Feb 23, 2012; Oklahoma City OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) looks to pass the ball against Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant (24) during the first quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE
The Oklahoma City Thunder are the best in the West as the NBA goes to the break, and they pulled away from the L.A. Lakers in the second half to win, 100-85.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are good -- they're really, really good. With Thursday night's 100-85 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the final NBA game before the 2012 All-Star Weekend, the Thunder improved to 27-7, the best record in the Western Conference, and are tied with the Miami Heat for the best record in the NBA.
The Thunder won 55 games last season and advanced to the Western Conference Finals before losing to the eventual NBA champion Dallas Mavericks. Everyone knew they were young, intact and improving, and therefore they would be even better this season. But did anyone expect them to be this good? To lead the Western Conference from the first day of the season until the All-Star break (and most likely well beyond)? Their 27-7 record would equate to a 65-win season in a normal 82-game schedule. Did anyone think the Thunder would have a 10-game improvement over a terrific 55-win season last year? In a pretty good and deep conference, the Thunder would appear to be the one great team.
Thursday's win over the Lakers was really pretty unremarkable, which is actually kind of remarkable. We're definitely to the point where we expect Oklahoma City to "Beat L.A." After a close first half, five straight points in the final second (a Russell Westbrook three with 0.8 seconds left, followed by a lazy Andrew Bynum inbound pass stolen by Kevin Durant, who sank a short jumper) turned a two-point deficit into a three-point Thunder lead, and they never trailed again.
The Thunder generated easy points in transition, outscoring the Lakers 21-6 in fastbreak points (not coincidentally, identical to the final margin of victory). Oklahoma City also played solid defense all night, holding the Lakers under 39 percent from the field.
As you might expect, the Thunder were led in scoring by Kevin Durant with 33 points. Russell Westbrook added 19, and James Harden had 16 off the bench. Serge Ibaka had a double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds. That quartet right there is why Oklahoma City is so good -- there may not be a more talented foursome in the league. The scary thing is that each of the four is under the age of 24. Wow.
For the Lakers, their big three managed to score some points, but not always very efficiently. Kobe Bryant (24), Pau Gasol (22) and Andrew Bynum (14) scored 60 of the Lakers 85 -- but it took Kobe 24 shots to get 24 points, and it took Bynum 15 shots to get 14 points. If you take away Gasol's solid 9 for 14 effort, the rest of the Lakers made less than a third of their shots.
In addition to being tied for the best overall record, Oklahoma City also has the best home record in the league, improving to 15-1. A day after getting a big road win in Dallas, the Lakers reverted to struggling on the road, dropping to 6-12 away from home (20-14 overall). But then again, who would expect the Lakers to beat the Thunder?