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Friday Bolts: 2.1.19

Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) previews tonight’s game in Miami: “Winners of six straight games, the 32-18 Thunder shook off a rough patch in mid-January and is hitting its stride as a group as it continues its final extended East Coast road trip of the season. After knocking off the Magic in a come-from-behind victory in Orlando on Tuesday, the Thunder now takes on the 24-25 Miami Heat, who dropped a game at home on Wednesday to the Chicago Bulls. Regardless of records and current run of play, this game will all be about how the Thunder plays, and whether it brings its defense (currently holding a 103.0 rating, third-best in the NBA) and can score efficiently against the Heat, who rank 8th in that same category. The Thunder’s offense hummed against the Magic, but it must play with physicality, tempo and aggressiveness against Miami. “We really defended at a high level and shared the ball on offense,” said forward Abdel Nader, referencing the Thunder’s 25 assists and 53.8 percent shooting against Orlando. “Anytime the stat sheet looks like that, we’ve played the right way.”

Trey Flynn (All U Can Heat) previews Thunder/Heat from the other side: “In fact, the Heat have not beaten the Thunder in over 2 seasons, and are playing an OKC team that has been, in every sense, an incredible fun watch. Led by MVP candidate Paul George and former-MVP Russell Westbrook, the Thunder are on a 6 game winning streak, looking to extend that as they currently sit as the 3rd seed in the Western Conference. With only a few losses short of becoming the 6th seed, and with the tightness of the West, you can expect this Thunder team to be creating up a storm. The Heat, on the other hand, are at a complete loss of what to do with this roster.”

Erik Horne (Oklahoman) on Russell Westbrook being selected to his eighth All-Star Game: “Russell Westbrook is going to the NBA All-Star Game. The Thunder veteran was one of seven Western Conference reserves selected by the league’s coaches, as announced Thursday on TNT’s NBA Tip-Off pregame show. Westbrook joins Paul George as Thunder representatives on the squad for the Feb. 17 game in Charlotte. Last week, George was voted as an All-Star Game starter for the first time as a Thunder player, beating New Orleans center Anthony Davis via a fan vote tiebreaker. The All-Star nod for Westbrook is the eighth of his career, breaking a tie with Kevin Durant for the most All-Star appearances for a single player in Thunder franchise history. Durant made seven consecutive All-Star teams with the Thunder from 2010 to 2016.”

Westbrook celebrated the news on Twitter:

Clay Horning (Norman Transcript) on Clay Bennett’s health issues not changing his role with the Thunder: “The health reasons affecting the resignation of Clay Bennett as chairman of the state board of regents, effective immediately, as announced at Thursday’s board meeting in Oklahoma City, is not threatening Bennett’s role with the group that owns the Oklahoma City Thunder. That was the message delivered by Thunder spokesperson Dan Mahoney, who offered an official statement from the organization following an inquiry from The Transcript. “Last spring, Mr. Bennett informed Gov. [Mary] Fallin that he would serve another year on the board with his term to expire in March,” the statement reads. “He has endured health issues over the past 18 months which have required his full and ongoing attention. He has continued to improve and is hopeful for a full recovery. Clay is fully active in all his business interests, including the Thunder.”

Zach Lowe (ESPN) on Dennis Schroder, the actor: “Theater actors exaggerate gestures so people in the back can see them. A few NBA trickster-playmakers use the same showy fakery to convince defenses a certain action is coming. Schroder, a reliable source of offense on the Oklahoma City Thunder’s bench units starved for it, is an NBA thespian.  He waves his arms and widens his eyes: Yes, Hamidou Diallo, approach for a dribble handoff. Right here! Now! But it’s a con! The moment Patrick Beverleyangles his body to dodge Diallo, Schroder crosses the other way. The melodrama works because Schroder telegraphs a typical set piece. Beverley has seen that sideline handoff thousands of times. He expects it. Schroder preys upon that expectation.”

Grant Hughes (B/R) has the Thunder seventh in his latest power rankings: “Still second in defensive rating on the season, OKC quietly ranked 22nd in that stat for January. Fortunately, the offense picked up the slack, ranking 11th for the month. Spun one way, that reads as inconsistency and unreliability. Spun another, it shows the Thunder can win games on both ends, which wasn’t clear earlier this year when the offense looked stuck in mud. If Oklahoma City can channel its best self on offense and defense at the same time, watch out.”

Erik Horne on Abdel Nader creating tough decisions in the Thunder rotation now that Alex Abrines is back: “Before the Dec. 23 game against Minnesota — Abrines’ last game before his prolonged absence — Nader had never played in more than three consecutive games for the Thunder. Now, he’s firmly entrenched in the rotation, taking advantage of the minutes vacated by Abrines as well as Hamidou Diallo’s struggles to average 14.4 minutes per game since Dec. 25. It’s now Nader starting the second and fourth quarters and coming in for Russell Westbrook toward the end of the first and third. For Abrines, a player who’s thrived with extended minutes, it’s admittedly not easy. “I’m not going to lie, it’s hard but in a good way,” Abrines said. “I’m really happy for Abdel. He’s stepped in. T-Ferg (Terrance Ferguson) is playing great. We need those guys if we want to do something this year. I know I’ve got to work hard, even harder now that they’re playing good to earn my minutes and just get back in the rotation.”

Around the League: Kristaps Porzingis is a Dallas Maverick….. Dirk Nowitzki loves the move…. Knicks players were shocked by the blockbuster deal…. Kyrie Irving is in the middle of the trade deadline madness…. LeBron returned and the Lakers won in overtime.… Top 2019 All-Star snubs…. Should the Nuggets try to acquire Anthony Davis?…. 2019 trade deadline tracker.