Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) recaps last night’s loss to the 76ers: “It should be no surprise by now that relentlessness is in the Thunder DNA. Always has been since the team arrived in Oklahoma City, regardless of who was on the court. Tonight, MVP candidate Paul George was missing from the lineup due to shoulder soreness, but there the Thunder was again, giving itself a chance in the fourth quarter to make magic happen. Turns out, the Philadelphia 76ers had a card up their sleeve every time it had to respond. Four times in the fourth quarter and twice late in the third the Thunder pulled to within two points, but the foe who hadn’t beaten Oklahoma City since 2008 swatted back at each turn. The clock ran out on the comeback hopes, and the final result stood 108-104 as the Thunder dropped its fourth of five games.”
Royce Young (ESPN) on the Sixers’ first ever win in Oklahoma City: “The win broke a 19-game losing streak to the Thunder. It was the Sixers’ first win against OKC since Nov. 15, 2008, and only the second ever against the team since it relocated to Oklahoma City. Looking around the Sixers’ locker room, the longest tenured player is T.J. McConnell, but he has been with the team since only 2015, part of seven of those losses. How different were things on that November day in 2008? The teams took 21 3-pointers — combined. There’s only one player that has been part of all 19 — Russell Westbrook — and he was aware of the streak. With plenty of history with the Sixers, he wasn’t much interested in discussing it, but the last time OKC lost to Philly, he came off the bench and scored 13 points. And on the night the run ended, he put up his 25th triple-double of the season — 23-11-11.”
Berry Tramel (Oklahoman) on Paul George proving his worth by not playing in last night’s defeat: “The Sixers missed Joel Embiid mightily. The Thunder missed George more. Nursing a sore shoulder, apparently suffered Tuesday night in Denver, George sat out this one, and the Thunder looked lost without him. The offense was mostly reduced to straight drives by Russell Westbrook, Jerami Grant or Dennis Schroder. The defense was mismatched much of the night. Only in the fourth quarter, seemingly out of desperation, did the defense stiffen. The Thunder played uphill all night. Never had the lead and the ball. Never had the lead period after the first few minutes. Trailed by as many 16 points but clawed back into contention repeatedly in the second half. Five times cut the Sixers’ lead to two points, but only the last time did the Thunder get a stop on Philly’s subsequent possession. And when that finally happened, and a Westbrook drive tied the game at 93-93, the Thunder went five straight possessions without scoring, and the Sixers took a 103-93 lead. George’s value was on full display.”
Updated Western Conference Standings:
Sam Amick (Athletic) has PG13 finishing third in MVP voting behind Giannis and Harden: “The spirit of the award is helping your team win when you’re out there, and Paul & Co. have these Thunder (38-22) looking like Western Conference contenders again. He leads the league in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus stat (7.85, with Harden second at 7.44). The Thunder are a plus-9.7 with George on the floor and a minus-10.8 when he’s off – that’s a swing of 20.5 points that dwarfs Giannis (9.7). The Rockets, shockingly, have a higher net rating with Harden on the bench (3.1) than with him on the floor (2.7). He’s making his own history here, too: George is on track to join Jordan (1988-89) as the only players to average at least 28 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals. As for the defensive side, George is widely seen as the DPOY frontrunner for this Thunder squad that has the league’s third-best defensive rating. In this wing-heavy era of superstars, George’s ability to guard the best in the business every time out is no small feat.”
Dan Devine (Ringer) on Paul George being the best player during the NBA’s third quarter: “I would not fight you in a public square if you wanted to cast your imaginary quarterly ballot for Antetokounmpo. Or for James Harden, who scored fewer than 30 points only once in his 17 appearances during the season’s third quarter, averaging a tidy 39.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per contest in that span. But while Giannis has been the NBA’s best player since the start of the season, and while Harden re-emerged as the league’s premier scoring force a few weeks before Christmas, it was George who most forcefully elbowed his way into the spotlight over these six weeks, entering the MVP conversation by playing at a level he’d never before reached. George averaged 33.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 2.4 steals in a league-high 39 minutes per game while serving as the top offensive option on a Thunder attack that ranked fifth in the league in offensive efficiency in this period. Only two players made more 3-pointers in that span, and only three knocked them down at a higher clip.”
Grant Hughes (B/R) has the Thunder 9th in his latest power rankings: “OKC couldn’t get past the Kings on the second night of that Utah-Sacramento back-to-back (because it’s basically impossible to win the second leg of one of those after a double-OT night in the first), but the defeat Denver handed it on Tuesday was the bigger issue. It gave the Nuggets the season tiebreaker and severely damaged the Thunder’s chances of finishing second in the West. With George sidelined because of a sore shoulder, Oklahoma City suffered a third straight loss, falling 108-104 to the Sixers.”
Around the League: Recapping last night’s NBA action…. James Harden dropped 58 on the Heat…. KD sat and the Warriors lost in Orlando…. 10 things Zach Lowe likes/doesn’t like…. Would a LeBron-less postseason be bad for the NBA?…. Is the 50-40-90 club unfair to volume shooters?…. The Nets, Nike, and the NBA are being sued by Coogi — the preferred sweater brand of the Notorious B.I.G.…. Portland is going big in hopes they don’t come up small yet again.