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.
Jul 8, 2015, 12:01 AM EDT
Golden State has time to change its mind on forward acquired for David Lee
Jul 7, 2015, 11:01 PM EDT
Miami also reportedly talking Shabazz Napier trade
Jul 7, 2015, 10:01 PM EDT
Sounds as if San Antonio will use room exception on Ginobili, which helps the cause for re-signing Tim Duncan
Jul 7, 2015, 8:54 PM EDT
Even without stretching Wallace, that projects to be about $24 million in savings
Jul 7, 2015, 7:42 PM EDT
Villanueva will back up Dirk Nowitzki as floor-spreading power forward
Jul 7, 2015, 6:46 PM EDT
Clippers having a nice offseason – minus that one move that defines their offseason
Jul 7, 2015, 6:08 PM EDT
The one-year deal keeps their cap space alive next summer to chase Kevin Durant.
Jul 7, 2015, 5:45 PM EDT
Dallas had a good July, too.
Jul 7, 2015, 5:15 PM EDT
The Knicks and Magic essentially swap reserve centers.
Jul 7, 2015, 4:35 PM EDT
“Listen, we had one priority this summer, and that was to re-sign DJ, and we missed out on that.” — J.J. Redick on the Clippers summer.
Jul 7, 2015, 4:10 PM EDT
The Bulls are getting the band back together.
Jul 7, 2015, 3:25 PM EDT
The Lakers were not free agency losers like some think.
Jul 7, 2015, 3:06 PM EDT
Look for the Warriors to waive Wallace using the stretch provision.
Jul 7, 2015, 2:44 PM EDT
Julius Randle, L.A.’s first round pick last year, missed the Summer League opener due to a contract issue.
Jul 7, 2015, 1:57 PM EDT
Exum looked great, the injury did not.
Jul 7, 2015, 1:05 PM EDT
The reigning Sixth Man of the Year signed a free agent deal with the Lakers.
Dwyane Wade cites his scoring average when asked how long he’ll continue to play: ‘I think I’ll stay around a while’
Jul 7, 2015, 12:15 PM EDT
Wade was the third leading scorer in the East last season, but missed 20 games due to a combination rest and injury.
Jul 7, 2015, 11:31 AM EDT
Teams aren’t allowed to discuss deals during the moratorium period, which is still going on.
Jul 7, 2015, 10:52 AM EDT
KG will be back for a record 21st NBA season.
Jul 7, 2015, 10:40 AM EDT
Cleveland just added Mo Williams, but Smith (and Matthew Dellavedova) will likely be back.
- PBT Extra: Spurs lead Texas winners in NBA Free Agency 0
- J.J. Redick: Clippers deserve “F” for free agency after losing DeAndre Jordan 20
- PBT Podcast: Free agency’s winners and losers 0
- Report: Boston Celtics agree to trade for David Lee for Gerald Wallace 18
- Report: Kevin Garnett to re-sign with Timberwolves 17
- Report: Mo Williams signing with Cavaliers for most of their MLE 24
- Report: Cavaliers, Clippers discussing Jamal Crawford for Brendan Haywood trade 26
- Reports: David West agrees to veteran minimum deal to play for Spurs 80