But one game remains in the January month from that hot, fiery land of damnation, and the Oklahoma City Thunder have a chance to finish with a winning record with a win tonight over the San Antonio Spurs. The Thunder actually got over the .500 mark due to a three-game win streak that included wins over New Orleans Pelicans and Dallas Mavericks this week, but a loss to the defending-champion Cleveland Cavaliers means the Thunder will determine whether they finish over or under .500 for the month of January tonight.
SIX THINGS FROM THE WEEK
Take a seat, Enes Kanter. In the punch heard ’round Oklahoma, Enes Kanter took out some frustration against an innocent chair. Unfortunately, Kanter took himself out of the lineup as well, as he will miss an expected 6-8 weeks recovering from a broken forearm.
Domantas Sabonis finds his offense. On Sunday, Domantas Sabonis took 12 or more shots in a game for just the third time this year. Though he finished a respectable, but not earth-shattering, 6-12, he was as active offensively as he’s been all season. Through most of the year, Sabonis has been relegated mostly to spot-up duty. But against the Cavs, Sabonis showcased his low-post moxie, which was a big part of the reason he was a lottery selection. With Kanter out, Sabonis, and Joffrey Lauvergne (more on him, below), will need to step up their games offensively, and against the Cavs, Sabonis showed he has the ability to do so.
Joffrey Lauvergne fills in admirably. Lauvergne’s playing time this year is best described as inconsistent. Just eight times has Lauvergne played 20 minutes or more this season, as compared to ten times he’s failed to hit 10 minutes of game action. That being said, Lauvergne’s minutes are about to become a lot more consistent with Kanter sidelined. Unsurprisingly, Lauvergne played 21 minutes against the Cavs and played admirably, scoring 13 points and grabbing 6 rebounds. Lauvergne was also one of just two Thunder players to finish with a positive point differential (Lauvergne was a +6, Kyle Singler was a +2). While Lauvergne can’t single-handedly replace Kanter’s production, he is a critical part of any plan to keep the Thunder’s bench afloat without their most reliable scorer.
Russell Westbrook gets a pass. Now more than halfway through the season, Russell Westbrook is still averaging a triple-double. But it’s his assist numbers that are in the gravest danger of dropping into single digits (Westbrook is currently averaging 10.2 per game). Westbrook’s game against the Mavericks certainly didn’t help his cause, as Westbrook dished just 3 assists, his lowest total in games where he wasn’t ejected. It seemed to be a conscious choice, however, as Westbrook dialed down the passing in favor of creating his own shot. On the season, Westbrook is averaging over 19 assist opportunities per game, but against the Mavs, Westbrook created just 7 such opportunities. If it was a conscious choice, it seemed to be the right one, as Westbrook took control in the fourth quarter to lead the Thunder to victory.
How cold? Ice cold. You know those Coors Light commercials that compare the temperature of Coors Light to rapper, Ice Cube? Well maybe the Thunder need to work out a cross-marketing opportunity with Coors Light after that shooting performance against the Cavs. Westbrook and Victor Oladipo led the way by combining for a dismal 13-44 shooting from the field (29.5%). Overall, the team shot just 37% from the floor and 23% from three. It’s a small miracle, really, that the Thunder were within single digits with less than 6 minutes to go, but inevitably the cold-shooting helped doom the Thunder.
Jerseys. In a bit of non-basketball news, the NBA released jersey-sale data this week. As a native Oklahoman, it is always a bit surreal thinking about the legions of fans worldwide wearing an Oklahoma City Thunder jersey, and with a worldwide superstar like Westbrook on the roster, the Thunder are assured to be in the upper tier in jersey sales. According to the latest figures, Westbrook’s jersey is the fifth best-selling kit in the league, and among team sales, the Thunder rank seventh. In a bit of a surprise (especially with Kevin Durant’s multiple marketing trips to the country), Westbrook ranks third among active players in jersey sales in China (and seventh overall, as China seems to have an affinity for former players). Westbrook is ahead of Durant, who ranks fifth among active players.
AND ONE MORE MAKES SEVEN
Blocked. Westbrook’s amazing dunks get a lot of love in this column, but let’s recognize this authoritative swat for the gem that it is.