Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) previews tonight’s game in New Orleans: “At 37-19, in a stretch of wins in 11 of the past 12 games, the Thunder is firing on all cylinders and has one more test to take before the break begins. On the road against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Thunder must bring its A game and maintain its steely focus to get up to a season-best 19 games above .500, for a .667 winning percentage. “It’s important that we take care of the game,” said Russell Westbrook. “You just gotta take care of business. Every game against a Western team is a playoff game. That’s how we look at things,” said guard Terrance Ferguson. Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club has won in a variety of ways this season, with victories coming through high-octane offense, disruptive defense and some gut-check playmaking. After having a bit of a lull, the Thunder’s defense has come back in full force against Western Conference foes over the past week, with wins against Memphis, Houston and Portland all coming as a result of stout, coordinated defensive efforts.”
Tonight’s injury report @ NOLA:
Erik Horne (Oklahoman) on the Thunder signing Scotty Hopson to a 10-day contract: “The Thunder is planning to sign Oklahoma City Blue guard/forward Scotty Hopson to a 10-day contract, according to a report form ESPN’s Royce Young, giving OKC potentially two fill-in players before the All-Star break. Hopson has averaged 17 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 25 games for the Blue this season. Hopson has played in the NBA with Cleveland and Dallas, last playing for the Mavericks in 2017-18. Blue forward Richard Solomon is also reportedly signing a 10-day contract with the Thunder, which currently only has 12 guaranteed contracts on its roster not counting two-way players Deonte Burton and Donte Grantham. Per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams can have as few as 11 players on its active roster, but only for up to two weeks at a time. The Thunder can carry 12 active players, but would have to have three inactive players (Ex. An additional signing, plus two inactive two-way players would qualify), thus making another guaranteed contract necessary.”
Russell Westbrook joined Kevin Hart for the latest episode of Cold As Balls: It’s funny.
Royce Young (ESPN) on Westbrook not listening to outside criticism: “Russell Westbrook doesn’t necessarily put blinders on to remain unaware of the criticism that follows him around. He just doesn’t care about it — or so he says, adamantly. “I’ve been blessed with the talent to not give a f—,” the Oklahoma City Thunder star said Wednesday. “And I don’t, regardless of what happens.” Westbrook has been one of the NBA’s most polarizing players since he entered the league in 2008, drawing criticism for his aggressive playing style, shot selection and cantankerous demeanor, among other things. He also has established himself as one of the great players of all time — and certainly one of the most unique, as a 6-foot-3 guard who is averaging a triple-double for the third consecutive season. “It doesn’t change the way I live, doesn’t change the way I think,” Westbrook said of criticism. “I have an unbelievable family, great friends, unbelievable life, unbelievable job, make a lot of money in my job. I’m extremely blessed, thankful, humble, haven’t been in trouble, don’t cause no problems. I’m perfectly fine. I’m living the best life. I can’t complain one bit.”
Maddie Lee (Oklahoman) on the Thunder becoming one of the NBA’s most efficient 3-point shooting teams: “With Ferguson’s development, the Thunder has three starters shooting over 37 percent from 3-point range this season: George (41.3), Ferguson (38.7) and Grant (37.3). “Our team’s not a 3-point shooting team,” George said at New York last month. “But … if we get easy and open looks we’re going to take them.” Despite ranking second in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage since Jan. 1, the Thunder continues to mold its identity around pace and defense. That mentality has helped the Thunder avoid relying heavily on something as fickle as perimeter shooting. There are a few exceptions, including a 117-95 win over Memphis last week, in which OKC took 44 shots from beyond the arc. Ferguson alone launched nine, making two in a row after missing the first five — a testament to his confidence in his shot. Asked what he thought about his team taking that many 3-pointers, Donovan said, “I like it when we shoot the percentage we shot.” The Thunder made 17 that night.”
Thunder in on Markieff Morris?:
Adam Fromal (B/R) on the Thunder being capped out next summer: “Let’s say Nerlens Noel and Patrick Patterson turn down their player options for $2.0 million and $5.7 million, respectively. Then the Oklahoma City Thunder choose not to guarantee Abdel Nader’s contract, which drops what they owe the seldom-used small forward from $1.6 million to a goose egg. They’d still be on the books for $136.5 million with only eight players under team control. Granted, those eight (Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Steven Adams, Dennis Schroder, Andre Roberson, Jerami Grant, Terrance Ferguson, Hamidou Diallo) are enough for OKC to remain in the hunt for home-court advantage in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs, but that’s a ton of cash. Financial flexibility isn’t what allows the Thunder to rise above the four previous outfits, so much as the need to fill some roster spots. By definition, they’ll have to sign a few players, especially because they don’t have a second-round pick in the 2019 NBA draft.”
Around the League: Steve Kerr got really upset in a Warriors’ loss to Portland…. James Harden has scored 30+ in 31 straight games…. D-Wade and Dirk swapped jerseys after their final showdown…. Enes Kanter is headed to Portland…. LeBron and MJ compare one another in their own words…. Recapping last night’s NBA action…. An oral history of the 1998-99 NBA lockout.