Kings Blog

NBA beat: With stars back, Thunder has Western foes worried

Kevin Durant greets Russell Westbrook as he returns to the bench during the Thunder’s win over Phoenix in Oklahoma City last Sunday.
Kevin Durant greets Russell Westbrook as he returns to the bench during the Thunder’s win over Phoenix in Oklahoma City last Sunday. AP

As the injuries piled up, Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks couldn’t throw himself a pity party.

The rugged Western Conference wouldn’t feel sorry for the Thunder being without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, among others.

Nor would the organization rush Durant back from his foot injury or Westbrook from a hand injury.

In a situation primed for chaos, there was calm.

“We trust in what we do and we trust in who we are as players,” Durant said. “So, no, never, no panic or worry for us.”

That worry should be reserved for the rest of the West, as the Thunder is looking like a title contender again, even with a 13-14 record.

The Thunder has won nine of its last 10 games, including a Westbrook-led win over the Los Angeles Lakers Friday night while Durant nursed a bad ankle.

Brooks said the consistency of the healthy players until Durant and Westbrook returned was key in keeping the team together.

“I know we’ve had a lot of injuries early on,” Brooks said. “We didn’t use it as an excuse. Some of our best players were out, but we focused on the little things everyday. And then we really locked up defensively. It gave us a chance.”

Since he returned on Nov. 28, Westbrook has played at an MVP level. He’s averaging 27.2 points, 7.2 assists and 5.5 rebounds, and the Thunder is 10-2 since his return.

Durant was back in the lineup two games later.

There’s already talk of which unlucky top-seeded team in the West will draw the Thunder, which is ninth and climbing in the conference standings.

Brooks isn’t watching the standings closely yet.

“There’s so many games left and there’s a lot of basketball to be played,” Brooks said. “Everybody has to focus on what they do, and all we do is focus on each game and the next one that comes after that.”

Trending up

March 10, 2013, was rough on Brandon Knight. The then-Detroit Piston was on the wrong end of Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan’s highlight dunk.

While Jordan was lauded, Knight hit the floor and was on his back – as if he was waiting for a flying elbow to drop from the top turnbuckle in a wrestling ring.

Knight has figuratively picked himself up since that night, and has become a key part of the improved Milwaukee Bucks. The fourth-year guard is averaging 17.9 points and 5.4 assists for the Bucks. His assists and 39.5 percent shooting from three-point range are on pace for career highs.

It’s the kind of play that will make Knight more than a footnote in a nasty Jordan highlight.

Trending down

The Phoenix Suns hoped that adding Isaiah Thomas to their duo of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic would be a key to making the Suns a playoff team.

All three have seen their production dip from last season, which was expected. But the 14-14 record the Suns have after winning at New York on Saturday is a disappointment for a franchise that is trying to become one of the top-eight teams in the West.

The Suns have lost six of their last 10 and are just 6-7 at home.

Last words

“That was nasty, right? I cocked that joint back and banged on him.” – Toronto forward James Johnson on his dunk on Detroit center Andre Drummond on Friday night. Drummond liked it so much he caught Johnson with an elbow on his next drive to the rim, sparking a skirmish between the teams.

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