It doesn't happen very often that a team can go 1-6 under a new coach and you still think, "Boy, they sure are a lot better under this new guy." Clearly, you have to be pretty bad in the first place (and Oklahoma City was) but the improvement under Coach Scott Brooks is obvious.
I know, I know. Another loss for OKC (2-18) tonight in Orlando (15-5), 98-89 to the Magic, dropping the Thunder to a dismal 2-18, but considering the way the first matchup went, this team is different. Completely, 100 percent, totally, different.
The most OKC trailed by tonight was 11 (compare that to the first meeting where the Thunder trailed by as much as 32). The spread was consistently four to eight all night. When you stay close like that, you're going to get some wins. With the way this group is playing under Brooks, there's no way they only win nine games.
The Thunder did some things very well to stay in the game, but also did some things very poorly that cost them.
1. Forced turnovers - Oklahoma City forced 16 Orlando turns, and cashed those in for 16 points.
2. Did much better against Dwight Howard - Howard still got 21 points and 23 rebounds, but he wasn't nearly the same force he was a month ago at the Ford Center.
3. Russell Westbrook - A complete line tonight for Westbrook: 19 points, nine boards and five assists. He also ripped two steals and I counted, got his hands on the ball eight times defensively tonight (tips, pokes, steals, etc.).
4. Johan Petro - We had a a Johan sighting and he played excellent. 15 points in 19 minutes on 7-9 shooting. Nice work off the bench.
1. Free throws (again) - OKC went 14-21 from the line (66.7 percent). When you're not a good team, you just absolutely cannot give away free points.
2. 16 turnovers - And most of those coming in the second half. Down the stretch there were multiple bad decisions and forced passes.
3. Perimeter defense - The Magic started the game 1-8 from the three-point line, but after that went 12-19. It seemed like the Thunder wasn't getting the hint: Hey, Orlando hits threes. Cover them. Like, get on Keith Bogans. He wants to shoot that.
THE SORT-OF BAD
1. Kevin Durant and Jeff Green - Durant had 16 and shot the ball poorly (5-18), but played solid defense and grabbed 10 boards. Green just never really could shake free and had just nine on only seven shots, but did a nice job on the glass and helping on Howard.
Other than the game itself, I can't help but wonder what's going on with Nick Collison. Last year he averaged 28.5 minutes a game but tonight he saw just four. Against the Bobcats, he had six. He's been completely unproductive this year, so I understand the slash in minutes, but why? Why isn't he playing better? Last season he busted his butt and averaged nearly 10 and 10. Now he's seeing under five minutes a game. Is he disgruntled? Hurt? What's the deal?
Two other things I have to say:
A. Brian Davis makes me hurt. I just can't help it anymore. He's trying so hard, he just overdoes it. First of all, there's no way that is his normal voice. There is no way that when he's blessing a meal or asking for a napkin that he talks in the forced, pretend, announcer voice. Well, it may be his normal voice now, since he's probably trained himself to talk like that, but he seriously sounds like when you or your friends act like an announcer with that thing. Second, enough with saying "Wow." when anything happens. If ANYTHING of note happens that unusual or cool, all he says is "Wow." Bogans hit another three late and he just said, "Wow." The ball got stuck between the glass and the rim and he just said, "Wow." And on top of that, don't say "triggers" every single time someone shoots a jumper. Mix it up. I swear there were four straight jump shots he said, "Durant triggers," "Nelson triggers," "Green triggers," "Nelson triggers." I know it's a catchy, fun and different way to say "shoots" but just mix it up. I appreciate the effort Brian. You're doing your best. I definitely enjoy your upbeatness or upbeatability or whatever you want to call it about the team - but just tone it down a little.
B. I cannot look at Scott Brooks without having a quick, five-second mental debate of "Does he look more like Michael J. Fox or Eric Murphy from Entourage?" You be the judge. I think I'm settling on E.
I'm glad I got those things off my chest. Again, solid effort tonight. I love the way the team is playing under Coach Scotty. Improvement is happening and the effort it better. I think Brooks is making a pretty darn good case to get that "interim" label dropped.
One more game in Florida as OKC takes on the Heat (10-9) tomorrow in Miami - at roughly the same time as the Big 12 championship. I like DVR.