Thunder dominate Lakers this time

BY foxsports • March 14, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY  -- That's two paybacks in two games resulting in two wins.

What kind of grudge do the Thunder need to come up with next? Because this playing angry, with emotion and with authority has suited OKC pretty well.

One game after some payback against Houston, it came back around against the Lakers in a 131-102 victory Thursday night in Oklahoma City.

Last season, the Thunder were knocked out of the playoffs when Russell Westbrook was knocked down and out by Patrick Beverley. More recently, the Thunder looked as bad as they have in three years with a Sunday loss in Los Angeles.

Plenty of reason for plenty of emotion.

So, what happens Sunday?

Dallas is next on the schedule, and the issue now becomes whether the Thunder can sustain, build on or create some sort of edge to keep its modest winning streak going.

Easy to get up for Tuesday's cage match against Houston, and Thursday's game against the Lakers was interesting only until about the start of the first quarter, thanks to the Lakers scoring 114 points and embarrassing the Thunder Sunday. Thursday, OKC held the Lakers to 19 first-quarter points, led by 14 at halftime and by more than 20 most of the second half. The only drama was whether Kevin Durant would extend his streak of scoring 25 or more points.

Durant finished with 29, ran his streak to 30 games in a row, the longest streak since Michael Jordan did it in 1987, getting 14 points in the fourth quarter in what turned out to be the only thing in question.

More questions to come Sunday, though.

The Thunder have found their way back to playing better defense, have found a spot in the rotation for Caron Butler and have also worked Westbrook into top form while not over-extending him on minutes. Yet, still they are just 5-5 since the All-Star break.

Dallas is up next and then comes a three-game Eastern Conference road trip starting in Chicago on Monday.

"Our job is to play every night," coach Scott Brooks said. "I don't look at each game and say this is bigger than the last. We play. We play hard every night. That's what we do. Whether it's Dallas or Chicago. We give our best effort every game."

Well, the Thunder gave notable performances with visible effort the past two games, but that hasn't been the case since the All-Star break. Some of it could be attributed to regular shifts in the lineup, losing Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha to injury, adding Caron Butler and slicing Jeremy Lamb's minutes. All are significant changes, but regardless of lineups, rotations and personnel, the Thunder didn't look motivated in a good number of games in February.

It took Houston to snap them out of it and it took the Lakers to give this team some needed momentum.

"I'm always pissed about losing games," Westbrook said. "I'm sure everyone else was pretty mad, too," he said of last Sunday's loss.

Westbrook sure looked that way. He started the game with a steal and a dunk and finished with 29 points and nine assists in only 23 minutes.

"They made shots and we missed a lot of shots we were hitting on Sunday," Laker guard Kendall Marshall said. "You have to give them credit."

More like the Thunder took credit. That's two games in a row now the Thunder defense has improved ,and with Westbrook and Durant combining for 58 points, it's a combination that can lead the team back to the top of the Western Conference.

Los Angeles shot just 39 percent and the Thunder out rebounded the Lakers 60-37, justifying the "Defense First" mantra Brooks uses as his go-to opening statement after games.

"I think our disposition has been different the last two games," Butler said after scoring 11 points. "If you want to be a contender, you've got to start on the defensive end. We just did that last two games."

Yet as good as the Thunder have been the past two games and as healthy as they have looked, there isn't a long record for recent sustained excellence.

Brooks changed his mind and his lineup once again Thursday, starting rookie Andre Roberson after starting Perry Jones the previous five games. The result, combined with the increased number of minutes to Butler (28 on Thursday) has left Lamb out. Jones came off the bench first for the Thunder on Thursday, but Lamb didn't get in until the last 7 minutes of the game. Roberson played 24 minutes and seven rebounds and eight points.

"Who knows what happens Sunday," Brooks said. "We have 15 guys and they are all stars. You can't play all the players. It's not equal opportunity."

Count on Westbrook's minutes increasing as he gets healthier. Count on Durant trying to move his scoring streak to 31 games.

Past that, who knows what motivation the Thunder will have against the Mavericks.

Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK


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