Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) previews tonight’s game against the Nuggets: “Welcome to the Western Conference gauntlet. In a span of six days this week, the Thunder is in the midst of facing four high level teams that are all vying for very early playoff positioning in the vaunted, competitive West. First the Thunder dispatched the Utah Jazz at Chesapeake Energy Arena in a rout. On Wednesday, Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club lost at the wire to a New Orleans Pelicans squad that scored 74 points in the paint. Friday starts a back-to-back set, first on the road against the conference-leading Denver Nuggets with the LA Clippers laying in wait in Oklahoma City for the team to return home for the second night of a back-to-back on Saturday. To win these games against talented, well-coached foes that have some roster continuity and a hunger to vault ahead in the standings, the Thunder will not only have to play up to its standards for all four quarters but also to come through in crunch time. In Russell Westbrook, the team has a proven late-game playmaker, whose aggressiveness and confidence can help generate heroics for himself and teammates.”
Erik Horne (Oklahoman) on the potential of Adams-Noel lineups with Patrick Patterson struggling: “Anthony Davis and Julius Randle combined for 66 points and 30 rebounds. The Thunder had just 39 rebounds as a team, and gave up 17 offensive rebounds. At times, even Steven Adams and Grant were overrun by Davis and Randle’s combination of skill, size and athleticism. “The biggest problem just came from lobs and s*** like that,” Adams said. “Just take away the lobs and stuff, make them kick out, drive from there, probably might have been a little different, maybe.” Adams’ indecisiveness about the potential outcome said it all. Patterson, who’s now struggling on defense in addition to his season-long shooting woes, didn’t stand much of a chance, either. So why not Adams and Nerlens Noel together?”
Royce Young (ESPN) on how Paul George discovered his best self in OKC: “Westbrook and George played much of last season walking on eggshells, trying to find the right mix of playmaking between them, but they’ve spent the past year developing a strong bond. It’s all paying off now for George, who is putting up the best numbers of his career in both counting stats — he’s averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals — and analytics alike. “I think you’d be hard-pressed right now to find guys that are playing at a higher level than he’s playing,” Donovan said. George is third in the league in ESPN’s real plus-minus, and second in RPM wins. Pick a stat and it’s probably going to tell you George is at the top of his game. “I do, I do,” George said when asked if he thinks this is the best he has ever played. “I think just the experience and not having to shoulder everything offensively, it’s definitely helped as well.”
Mohammad Dakhil (WaPo) on the Thunder defense making them a threat to Golden State: “Yet the biggest change is in Oklahoma City’s three-point defense, which has cut down the amount of wide-open three-point attempts against, defined as the closest defender six feet or more away. Last year, the Thunder ranked fourth for most wide-open three-point shot attempts against per game (16.2), which accounted for a league-high 21 percent of all their opponent’s long-range attempts. This year, it is ninth in both frequency (16 percent of shots against are from beyond the arc) and attempts (14.3 three-point attempts against per game), and that makes this Thunder team better defensively than the one that challenged the Warriors last year. All roads to winning in the NBA go through the Warriors and that means having to defend the three-point line. The Warriors shoot 39 percent from deep and have three guys that can catch fire in a heartbeat. The number of their attempts from three is vital to stopping them. In their nine losses this season, the Warriors have averaged 28 attempts compared to their 32 in their wins.”
SB Nation’s Westbrook/Patrick Beverley Beef History:
Zach Kram (Ringer) on who’s real in the NBA: “Just look, for instance, at the Thunder’s romp through the interconference portion of their slate. OKC is 9-2 against the East, but outside of one home game against the Celtics (a loss), its opponents have been Charlotte twice, Cleveland twice, Washington, New York, Atlanta, Detroit, Brooklyn, and Chicago (also a loss). Not on that list? A second road contest against the Celtics or any game against the top four teams in the East: Toronto, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Indiana. Overall, the Thunder are 11-1 against teams with losing records and just 6-8 against teams .500 or above. One positive is that they’ve pasted most of those sub-.500 opponents, which is an important marker for a good team, but sooner or later, they must translate that performance to higher-quality matchups to remain abreast of the morass in the Western standings. According to Tankathon, the Thunder project for the hardest remaining schedule of any team.”
Around the League: Zach Lowe’s 10 things…. James Harden dropped a 50-point triple-double on the Lakers…. The Lakers resortd to hands-free defense after frustration with the refs.… Jabari Parker has been removed from Chicago’s rotation…. Dirk made his 21st season-debut in Dallas…. Recapping last night’s NBA action…. The outspoken NBA.