Nick Gallo previews tonight’s Thunder/Suns match-up: “It’s not just the “big” games against the high caliber clubs, the divisional rivalries that determine whether a banner gets hung or the games against playoff teams that determine tiebreakers. Every single one, including tonight’s game against the Phoenix Suns, who are out of the playoff push, will play a role in determining if and where the Thunder falls in the Western Conference seeding. In order to solidify its footing, the Thunder has to put its own destiny in its hands and keep on winning. Phoenix is a young and vibrant squad, playing for more time on the floor as well as pride, and a yearning for growth. The Thunder is a veteran squad, with a job to do. Playing the right game, the Thunder’s game, is the way this team has to approach the task at Chesapeake Energy Arena.”
Brett Dawson on Andre Roberson’s “slow grind” return from injury: “Roberson sits in on film sessions. He offers defensive pointers to Josh Huestis and Terrance Ferguson and newly acquired Corey Brewer, the Thunder players attempting to replace him in the rotation. He watches practice. “I’m doing everything I can to stay involved,” Roberson said. “Being around the guys just makes me feel not alone, because a lot of time, I’m alone, four walls, by myself, doing rehab with someone one-on-one.” Still, there’s a limit to his time with the team. He can attend a game-day shootaround, spend some time in the locker room. “But then the game’s going on, he’s not even out there, because he can’t sit on the bench,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “You pick up and you go on a road trip, and he’s by himself. I think those are the hard parts.” Roberson calls this “the slow grind,” and he’s trying not to go through it alone.”
Erik Horne on Paul George & Nike throwing a pep rally at Carl Albert High School: “The teens flocked around Paul George like he was a member of The Beatles in the mid-1960’s, screaming, grabbing at the Thunder forward as if he were a rock star. Then the cell phones went up for selfies, and racks of the Nike PG2 shoe were rolled onto center court at Carl Albert High School on Wednesday and you were reminded it was 2018. Of course, when they weren’t mobbing the All-Star, the students’ chants of “We Want George” grew loud enough for George to soak them in. “Yeah, it never gets old,” George said. “I think it’s always great to be wanted.”
ESPN NBA Insiders discuss the Western Conference playoff race: “The only truly bold prediction in the West would be to forecast an upset that eliminates either Golden State or Houston from the conference finals. But who really believes that will happen? Not me. I do think the Thunder are teetering on the edge of a makeover as their truly bizarre season continues to tangle itself in knots. My prediction is OKC will move on from Billy Donovan and Paul George, and we will criticize them for the failed experiment, knowing full well we would have done the same thing.”
Dan Devine (Yahoo) on how Houston picked on Carmelo Anthony: “After going 9-for-22 from the field as a team in the first quarter, the Rockets shot 25-for-37 in the second and third — a blistering 67.6 percent — as they took control of the game en route to a 122-112 win. An awful lot of that damage came directly off hunting down Anthony, drawing him out into deep water, and forcing him to sink or swim… Melo’s capable of holding up in some of those situations and on some of those plays. He got several stops on Paul and Harden in the final few minutes, with the Thunder trying to walk the Rockets down and come back from a double-digit deficit. But a steady diet of that sort of game plan’s going to turn up quality shots more often than not.”
Berry Tramel on the faltering Thunder defense: “The Thunder defense has been falling fast since Roberson’s departure. OKC has dropped to 19th in 3-point defense, .367, and the Thunder’s overall defense has fallen to 10th. OKC spent much of the season in the top five defensively, while its offense found a rhythm. The offense has improved (up to 12th; still not good enough) but the defensive slide means the Thunder has no chance. Against the Rockets, OKC fouled too much. Trying to stop the drives that lead to the 3-pointers, the Thunder grabbed and pushed. That puts Houston at the foul line.”
Andre Roberson’s full media session from yesterday. Via NewsOK.
Around the League: LeBron says he’s playing at an all-time best…. Houston’s win streak is at 17…. Anthony Davis suffered an ankle injury…. Gregg Popovich says the Spurs are running low on fuel…. Chris Bosh opened up about struggling after basketball.