Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) previews tonight’s game versus the Pelicans: “Despite now being 11 games over .500 and more securely in third place in the Western Conference than it was a week ago, the Thunder’s focus immediately shifted to continuing this homestand the right way. On Thursday the New Orleans Pelicans come to town, and the Thunder can’t afford to be lulled into a trap game against a Pelicans squad that will be missing Anthony Davis. Even without its best player, New Orleans put a 20-point drubbing on the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday. The Thunder will have to be ready to defend, and rebound, for 48 minutes. “Our guys always respond because they’re really competitive,” said Head Coach Billy Donovan. While the Pelicans will likely have Jahlil Okafor up front alongside Julius Randle instead of Davis, the problems on the perimeter that the Pelicans create remain the same. The shifty speed of Jrue Holiday and Elfrid Payton can make staying in front of the ball difficult, particularly with the perimeter shooting provided by players like E’Twuan Moore, Nikola Mirotic and Darius Miller.”
Clay Horning (Norman Transcript) on what Billy Donovan’s rotation changes mean for the Thunder moving forward: “The short story of what Donovan did is he made certain George or Russell Westbrook was always on the floor. They played together the game’s first 5:50. Only Westbrook played the next 3:36. Only George played the next 5:30. Only Westbrook played the next 1:10. They both played the final 6:31 of the first half. The rotations were very similar in the second half, with both playing the final 6:52. Also notable, Hamidou Diallo did not play and, though Alex Abrines dressed for the game, he did not play either, meaning the Thunder only played nine players. The hopscotch of playing time didn’t seem to bother Westbrook either. He finished with 29 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds.”
Royce Young (ESPN) on how Russell Westbrook and Paul George feel about the staggered lineups: “Both Paul George and Russell Westbrook said that were all good with Billy Donovan’s staggering of the two stars. “Whatever coach wants to do, that he feels is best for the team, that’s what we do,” Westbrook said. Donovan said he talked with both George and Westbrook before making the change and they had no issue with it. “It’s not going to affect how I approach the game or how I play the game,” George said, who was the one that had his rotation actually change, checking out earlier in the first and third quarters. “I’m just gonna play basketball every minute on that floor.”
Shams Charania (Athletic) on the Thunder’s plan for the trade deadline: “The NBA trade deadline is a little over two weeks away, but NBA executives and players league-wide have noticed one dramatic factor in the trade market. Among the 30 teams, there have been just five sellers on the trade market: Four in the Eastern Conference (Atlanta, New York, Cleveland and Chicago) and one in the Western Conference (Phoenix) and possibly a second in Memphis. For everyone else, the remaining 11 teams in the East and 14 teams in the West, the playoffs have been within sight — speaking to the parity across the league…. The Thunder will explore their options to use their $10.7 million trade exception, including pursuing shooting small/power forwards, sources said.”
Brett Dawson (Athletic) on why the Thunder’s biggest additions might come from within: “It takes an optimist to see Abrines as a potential difference-maker for a team that could use a bench upgrade. The third-year guard hasn’t played since Dec. 23, and he’s shooting 32.3 percent from 3-point range after making 38 percent over his first two seasons. But as the Feb. 7 NBA trade deadline approaches, the Thunder’s best bet for improvement might be from within. Not that the franchise will necessarily stand pat. General manager Sam Presti’s long-held and publicly stated philosophy is that “no team’s ever finished,” and the Thunder traditionally are active at the deadline. OKC is surveying the league for a player to bolster the bench, and if it finds a low-cost shooter, so much the better. But the sort of players the Thunder needs are in high demand and short supply.”
Rachel Nichols (ESPN) on the evolution (and pettiness) of Russell Westbrook:
Erik Horne (Oklahoman) on Paul George’s case for MVP: “On Tuesday, he powered his scoring average to 27 points per game, making him one of eight players in the league with such distinction. For the season, George is shooting 38.9 percent from 3 on 8.8 attempts per game. Only Curry is taking more threes per game (11.7) and making a higher percentage (44.8). Only Harden has averaged more points than George’s 30 per game since Dec. 1. Advanced statistics love George, too. He’s No. 1 on the Thunder in net rating – the Thunder is 9.7 points per 100 possessions better than the opposition with George in the game. He’s No. 2 in the NBA behind Harden in ESPN’s real plus-minus, a formula which measures estimated on-court impact. The defense has never been in question. George is first in the NBA in deflections (175) and loose balls recovered (105), is second in steals per game (2.3) only to Russell Westbrook’s 2.4.”
Around the League: The Pacers expect Victor Oladipo to miss the rest of the season…. NBA players react to Oladipo’s injury…. James Harden scored a career-high 61 points last night in NYC…. Enes Kanter and the Knicks appear to be headed for a possible breakup…. Recapping last night’s NBA action…. Tracy McGrady thinks it’d be “great” if KD left the Warriors…. NBA trade rumors.