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 29, 2014, 1:32 AM EDT
It wasn’t pretty getting there, but the union has a leader again.
Jul 29, 2014, 12:30 AM EDT
It’s been a good summer to be Kyrie Irving. Really good.
Jul 28, 2014, 11:44 PM EDT
Clippers big man reportedly suffered injury during playoffs
Jul 28, 2014, 10:51 PM EDT
That wasn’t so painful, was it?
Jul 28, 2014, 10:11 PM EDT
Pistons center denies Warriors forward at the rim with relatively late, but incredibly awesome, leap
Jul 28, 2014, 9:14 PM EDT
Tucker also re-signed with Suns for $16.5 million this offseason
Jul 28, 2014, 8:47 PM EDT
National Basketball Players Associate scheduled to vote on Billy Hunter’s replacement today
Jul 28, 2014, 7:59 PM EDT
San Antonio cites guard’s leg injury
Jul 28, 2014, 7:19 PM EDT
Mike Krzyzewski said Derrick Rose looked healthy at Tea USA training camp.
Jul 28, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
Donald Sterling’s right to appeal restricted, a pivotal and unexpected ruling
Jul 28, 2014, 5:39 PM EDT
Williams didn’t get quite the payday he was expecting as an unrestricted free agent.
Jul 28, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT
The USA has superior athletes and should use that to their advantage.
Jul 28, 2014, 4:33 PM EDT
Derrick Rose seems to be moving and playing like the Derrick Rose of old.
Jul 28, 2014, 3:44 PM EDT
Thaddeus Young is not Kevin Love but he’d keep the Timberwolves from going into full rebuild mode.
Jul 28, 2014, 3:03 PM EDT
Wade may be looking forward to going up against LeBron, but I don’t think he’s going to like how the game ends.
Jul 28, 2014, 2:27 PM EDT
Ron Artest made a brief appearance on a rec league court in Los Angeles.
Jul 28, 2014, 1:42 PM EDT
When the game’s best player makes a uniform change, manufacturers spring into immediate action.
Jul 28, 2014, 12:56 PM EDT
LeBron said when switching to 6 four years ago that no one should wear 23 out of respect to MJ.
Jul 28, 2014, 12:07 PM EDT
Insert your own “he only jumped over Lowry” jokes, we’re not going to do that.
Jul 28, 2014, 11:23 AM EDT
Rose is expected to make the roster, but will need to shake the rust off quickly to show he’s more deserving than the other elite guards in camp.
- Lakers make it official — finally — and hire Byron Scott as head coach 7
- Derrick Rose: “I’ve become a smarter player, but I’m mad it took me seven years to learn it.” 21
- Shelly Sterling beats Donald Sterling in court, clears sale of Clippers to Steve Ballmer 54
- Report: Timberwolves have talked to Sixers about Thaddeus Young as Kevin Love replacement 25
- All eyes on Derrick Rose as USA Basketball mini-camp begins 22
- Klay Thompson doesn’t anticipate being traded, says he expects to play with Warriors next season 8
- PBT Power Rankings: After summer shakeups, Spurs still team to beat 47
- Report: ‘No chance’ Kevin Love stays with Timberwolves 65