State of the Thunder: Westbrook ends skid

OKLAHOMA CITY — For most of Thursday’s game, the Thunder looked like they were on a losing streak and it looked like Russell Westbrook was somewhere between uninterested and lost.

Westbrook was dreadful — 2-of-9 in the first half, 4-of-14 after three quarters — and other than Kevin Durant, the team wasn’t much better. The Thunder trailed the below-average Mavericks by as much as 11 points and looked dreadfully close to a third loss in a row, against a Dallas team that’s short on talent and void of an identity.

Durant finished with 40 points, but it was Westbrook who stole the
ball and then the show as the Thunder snapped a two-game
losing streak with a 111-105 overtime victory.

Dallas came into the game losers of six of its past seven games and in the middle of a stretch of games against Miami, Memphis, San Antonio, Denver and San Antonio again. Meanwhile, the Mavs haven’t even had Dirk Nowitzki but for one game this season.

Losing at Miami is one thing — and the Thunder did that on Christmas — but losing at home to this Mavs team would have been a lot different. The Thunder weren’t the better team Thursday (41.9 percent shooting) and Westbrook wasn’t at his best (7-of-20 shooting).

“Sometimes there’s nights like that,” Westbrook said. “You just have to fight through it and continue to play.”

Westbrook had a steal and called timeout with 5.3 seconds left in regulation that led to a pair of Durant free throws and a three-point lead. In overtime, Westbrook hit a 16-foot jumper over Dirk Nowitzki, followed up by a steal and a layup on the next possession pushing the lead back to three.

“I love what he does and what he’s about,” coach Scott Brooks said of Westbrook “He’s a big part about why we’re a good team. He plays hard. I have complete confidence in him.”

All of this coming after a two-game losing streak which coincided roughly at the same time the world was supposed to end.

“This league is tough,” Brooks said. “It’s hard to win a bunch of games in a row, let alone not lose two in a row. We didn’t do it throughout the game, but we did in the fourth quarter.”

Oklahoma City gave up 30 points in the third quarter but outscored the Mavs 38-24 in the fourth quarter and overtime combined.

The Thunder improved to 22-6 on the season, but more importantly they won a game against an inferior opponent when they played poorly. There’s something valuable in that.

Who’s hot: Reggie Jackson. Get ready to embrace Jackson. He’s split time this season between the Tulsa 66ers (D-League) and the Thunder, but count on him staying put in Oklahoma City. He scored 37 points last week for the 66ers, then turned around and played a career-high 25 minutes against Minnesota. In three games with the 66ers Jackson is averaging 28 points and seven rebounds per game.

Who’s not: Thabo Sefolosha has lost something. He played only 28 minutes against the Heat and missed his only shot of the game. He’s just 10-for-33 combined in the last five games, scoring just 28 points in that stretch. Against Dallas, he missed his first three shots but did rally and finish 3-of-7 shooting for eight points.

3 Thoughts
1. In case you lost count, that’s five losses in a row against Miami after the Christmas Day stumble. Sure, it’s just December, so it doesn’t sting too much, but looking at the bigger picture, the loss is all kinds of distressing.

While it’s no given the Thunder get back to the Finals, it’s close to a certainty the Heat will and that means a possible rematch against a team the Thunder haven’t had much success against. Oklahoma City has another regular-season shot at the Heat with a home Valentine’s Day game. OKC fell apart in the final moments against the Heat on Christmas. If it happens again, the Heat will have a huge mental edge if the two meet again.

2. I think we can all agree we’ve seen the last of Eric Maynor. Coach Brooks said as much Thursday night before the game against Dallas. Jackson played 13 minutes against Miami and played a career-high 25 minutes the game before against Minnesota. He played 11:25 on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Maynor played just four minutes against Minnesota and none against Miami and the Mavs. Brooks said Maynor received the minutes at the start of the season, but said it’s Jackson’s turn now. Brooks also said nothing is “in cement,” and that the team has options. Maybe so, but it looks like the No. 1 option at this point is Jackson. Jackson, not Maynor was the first substitute in for Westbrook on Thursday. “We’re just going to give him some games,” Brooks said of Jackson.

