Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) recaps last night’s game in New Orleans: “It was a tall task over the past week, to continue this hot streak going during this sprint to the All-Star Break. The Thunder almost pulled it off. After winning 11 of 12 games over the past 3 weeks, the Thunder had one more task on Thursday night. In the final NBA game before the NBA’s big break, the Thunder faced off with the New Orleans Pelicans in an emotional contest for the home squad. After weeks of turmoil and an embarrassing home loss on Tuesday, the Pelicans played the Thunder with a sense of forgotten pride in front of a national television audience. Relentless paint scoring, hounding perimeter defense and some dead eye shooting were the weapons and the Thunder didn’t have enough in its own arsenal to combat it. “We’re going to get everybody’s best shot. They came out, they got comfortable. It was just one of them nights for us,” said forward Paul George. Ultimately the Thunder dropped this one 131-122 to the Pelicans, falling to 37-20 on the season, still good for third place in the Western Conference, just four games out of first place and two out of second place with 25 games left after the break.”
ESPN on Russell Westbrook’s 11th straight triple-double: “Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook recorded his 11th consecutive triple-double Thursday to extend the longest such streak in NBA history in a 131-122 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. On Monday night, Westbrook’s triple-double against Portland extended his streak to 10 games, breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s mark of nine straight set in 1968. Westbrook finished with 44 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists in 39 minutes Thursday. It was the 12th time in Westbrook’s career in which he scored at least 40 points in a triple-double. That puts him in a tie for second place with Houston’s James Harden for the most 40-point triple-doubles in NBA history, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Oscar Robertson has the record with 22. After the loss, Thunder coach Billy Donovan praised Westbrook for inspring his teammates on a night where the Thunder didn’t have “the pop.”
Royce Young (ESPN) on Markieff Morris agreeing to join the Thunder for the remainder of the season: “Morris, 29, recently was traded by the Wizards to the Pelicans, and then was waived by New Orleans. He last played on Dec. 26 after suffering a neck injury. He recently was cleared to play after receiving a second opinion. After waiving guard Alex Abrines last week, the Thunder had three roster spots open and have filled them with two 10-day contracts (Richard Solomon and Scotty Hopson) and now Morris. With financial constraints playing a part because of a significant luxury tax bill pending, the Thunder didn’t make a deal at the trade deadline, instead hoping to make an addition in the buyout market. Morris will provide versatility to the Thunder’s bench, backing up starting power forward Jerami Grant and providing another floor-spacing big in addition to Patrick Patterson. A 6-foot-10 forward, Morris is averaging 11.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 34 games this season (15 starts).”
Brett Dawson & Fred Katz (Athletic) on how Markieff Morris fits with the Thunder: “The Wizards defense was almost six points per 100 possessions worse when Morris was on the floor. They didn’t switch with him. The Thunder probably wouldn’t either. He was part of pick-and-roll discombobulation numerous times, showing off a tendency to end up in no-man’s land when guarding the back ends of ball screens. He wouldn’t quite show. He wouldn’t quite drop. He’d come up just high enough, but also just low enough to contribute to Washington’s most detrimental defensive issue: ball containment. Of course, it didn’t help that he was often part of a two-man defensive game with Wall, who was allowing those ball-handlers to drive by him at the start. If a guard hits a screen and doesn’t keep defending or calls for switches at unsuspecting moments, what’s a big man to do? It’s safe to assume the Thunder have applied similar logic. When all is going right, Oklahoma City might own the NBA’s stingiest defense. If Morris is guarding the back ends of pick-and-rolls with top-notch defenders like George or Terrance Ferguson or Grant or (they hope) Andre Roberson at the top, if quality help defenders are coming from the corners and wings, those previously detrimental plays go differently. Displace a dude from a .400 team and stick him on one pacing to win 55 games and a whole lot can change.”
