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 30, 2015, 10:16 PM EDT
Al-Farouq Aminu is headed back to the Olympics.
Aug 30, 2015, 9:39 PM EDT
There is no signed deal yet.
Aug 30, 2015, 9:02 PM EDT
Shaq said Phil Jackson was fair with them.
Aug 30, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
We’ll all look back at the McCallum trade and say “it’s the Spurs doing Spurs things again.”
Aug 30, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
He will be missed.
Aug 30, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Can Johnson take on the backup point guard role if Chalmers was moved?
Aug 30, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
“You’re talking about being a fiscally responsible person, I am. That’s precisely why I did this.” —Scott Walker
Aug 30, 2015, 12:31 PM EDT
Aug 30, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
First Cam Newton, now Usain Bolt.
Aug 30, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
He may start at the four for Charlotte this year.
Aug 30, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Cherry played for the Spurs’ Summer League team.
Aug 29, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
Unfortunately, neither of them can defend anyone.
Aug 29, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
Claver played two-plus seasons with the Blazers.
Aug 29, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT
The block happened in the Seattle Pro-Am game.
Aug 29, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
All in one 15-minute video.
Aug 29, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
If he develops a consistent three-point shot, it’s over.
Aug 29, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Bargnani is playing for the Italian national team.
Aug 29, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
Bryant has appeared in every 2K game.
Aug 29, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
That’s what he does.
Aug 29, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Sibert played four years in college.
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- D’Angelo Russell on Tracy McGrady tweet: “Some Lakers fans are spoiled” 19
- Anthony Davis “definitely” plans on shooting more threes this season 4
- Jim Buss defends Byron Scott as Lakers coach, “He has the Laker blood in him” 24
- Jim Buss open to the idea of Kobe Bryant playing beyond this season 32
- Derrick Rose on sexual assault suit: “I am confident I will be proven innocent” 4
- Report: Kyrie Irving likely not back opening night, could be out until January 14
- Legendary Sixer, backboard-shattering dunker Darryl Dawkins dies at 58 14