3. Throwing this out there: Who’s excited about the return of P.J. Carlesimo to Oklahoma City? The former Thunder head coach, notable for leading the team to a 1-12 start in 2008 before getting fired, is now the interim coach of the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets made the change Thursday after firing Avery Johnson. The Nets will be in Oklahoma City on Wednesday.

• Westbrook was featured in GQ Magazine as one of the 25 most-stylish men of the year. The magazine went on to say, “Westbrook may get flack for his more adventurous postgame looks, but the Thunder player isn’t just about loud prints. The man knows how clothes should fit, and we have to applaud any guy not afraid of working pattern into his wardrobe — even if he did not, as he claims, “invent wearing glasses.” Dwyane Wade and Tyson Chandler were the only other NBA players to make the list.

• Westbrook’s final 3-pointer against Miami was not a foul. He kicked his leg out trying to draw contact and get a call.

• I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Durant get upset at his teammates before but he sure looked to be pretty hot at Kevin Martin in the closing seconds of the loss at Miami. Immediately after Chris Bosh got loose for a dunk with 25 seconds left, Durant threw his hands up and turned to Martin. Apparently it was Martin’s job to rotate after Kendrick Perkins left Bosh to double-team LeBron James. Before Thursday’s game with Dallas, Brooks said it was nobody’s fault.

• Martin didn’t play against Minnesota and it just about destroyed the Thunder bench. Martin sat out with a thigh contusion he suffered in Atlanta. The Thunder lost to the Timberwolves and the bench had a total of just seven points.

• Durant had a fistful of dunks on Chris Kaman on Thursday … Just highlight reel kind of stuff, including one where Durant had a block on one end, took the ball all the way down the court and embarrassed Kaman on the other.

• More Durant. Yeah, he had 40 points against the Mavs, but he also had eight rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block, but he wasn’t even the star of the game. It was Westbrook on Thursday and Serge Ibaka was beyond notable, too. Ibaka was 7-for-10 shooting, had 17 rebounds and 19 points.

• Miami went 19-of-19 from the free-throw line against the Thunder on Christmas Day. The Mavs went 13-for-13 through three quarters and finished 14-of-16.

One other stat of note: Durant scored 40 points Thursday and the Thunder improved to 6-0 when he scores 35 or more.

“I just feel like — never overreacting to a loss — we just got to start getting back to who we are as individuals. Turning off the TV and stop looking at articles on ourselves and start just losing ourselves in the team a little bit more … then the sky’s the limit. We just got to start knowing what got us here and what each guy did to get us to this point. We just got to make sure we start knowing who we are and what we are and what we mean to this team as individuals and the rest will take care of itself.” — Perkins to The Oklahoman after the loss to Miami.

“I just try to make an impact on the game. Maybe it’s not scoring. Maybe it’s rebounding, maybe it is passing or maybe it is defending, but I just try to make an impact on the game every night.” — Westbrook after his 16-point, 10-assist, three-steal and one-block performance in the win against Dallas.

Up Next
The Thunder hit the road for a Saturday rematch with James Harden and Houston. Oklahoma City won the first game of the year holding Harden to 3-of-16 shooting and 17 points in his first game against his old teammates. Harden is averaging 25.8 points per game.

The Thunder are back home for a pair of games next week, including a Monday game against Phoenix and a Wednesday game against the Nets.

Tower of Power?

Well, certainly the Thunder are a step below the Miami Heat, there’s no doubt about that. Even a close loss can’t make you feel great about the situation, but as far as the Western Conference goes, it’s clear the Thunder are at the top. The Clippers have been the story of the season, but they fell to the Thunder earlier this year. Thursday’s rally against Dallas was impressive in the sense that the Thunder won without playing well. Good teams do that kind of stuff.

Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter @theandrewgilman.