Three Things to Know: Thunder win third straight, are they figuring it out?

Associated Press
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Thunder come from behind to win third straight, are they turning a corner?
This was the kind of game playoff teams — and teams that believe they are top four seed in the West — win. Put more directly, it was the kind of game the Thunder should win. Oklahoma City was rested, and while Utah had won six straight it was coming in on the second night of a back-to-back. The Jazz play as a unit and get as much out of their roster as coach Quin Snyder can squeeze, but the Thunder have way more talent.

Yet at the end of three quarters, Utah was up by 12.

This is the kind of game the Thunder have lost all season but not on Tuesday, coming back to win 100-94. What turned it around for OKC was elite defense and Russell Westbrook — a combination the Thunder can ride into the playoffs. Maybe deep into the playoffs.

The Jazz scored 12 points on 30 percent shooting in the fourth, going 1-of-8 from three. Part of that was tired legs on the back-to-back — Joe Ingles has been nailing threes all night, and suddenly his shots were short and hitting the front rim — but part of it was a more aggressive Thunder defense. OKC had been on its heels in the first half (in part due to a lot of turnovers) but now was pressuring Jazz shooters and taking away easy buckets.

Westbrook had dominated the third quarter and finished the night with his seventh triple-double of the season — 34 points, 13 rebounds, 14 assists — but in the fourth he got help from his fellow stars and deferred to them. Carmelo Anthony entered the fourth shooting 2-of-13 but hit 4-of-6 in that final frame, while George hit 3-of-4 and found his rhythm in the quarter. Steven Adams was a beast in the paint all night and finished with 20 points and six offensive rebounds, and he outplayed Rudy Gobert (who was back but clearly not yet himself again) down the stretch.

This is three straight wins in close games for the Thunder. We can pick those games apart — Minnesota doesn’t play defense, San Antonio was without Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, and Utah was on a back-to-back — these are the kinds of games the Thunder were not winning before. It feels like this team is starting to turn the corner into becoming what we expected of them, and with a fairly soft schedule coming up they can build on these wins at home and turn their season around.

They have found a combination that works — defense and Westbrook. Now they just have to bring it nightly, and play better down the stretch, like they did against the Jazz.

2) Stephen Curry out for a couple of weeks with a sprained ankle. When it happened, it was the kind of injury that made everyone wince — it was nasty. Curry stepped on the foot of E'Twaun Moore while going for a steal and… ouch

The good news is the X-rays and MRI showed no structural damage, but his ankle is so swollen that he is going to miss some time.

Golden State is the one team in the NBA that can lose a recent MVP and keep on winning — more Kevin Durant with the ball is a good thing. Shaun Livingston will sub in nicely (with Patrick McCaw behind him). The Warriors just can’t coast like they have been doing — not playing hard got them into overtime against the Lakers, down 20 at the half against the Pelicans — but a focused Warriors team is going to keep winning, Curry or no.

 

3) Bradley Beal dropped career-high 51 points on Portland. The Trail Blazers, surprisingly, have been one of the NBA’s better defensive teams all season, fourth best in the NBA allowing just 100.8 points per 100 possessions.

But Tuesday night they had no answer for Bradley Beal.

The Wizards two guard, playing at an All-Star level all season, scored 51 points on 21-of-37 shooting, doing a lot of his damage getting to the rim (6-of-9 there) and from the midrange where he was 8-of-12. Beal put on a show, and a Wizards team that has not played hard and respected every opponent this season did so on the road in Portland and got the 106-92 win.