OKLAHOMA CITY – Hold your nose. Cover your eyes.
This stinks, and honestly, it’s pretty hard to watch, but what we’ve got now in Oklahoma City with the Thunder is a defensive situation beyond repair.
You certainly don’t have to like it or understand it, but it’s time to accept it.
It might as well be 1980s Russia around here because if you’re the Thunder right now you only have one choice – get better on offense.
Make any sense?
Well, with no Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and even Andre Roberson, due to injuries, the Thunder have been helpless defensively, more broken than bi-partisan politics. They showed it last week after giving up 117 to the sorry Lakers, 127 to the Spurs and more than 100 points in a span of 12-out-of 13 games from late February through March.
They proved it Wednesday night against the Mavs. Dallas won 135-131. In regulation. The Mavericks shot 61.5 percent and scored 72 points in the paint. It was so bad for the Thunder, coach Scott Brooks asked Steve Novak, who last guarded Dirk Nowitzki back in 2003 when Novak was with the Mavs, to give it a try. It didn’t work.
Nothing worked. Nothing has worked. And it’s time to move on.
"It’s team defense that we have to improve on," Brooks said. "It was a great offensive game. Not a lot of stops. We take pride in that and we’ve been struggling in that area. We didn’t play well enough as a group defensively. They had 72 points in the paint. That’s ridiculous."
A lot of what Brooks had to say Wednesday could be cross-applied to much of March. Brooks has held firm to his belief that this year’s team is a defense-first sort of bunch. We can indulge him, because not having Ibaka makes a difference, but there’s no reason to think Brooks, despite his constant attempts to convince anyone who will listen that this team can get better defensively, believes it himself. And thinking something short of Ibaka and Collison returning will change things, makes even less sense. Steven Adams, the best defensive player the Thunder still have standing, is now walking with a limp. He left the game after injuring his right ankle with a few seconds left. Status to be determined.
So, here we are, and the question heading into the last few weeks of the season shouldn’t be whether the Thunder can get better defensively, it needs to be, can they figure out a way to score even more points, because that’s the only way they are going to win games.
The race for the No. 7 spot in the playoffs is over, but the No. 8 spot is for real. The Thunder are hanging on against New Orleans, so if 131 points isn’t enough, it’s time to find out a way to score more.
Seemingly, even without Durant, the Thunder have the pieces. Wednesday, Enes Kanter scored a career-high 30 points. Anthony Morrow was fantastic in his 29 minutes, going for 32 points, including making six 3-pointers. Dion Waiters scored 19 points and made three 3-pointers. And of course, Russell Westbrook was his usual self. He had another triple-double, scoring 31 points and contributed 11 assists and 11 rebounds.
Hard to imagine there’s much room for improvement with that kind of output. OKC shot 48 percent and made 14 3-pointers. But Brooks has been creative all year. He’s mixed and matched lineups that have included things much more absurd than Novak trying to guard Nowitzki. Might as well just put all the creativeness to use now. No reason to wait. Trade out Kyle Singler for Morrow in the starting lineup. No idea is a bad idea at this point. Whatever it is, we know what the Thunder are going to bring defensively, so find something on the other end of the court, like perhaps not getting called for a lane violation in the closing minutes after Morrow made a 3-pointer and was fouled. That wiped out a point and forced the Thunder to have to go for 3-pointer late instead of getting Westbrook the ball on the way to the basket.
What other choice is there? Who really believes the Thunder can get better defensively? OK, so they might not give up 131 points to Memphis on Friday night, but Golden State is the opponent in the first round of the playoffs and 131 points might be enough to lose by 20.
"We just gotta go back, look at film," Westbrook said. "See what we did wrong defensively. We’ve got to see what we need to do."
At this point we all know what the Thunder need to do.