Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) recaps the Thunder’s Christmas Day loss to Houston: “The initial defense was solid. Play after play the Thunder forced Houston guard James Harden to pound the ball into the floor before he or a teammate hoisted a shot from the perimeter. For a team coming into the game as one of the NBA’s best on the glass, the rest of the defensive possession should have been as easy going down as milk and cookies. On Christmas Day though, as Head Coach Billy Donovan feared was coming over the past week, the Thunder had a disjointed night on the defensive boards and that made all the difference in a 113-109 loss to the Rockets. Donovan has warned that the Thunder’s defensive rebounding has been sporadic, and worried that it might be an issue that could crop up again soon.”
Rohan Nadkarni (SI) on Harden doing his best Westbrook impression in the Christmas win over OKC: “James Harden kind of did his best Russell Westbrook impression? The Rockets snuck past the Thunder on Christmas, winning 113–109 in a game featuring its fair share of bricks from both squads. Harden scored 41 while dishing seven assists, but he shot an unruly 15-of-35, including his five-of-16 mark from three. It was not the most aesthetically pleasing basketball from Harden, but much like his fellow former MVP Westbrook has often done, he willed his desperate team to victory without his All-Star running mate Chris Paul. This is the formula for the Rockets in the absence of Paul: Harden, Harden and more Harden. The Beard played 39 minutes against OKC, and when he wasn’t launching with aplomb, he employed his final boss-level passing to set up his teammates.”
Paolo Ugetti (Ringer) on the Thunder bench being a problem against Houston: “After slogging through the Melo era, OKC’s starting lineup works. Finally there’s an answer to whether Westbrook will ever bend to accommodate another star teammate (yes), if he’ll give up shots in crunch time (sometimes), and if George can be a no. 1 option next to another All-Star (yes). Now the Thunder has a new question facing the team: Can their bench click? Against Houston, the OKC reserves offered little resistance. Thunder coach Billy Donovan didn’t reach for any reserve other than Dennis Schröder for long. While Schröder played 34 minutes, no other backup played more than 13 minutes. With Alex Abrines out, the reserves had no shooting luck: The OKC bench went 0-for-6 from deep, and aside from Schröder’s contributions, scored 10 points as a unit.”
Erik Horne (Oklahoman) on Billy Donovan Abdel Nader supplanting Patrick Patterson in the Thunder rotation: “Thunder guard Alex Abrines was a late scratch Tuesday with what the team called a stomach illness, but that wasn’t the biggest tweak to the rotation in a 113-109 loss to the Rockets. Abdel Nader was the primary choice over Patrick Patterson as a substitution for Jerami Grant at power forward. Nader started the fourth quarter where the Thunder’s reserves were outscored 7-5. Thunder coach Billy Donovan said he wanted to go with Nader because the Rockets were playing more four-guard lineups. “It means a lot that he has confidence to put me in at that time,” said Nader, who played a season-high 10 minutes. Nader said he’s been practicing at power forward this season. “The reason being he wants to be able to switch more and (give) a little more shooting on the offensive end.”
Thunder/Rockets highlights & recap:
Maddie Lee (Oklahoman) on what happens when teams try to trap Paul George: “George’s increase in scoring has lined up with Westbrook’s struggles in the same area. Westbrook shot over 50 percent from the field for the first time this month in the Thunder’s 114-112 loss to the Timberwolves Sunday. That’s made the choice to double team George easier. As George’s scoring has increased, however, his assist numbers have also seen a slight uptick, from 4.3 per game before Dec. 1 to 4.6 this month. George is the kind of player who would rather not have plays specifically run for him, and he has told Donovan as much. So it makes sense that he also describes passing out of a trap as the “easiest way” to get into a rhythm.”
Brian Windhorst (ESPN) on the good, bad, and most concerning NBA contracts: The Good: Paul George. It’s always good when your max player is playing like one. George is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals and PER, all while averaging his fewest minutes since his second season. He also is a major contributor to one of the league’s best defenses.”
John Kim (Sneaker News) with a detailed look at the upcoming Jordan Why Not Zer0.2: “These official images reveal a highly deconstructed approach to the model as nearly each sector of the build can be distinguished with different materials, with the mid-foot panel, exterior heel, and exposed tags/labels lending to the aesthetic. Even the sole is comprised of two separate pieces, bridged together by an exposed mid-foot plate. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the design is the tapered heel, reminiscent of Nike’s speedy Zoom Fly running footwear series, and diamond-etched padding on the emphatic ankle padding. Retailers overseas currently have these releasing on January 2nd, 2019, so stay tuned for updates on a U.S. drop date.”
I hope you had a fantastic Christmas: Like this very good sport. Outstanding.
Big Kiwi Bloopers: If you need a smile in your Christmas hangover.
Around the League: LeBron injured his groin in yesterday’s win over the Warriors…. Klay Thompson isn’t worried about his shooting slump…. Markelle Fultz is expected back this season…. Recapping the NBA’s Christmas Day action.