State of the Thunder: Hitting high gear

OKLAHOMA CITY – Maybe it’s because Russell Westbrook is struggling and former running mate James Harden is gone, but Kevin Durant is getting back to his old self.

It’s not like anyone was concerned Durant was in a slump, but his slow-scoring start was notable.

But that’s changed. And so have the Thunder.

The three-time scoring champion is looking more familiar, and because of it, certainly a big part of the reason anyway, the Thunder is scoring at an impressive clip, too.

Oklahoma City has scored 100 or more points in seven-consecutive games. The Thunder never had a streak of more than five in a row last year.

More importantly, Oklahoma City is 6-1 in the last seven games and the Thunder lead the league in scoring, getting an average of 105.4 per outing.

But back to Durant. He scored a game-high 37 points against Houston Wednesday and now has gone over 30 points four times in the past eight games. He went the first eight games without getting 30 points once.

In his last 10 games, Durant is averaging 29.4 points per game, which is more than three points higher than his career average and this season, Durant is bettering his career marks in points, blocks, steals, assists and rebounds.

That’s hard to improve on when you’ve put up the kind of numbers he has in his four-year NBA career. He’s even shooting better at the free throw line, up to 89.9 percent, two points higher than his 87 percent career average.

It’s just November, but if Durant keeps up this pace, only LeBron James stands in his way as the best in the league.

Who’s Hot:
Serge Ibaka. The guy is turning into a star. Simple as that. A 11-of-13 effort with six blocks was impressive against Houston, but what’s more impressive is that Ibaka has shot better than 50 percent in all but three games this season. He’s been really consistent. The NBA’s leading shot blocker a year ago has two or more blocks in all but two games this season and seven or more rebounds in all but four games.

Who’s Not: Russell Westbrook. He’s so active, visible and aggressive, but he’s also not shooting the ball well. Westbrook was 6-of-15 against the Rockets, and maybe that was because he was trying to show up James Harden, but Wednesday was just another in a string of rough, shooting nights for Westbrook. He’s failed to shoot better than 50 percent in five games in a row. The Thunder is 12-4, but Westbrook has only three games where he’s been better than 50 percent.

Three Thoughts

1) If you’ve spent any time paying attention to the NBA, and specifically the NBA regular season, you know leads come and go – quickly.

That’s why the Thunder’s 45-point win over Charlotte was so impressive. Oklahoma City was up 64-24 at halftime, which is the perfect formula for basically checking out in the second half. Instead, the Thunder played well in the second half, inspired and with energy.

Maybe that’s due to the Thunder being a young team, but I credit coach Scott Brooks. Brooks loves to talk about taking it “One at a time,” but what he also does is not get too high or too low. I truly believes he puts the same importance on every game. It sounds bland, but it also is the kind of approach that allows the Thunder to come out with a solid performance against a below-average team.

2) I keep waiting for a tough stretch on the schedule for the Thunder. Kinda feel like I’m still waiting. Yes, the Thunder opened the season at San Antonio and yes, they just finished a two-game road trip to Boston and Philadelphia, but there just hasn’t been that part of the schedule that looks to be a killer.

After Friday’s game at home against Utah, the Thunder hit the road for another two-game trip – to New Orleans and Brooklyn – in which both are winnable. The next home stretch, a five-gamer, features the Lakers and the Spurs, making it the most-interesting games so far.

The closest thing to tough comes when the Thunder goes to Atlanta on Dec. 19, then Minnesota the next day before a Christmas Day game at Miami.

3) No one is pressing more than Eric Maynor and it’s hard to watch. Maynor went 0-for-3 against Houston and didn’t register a point for the fifth time in 16 games.

While points aren’t the only thing Maynor brings to the party, even his court awareness seems awkward and forced these days. And now, with the rotation seeing Kevin Durant handling the ball, coming in and playing with the second unit, Maynor doesn’t seem as necessary.

In addition, Kevin Martin has been good off the bench, and he can handle the ball if necessary when Durant or Russell Westbrook doesn’t.

Maynor played 27 minutes against Charlotte, mostly due to the fact the Thunder was ahead big most of the game, but he’s played more than 14 minutes just once in the past eight games.

As long as Martin keeps scoring and coach Scott Brooks sticks with the rotation that features Durant with the second team, Maynor may drift away.

Quotes of the Week

Kevin Durant to The Oklahoman about his jersey being the second-highest seller behind the Lebron James jersey

“I’ve been second since high school. Second draft pick. Second best player in high school. Second in MVP voting twice. So I’m over that being second stuff.”

Kevin Durant on his three fingers to the floor move, copying the same move James Harden did after a made 3-pointer.

“I was paying homage to the guys we used to have here.”

News and Notes –

• Weird road trip for Kevin Martin. He went a combined 3-for-16 from the field in a loss to the Celtics and a win against Philadelphia. He scored nine total points and was held to single-digit scoring in back-to-back games for the first time this season.

• The Thunder had the game against Philadelphia in hand before falling apart in the fourth quarter, getting just 13 points. However, the Thunder made four-of-five 3-pointers in overtime and didn’t miss from the free throw line. The total was 18 points in five minutes.

• Hasheem Thabeet had the first double-double of his career against Charlotte Monday, finishing with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Thabeet went five-for-six from the field in 27 minutes, which was also a season-high.

• Kevin Durant is dealing with a lawsuit against 1980s musician Mark Durante. According to The Oklahoman, the suit is over the nickname “Durantula.” Durant is not answering questions about the lawsuit, but the website TMZ reported Durant was sued in federal court by Durante who says Nike is using the nickname to boost a shoe campaign.

• Hasheem Thabeet was thrown out of the game Wednesday after getting into an altercation with James Harden, but then the ejection was rescinded. Official Marc Davis offered this explanation in a written statement: “I observed what I thought was ahistile act requiring an ejection of Thabeet. Upon review, it was determined there was no hostile act requiring an ejection.”

What’s Next? – Three games against three teams that missed the playoffs a year ago. Friday vs. Utah; Saturday at New Orleans; Tuesday at Brooklyn. After Friday, the Thunder come home for a five-game stand starting with the Lakers on Dec. 7.
Tower of Power? – Pretty decent week for the Thunder, who didn’t do much to diminsh their stock. A road loss to Boston isn’t a bad thing, and Oklahoma City came back with an overtime win at Philadelphia before blasting both Charlotte and Houston. I’d say at this point, the Thunder are among the top five teams in the league.

Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter @Theandrewgilman