Rust? What rust?
Russell Westbrook looked like his explosive self old self in a 105-78 win over the Knicks on Friday night, coming back from a broken hand and 15 games off by putting up 32 points (on 12-of-17 shooting), seven rebounds and eight assists, all in 24 minutes. His performance sparked the Oklahoma City win. A sign there was no rust: Westbrook shot 10-of-13 on contested shots. Or, if you want another sign, check out Westbrook’s shot chart:
What really should make Thunder fans happy is the Thunder looked like the Thunder again. Sure, it was against the Knicks but the level of play from OKC was key. Westbrook was drawing the defense in and sharing, making nice skip passes, then every once in a while he’d just explode by his man and throw it down (as in the first dunk from the video above).
The Thunder have a lot of work to do make the playoffs out West, but they are back to being themselves. And that should scare teams.
It started with this moving video posted by 13-year-old Jack Gallagher about his mother who passed away due to cancer.
Chris Paul was moved. He paid for Gallagher and his family to come see the Clippers and CP3 take on the Detroit Pistons last Friday in Detroit. Paul hung out with the family before the game and gave Jack a new pair of CP3s as well a bunch of Jordan/CP3 gear.
Then he put the mother’s initials on his shoes.
CP3 had 23 points and seven assists in a Clippers win with the initials on his shoes.
The Philadelphia 76ers are scoring a league-worst 92.2 points per 100 possessions so far this season (according to Basketball-Reference.com). Actually, not just league worst this season, that number would tie for the worst offense in NBA history (with the 76-77 Nets and 02-03 Nuggets).
Now the Sixers is about to get worse as they will be without their leading scorer, Tony Wroten, for at stretch.
From Dei Lynam of CSNPhilly.com.
Wroten is averaging 17.9 points per game and coach Brett Brown had tried playing him next to Michael Carter-Williams in a gunning backcourt (together they average better than 30 shots a game, and neither is a good shooter). Wroten has been a turnover machine this season, coughing up the ball on 18.9 percent of his possessions he ended this season). That said, this team needs points and he can get them, if not efficently.
No Wroten in the starting lineup could mean more K.J. McDaniels, and that would be good for all of us.
Those are the words Thunder fans have been desperate to hear — Russell Westbrook is back.
Well, at least half of the words they wanted to hear. Kevin Durant remains out (foot surgery has kept him out all season but he is expected to return soon). However, Westbrook has been out since the second game of the season with a hand fracture and he is going to return at home against the Knicks (playing without Carmelo Anthony).
Royce Young of ESPN had other details.
This is huge for the 4-12 Thunder, currently the 10th seed in the West and with a lot of work to do to get back in the playoff mix in the West.
To reach the 49 wins it took to make the playoffs in the West last season, the Thunder need to go 45-21 the rest of the way, a 68.2 win percentage. That is doable, they won 72 percent of their games last season (despite Westbrook missing time), but this season they might need to do an even better than that — while it’s ridiculously early in the season the West’s current eight seed (Phoenix) is on a 51-win pace.
Take a little of the salt that you didn’t use as a rub on your Thanksgiving Day turkey and use it here, because it sounds like someone has an axe to grind. That said…
This season Roy Hibbert is back to playing like an All-Star, like one of the game’s top centers. He was an All-Star last season but he and the Pacers dropped off a table the second half of the season. There were questions about what was going wrong, what the chemistry issues with the team were. This season he is scoring more points and doing so more efficiently (taking on more of the offense) plus he is playing strong defense in the paint. This season he’s playing like an All-Star again.
Meanwhile, Charlotte was a team a lot of us expected to take a step forward this season that hasn’t — their offense is not improved and their defense has slipped. They have been a real disappointment.
What changed in Indiana and Charlotte? Lance Stephenson went from the Pacers to the Hornets and some are pointing fingers, via Bill Reiter of Fox Sports.
Again, this sounds like it’s coming from an anti-Stephenson camp somewhere. There are a lot more issues here going on with both teams.
That said, Hornets coach Steve Clifford has called out Stephenson recently saying he is not a star and has a lot of work to do on his game. Stephenson certainly is not getting to the rim as much, taking more long twos and is shooting 36.9 percent from the floor (and 20 percent from three).
As for whether he is a chemistry issue, I think to agree with the Daryl Morey line that “chemistry is a three-game winning streak.” If Stephenson strings together some good games and the Hornets start to win, everyone will forget this. But until then, tongues will wag.