Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) recaps yesterday’s win over the T-Wolves: “From an identity standpoint, it couldn’t have been a more perfect start for the Thunder. Three stops and three scores. Russell Westbrook created a catch and shoot three-pointer in the corner, Westbrook scored on a transition layup after a defensive rebound, then Steven Adams cleaned up the glass with a put-back dunk. Tough defense limiting foes to one shot, pushing the pace in transition for threes or layups and the physicality on the offensive glass. It was all there right at the start. In a 132-126 road win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, that identity went away for long stretches, but when it came to the fourth quarter and crunch time, the Thunder got enough stops and executed to score enough to close out a third-straight victory. The hallmark Thunder toughness showed up on the glass with a plus-14 rebounding edge, and the precision was there too as the Thunder racked up 27 assists to just 14 turnovers and shoot 52.2 percent from the field. “We were just ready to play,” said Westbrook.”
The Thunder are now sixth in the Western Conference: Which would result in a first round date with the Rockets.
Erik Horne (Oklahoman) on if the Thunder can bring a sense of urgency into the final week of the regular season: “Shooting well and spacing the floor from 3 is a major component of the equation, but not the entire solution. Yes, the Thunder’s best run of results – a stretch of 11 wins in 12 games – came with OKC making 38 percent or more of its 3-pointers in every game from Jan. 19 to Feb. 11. But the Thunder also lost three of four games in early January in which it shot 40 percent of better from 3 in each contest. What’s paramount is competing and playing to the identity of the team – not letting the offensive issues compound on the defensive end, then taking the success from defense and applying it with intent on offense. It’s all connected.”
Brett Dawson (Athletic) on the Thunder finding their identity in Friday’s win over the Pistons: “The look on Terrance Ferguson’s face said it all. His hands clasped the side of his head, his mouth fell agape. The Thunder guard had a view from the corner of one of the great passes of Russell Westbrook’s career, and he could hardly believe what he’d seen. In that regard, he had a lot of company at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Westbrook split two defenders with a 360 spin; an over-the-head pass he delivered to Steven Adams for a dunk dropped more jaws than Ferugson’s on Friday. But it was more than just one of Westbrook’s most stylish career assists. The play was emblematic of the Thunder’s 123-110 win against the Pistons, a game Oklahoma City claimed by clamping down defensively, dominating the backboards, sharing the ball and playing with the sort of joy that’s been in short supply of late around here.”
Grant Hughes (B/R) on the Thunder’s role as a potential Cinderella team in the playoffs: “Yet Oklahoma City, flawed as it is, has the postseason experience advantage over Denver—which isn’t hard, considering the Nuggets’ young core of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris have none whatsoever. That’s where the Cinderella possibility emerges. The Thunder, overmatched by every metric you’d care to consult, have star players with heaps of Finals and conference finals reps. Westbrook and George have faced LeBron James in his prime on the biggest stages, and though they always fell short, they didn’t back down. Meanwhile, these Nuggets—whose offense has cratered worse than OKC’s defense since the break, and whose stopping power will be shaky as long as Jokic is there to attack in the pick-and-roll—couldn’t get past the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves to gain playoff entry a season ago. Based on talent, full-season performance and every qualitative measurement, the Thunder shouldn’t have a chance to beat Denver. But do you really want to bet against a dialed-in duo of Westbrook and George? Perhaps more importantly, do you want to bet on a Nuggets squad that hasn’t proved squat?”
ESPN has the Thunder 12th in their latest power rankings: “The Thunder had one of the more perplexing final two months of the regular season, falling from a battle for the No. 2 seed in the West to a fight to stay out of No. 8. They’ve won their past three games against sub-.500 opponents to try to snap out of their funk, and only one of their remaining games is against a playoff opponent still fighting for seeding. The Thunder will look to string together a couple more wins and build some positive momentum entering the postseason.”
Adam Wells (B/R) on Russell Westbrook locking up a triple-double average for the third straight season: “Westbrook’s critics have focused on what he’s not doing instead of what he can do. Certainly, his shooting numbers leave a lot to be desired. The 2016-17 NBA MVP is tied for 24th among qualified point guards with a 42.6 field-goal percentage. His three-point percentage (28.6) is the second-worst out of 187 qualified players. But considering there have been four seasons in NBA history where a player has averaged a triple-double, and Westbrook has three of them in three consecutive years, his accomplishment is very much worth celebrating.”
Sam Amick (Athletic) with results from the Athletic’s first NBA player poll: Basically, the players think Paul George is third in the MVP race, second in “who’s the best defender”, Russell Westbrook is tied with Draymond for “Most Overrated”, and Steven Adams gets some love for being underrated/not someone you want to fight.
Around the League: The Warriors locked up the #1 seed in the West…. The Rockets broke their own single-game 3-pointers record…. The Nets are in the playoffs for the first time since 2015…. The Bucks reached 60 wins for the first time since 1981…. The Magic are playoff-bound…. Uh, Alex Caruso is going off for the Lakers.