5 min read

Friday Bolts: 12.29.17

Friday Bolts: 12.29.17

Nick Gallo previews tonight’s Thunder/Bucks match-up: “Both the Thunder and the Milwaukee Bucks have changed drastically since they last met on Halloween up in Wisconsin. Head Coach Billy Donovan’s team rolled in that game, clicking on all cylinders in a 19-point victory. But in the early going that type of performance was a bit of an outlier for the Thunder, as it battled through the necessary growing pains to get where it is now, 20-15 and 4 games out of third place in the Western Conference. Milwaukee has changed for a different reason: personnel. A team’s personality also changes when a shakeup happens to the roster, and that’s what the Bucks are experiencing with burly and speedy point guard Eric Bledsoe in the fold and former power forward Greg Monroe off in Phoenix. That makes preparation for this group slightly different for the Thunder, although veterans like Carmelo Anthony have explained that simply coming out and playing the right way on both ends is what the Thunder looks to control.”

Erik Horne on the Thunder defense thriving off deflections: “The Thunder has 637 deflections this season, No. 1 in the NBA and 106 more than second-place Utah. The mass of deflections has led to a league-high 323 loose balls recovered, according to NBA.com/stats. Russell Westbrook and Paul George are Nos. 1 and 2 in the NBA in loose balls recovered with 69 and 61, respectively. George has the most steals in the league with 82 and Westbrook is second with 73. Aside from Westbrook’s athleticism and George’s wingspan, Thunder coach Billy Donovan said much of the team’s ability to get to loose balls is instinctive.”

Fred Katz on why Russell Westbrook’s hot streak could be his best ever: “Westbrook has shot 50 percent or better in six out of his past seven games. It’s only the third time he’s done that in his career, matching a six-of-seven streak in 2013 and remaining one short of a career-best seven-of-eight stretch in 2012. He’ll have an opportunity to match his personal record when the Thunder welcome in the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday.”

Brett Dawson on how the Thunder is working toward fixing the third quarter issues: “For 29 games, Oklahoma City had the lowest third-quarter field-goal percentage in the league at 40.8 percent. In the past six games, it’s shooting 53.6 percent from the floor in the third, best in the NBA. Anthony, Russell Westbrook and Paul George are shooting a combined 12.7 times per third quarter in this current streak, slightly down from their combined 14.2 shots per third quarter in the first 29 games. But they’re shooting dramatically better. Over the past six games, Anthony’s shooting 47.4 percent from the floor in third quarters, up from 37.7 percent in the first 29 games. Westbrook’s third-quarter shooting is up from 34.4 percent to a sizzling 66.7 percent. George’s third-quarter shooting has held steady — it’s up from 40.6 to 40.7 percent during the winning streak — but he’s made 55.6 of his third-quarter 3-pointers over the past six games.”

Jason McIntyre (USA Today) on the changes Westbrook had to make to jump start the Thunder: “Everyone wanted to blame Donovan or Melo earlier this season, but it was Russ who had to figure it out. And he has. Westbrook has changed his game. He was jacking three-pointers at an alarming rate earlier this season (5.6 per game through the first 20 games), and he’s downshifted to 1.7 during the team’s hot streak. Back-to-back home wins over Houston and Toronto were impressive. But there is a potentially challenging road stretch coming up (six of nine on the road, though mostly against bottom-feeders, except Minnesota and Cleveland). The February schedule, when the Thunder should be peaking, starts with five of seven games on National TV. Except the Thunder bandwagon to be full by then.”

Terrance Ferguson was assigned to the OKC Blue: “The Oklahoma City Thunder has assigned guard Terrance Ferguson to the Oklahoma City Blue of the NBA G League, it was announced today by Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti. Ferguson has appeared in 21 games with the Thunder this season and averaged 1.3 points in 6.7 minutes per game. In two games (two starts) with the Blue, he has averaged 17.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.00 steal in 30.2 minutes per game. He is expected to be in uniform when the Blue faces the Salt Lake City Stars at 8 p.m. at the Lifetime Activities Center.”

Zach Lowe’s (ESPN) 10 things he likes and doesn’t like: “Oklahoma City still has only one crunch-time set — a wing “Hawk” pick-and-roll in which Anthony screens for George before flipping around and screening for Westbrook as George curls around the opposite side. Opponents are, umm, onto that one. Westbrook remains statuesque, hands on knees, whenever someone else has the ball. This isn’t a 60-win juggernaut waiting to bust out. But they could play the rest of the season at a 50-win pace, and be an absolute pain in the ass in the playoffs.”

Grant Hughes (B/R) has OKC sixth in his latest NBA power rankings: “Sometimes, it just takes half a season or so until everything falls into place. The Oklahoma City Thunder have won six in a row and eight of their last nine in exactly the manner many expected when the team came together over the summer. Take Wednesday’s 124-107 win over the Raptors as an example: Russell Westbrook posted 30 points and 13 assists, Paul George defended like a lunatic and scored 33 points on only 17 shots, and Carmelo Anthony third-wheeled his way to 18 points on 8-of-15 shooting. Sheer talent, finally playing together with fluidity, overwhelmed one of the best teams in the league.”

Jimmy Do (okcthunder.com) on the Thunder thawing hearts at the Devon Ice Rink: “Working behind the rental counter, Roberson along with teammate Dakari Johnson spent Thursday afternoon plucking out pairs of ice skates while thawing the hearts of surprised visitors at the Myriad Gardens. At the checkout windows, skaters brought rosy cheeks and toothy smiles in exchange for pulse-thumping moments of facetime with Roberson and Johnson. The fun-loving Thunder duo also dished out the perfect remedy for a cold afternoon. “Giving out hot chocolate, candy canes and wristbands on this cold day, just enjoying life,” said Roberson.”

Around the League: The Celtics outsmarted the Rockets last night…. James Harden did more referee complaining…. Steph Curry set to return on Saturday…. How LeBron has remained dominant in season 15…. Jeff Teague is out indefinitely for the T-Wolves…. Grading every “City Edition” alternate.