51Q: If Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are healthy, can anything hold back the Thunder?

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The Thunder have won 71% of their games with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook the last five years. The only team with a better mark in that span is the Spurs.

But without those stars, Oklahoma City’s win percentage drops to 57%.

When Westbrook got hurt in the 2013 playoffs, Oklahoma City lost in five games to the Grizzlies in the second round. Without Durant for large portions last season, the Thunder missed the playoffs entirely. In surrounding years – 2011, 2012 and 2014 – they reached at least the conference finals and even the 2012 NBA Finals.

At this point, we know this team. Oklahoma City is a championship contender when Durant and Westbrook are healthy, a borderline playoff squad when at least one isn’t.

With Durant and Westbrook healthy right now, can anything hold back the Thunder?

Serge Ibaka is a bona fide third core piece. Oklahoma City has spent to build a suitable bench. Durant remains under contract.

So much appears to be falling in line for the Thunder, but the list of potential pitfalls is long:

1. The NBA’s other contenders, especially in the Western Conference, are loaded. The Warriors, Spurs, Clippers and Cavaliers look about as good on paper as the Thunder. If they successfully integrate Ty Lawson, the Rockets could reach that level, too.

2. Most first-year coaches aren’t Steve Kerr. Looking beyond last season, history strongly suggests Billy Donovan will need more time before he’s capable of leading Oklahoma City to a title. Plus, he has the added challenge of coming from college – a jump few have successfully made.

3. Donovan must balance the Thunder’s fit/talent divide.

Andre Roberson and Steven Adams have played exceptionally well with Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka. That unit posted an offensive/defensive/net rating of 109.8/96.4/+13.4 last season. The year before, albeit in a small sample, it was 103.0/78.0/+24.9. Roberson is a defensive ball hawk, though his outside shooting is putrid. Adams, also defensive-minded, does a lot of the little things. They work well next to the ball-dominant Westbrook and Durant.

So where does that leave Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter? Waiters is a low-efficiency, chucker – an awful fit with other talented players. He doesn’t put enough energy into defense, either. But Oklahoma City surrendered a first-rounder for him for a reason, and he’ll likely be entering a contract year wanting to post big numbers. Kanter already his max contract, but he might see that as validation for deserving a large role. Kanter provides an offensive boost with his pick-and-roll finishing, but it’s not clear that offsets his defensive shortcomings.

Roberson and Adams know their limitations and play within them. With Durant and Westbrook, that’s frequently enough. Waiters and Kanter might be capable of more, but they too often fail to complement their better teammates. If Donovan can reign in those two, that’s ideal, though it will be difficult. It might be even more challenging to use them if they remain committed to their previous styles.

4. The roster is probably set, as is. There’s little room for upgrading. The Thunder are already above the luxury-tax line and might be reticent to accept more salary in a trade. Plus, they can send a team only one guaranteed first-round pick, and they can’t guarantee it will be conveyed until 2022.

5. Durant might get hurt again. His foot injuries were more serious than we initially knew, and they were already pretty troubling. There might be something about his long, lanky frame and playing style that leaves him susceptible to injury. Plenty of players have had their careers derailed by foot injuries.

If Durant has a structural issue, that’s it. The Thunder can’t win without him.

But if he and Westbrook remain healthy, we might look back on this team as the NBA’s best. It will still have to cross several landmines, but the potential is there.

There’s a mural in L.A. of Alex Caruso dunking over Harden, Leonard, Doncic

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It’s hard to overstate how popular Alex Caruso is in Los Angeles. Seriously. This isn’t just cult status popular, when he enters the game off the bench Staples Center explodes in cheers like LeBron James just fed Anthony Davis for an alley-oop.

Now Caruso has his own mural in Los Angeles.

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This is legit, it’s on the side of SportieLA, a clothing/apparel store on Melrose Ave. in the trendy heart of Los Angeles. Artist Gustavo Zermeño Jr. has done murals in the past for LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and other Los Angeles sports icons such as Vin Scully.

This one plays off a huge Caruso dunk from earlier this month when Dallas’ Maxi Kleber was the victim.

It’s good to be Alex Caruso in Los Angeles right now.

Kawhi Leonard just destroyed Boston’s Daniel Theis on dunk

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Daniel Theis‘ play as a rim protector is one of the reasons Boston has a top-10 defense this season. He has anchored the Celtics’ defense in the paint.

Kawhi Leonard is a two-time Finals MVP, and if he wants to go to the rim nobody is stopping him. Theis found out the hard way.

After the game, Leonard was asked about the dunk and he responded in about the most Kawhi way possible.

This was the first game Leonard and Paul George played together and they combined for 42 points, and they both made key play down the stretch of a 107-104 overtime win.

It took Luka Doncic 25 minutes to put together 35-point triple-double (VIDEO)

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DALLAS (AP) — Luka Doncic scored 33 of his 35 points in the first half and had yet another triple-double to help the Dallas Mavericks rout the short-handed Golden State Warriors 142-94 on Wednesday night.

Doncic fell a point short of matching Dirk Nowitzki’s team record set Nov. 3, 2009, against Utah. In just 17 minutes, Doncic was 10 for 11 from the floor, making 6 of 7 3-pointers, and hit 7 of 8 free throws.

The second-year star from Slovenia had 22 points, five assists and five rebounds in the first quarter alone. He played only 25 minutes total, but still managed 10 rebounds and 11 assists.

Doncic was coming off a 40-point triple-double Monday night against San Antonio, and has an NBA-best seven triple-doubles in 14 games this season.

The Mavericks never trailed and tied a franchise record with 22 3-pointers while sending Golden State to its worst loss since a 1973 playoff game.

The Warriors, who ended a seven-game losing streak by beating Memphis on Tuesday night, are an NBA-worst 3-13. Their five-year run of at the top of the NBA has collapsed under a weight of injuries, with Draymond Green out Wednesday because of right heel soreness.

With Green out, Golden State dressed only eight players, none of whom suited up for the team last season when it made the NBA Finals for the fifth consecutive year.

Eric Paschall led the Warriors with 22 points.

Tim Hardaway Jr. added 20 for Dallas. Kristaps Porzingis had 14 points and 10 rebounds for his fourth-straight double-double.

 

Bulls’ Otto Porter Jr out 2 weeks with bone bruise in foot

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CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Bulls say forward Otto Porter Jr. has a bone bruise in his left foot and will be reassessed in two weeks.

The Bulls say a second MRI on Tuesday revealed the bruise, something “not apparent” on the first MRI.

“He had a second scan, and something showed up that didn’t show up on the first scan,” Bulls coach Jim Boylen told NBC Sports Chicago. “That’s tough, tough for him, feel bad for him. But we’ll treat him and move on.”

Chandler Hutchison had been filling in Porter’s spot in the rotation, but he is out indefinitely now with sore shins.

Porter, averaging 11.2 points in nine games, has been sidelined since he sprained his left foot at Atlanta on Nov. 6.

The Bulls were 4-10 with three straight losses heading into Wednesday’s game against Detroit.