Maddie Lee (Oklahoman) on the Thunder returning to form as the league’s best defensive team: “At the end of Saturday night, OKC still had the best defensive rating in the league (102.1), even after New Orleans and Denver took advantage of defensive lapses to hand the Thunder two consecutive road losses earlier in the week. On Saturday, the second night of a back-to-back and the Thunder’s fourth game in six days, OKC righted its defense to snap a two-game losing streak. “When we defend like that, best team in the league,” said Westbrook, who led the team with six steals. “So we know what we have to do to win games, we’ve got to defend to win.”
The 48: Saturday’s Clippers @ Thunder match-up
Giri Nathan (Deadspin) on Paul George being in his zone: “Russell Westbrook needed 22 minutes to get on the board. It didn’t matter, because the Thunder have that other guy, too. Carrying the scoring load for Oklahoma City once again was Paul George, who went off for 33 points, seven rebounds, and six assists, with no turnovers. Behind another wild December night from the fringe MVP candidate, the Thunder took down the Clippers 110-104 Saturday and improved to 18-10.”
Colton Jones (Amico Hoops) on PG’s best season yet: “George is averaging career-highs in points (24.9), rebounds (7.8), assists (4.3), steals (2.1) and blocked shots (0.8) in this, his ninth NBA season. He is shooting 44.3 percent from the floor, 37.7 percent from deep and 82.6 percent from the free-throw line. “He’s just being himself,” Westbrook said. “He’s aggressive when he plays his pace. He can get any shot he wants, can score with anybody in the league. As you can see, he’s been good all season.” George chose to return to OKC last summer, signing a four-year, $137 million contract June 30. The 28-year-old George is also at the fore of Oklahoma City’s top-rated defense this season, tied for second in the NBA in deflections with 3.5 per game.”
Clay Horning (Norman Transcript) on Russell Westbrook’s struggles near the rim: “Saturday night, in the Thunder locker room, a new tactic may have been unearthed in the getting-Russell-Westbrook-to-speak sweepstakes. First, a reporter asked the Thunder point guard what was working for him from 3-point land. Westbrook, in Oklahoma City’s two-game-losing-streak-busting 110-104 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers Saturday, had made 3 of 4 3-point attempts. “Taking my time, getting my feet set and just following through,” Westbrook said to the complimentary question. Next question: What does he need to adjust to finish better at the rim. Perhaps because he’d been disarmed by the flattering opener, he answered the follow up in stride after a game in which he made 1 of 13 2-point shots, many of them near the rim. “Nothing,” Westbrook said. “Just got to make them, concentrate.”
Erik Horne (Oklahoman) on Steven Adams as one of the NBA’s best centers: “The all-around impact has all but erased those early career images of Nate Robinson, Vince Carter, Jordan Hamilton and Larry Sanders throwing punches and elbows at Adams’ New Zealand-bred noggin. Now, Adams is still a thorn in opponents’ sides. As recently as 2016, he was voted the second dirtiest player in the NBA in a 24-player poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times. One Western Conference player said then “he’s real physical, but he crosses the line with stuff.” Two years is a lot of time for narratives to change. Before this season, NBA.com’s annual GM survey revealed Adams as the toughest player in the NBA according to the 30 general managers polled, earning 33 percent of the vote to LeBron James’s 13. There’s more there, according to Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “I think what you’re seeing now is he’s a far more skilled player,” Rivers said Saturday. “I think people just look at him as this rough, tough offensive rebounding machine, but he can score down there too when he gets it.”
Around the League: The Pacers have hired the NBA’s first female Assistant GM…. Why James Dolan runs the Knicks without apology…. The Ringer’s trade season primer…. Recapping yesterday’s NBA action…. Re-assessing the Kings’ decision to take Marvin Bagley over Luka Doncic…. The wild, dramatic ordeal that resulted with Trevor Ariza in Washington.