Durant leads Thunder past Love-less 'Wolves
FEB 05, 2014 11:13p ET
OKLAHOMA CITY - Wednesday was one of those nights where the Thunder were not at their best.
Or anything remotely close.
They let a Minnesota team, without Kevin Love, without Corey Brewer, without Nikola Pekovic, and without anyone recognizable to anybody living outside the greater Twin Cities area, stick around a lot longer than they should have.
The Timberwolves started Ronny Turiaf at center. That should tell you about where this team was Wednesday night.
Who knows where Oklahoma City was. It played this game – for the most part – like it could just get by, and for the most part, it did. The result means another win, another win without Russell Westbrook and another day closer to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
It took more than three quarters but OKC finally did distance themselves from Minnesota and got a 106-97 victory.
"I knew they were going to play scrappy basketball," coach Scott Brooks said.
And he probably knew, but of course wouldn't say, his team could fool around and still be good enough to win.
And here are a few more things worth noting from Wednesday night:
Reggie and his game
No player seems to cause more angst than Reggie Jackson.
It's not even Jackson's fault, at least I don't think it is, but because he has an aggressive style and because he's not Russell Westbrook, it seems to incense Kevin Durant and it seems to irritate Scott Brooks.
But as long as Jackson plays like he did Wednesday against Minnesota, he should be given a break. Jackson was 9-of-14 shooting, the first night he's been above 50 percent shooting in eight games, and scored 20 points with nine assists and only one turnover.
Clearly his best game since going for 27 on 12-of-17 shooting against San Antonio, eight games ago.
Yet, Jackson often gets odd looks from Brooks and from Durant, who at one point in the fourth quarter Wednesday, called for the ball and didn't get it. Jackson instead shot a 3-pointer and made it. Jackson was two-for-three on 3-pointers Wednesday.
"Reggie did a great job of finding guys and making the right plays," Durant said. "He was definitely aggressive trying to get to the rim."
We all know he's not Westbrook, and the pressures for filling in for Westbrook are tough on a number of different levels – the first being it's hard to be a starting point guard in the Western Conference. But Jackson's pressures go deeper. It's hard to fill in for Westbrook. He's always going to be compared to him, and as a starter instead of a bench player, he's out there for longer stretches, tougher matchups and in spots where he has to do more than just fill in.
Jeremy Lamb and his game
Not the best night for Lamb, who went only 3-for-10, but he did get an "atta-boy" from Brooks after the game when Brooks said, "Jeremy didn't have a good shooting night but he stepped up. It's great that he hung in there and had enough confidence in himself."
Lamb doesn't have to be a superhero on a nightly basis, but he has to do more than just nothing. Until the Thunder ran a play for him at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Lamb hadn't provided much, going one-for-seven, but he made that 25-footer to start the fourth quarter and got going a bit. Blame the opponent, that's fine, but a showing like that from Lamb in a tougher game in a tougher spot, could be disastrous if he plays 17 minutes, like he did Wednesday. Derek Fisher has been great of late, but you can't count on him going for 13 points on five-of-seven shooting very often.
Overall, the bench had 28 points. Lamb had six, so it was a fairly productive bench night, it just wasn't for Lamb, until late.
Let's get a countdown going
Hard to believe the Thunder have played more games without Russell Westbrook then they have with him, and it sure helps to get Minnesota down three starters, get Memphis without Mike Conley and have Orlando and the Knicks up next. Any game the Thunder can win without Westbrook is a bonus and if they happen to get a team not full strength, that's an extra bonus.
OKC is 19-7 without Westbrook and he is expected to be back sometime after the All-Star game. That means, we could see him in as few as five games if he plays February 20 against Miami in Oklahoma City.
"I look at every day," Brooks said. "We have plans for the day, for the week, for the month. I understand what part of the schedule where we can get practice times and travel. Wins and losses, I never focus on that."
The rest of us can, though. The Thunder have winnable games up next in Orlando and then home against the Knicks before going to Portland and then the Lakers before the All-Star break. A 3-1 record over that span would be good. It would also keep the Thunder at the top of the Western Conference, where they are three games ahead of San Antonio right now.
Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK