By Jay Betsill
The Oklahoma City Thunder were coming off convincing wins over Houston (106-98) and the Lakers (131-102) prior to welcoming the Dallas Mavericks to the Chesapeake Energy Arena for a Sunday evening affair. Dallas had not won in Oklahoma City since Jan. 2, 2012, so needless to say, the Mavs were due.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks has had guard Russell Westbrook on a minutes restriction since his return in February from knee surgery, and now he plans to keep the star from playing in some back-to-back situations. The first of these occasions occurred against the Mavs, with a road contest against the Chicago Bulls looming the next night.
Without Westbrook to help out, Kevin Durant scored 30 points for the Thunder. It was his 26th straight game of 25 points or more, the longest such streak since the Bulls’ Michael Jordan did it in 40 straight games during the 1986-87 season. The Thunder’s lack of defensive intensity proved to be their undoing. Durant’s offensive explosion went to waste with Dallas winning going away, 109-86 and in the process giving Oklahoma City its worst loss of the season.
“There is no excuse,” Durant said, refusing to blame the absence of Westbrook and fellow injured starters Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha . “We’ve got to figure it out. We’ve each got to do it. We’re pros. …We’ve got to act like we care. It will be all right. We’ve got another one tomorrow.”
Championship-caliber teams bounce back from bad losses and that is exactly what the Thunder did the next evening on the road, defeating the Bulls 97-85. Durant had 35 points and 12 rebounds which carried his streak of games with 25 or more points to 32. Westbrook added 17 points for the win.
“We took their hit, and that’s what the game’s all about,” Durant said. “There’s going to be a time when you’ve got things clicking. You’re up nine, we’d have pushed it up to 12, 15, but we didn’t find a way. But everybody stayed poised.”
Next up for the Thunder is two more sets of back-to-backs beginning with a road contest at Cleveland on Thurs. and Toronto on Friday. After that they have a home game on Monday against Denver before heading down to Dallas for a rematch with the Mavs on Tuesday night.
The Thunder currently sit in second place in the Western Conference, 1 1/2 games behind the red-hot San Antonio Spurs, who have won 13-of-14.