Westbrook, Thunder next face Wall, Wizards
WASHINGTON — From the mega-hyped home rematch against Kevin Durant to hosting LeBron James and the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City had quite the week.
Now the Thunder and leading man Russell Westbrook must quickly move past the emotion from Saturday’s loss to the Golden State Warriors.
Up next is the best team in the Eastern Conference this calendar year.
The road matchup against the Washington Wizards pits All-Star point guards Westbrook and John Wall head-to-head. It just won’t garner the same amount of attention that came from Durant’s first game in Oklahoma City since spurning the Thunder (31-24) for the Western Conference champion Warriors.
Yet a similar result would mean two losses in a row and three of four for Oklahoma City.
The Thunder fell behind and unraveled early Saturday night. Trailing 30-24 after the first quarter, the Thunder allowed 43 points in the second quarter and limped into halftime down 73-50.
“We just need to be a step ahead,” Westbrook said. “We can’t always play from behind. Because with a good team, you play behind they make you pay for it.”
The NBA’s leading scorer at 31.2 points per game, Westbrook finished with 47 points and 11 rebounds.
Golden State sank 13 3-pointers and Oklahoma City, 29th in 3-point percentage, missed 18 of 24 attempts. The perimeter shooting disparity finished off the Thunder, but they showed spirit during two exchanges with their former teammate in the third quarter.
“I think they are competing,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “But to me it was just part of the game. Guys are kind of standing up and just competing.”
Shooting from long range has helped fuel the Wizards (32-21), who have won eight of nine overall and are an Eastern Conference-best 16-5 since Jan. 1.
Washington is seventh is 3-point percentage with Otto Porter leading the NBA with a 46.0 percent clip. The fourth-year forward is hardly the only threat in the starting lineup, which is anchored by the passing prowess of Wall.
Headed to his fourth All-Star game, the point guard is second in the league with 10.5 assists, one slot above Westbrook.
Wall had 26 points and 14 assists as Washington fended off the Indiana Pacers 112-107 on Friday. He scored nine in the fourth quarter and fed Markieff Morris for a key 3-pointer with 50 seconds left to give the Wizards 108-102 lead.
“He’s been a great playmaker for us throughout the games and clutch situations,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said of Wall. “We’ve won a lot of close games. He’s really finding a balance of attacking, pulling up for a shot, and kicking out to open shooters.”
Wall sat out Sunday’s practice with a lingering sore foot and a minor ankle sprain suffered against the Pacers, but he’s expected to face Oklahoma City.
The Wizards also dealt with bouncing back from a big game loss. Washington fell 140-135 to Cleveland on Feb. 6, snapping a 17-game home winning streak, before winning two games in a row.
“I don’t feel like it was emotional. We lost. It happens,” Morris said after scoring 26 points against Indiana. “We’re not the team that’s going to dwell on losing one game to the Cavs when we played them to the best of our ability, missed a couple shots at the end. Let’s move on. It’s not about them, it’s about us.”
Westbrook had 35 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists in the first meeting against Washington as Oklahoma City pulled away in overtime for a 126-115 win on Dec. 1.