Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) previews tonight’s game in Charlotte: “As the Thunder hits the road to commence an Eastern Conference back-to-back, with the first stop coming in Charlotte in a battle with the Hornets, that defensive cohesion will need to be a top priority. At point guard for Charlotte is Kemba Walker, who in the early going of the 2018-19 campaign is averaging an incredible 30.1 points per game, second most in the NBA. That’s not it for the Hornets backcourt, however, as youngsters Malik Monk and Jeremy Lamb are both shooting nearly 40 percent from the three-point stripe, while the second unit is graced with an NBA legend – Tony Parker. The long-time San Antonio Spurs point guard is in his first season in a different jersey, but still remains a productive and potent threat as a playmaker. On Tuesday against the Miami Heat, Parker notched game-highs with 24 points and 11 assists in just 25 minutes. “He was a fixture with San Antonio and obviously had an incredible run and an incredible year with the championships and the teams they had there,” said Donovan. “He’s obviously had a remarkable career.”
Bill Haisten (Tulsa World) on why the Thunder need an enforcer: “Beverley’s Tuesday dive at Westbrook’s leg was not a basketball move. It was a football move. Beverley dived at the leg. Not at the ball. And he surged at Westbrook’s leg not with his hands, but with his shoulder. I respected Westbrook’s restraint, because OKC’s lead wasn’t great enough that the Thunder could afford to have Westbrook get ejected, but I was disappointed that no one in a Thunder uniform responded by confronting Beverley or delivering a hard foul. If the Thunder were a hockey team, Beverley would have lost some teeth. After a review during a timeout, the officials popped Beverley with a Flagrant I foul. Clippers coach Doc Rivers and Beverley pretended to be shocked, but the officials did the right thing. They had to be aware of the Westbrook-Beverley history. OKC needs a tough-guy presence that has been lacking since Kendrick Perkins was traded in 2015. OKC needs someone willing to confront a Draymond Green (who twice kicked Steven Adams in the groin) and Zaza Pachulia (who, while playing for Golden State, flattened Westbrook and stood over him while there was no response from anyone in a Thunder uniform).”
Maddie Lee (Oklahoman) on Alex Abrines and his developing defense: “More commonly known for his shooting ability, Abrines demonstrated that defensive development against the Celtics last week when he held his own against Kyrie Irving. On Wednesday, Clippers players made 33.3 percent of the shots Abrines contested, according to NBA.com. “He got his hands back on Lou Williams,” Donovan said. “… He’s done a good job, and he’s had some tough covers.” Deflecting a pass meant for Marjanovic was an extreme example, but Abrines has length to use to his advantage, especially against smaller guards. At his height, “if you move your feet and get your hands up and make people shoot over you, you’ve done your job,” Donovan said.”
Erik Horne (Oklahoman) on Russell Westbrook finding rhythm near the rim: “Westbrook’s aggression and discretion has been evident through four games. Thirty of his 39 made field goals have come from within 8 feet of the rim. Of his 81 shot attempts, 53 have come in the paint. It has been effective. Westbrook is shooting 69 percent from within 5 feet when the league average is 62.5 percent. It’s come with fewer mid-range shots and touches overall. The Thunder doesn’t want to take away Westbrook’s mid-range jump shot, even in a league where layups, free throws and 3-pointers are the most valuable currency. Westbrook has become known for his “cotton shot” — that pull-up jump shot at powerful pace — taken in the mid-range area he has lived at throughout his career. Only eight of Westbrook’s shot attempts have come from 15-to-19 feet this season.”
NBA.com staff on whether OKC or Houston’s slow start is more concerning: “Given the immense expectations that accompanied them into training camp, both internally and beyond, their early-season struggles dwarf those plaguing the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Rockets tweaked what was beautiful team chemistry from a season ago for absolutely no reason at all. We will never know what might have happened in the Western Conference finals if Chris Paul hadn’t gone down with a hamstring injury late in Game 5. And the Rockets made sure of it when they let perfect fits Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute go and added Carmelo Anthony.”
Adam Fromal (B/R) on why the Thunder’s slow start won’t last: “Westbrook will find his rhythm and continue to spearhead the offensive charge. George won’t keep slashing a disappointing 41.5/34.5/78.0. Adams might even get more involved in the pick-and-roll game. None of these players are old enough that we should be worried about imminent declines, and it doesn’t help that the Thunder have played one of the league’s toughest schedules. Maybe they’re not true contenders in the Western Conference. Considering the depth of talent in the NBA’s tougher half, they might not even be postseason locks. They’re still not bottom-feeders ready to make the most of a guaranteed lottery pick in the 2019 NBA draft.”
Dwight Howard to return tomorrow vs OKC:
Around the League: Derrick Rose dropped a 50-piece in Minnesota’s win over Utah…. Players react to D-Rose’s throwback performance…. Luka Doncic got LeBron’s autograph after the Lakers beat the Mavericks…. Updating the Jimmy Butler drama…. Recapping last night’s NBA action.