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Loud Links: 01|25|10

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Finding good looks for Kevin Durant - TrueHoop Blog - ESPN
For all of Durant's uptick in efficiency (a PER of 24.58, vs. 20.85 last season), the Thunder have been winning basketball games this season on the strength of their defense, and we saw Oklahoma City make some gritty stands down the stretch. There's a reason it took some huge shot-making by Daniel Gibson for the Cavs to put Oklahoma City away at the Q -- the Thunder clogged the middle, as they've been doing all season.

But just as we're not hearing enough about Oklahoma City's defense amidst the celebratory praise of everyone's favorite youth movement, there's not much discussion of this:

The Thunder have trouble scoring points.

In fact, only nine teams in the League have more trouble.

While that's a marked improvement from last season, when only the Clippers were worse than the Thunder in offensive efficiency, it's a little bit of a head-scratcher for a team blessed with a matchup nightmare like Durant.

Saturday night during the tight fourth quarter, we got a glimpse of the Thunder's struggles when they went more than five minutes without draining a shot from the field. There's a particularly ghastly stretch of seven possessions over which Oklahoma City generated only a single point on a Durant free throw.

What happened to the Thunder in those moments? Was Durant not finding shots he likes? Was it something akin to what the Lakers or Cavs experience at times when the other four guys on the floor stand around watching Bryant or James? Was Durant forcing the issue? Not forcing it enough?

A Midseason Look At The Western Conference
The feel good story of the year has to be the Oklahoma City Thunder, and they begin and end with Kevin Durant. Durant is having a breakout season, and should make his first All Star game this season. He is averaging 29.3 points a game, which is third in the league. Head Coach Scott Brooks is doing a great job of developing young players like Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green. The Thunder have young trio of talent, and if they make the playoffs can definitely give any team a run for their money.

As crazy as this sounds, the Thunder are a team the Spurs should be weary of come playoff time. Durant gives the Spurs lots of matchup problems and the Thunder are ranked fifth in defensive efficiency. However, their youth and inexperience will be their undoing if they make playoffs.

PBN | Thunder lessons
With young stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook leading the way, the Oklahoma City Thunder has blossomed into one of the NBA's most exciting teams. The Thunder also might be the most unlikely playoff contender in the league, already topping its win total from last season with 38 games to play. But if Oklahoma City is to advance to the postseason, it must learn how to play better at crunch time.

The Thunder's last four losses have come by a total of five points, including its most recent matchup -- a 100-99 defeat in Cleveland on Saturday night. "All of our losses these last couple of weeks have been under two or three points, and that's tough," Durant said after the Cavaliers' one-point triumph. "That's tough, man. We're just trying to get over that hump. "We put ourselves in position to win, and (teams) make more plays than we do. That's the game."

At 24-20, Oklahoma City is part of an eight-team scrum in the Western Conference. Portland leads the group and is in the fourth playoff position, while New Orleans sits 11th, but is only three games behind the Trail Blazers. The Thunder, meanwhile, ended its four-game eastern trip just one game out of the eighth and final postseason spot currently held by Houston.

"I have a group of guys that I am so proud of their toughness," said Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks, whose team is 4-7 in one-possession games. "It is tough to lose the four games we've lost by five points, but they keep coming back. I don't even know if they know what they're going through because it's a special group of guys who just love to compete for each other."

NORMAN CHAD | A few observations at the NBA's midpoint |
Kevin Durant is the best player you'll never see (unless you never see that online poker pro from Sweden who wins, like, $3 million a day). When I have grazed upon NBA-TV on occasion, I've stumbled on an Oklahoma City Thunder game. I don't even know where Oklahoma City is -- I assume it's in Oklahoma; maybe Kansas -- and can't imagine anyone playing basketball in Oklahoma City.

But, boy oh boy, does this Kevin Durant got game. He's averaging 29.3 points (third in the league) and 7.3 rebounds. He is very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very smooth. I suspect he's already among the NBA's top 10 players -- maybe even in the top five -- and one day the 6-foot-9 forward could be the best in the league. By the way, since when does the NBA have a team in Oklahoma City? I thought only the NHL did stuff like that.

Thunder back to practice and ready to roll
"We just want to continue to improve," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks after the session. "Our guys continue to understand the defense better and they're growing with it." And it has shown, after being at the bottom of most all defensive stats last season, OKC is near the top this year. "We have to make the second effort on plays, sometimes on defense that second effort is even more important than the first," said forward Jeff Green. Green has seen his offensive numbers go down this year but his defense has improved. "We're a better team when Jeff rebounds the ball," said Brooks. We have a lot of coachable guys on this team who understand what the team needs and they do it."

Which Teams Should Bid on Amar'e Stoudemire? -- NBA FanHouse
Oklahoma City could very well bid for Stoudemire this summer, but gaining home-court advantage by trading for him now could prove beneficial if teams like the Knicks and Nets press for him come July. (There's also the possibility Amar'e agrees to a cheaper extension now than he'd get this summer.) The interest in Amar'e would come from the completely single-faceted offense Oklahoma City has. Among all rotation players, two score at efficiency levels above league average: megalith Kevin Durant and back-up big man Nick Collison. That means that no matter how electric Durantula has been, the Thunder still boast only the No. 20 offense in the league. Amar'e would help that, not by taking possessions away from Durant, but by lessening the load on Russell Westbrook (who uses about 17 shooting possessions a game, getting 16 points out of them -- awful) and Jeff Green (14 points in 14 possessions). OKC also represents one of the few teams in the league in which Amar'e would be a rebounding upgrade ... at center! (Nenad Krstic, you have been dismissed.) The Thunder have a bounty of assets ... including Phoenix's unrestricted first round pick for this June's draft.