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 1, 2015, 8:20 PM EDT
Texas reportedly focused on Shaka Smart
Apr 1, 2015, 7:29 PM EDT
Jordan Brand keeps with the Space Jam theme in advance of this weekend’s retro releases.
Apr 1, 2015, 7:04 PM EDT
Oubre a potential lottery pick
Apr 1, 2015, 6:15 PM EDT
He’s a bubble first round pick.
Apr 1, 2015, 5:33 PM EDT
He had only played in one of the last dozen Heat games.
Apr 1, 2015, 4:51 PM EDT
Seen at Summer League he was project, we’ll see how far along he has come.
Apr 1, 2015, 4:21 PM EDT
Curry is going to win this award. More than that, he’s earned it.
Apr 1, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT
Anderson has missed the last 18 games due to injury, and New Orleans is trying to catch OKC for the final playoff spot in the West.
Apr 1, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
A 16th during the regular season would mean a one-game suspension.
Apr 1, 2015, 1:50 PM EDT
Stephenson didn’t play in his team’s last game as a result of the coach’s decision.
Apr 1, 2015, 1:10 PM EDT
Not as devastating as the one that’s made the rounds, but deadly nonetheless.
Apr 1, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
We know it’s LeBron’s world in Cleveland, but this makes Blatt look a bit silly.
Apr 1, 2015, 11:50 AM EDT
This isn’t the first time one of the Clippers has publicly pointed out the obvious.
Apr 1, 2015, 11:10 AM EDT
The rivalry continues.
Kevin Durant says he’d ‘love to’ stay with Thunder his entire career, wants his jersey retired in OKC
Apr 1, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
Durant will be an unrestricted free agent after next season.
Apr 1, 2015, 9:50 AM EDT
The Internet went nuts with memes of Paul falling down, and he got in on the fun himself.
Apr 1, 2015, 9:10 AM EDT
Apr 1, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
Hollins believes what he believes, evidence to the contrary be damned.
Apr 1, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
He was the reason the Clippers were close to the Warriors.
Apr 1, 2015, 1:34 AM EDT
We may have to watch the Nets in the playoffs. Lord help us all.
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