Much has been said about the Oklahoma City Thunder deciding to trade James Harden in order to avoid the luxury tax and give Serge Ibaka the big contract extension. After a rough start to this season, many fingers were pointed at the big man’s inability to become a trustworthy third scorer next to Kevin Durant. However, the return of Russell Westbrook from injury, looking like he hasn’t been gone at all, has brought Ibaka back to a more pleasing form, hopefully a sustainable one as well.
Kevin Durant led the scoring for the Thunder with 23 points, but it was Russell Westbrook slicing through the Dallas Mavericks defense time and time again that created most of the problems en route to a 107-93 win. Westbrook himself scored 22 points on a rare 50% night from the field for him, as Ibaka scored 17 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and shot 8-of-10 from the field in what is by far his best game of the season so far.
Westbrook being back from injury so soon is going to raise questions about Derrick Rose and why has he struggled so much. The Thunder don’t really care about what’s going on in Chicago, to be honest. They’re worried about being the best in the West, and their destiny to be NBA champions while the window of opportunity is still open, which it should be as long as Westbrook and Durant are healthy and on this team.
The Mavs just don’t have the defense to keep up with Westbrook when he’s playing like this, as Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis don’t provide much of a defensive wall to prevent speedy players from getting inside. Kevin Durant had no problem getting by whoever was guarding him, usually freeing up Ibaka to make his shots, finishing with 10 assists.
I knew he would come back right, and he looked great tonight. It’s what we expect. That’s who he is. He’s an aggressive player. He’s a talented player that has improved every year. This is the guy that we all knew what he was going to do when he came back.
With Dallas shooting only 42.2% from the field, their only chance of winning this game went out the window. The Mavs can put up plenty of points each night, but without defense, unless they score 110 on a regular basis, teams like the Thunder aren’t going to have too many problems exposing those flaws and weaknesses.
Another encouraging sign for the Thunder has been Jeremy Lamb, scoring 13 points off the bench. Much has been made of the formula the Thunder need to come up with the title: Durant, Westbrook, a bit of Ibaka and a third scorer coming off the bench. No Harden, no Kevin Martin, so it’s up to Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb to pick up the slack. It’s been quite inconsistent so far, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Kendrick Perkins? The Thunder might be getting a step closer to finally making him redundant, as Steven Adams added 6 points and 9 rebounds off the bench, outplaying Perkins with 20 minutes to 14. He’s still not as effective on defense, but he ends the situation of having four players on offense instead of five.