OKLAHOMA CITY — As the Thunder couldn’t get a good look in the closing moments of an overtime loss at Memphis on Wednesday night, it was pretty obvious Oklahoma City was missing something.
Like James Harden.
If you think the Harden talk is over and done with, just wait until the playoffs start here in a few weeks. Unless the Thunder figure out something really quick, expect the conversation to shift back to Harden and the preseason trade Oklahoma City put together with the Houston Rockets that sent the popular guard south.
Sure, it would be nice if OKC had a third scorer it could count on, but really the Thunder just needs to find a player, any player, willing to go to the basket in tough situations.
Granted, not a lot of players can do what Harden does. He’s an All-Star, part of the Olympic team and the owner of a unique skill set even Liam Neeson would be proud of. But Oklahoma City doesn’t need Harden so much as it needs Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and any combination of Serge Ibaka, Kevin Martin or anyone else to put the ball on the floor and move in the general direction of the hoop. Reggie Jackson seems to be the best bet for future success, but the back-up point guard, who thrives when going to the rim, only gets about 13 minutes per game.
When things broke down a season ago, the Thunder could count on Harden to be one of those guys, which in turn, freed up Durant and Westbrook to be more free with their shot selection. Now, it seems like Durant and Westbrook are stuck.
Take for example Wednesday night in Memphis.
In overtime, Durant missed a 27-footer, then a 26-footer. Westbrook’s wild, running 15-footer barely got the backboard and he then missed a contested 31-footer. Only after all that did the shot selection get better. Durant then missed a pair of shots in the paint after Oklahoma City fell behind by three. Each made a shot in the final 15 seconds from close range.
But here’s the problem: Only Thabo Sefolosha even attempted a shot in overtime. No one else seemed interested in shooting, and that makes it even more imperative Durant and Westbrook get to the line, which means getting aggressive. Defenses are certainly keying on the two OKC scorers, so the two need to use that to their advantage and refuse to settle for jumpers.
Against Denver on Tuesday, another loss for the Thunder, Durant was 3-for-6 shooting in the fourth quarter and missed both his 3-pointers. Westbrook attempted just one shot while Jackson was 2-for-6, but missed all four 3-pointers. Martin didn’t contribute. He had just two attempts in the second half.
Westbrook has to be more assertive. Durant needs to stop settling. Until both of those things happen, there’s going to be a lot of “Remember When” talk about last year and about Harden.
No one’s saying Nick Collison is under-appreciated, but what he did against Zach Randolph of Memphis was masterful. Faced up against Collison, Randolph went 6-for-23 shooting while Collison blocked two of his shots. Collison finished with five rebounds and four points, but he was also plus-15. That’s impressive.
In a pair of losses this week to Denver and Memphis, Serge Ibaka had a total of eight points and eight rebounds. Huh? I’d say it’s unacceptable, but really it’s just hard to believe. And it’s even worse when it’s paired with the fact both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook didn’t shoot a combined 50 percent from the floor in the two losses. The Thunder need Ibaka to contribute, and badly.
1. The Thunder have done a great job this season beating up on the teams they should beat up on, but heading into the playoffs, there’s a sour trend developing. Oklahoma City is just 3-7 against San Antonio, Denver and Memphis. A matchup with the Clippers looks more inviting as OKC is 3-0 against the Clippers. Oklahoma City is also 0-2 against Miami this season.
2. I wonder if coach Scott Brooks would have done things differently if he had another chance at managing the closing seconds against Memphis. Instead of fouling up three points in the closing seconds, Jerryd Bayless of Memphis lost Sefolosha on a switch and then faked Reggie Jackson before making the tying 3-pointer.
“It’s not something that we’ve done in the past,” Brooks told The Oklahoman. “NBA players are so good at seeing that and gathering and shooting that basketball. So it’s nothing that we’ve done yet. That’s not saying at some time in the future we won’t consider that. But it was a situation where we were switching everything, and he made a great play. He made a contested, shot-fake 3. Sometimes you can do all you can do and they made the shot. We live with that.”
OK, but in overtime, Brooks didn’t call a timeout after Marc Gasol made a tip-in with 0.8 seconds left. Seems odd, considering the Thunder could have advanced the ball to half-court and likely gotten a beter look. The first call was debatable, but I think Brooks whiffed on the second one.
3. Let’s go ahead and end any speculation or conversation right now. Yes, Derek Fisher has a handful of championship rings, but no, he’s not better than Jackson. Jackson has to play more. Fisher has to play less.
Fisher was a combined 0-for-8 in the past two games. Jackson went 6-for-14. While Jackson has played nearly double the minutes as Fisher in the same span, it leads me to believe Jackson should play even more. Give Fisher’s minutes to someone else, possibly Ronnie Brewer for defensive purposes. Just not quite sure what Fisher brings to the team, while I am sure Jackson is the team’s most-aggressive scorer off the bench.
“We’ll get a win in Orlando. Simple. It’s a must-win game. A must-win game.” – Kevin Durant to The Oklahoman about Friday’s game against the Magic.
“Give them credit. They deserve the credit tonight. There’s a number of things that we can get better from and learn from. Our guys have always done that and there’s no reason to believe that’s not going to continue to happen.” — Scott Brooks after the Thunder lost Tuesday night at home to Denver.
By the Numbers
6 – The Thunder lead with 1:26 to play at Memphis. OKC went on to lose in overtime.
20 – The number of wins in a row OKC had at home against Western Conference teams before losing to Denver on Tuesday.
11-5 Oklahoma City’s record since the All-Star break.
The Thunder get a breather — and they need it. This could be a fruitful week for OKC as they go to Orlando on Friday, are home against Portland on Sunday and then get the Wizards at home Wednesday. That’s three teams who aren’t going to the playoffs. That’s three wins the Thunder have to get.
Tower of Power?
Bad week for the standings and the stature of Oklahoma City. The Thunder lost to the hottest team in the league — Denver — and then lost at Memphis the next night. OKC is still in second place in the Western Conference standings, but this week showed the Thunder would have a hard time against either the Grizzlies or the Nuggets in a playoff series.