Thunder experiencing technical difficulty

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook is known as a relentless competitor.
The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard doesn’t want to lose basketball games or a game of ping pong and will fight just as hard in both.
That competitive demeanor has put Westbrook in position to be on the verge of averaging a triple-double for the season. However, that same fiery attitude has led him to seek out battles with referees during games when he feels he has been wronged.
Entering Saturday’s contest with the Los Angeles Clippers, Westbrook leads the NBA with 10 technical fouls. He received two of them Thursday night in a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. That led to an automatic ejection from the game and a frustrated player.
“Honestly, I don’t know, man. Honestly, it’s crazy to be ejected like that, especially when I didn’t do nothing,” Westbrook told ESPN.com. “It’s just crazy, man. Especially for me, because I feel like I don’t get the benefit of the doubt most of the time, especially throughout the game with refs.”
In Westbrook’s estimation, he is being treating differently than other players in the NBA of his caliber when it comes to talking with of officials during games.
“I get so many techs just for talking,” Westbrook said. “I can’t even say nothing when I’m getting hammered every time I go to the damn basket throughout the games and previous games. Not tonight, but every night. I just don’t get reffed the same way as other people, and I don’t appreciate it.”
The Clippers have had their own run-ins with refs this season. Coach Doc Rivers had to be led off the court early this season after being ejected from a game.
Then Friday night in Houston, guard Austin Rivers was tossed from the game after bumping into a referee following a layup. Coach Rivers soon joined his son in the locker room when he was ejected after getting two technicals.
The Clippers come into Saturday’s contest having lost five straight games, including Friday’s 140-116 setback to the Houston Rockets.
Already playing without the injured Blake Griffin, the Clippers have also had to compete without point guard Chris Paul during four of their last five outings. After missing three straight games, he scored 21 points in a loss to New Orleans Tuesday. Paul then sat out the game against Houston for precautionary reasons.
According to Los Angeles coach Rivers, Paul could be back in the lineup Saturday in Oklahoma City.
“He may play,” Rivers told mysanantonio.com. “We’re just going to be very cautious with it. He didn’t reinjure it or anything like that, but he did feel some fatigue, and that’s enough. If it were a playoff game, he would play. But if there’s fatigue, then that means to me more rest, and that’s the route we’re going.”
Whether Paul plays or not, the Clippers will have their hands full with a Thunder squad that historically plays some of their best ball at home on New Year’s Eve. In the eight consecutive seasons Oklahoma City has hosted a game on the final day of the year, the team has racked up a 7-1 record

Game is just fun for Westbrook, Thunder

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – The numbers Russell Westrbook has been putting up this year have caught the NBA by storm. Almost every night out he is being mentioned with the likes of Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan as far as records being broken.

But it wasn’t the statistics that stood out Sunday evening when Oklahoma City hosted Minnesota as part of the leagues Christmas slate. It was the seemingly pure joy the fiery point guard played with as the Thunder ran away with a 112-100 victory at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“I just go out and have fun,” Westbrook said. “I don’t know if it’s the most fun I’ve ever had but it’s definitely at the top because of the group of guys we have. Everybody is so unselfish. Everybody is willing to do great thing. Everybody is willing to get better. We’re young and blessed to be able to play this game. You can’t do nothing but have fun.”

Westbrook had 32 points on 11 of 25 shooting to go with 15 assists and seven rebounds as the Thunder improved to 19-12 this season and 5-2 on Christmas Day.

Center Steven Adams added 22 points and Enes Kanter came off the bench to drop 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the floor.

Karl Anthony Towns paced the Timberwolves with 26 points and eight rebounds. Andrew Wiggins scored 23 points and Zach LaVine added 16 as Minnesota dropped to 9-21.

We did everything we could to play them as well as possible,” LaVine said. “We had some mental absences that lost us the game.”

The Timberwolves’ young superstars set the tone early in the game. Wiggins and Towns combined for 16 first-quarter points and showed no signs of being intimidated by playing on Christmas for the first time, leading Minnesota to a 27-23 advantage.

The big men spurred the comeback for the Thunder. Kanter came off the bench and posted 10 quick points. Joffrey Lauvergne and Adams also came alive in the second quarter to help keep the Thunder close.

