Durant, Westbrook lead Thunder past Bobcats
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Thunder season has shifted once again.
It’s only March and Oklahoma City has gone from doubt to to dominating, adversity to awesome.
And things are trending up now.
The Thunder won their second game in a row and Russell Westbrook played his second great game in a row and now OKC has put some distance between itself and a three-game losing streak.
Hard to believe a first-place team would have such a varied and eventful season. Already the Thunder have dealt with Russell Westbrook playing and then sitting, Kevin Durant on an amazing run and the evolution and downward spiral of Reggie Jackson.
Now, in their first game of March, the Thunder found out Thabo Sefolosha would be out for the next month, are dealing with the loss of Kendrick Perkins, the acquisition of Caron Butler and now the return of Westbrook – the Westbrook we’ve all been promised would return.
OKC ran over Charlotte on Sunday night, 116-99 because the Thunder’s big three of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka played well and Jackson was good off the bench. It was the kind of performance that most thought the Thunder would have on a regular basis.
But things haven’t been as simple as they looked on Sunday. Regular hasn’t happened.
Westbrook went 10-for-12, his best shooting percentage in his career, finished with 26 points in 25 minutes. Durant had 28 points and Ibaka had 15 and 10 rebounds. Jackson had 17 points off the bench, just like he did the first part of the season when Westbrook was on his way to an All-Star showing and before his knee gave way again.
Westbrook missed 27 games, struggled in his first three back, but has been phenomenal since. Sunday was his best yet.
And not so suddenly the Thunder once again look like the team that was playing its best ball in December before Westbrook got hurt and then did it again in February when he was out.
"We have had a couple of things happen," coach Scott Brooks said of the season. "One thing I like about our group is that we have never talked about it in our locker room, we don’t talk about it on our practice floor, we don’t talk about it during timeouts. We have had some changes. Russell is coming back, Thabo is out, Perk (Perkins) is out. The guys don’t use that as an excuse, but the continuity is good right now considering all that has taken place in the last ten days. I am happy with what the guys have done. They have stepped up. Everybody is chipping-in and that is what good teams do. You have to have everybody sacrificing. "
Now, the Thunder have a chance to put the initial touch on a winning streak when Philadelphia comes to town for a Tuesday game, but Oklahoma City also will be working on working in Butler, who was signed Saturday and should practice Monday. Seems the timing couldn’t be much better, with Perkins and now Sefolosha going down with injuries.
"Depth is important," general manager Sam Presti said. "The NBA season is a long, long season. We’re going to need everybody to go through that grind in the year. We’re in the middle of it right now. Caron certainly will be helpful in the terms of depth."
Butler will certainly be needed, but not as much as people were thinking after the Thunder had lost to Cleveland on Wednesday. Butler provides experience and he’ll play real minutes with Sefolosha being out.
But this team is most likely going to be remembered for what Durant and Westbrook do.
Durant has been fine. Westbrook is getting better. Things are shifting positively again for the Thunder.
Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK