4 min read

Wednesday Bolts: 12.12.18

Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) previews tonight’s match-up in New Orleans: “The result of the Western Conference arms race is that from one game to the next, there’s always a brutal lineup of extremely talented players awaiting just around the corner. The Thunder dispatched of the Utah Jazz and stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert on Monday only to turn around to face Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and Julius Randle two nights later. Despite the early hour of the season, there are 14 Western Conference teams within 6.5 games of first place, meaning that every single clash in the West has incredible meaning. Head Coach Billy Donovan knows that the Pelicans, who rank in the top 4 of points per game, offensive efficiency and games scoring 125 or more, are capable of such explosiveness that it will be incumbent on the Thunder to defend with alacrity possession after possession, without relenting.”

Pelicans injury report:

Erik Horne (Oklahoman) on the early-season success of Jerami Grant: “Before every game for about three years, the 6-foot-9, 220-pound Grant has closed his eyes and sat perfectly still facing his locker. It’s meditation, visualization, relaxation. “Just (to) try to quiet my mind down,” Grant told The Oklahoman. For Grant, that pregame time is the calm before the storm, the antithesis of the energy and ferocity the fifth-year forward has brought to the Thunder’s starting lineup this season. With a win against New Orleans on Wednesday, the Thunder can get to 10 games over .500. It’ll be the fewest games the Thunder has needed to reach that mark since needing 30 games in the 2015-16 season, the year before Grant’s arrival. Grant’s play with the first unit is a big reason for that success. Since being inserted into the starting lineup against Boston four games into the season, the Thunder is 17-5 with the second-best point differential per 100 possessions (9.2) in the NBA.”

Rohan Nadkarni (SI) on the Thunder nearing their post-KD peak: “The long-term outlook, however, is arguably more promising. The NBA is going to look completely different after next summer. Kevin Durant is almost definitely leaving the Warriors. Golden State will still be a force, but it’s unclear who else will be a part of the West’s politburo by then. The Thunder have a headstart with two superstars already locked in. Russ’s game is going to age fast, so the window is already small. But with a younger supporting cast than previous years and continued tinkering from its two best players, OKC seems to have built something sustainable. A lot of that hinges on Russ’s game not falling off a cliff, but that’s still a big step forward for a franchise that looked broken the last time we saw them in the playoffs.”

Brad Botkin (CBS Sports) on the MVP case for Paul George: “He’s the perimeter anchor on the best defense in the league, and entering Monday, he was the only player in the NBA averaging at least 24 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals per game. Since starting the season 0-4, the Thunder have gone 17-4 and are sitting on top of the Western Conference standings, percentage points ahead of the Warriors. The Thunder look, and feel, like an entirely different team than the one that squeaked into the playoffs last season before getting bounced in the first round by Utah. Carmelo Anthony is gone, and that, to be honest, might be the biggest factor of all. He just killed them defensively and was an unnecessary offensive interruption. Sliding Jerami Grant into Melo’s spot in the starting lineup has been a monster upgrade on both ends. Newcomer Dennis Schroder has also been huge. Westbrook has been his usual self. Steven Adams should be an All-Star and a legit Defensive Player of the Year candidate, even if he likely won’t receive either honor. But all things considered, George has been the best player on one of the best teams in the league. Isn’t that the definition of an MVP?

Patrick Redford (Deadspin) on the two-way brilliance of Paul George: “George can guard every position comfortably, and every pass that comes within his considerable orbit is a steal target. He’s probably been the defensive player of the year so far, to say nothing of the fact that he’s also been the Thunder’s best shooter. This play shows it all; he’s so long that he completely obliterates what is normally considered a legitimate passing lane, and once he gets the rock, he can handle and pass and shoot like a superstar. The successes and failures of the post-Durant Thunder have been almost entirely determined by Russell Westbrook’s merciless hold on the franchise. This season, and last night’s game in particular, have proven that for the first time since Durant left, the Thunder now have a team that can still play at a high level even when Westbrook’s grip fails him, or gets too tight. Nobody is more responsible for that than Paul George.”

Anthony Riccobono (Intnl Business Times) on the fight atop the Western Conference: “The 2018-2019 NBA season is nearly two months old, and the Western Conference remains as competitive as ever. Fourteen teams are only separated by six games in the standings, though most of the conference’s big names are close to the No.1 seed. Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder (17-8) have the West’s best record. With Stephen Curry and Draymond Green back in the lineup, the Golden State Warriors (19-9) are only a percentage point behind Oklahoma City. LeBron James has the Los Angeles Lakers (17-10) just one game out of the top spot in the West. The Thunder started the season with four straight losses as Westbrook recovered from an injury, but they’ve rebounded with Paul George playing arguably the best basketball of his career. Kevin Durant moved up to second in the league in scoring when the Warriors dealt with their injuries, and Curry has been the league’s most impactful player when healthy. The Lakers have won 15 of their last 20 games.”

Around the League: The Clippers’ bold plan to land KD and Kawhi in free agency…. Coach Pop is now fourth on the all-time coaching wins list…. Recapping last night’s NBA action…. Jazz fans are certain NBA referees are picking on Rudy Gobert…. KD thinks the Warriors will get statues if they 3-peat…. Is a Warriors/Raptors NBA Finals the best match-up out there?