If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while thinking maybe you don’t want to go swimming in Australia…
One half of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook is all you need. Okay, maybe we didn’t learn that so much as get reminded on Wednesday. Oklahoma City has now won four in a row and, finally with everyone healthy, are starting to play like the legit title contender we thought they were. And all of that is because of Westbrook and Durant, who turned it on in the second half after a sloppy second quarter from the Thunder when they shot 4-of-22 as a team (OKC was down a dozen at the break). In the second half the best one-two punch in the NBA just took over — Westbrook had 25 in the second half, Durant 21. When Westbrook was using his athleticism to attack he was dangerous, when he settled it was a win for Washington — in the second half Westbrook was 8-of-9 shooting in the paint and 2-of-11 outside it. Which is why when he attacked and didn’t settle he got the overtime game winner.
No matter how well Durant and Westbrook are playing it’s not going to be easy for Oklahoma City to catch Phoenix. The Thunder are just three back of the Suns for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, and if you look at Phoenix’s schedule and see eight quality playoff teams in a row lined up you think they will lose a few and OKC will close that gap easily. Nope. The Suns started out this gauntlet beating Portland Wednesday night to make it four straight win. The three guard attack of Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas combined for 76 points, while Gerald Green scored another dozen. Oklahoma City may well catch Phoenix at some point but this is not going to be easy for them.
Kyle Korver can dunk. The Hawks sharpshooter is a borderline All-Star because he’s having as good a shooting season as anyone has in the history of the NBA — he’s shooting 53.5 percent from three this season. But what he really wants to do is dunk — for the first time in two years Korver threw it down on Wednesday. We wouldn’t believe it either, but there is video evidence.
Andre Drummond vs. Nikola Vucevic could be a fun matchup for years to come. Brandon Jennings was the story in the Pistons’ win over the Magic — 24 points and 21 assists — but what I was watching in this game was a matchup of potential All-Star centers from the East in Andre Drummond and Nikola Vucevic. It’s a contrast of styles (which is why they weren’t matched head-to-head all game long). Vucevic scored a couple times on Drummond (and missed a couple) on traditional post ups but the strength of his game is that he can pop out and hit the 15-18 foot jumper, something Drummond didn’t always contest (to be fair he had rim protecting duties on a lot of those and needed help rotations). Drummond on the other hand got the ball in the post more and was 4-of-5 by my count on Vucevic in that setting. The bottom line is Vucevic ended up with 26 points and 15 boards, Drummond 26 points and 17 boards. These are two of the best young centers in the game and we would be watching them battle for many years.
Head-to-head, the Sixers are tanking harder than the Knicks. The real losers here? Anyone who paid for tickets to this game. Philadelphia met New York and unfortunately for two tanking teams someone had to win. Sure, the players didn’t see it that way but you can be sure parts of the fan bases (and front offices) did. The Sixers sat Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel and that was enough to give the Knicks the edge and the win behind 27 from Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks have a two-game winning streak and they are just half a game (two in the loss column) behind the Sixers.