Thunder likely to tweak Durant’s substitution pattern

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In the Thunder’s loss to the Grizzlies on Wednesday, Kevin Durant played 44 minutes, and Russell Westbrook played 42. That’s some pretty heavy usage for the team’s two All-Stars, and it’s something that’s not likely to be sustainable over the course of an 82-game season.

With James Harden’s playmaking ability gone from the second unit, however, it’s tough to find ways around that, especially when you consider Scott Brooks’ propensity to almost always play Durant and Westbrook in lineups together at the same time.

The two were both absent from the lineup for just four minutes against Memphis, and Durant (obviously) played those two extra minutes without Westbrook by his side.

Those heavy minutes can’t continue, and Oklahoma City needs to find lineup combinations that maximize effectiveness, while getting its superstar players some much-needed rest. It’s something Brooks is aware of, and he’s beginning to look at changing his substitution patterns to try and help the situation.

From Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:

Brooks is in the process of plotting that transformation, and he has a plan that could work. It’s an adjustment that has the potential to bring more balance to the bench unit while establishing additional harmony in the star-studded first string.

The idea is to sub out Kevin Durant earlier.

It’s a strategy Brooks told me following practice today that the coaching staff began kicking around earlier in the day.

By sitting Durant earlier, the Thunder can accomplish three things: most importantly a more sensible rotation that relies less on only Eric Maynor and Kevin Martin to create, secondly, an opportunity for Westbrook to run as wild as his heart desires for longer stretches and, lastly, more rest for Durant.

Mayberry does an excellent job of digging deeper into how this could all shake out, but the short version is, staggering Durant’s minutes is a solid solution to the issue. He and Westbrook are both capable of creating for themselves and their teammates, as well as scoring on their own and in bunches. It only makes sense to spread the wealth across multiple lineups instead of always featuring the two on the court at the same time.

There will be an adjustment period to each playing without the other for extended stretches, but it’ll likely be best for the Thunder in the long run if they want to maximize the talent on the roster and position themselves for another run at the Finals.

With Harden’s scoring and playmaking gone forever, it’s time OKC began to make the necessary adjustments.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook go head-to-head, literally (video)

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This sure didn’t look like just another game for Kevin Durant – and not only because the Thunder beat the Warriors for the first time since he left.

The 108-91 Oklahoma City victory didn’t look like just another game for Russell Westbrook (34 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and four steals), either.

Harrison Barnes banks in game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointer (video)

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With the shot clock off in the fourth quarter and the game tied, Grizzlies big JaMychal Green put back Tyreke Evans‘ miss with a clutch flush. There’s a very fine line between ensuring the last shot and leaving time for an offensive rebound, and Memphis threated it almost perfectly.

Emphasis on “almost.”

The Grizzlies left the Mavericks 0.5 seconds, which Harrison Barnes used to bank in a 3-pointer – off a pinpoint bounce pass by Dennis Smith Jr. – to give Dallas a 95-94 win.

Heat snap Celtics’ 16-game winning streak

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky
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The Celtics didn’t have another comeback in them.

After overcoming a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit against the Mavericks on Monday to extend its winning streak to 16 games, Boston lost to the Heat tonight, 104-98. The streak ends as the NBA’s longest since the Hawks won 19 straight during the 2014-15 season.

The Celtics trailed Miami by 16 in the fourth quarter then cut the deficit to only one with three minutes left. But Dion Waiters hit back-to-back 3-pointers, helping the Heat pull away.

Goran Dragic (27 points) and Waiters (26 points) led Miami, which needed a reason to feel good after losing three of four to fall to 7-9.

The Celtics, on the other hand, still have a four-game cushion over the rest of the Eastern Conference. This might help them regain focus.

Serge Ibaka gets dunked on by Enes Kanter, hit in face by ball (video)

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Is Enes Kanter mad Serge Ibaka rifted with his family?

(No, not this family. That family.)