One more game left before the end of the season, and the Oklahoma City Thunder still haven’t sewn up the second spot in the Eastern conference. A 101-89 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans did come while Russell Westbrook wasn’t playing, but it went to show once more that all the superlatives thrown at Kevin Durant and his scoring ability might be masking other, more serious problems this team has.
Tyreke Evans had a monster night with 41 points in what might be the best game of his career and certainly in Pelicans uniform, going one rebound and two assists short of an impressive triple double. The Thunder took bad shots and made dumb decisions offensively, while struggling to keep mostly Evans out of the paint. He was 12-of-16 from the free throw line and the Pelicans finished with 44 points in the paint.
Kevin Durant had another rough night as he continues to shoot 3-pointers like there is no tomorrow. If you’ve watched a game or two of the Thunder this season, you’ll know that this isn’t someone pulling up for 3’s after some nice ball movement that frees him up for an open shot. It works that way when he looks for the pass and that helps guys like Derek Fisher and Caron Butler get open. With Durant (and Westbrook when he’s playing) it’s about jacking it up, and hoping for the best.
Durant had 25 points on 9-of-23 from the field. He is shooting only 43.9% from the field this month so far and although he has had some very big scoring games, it sometimes feels as is he’s taken a page from the Westbrook book “Trying to do too much on my own,” and not seeing it work out for him too often. The Thunder are only 15-11 since the All-Star break: Hardly the kind of form you’d expect to see from future NBA champions.
The most memorable moment from the game was the “fight” between Austin Rivers and Nick Collison. Shoves and chest bumps, nothing more, yet for some reason the officials decided to eject the two players. Maybe they just prevented the inevitable. It meant a few more minutes than intended to Serge Ibaka and not really having another big man besides Steven Adams to step on the floor from the bench.
The form of Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb has been falling recently. Not just the arrival of Caron Butler and giving Andre Roberson more minutes from time to time. It seems as if Westbrook’s return and following in-and-out plan with him in the lineup has made for some aftershock effects on players in the guard positions. The Thunder might not be a better team without Westbrook but things seemed to be simpler without him, and Scott Brooks still hasn’t gotten the pieces together since Westbrook’s return.
When healthy, the Thunder are the most talented team in the NBA. They have shooters, size, defense, a good bench, and above all the best player in the NBA right now and potentially the best number two player who is one of the more inconsistent and self-destructive players around, regardless of the numbers he puts up. A little bit of better coaching and an offense that isn’t too simplistic can go a long way for this team, who won’t be satisfied with anything less than a title. The question remains: Can they even change?