State of the Thunder: Rematch concerns
OKLAHOMA CITY — If not now, then when?
Thursday was a chance for Oklahoma City to show itself as a worthy opponent to the Miami Heat, but after this Valentine's Day massacre, it's hard to figure there will ever be a time or a place where this team could beat that team.
Oklahoma City couldn't win Thursday night when everything was absolutely in its favor, so when and if these teams meet again in the Finals, imagining a different result will be a stretch. OKC might still be the best in the West, but when it comes to Miami, the Thunder have been unable to keep up — the latest example: Thursday's 110-100 loss.
Make it six losses in a row to the Heat, dating back to Game 2 of the 2012 NBA Finals. For a team that had a lot to gain, the Thunder sure looked like they lost a lot.
"You don't win championships in February," OKC's Kendrick Perkins said. "We're going to put this one behind us. Obviously they have been dominating us for the last six games, so if we do meet again it's a problem we have to deal with and figure out."
Not saying it can't happen, but good luck on that deal.
"Last year doesn't matter," Miami's Dwayne Wade said. "Do we have their number? We're not feeling that way. We've just won two games against them (this season) and that's it."
Oklahoma City needed an edge against Miami after losing earlier this season and getting swept after taking Game 1 of the Finals. The Thunder needed something to get them into the second half of the season on a positive note. They needed to jump a mental hurdle of being able to beat the Heat.
Miami led by as many as 23. The Thunder never had the lead. Instead of a confidence boost, it has to be the opposite. After all, the Thunder, who dropped a 109-94 decision to the Utah Jazz on Tuesday, came in 11-1 after a loss this season. OKC came in having already lost to Miami, too.
"Not disappointed, just a little surprised," Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook said.
Try to make that the case for most of the sellout crowd inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Thunder never could get going. They shot 33 percent in the first half as Westbrook and Kevin Durant shot a combined 7 of 21 from the field.
Durant finished with 40. Westbrook had 26, but the story is the fact that the Thunder can't beat the Heat.
"If we do see them again (in the Finals) that would be great," coach Scott Brooks said. "We're not worried about that. We're worried about enjoying the All-Star break and reflecting on what we did this first half."
Brooks is right. It's probably a bit too early to be concerned about a possible rematch with the Heat. But if it does get to that point, it sure doesn't look good for the Thunder.
Who's Hot: Heading into the game against Miami, Westbrook had shot better than 50 percent from the field in six of his previous seven games.
Who's Not: Well, big-picture, this mess from Thursday and you could say the entire team. Shooting 33 percent in the first half isn't going to cut it — not against Miami. Losing six games in a row to the Heat makes it's hard to think things are going to change the next time – if there's a next time – these teams hook up.
1. The trade deadline is just a week awayt. Hard to believe the Thunder won't make some sort of move. Conventional wisdom says OKC will shop Eric Maynor, but before considering who the Thunder will send off, they have to figure out what they need most — and that's bench help. Kevin Martin has been a more-than-adequate replacement for James Harden, but if Martin's shot is off, and if Durant isn't in the game, the offense stagnates.
Maybe the Thunder need another big man, but really, if OKC is playing Miami, smaller is likely the better approach. The Thunder would be better suited to get a scorer to go along with Martin and Nick Collison.
Count on general manager Sam Presti to make an effort toward a move. The bench has to be a priority. This is a team trying to win the NBA championship, not just make the playoffs or advance to the second round. Not to overreact, but Thursday's showing against Miami might give Presti an even greater sense of urgency. The bench had just 16 points and Martin was pretty much a no-show. He had nine points. Reggie Jackson scored seven. No one on else on the bench scored. You have to love the dive-on-the-floor-all-the-time mentality from Collison, but that doesn't always equal offense.
2. Maybe the All-Star break is coming at the right time. Westbrook had another interview incident, this time coming after the Utah game when he walked out after the loss to the Jazz. Westbrook is not one to be chatty, generally taking only a few questions, but this one was brief, even by his standards. Westbrook apparently didn't like the vanilla question of whether the Jazz won or the Thunder lost, ending the conversation by saying, "Yall, (expletive) trippin." Even Durant, who picked up his 10th technical foul of the season was a bit curt, saying, "They kicked our ass." Durant received another technical on Thursday night against Miami.
3. Where was Serge Ibaka on Thursday? Wow. Ibaka had just six points and six rebounds and didn't block a shot and was a team-worst —18 on the plus-minus counter. It was the first time since Jan. 4 that Ibaka didn't block a shot.
While the Thunder can turn to Durant and Westbrook for scoring, it's pretty imperative that Ibaka doesn't no-show defensively like he did against the Heat. Looking forward to a potential rematch, the Thunder have to have Ibaka ready to play center or forward, depending on what kind of lineup Miami goes with. But with just 12 rebounds and one block in two games this season against the Heat, clearly something Miami is doing doesn't agree with Ibaka.
Remember, the Heat aren't supposed to be a great inside team. Well, Chris Bosh went for 20 points on 10-of-12 shooting, had 12 rebounds and three blocks. LeBron is good enough. Wade is good enough. Ibaka has to do something to limit Bosh or the Thunder won't have any hope of stopping the Heat.
"I think they just outplayed us. They got too many offensive rebounds. We turned the ball over too many times. They played more physical than us. I don't know what you can learn from that." — Brooks after the loss to Utah.
• Martin missed Sunday's game at Phoenix with flu-like symptoms. He played against Utah Tuesday.
• From the absurd file: The Thunder shot 56 percent and lost to Utah by 15. It was the first time this season the Thunder shot better than 50 percent and lost. They are now 18-1 in those situations.
• More absurd news: Malcontent DeMarcus Cousins only has two more technical fouls this season than Durant, who picked up his 10th Tuesday at Utah after he fouled Alec Burks and then shoved DeMarre Carroll when Carroll came over to protect his teammate.
• Thabo Sefolosha had a season-high 20 points and made a career-high five 3-pointers against Phoenix Sunday.
• The Thunder went on a 21-0 run Friday in Oklahoma City against Phoenix. In the same game, Perkins scored 17 points. It's the most he's scored since joining the Thunder.
• Durant fell hard and re-injured his ribs on Thursday. He didn't miss any time, although he was down on the court for a long while in the first half. "He was fine," Brooks said. "He fell pretty hard but it was nothing that was going to keep him out any games. I felt confident to stay with him."
• The 17-point halftime deficit against Miami was their largest of the season.
• Everyone was mad about the technical fouls called on the Thunder — Jackson, Durant and Collison all received one — but OKC actually got the benefit of the doubt the rest of the night. Miami had 29 fouls and the Thunder had 23.
Up next: The All-Star break. Oklahoma City's first game after the break will be Wednesday at Houston. The Thunder's next home game is Friday, Feb. 22 against Minnesota.
Tower of Power: Doesn't look like anyone is getting in Miami's way these days. The Heat undid the Thunder with ease, making the balance of power in the NBA pretty obvious. It's Miami and then there's "Not exactly." The Thunder may very well contend for the Western Conference title, but there's not a lot of folks who will give them a shot against the Heat in the Finals if the two get back there again.
Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter @theandrewgilman