Game of the night: The Thunder are getting their groove back

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Teams don’t really win games when they shoot 37.8 percent for the night.

However, Oklahoma City did  Thursday, and did it with defense. Or at least a spurt of good defense, when the went on a late 13-0 run and pulled out the 95-89 win against the Hornets Monday.

That the Thunder won this and won it this way is instructive. A month into the season — a month where the Hornets raced out to a fast start and the Thunder struggled — this game showed how things are more likely to shake out come April. It was a reminder why we all thought the Thunder could be so dangerous.

The game was not exactly what we expected. We tuned in because we all thought this would be the Chris Paul vs. Russell Westbrook show — and there were some pretty entertaining moments — but that was not what decided it. A late adjustment by Thunder coach Scott Brooks changed the course of this game.

The Hornets were up 81-75 with a little more than five minutes left when Brooks moved Kevin Durant over to defend David West. At that time West had 20 points and pretty much had his way against Jeff Green over the course of the game. West had been the Hornets go-to guy (and has been much of the season).

Durant changed that. He started guarding West pushed the forward out of his comfort zone, blocking shots and using his length to contest everything. Durant just out works him. West was struggling  but the Hornets went to him five out of six trips down the floor anyway. He’s their guy. But they got nothing out of it. There was no room to operate. The Hornets did not score a basket from the six minute mark in the fourth quarter down to 34 seconds remaining, and that is largely because they went to West instead of CP3.

Meanwhile Westbrook was hitting a driving banked layup and a pull up three in the final two minutes. He rose to the moment.

The Hornets tried to make it a free throw game late, but doing that against Thunder — shooting better than 85 percent as a team from the line — is futile.

One final thought: There was a lot of talk Monday about the Heat and how they are not meshing, how they seem to be standing around on offense, how there is no chemistry. How leadership from their big stars is lacking. Kevin Durant did not have a good scoring night Monday, but Durant is busting it, figuring out how he can help on the defense, taking a side role if that is best for the team. That, gentlemen is the opposite of Miami right now.

Jimmy Butler wants Mason Plumlee to pay fine after scuffle (video)

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Jimmy Butler and Mason Plumlee got into an altercation in the Bulls’ win over the Trail Blazers last night.

Plumlee lowered his head and tried to barrel through Butler’s chest on a Butler screen. Butler fell and retaliated by putting Plumlee in a leg lock, causing Plumlee to fall.

You might remember a leg lock as what Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova did to Bulls forward Taj Gibson during last year’s playoffs. For all the talk then of Dellavedova being a dirty player, Butler seems particularly aggrieved after getting a technical foul, which comes with a $2,500 fine – the same penalty Dellavedova eventually received. (Plumlee got a flagrant foul.)

Butler, via Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

“He thought he was playing football for a second there,” Butler said. “Almost had to let the Fort Greene Projects out of me, Brooklyn, you know what I’m saying?”

It was said tongue in cheek considering Gibson was a few feet over and Butler wanted to draw some laughs. Gibson is a Brooklyn native and grew up in the Fort Greene Projects while Butler grew up in Tomball, Texas.

It was no laughing matter when he said he would find a way to approach Plumlee about the fine money, jokingly suggesting he would have his agent email him at “Mr. Dukie@yahoo.com or something” and made a joke about Mike Dunleavy applauding Plumlee’s act.

Plumlee and Dunleavy are products of Duke University.

“Yeah, he cost me 2,500,” Butler said. “I’m not happy about that. Gonna ask him to pay me back and I’m not playing.”

Is that MisterDukie@yahoo.com, MrDukie@yahoo.com or Mr.Dukie@yahoo.com. Or is it Dookie?

These are important questions – at least if you’re trying to turn the conversation away from your dirty play and toward your colorful quotes.

Breaking news: Leandro Barbosa dunked

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The Warriors became the first team in NBA history to start 16-0.

In the process of getting that record-breaking win over the Lakers, something nearly as historic happened.

Leandro Barbosa dunked.

The 32-year-old Golden State guard last jammed in January 2011.

For a little more perspective, look how Barbosa handled a breakaway layup earlier in the fourth quarter:

You think that man can still slam?

Yes. Yes, he can.

Magic benching Victor Oladipo, starting Channing Frye

Stephen Curry, Victor Oladipo, Channing Frye
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Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Evan Fournier, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic have started eight of the Magic’s 14 games, including the last three.

But after Orlando dropped two straight, Scott Skiles hinted at lineup changes.

The Magic coach will deliver against the Knicks tonight, swapping Channing Frye for Oladipo.

Skiles, via Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

“It’s nothing punitive,” Skiles said after the Magic’s shootaround.

“It’s just we feel like we’ve got to try to find a little bit better balance. I’d like Victor to have some more opportunities like he’s had a little bit in the past where he can be on top of the floor and attack and get a little bit more vertical and not only get to the rim but just be a little bit more on the attack but not necessarily start the game that way.”

Here are the offensive/defensive/net ratings for the

  • Former starting lineup: 94.7/111.2/-16.5
  • New starting lineup: 117.2/90.3/+26.8

The new unit has played just 33 minutes in two games, so major sample-size caveats apply. But I like idea of seeing more of what has worked.

I suspect Skiles also wants to keep his players from becoming content. At 6-8 and coming off three straight seasons outside the playoffs, they should have no reason to feel satisfied, but the hard-driving Skiles will be proactive.

If Oladipo – whose defense Skiles values – can get sent to the bench, anyone can.

At some point, the Magic must determine whether Oladipo and Payton – both below-average 3-point shooters – can share a backcourt. But it’s also worth knowing whether Oladipo can excel as a super sub leading bench players.

This switch might help the Magic win now, but at worse, it’ll give them more information for evaluating their young roster. Seems smart all around.

Dwight Howard says he’s cleared to play back-to-backs

Dwight Howard
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The 5-9 Houston Rockets need some wins.

The Houston Rockets have a back-to-back coming up, Sunday against the Knicks then Monday against the Pistons (both on the road). Two teams with quality big men.

Combine those things and you end up with Dwight Howard being re-evaluated by team doctors and getting the training wheels taken off, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

This, plus a mini training camp the past few days, is part of new coach J.B. Bickerstaff’s effort to turn Houston’s season around.

Houston’s defense is 1.9 points per 100 possessions better this season when Howard is on the court and the Rockets are stronger on the glass. The problem is the offense is 7.8 points per 100 worse with Howard on the court. How much of that can be changed with some roster tweaks — like limiting the time James Harden and Ty Lawson share the court — and how much is due to Howard demanding touches and not doing enough with them we will find out quickly.