson, meanwhile, has been marginalized ever since Dion Waiters was acquired.
Jan 29, 2015, 3:56 PM EST
Wade may be selected as an All-Star reserve Thursday night, but wouldn’t play in the midseason exhibition if the timeline holds true.
Jan 29, 2015, 3:25 PM EST
“I looked down to see my legs, and I saw my bone. The second I saw my bone, I just lost it.”
Jan 29, 2015, 2:45 PM EST
Jan 29, 2015, 2:02 PM EST
See Andrew Wiggins’, Shabazz Muhammad’s and Dante Exum’s
Jan 29, 2015, 1:28 PM EST
Timberwolves enjoying rare win
Jan 29, 2015, 12:50 PM EST
Oklahoma City expected to deal Jackson
Jan 29, 2015, 12:14 PM EST
Spurs guard completes field
Jan 29, 2015, 11:41 AM EST
Thunder star is ridiculous(ly awesome)
- Report: Dwight Howard could miss “extended time” with knee injury 2
- James Harden, three Hawks players lead list of NBA All-Star Game reserves 10
- Report: OKC front office backs Scott Brooks, may look to trade Reggie Jackson 9
- Dwyane Wade out indefinitely, says best case for his return is 2-3 weeks 9
- Report: Tom Thibodeau’s relationship with Bulls management believed to be ‘beyond repair’ 42
- Dwight Howard out at least two games with swelling in his knee 6
- Five Things We Learned in NBA Wednesday: Is this rock bottom for Oklahoma City? 14
- He’s on Fire! Kyrie Irving scores 55, knocks down game winning three (VIDEO) 54