But Westbrook erupted late in the half to push the Thunder ahead 57-53 at halftime.

Adams and Westbrook continued their two-man game game in the third quarter, with Adams rolling to the basket and bullying through Towns and Gorgui Deng for dunks.

The fight and tenacity the Timberwolves played with in the first half was absent in the second half and Oklahoma City’s stayed on the attack.

LaVine came to life in the second half and kept Minnesota within striking distance going into the fourth quarter. However, the Timberwolves were unable to get LaVine, Wiggins and Towns going at the same time.

Donovan credited the second half defense of Adams to slowing down Towns.

“Steven got a couple of fouls there in the first half, but in the second half. I thought in the second half he did a really good job,” Donovan said. “He was physical when Towns was coming from the perimeter to the low post. He kept his hands up and tried to make him take tough shots.”

The Thunder pulled away in the fourth quarter and never looked back.

Westbrook got the Oklahoma City fast break rolling and it led to dunks by Jerami Grant and easy layups from the rest of the team. After each play Westbrook gave his teammates high-fives or yelled and got the crowd pumped up.

The thing about, he just loves to play,” Donovan said. “He loves to play. He should enjoy playing because he plays the game so hard and so passionately on every single possession. It’s good to see him enjoy how hard he plays. A lot of people look at the numbers, but I just don’t think the numbers describe who he is.”

Timberwolves Coach Tom Thibodeau pulled his starters with just under four minutes left in the game.

I thought we played fairly well in the first half,” Thibodeau said. “Then in the third quarter, we knew Russell would come out and be very aggressive. The thing is you are not going to be able to stop him. You just have to make him work. I thought we did a good job of making him play in a crowd, but in the second half, we were a step behind. That hurt us.”

Thunder, T-Wolves gearing up for Christmas matchup

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — Christmas is one of the most important days on the NBA calendar. In fact, an argument can be made that it is at the top of the list as the league showcases many of its top teams.

So the fact the Minnesota Timberwolves landed a spot on the Christmas slate a season after racking up a 29-53 record is a testament to the level the Timberwolves were expected to reach this season.
The Timberwolves visit MVP candidate Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the fourth of five Christmas Day games at Chesapeake Energy Arena
In the first 29 games this season, Minnesota has struggled to reach its projected potential. That includes a 109-105 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Friday. The defeat didn’t put first year coach Tom Thibodeau in the holiday spirit.
“It’s all about winning. I really want to look at the film. I didn’t think anyone played well,” Thibodeau said, via NBA.com. “Someone is going to score in a game, but did you make winning plays. Did you make winning plays defensively, did you make winning plays offensively.”
With a 9-20 record, the answer to the questions on most nights is no.
The Timberwolves do have young talent that has been playing well individually. Karl-Anthony Towns is averaging 22 points and 11.4 rebounds per game while Andrew Wiggins is averaging 21 points on 43 percent shooting from the field.
Despite that, Thibodeau is trying to teach his team to win consistently in the NBA.
“There’s stretches where we play well defensively. And you have to play well on both ends,” Thibodeau said. “It’s too hard to win in this league. Until we understand that, it’s going to be up and down. We got to correct that.”
The Timberwolves are facing a team with a proven closer. Oklahoma City’s Westbrook used to share closing duties with Kevin Durant, but this season he has been doing it on his own for the most part.
That was the case Friday when the Thunder (18-12) held on to beat the Boston Celtics 117-112 on the road behind 46 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists from Westbrook. It was his 14th triple double of the season and third straight game scoring more than 40 points.
“It’s important for me to know how to close games,” Westbrook said. “I watch film and figure out the best way to close games for my team. Tonight was a night where some shots fell and we got the shots we wanted.”
Westbrook leads the NBA in scoring (31.8) and is second in assists (10.8). Of his 51 career triple doubles, six have come when he has poured in at least 40 points. Only Oscar Robertson (22) and Wilt Chamberlain (7) have more.
The numbers Westbrook continues to put up this season have surprised many. Just not Westbrook himself.
“Why not?” Westbrook said. “That’s my motto. That’s what I stand by. That’s what I believe in. Just continue to tell yourself ‘Why not?’ Continue to strive and make the right play to help your team win.

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