Over the past few seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder were a bit
of a pushover. LeBron James realizes that’s not the case
Hoping to carry some momentum from Cleveland’s latest win, James
knows the Cavaliers will be tested Sunday night against a strong
Thunder team led by Kevin Durant.
Oklahoma City finished last in the Northwest Division in each of
the last three seasons, and its 74-172 record over that span was
the second-worst in the NBA. Like most opponents, the Cavaliers had
little trouble beating the Thunder in 2008-09, winning both
meetings by an average of 23.0 points.
This season is shaping up to be quite different.
Behind Durant’s 28.3 points per game and the play of Russell
Westbrook at the point, the Thunder (12-9) have emerged as a
potential playoff contender.
In Friday’s 102-94 win over Memphis, Durant finished with 32
points and 10 rebounds, while Westbrook added 23 points and seven
assists in Oklahoma City’s third victory in four games. Durant, who
has led the Thunder in scoring in 18 of the 21 games, is averaging
32.3 points in the last four.
“My teammates do a great job of encouraging me and getting me
the ball, and I just try to finish for them,” Durant said.
The Thunder are three games over .500 for the first time since
2004-05, when the team was based in Seattle and finished 52-30.
Oklahoma City, the second-youngest team in the NBA, has reached 12
wins after needing 50 games to accomplish that feat last
“They have a very, very good young (group) of basketball players
that love to play the game of basketball,” James said. “We are
looking forward to the challenge. It is going to be a good road
test for us against a young, explosive team in their home building,
and we have to come out with the same fire we did in the second
The Cavs (16-7) played an uninspired first half Friday and went
into the locker room trailing Portland 54-45. At the break, coach
Mike Brown laid into his players, and they responded with an
intense final 24 minutes to beat the Trail Blazers 104-99.
“Our will in the second half, led by LeBron James, has to become
habit for us,” Brown said. “It has to be our identity for 48
minutes. That’s something that myself and LeBron need to
James finished with 33 points, seven assists and seven rebounds,
and made an incredible block on a Brandon Roy jump shot with 24
seconds left and the Cavs leading by five.
Shaquille O’Neal helped spur the second-half surge, scoring nine
of his 14 points in the third quarter. He wasn’t around for the end
of the game after being poked in the left eye by Portland’s Joel
Przybilla with 2:47 remaining in the third, causing it to
O’Neal was taken to the Cleveland Clinic for precautionary tests
and is expected to travel with the team to Oklahoma City.
If O’Neal can’t play, the Cavs – 5-1 without the 15-time
All-Star center – would likely need Anderson Varejao to step into a
larger role. Varejao, averaging 8.0 points and 8.1 rebounds, had a
season-high 22 points with 10 boards Friday.