Paul George discusses the addition of Morris and the state of the Thunder at the All-Star break:
Chris Herring (FiveThirtyEight) on the Thunder being Paul George’s team now: “Somewhat stunningly, at this rate, George is already just 10 games or so away from eclipsing his shot attempt total from last season. His shot chart this season looks essentially the same as last year’s, but the clarity about his role seems to have helped his game immensely. George, perhaps more comfortable with Westbrook and the team now, is playing as if he realizes that it’s generally a good thing for him to take the reins on offense. So is George’s unreal stretch enough to propel him to the top of the MVP race? One factor in his favor is that he’s elite on both ends of the floor. The Thunder rank among the top-3 defenses — despite defensive specialist Andre Roberson not having played a minute all season — largely because of George, who is leading the league in steals and loose balls recovered while ranking second in deflections. George has certainly pieced together a solid defensive player of the year candidacy.”
Zach Lowe (ESPN) on the MVP race: “George has hit a preposterous 50 percent of tightly contested 3s, easily the best mark among 77 rotation players who dare try at least 0.5 such shots per game. He’ll launch out of the pick-and-roll even if his guy remains on his hip — literally touching him. George is averaging 29-8-4 on a 45/41/84 shooting line, and he might be the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year. The Thunder are plus-11 points per 100 possessions with George on the floor, and minus-11 when he sits — the largest such positive differential (about plus-22) of any player, and it is no longer close, per NBA.com. They collapse without George, even when Russell Westbrook remains in the game. For those who value defense, we officially have a three-man MVP race — with Joel Embiid lurking close behind, followed by the Golden State stars, Nikola Jokic and Damian Lillard”.
Michael Shapiro (SI) on why Steven Adams is much more than the NBA’s strongest man: “Adams’ strength and toughness is no secret. He’s firmly entrenched as the Thunder’s interior presence, and known as one of the league’s premier rim protectors. Oklahoma City sports the league’s best defensive rating when the Adams-Westbrook-George trio shares the floor. Yet it’s Adams’ evolving skill-set that’s been crucial to Oklahoma City’s success, a key development alongside Paul George’s MVP campaign and Russell Westbrook’s triple-double streak. Adams’ assist rate is up over a full percentage point compared to his previous career high, and he’s dishing interior passes with authority. Often an outlet for Westbrook inside the free-throw line, Adams is now finding cutters with an increased verve, comfortable dropping off dimes to Grant, Noel and George. His signature flip shot is as stable as ever, with impressive touch for a 7’0” behemoth. Adams is eighth in the NBA in field goals made within five feet. He boasts a better percentage in the restricted area than Marc Gasol and Nikola Jokic. As the Thunder climb to the league’s fifth-best scoring offense, Adams’ game continues to grow. The correlation is no accident.”
Paolo Ugetti (Ringer) on why Andre Roberson is the in-house upgrade the Thunder need this season: “Roberson has been out for more than a year now after suffering a ruptured patellar tendon, which has led to two different setbacks. The latest came in November, when it was announced he had an avulsion fracture and would be reevaluated in six weeks. It’s been more than six weeks and the Thunder have not provided an update or new timeline for Roberson’s recovery, so it’s not out of the question that he might not play the rest of the season. OKC reportedly nabbed Markieff Morris from the buyout market Thursday, which could be a bad sign for how they feel about Roberson’s chances of seeing the floor again this season. If Roberson does return, though, there’s a chance the Thunder could go from the third-best defense to the best in the league. He would add more perimeter help and make OKC’s defensive identity even stronger—which are the only ways a team can give the Warriors some trouble in the playoffs.”
Grant Hughes (B/R) has the Thunder fourth in his All-Star break power rankings: “It’s telling when Russell Westbrook can break one of Wilt Chamberlain’s records by logging 10 straight triple-doubles (he’s up to 11), and it only counts as the second-best performance on his own team. Paul George also logged a triple-double in Monday’s 120-11 win over Portland, but he scored 47 points in the process and made it two straight games with at least 45 points and 10 boards. If your MVP ballot doesn’t have George in the top five, you’re doing it wrong. PG owns this season’s highest individual on-off differential, according to Cleaning the Glass’ metrics, which exclude garbage time. The Thunder erased a 26-point deficit to down the Rockets on Saturday, preserving a remarkable streak. They haven’t lost to a West team currently in playoff position since they fell in overtime to the Spurs way back on Jan. 10. OKC has won 11 of its last 13 games and has surpassed the Nuggets in net rating, leaving the Warriors as the only West team ahead of them by that statistic.”
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