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Loud Links: 02|27|10

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Westbrook nears triple-double in Thunder victory -
Russell Westbrook's first season in the NBA was a trial by fire in trying to play a mostly new position at the highest level. And it showed.

As the Oklahoma City Thunder go through perhaps the league's most remarkable turnaround this season, none of their players embodies it more than their second-year point guard. Westbrook scored 18 points, matched his own franchise record with 15 assists and narrowly missed his second triple-double against the Minnesota Timberwolves in less than a week, and the Thunder cruised to a 109-92 victory Friday night.

"He's been like an MVP," said teammate Kevin Durant, who finished with 25 points. "A lot of people talk about me myself, but I think he's been the best player on our team, the guy that's the catalyst for our offense and defense. He's been keeping everybody involved and also making shots himself. He's putting a lot of pressure on the defense, man, and he's been playing phenomenal.

"A lot of people tend to overlook him because he's not one of the bigger-name point guards, but he's been playing just as good as any point guard." After leading the league in turnovers as a rookie last season, Westbrook has improved his assist-to-turnover ratio from 1.6 to 2.5 this season. With his second 15-assist game this season, he surpassed his assist total from all of last season -- in 25 fewer games. "Just learning. Just slowing down and making better passes and passing on time," Westbrook said. "Just trying to get as close to being perfect with the passes as I can."

Russell Westbrook leads the way in win over Minnesota |
The Thunder scored 17 points off 16 Wolves turnovers and raced to 21 fast-break points. It led to great efficiency in the form of 54.3 percent shooting from the field, 62 points in the paint and the fourth-highest point total of the season. "When we defend, it gives our athletes the opportunity to get out and score in transition," Brooks said. "And Russell, he does a great job of finding guys in transition."

Westbrook finished with 18 points, a career-high-tying 15 assists and eight rebounds, marking the ninth time this season he’s nearly netted a triple-double. Westbrook also helped hold the explosive Flynn in check, limiting him to 10 points and five assists against four turnovers. Behind Westbrook’s passing, the Thunder recorded a season-high in assists and, for the first time this season, had seven players in double-digit scoring. Kevin Durant led all players with 25 points while contributing nine rebounds.

Thunder notebook: Scoring in transition |
Serge Ibaka, who returned after sitting out one game with back spasms, scored a career-high 14 points, all in the second half. Ibaka was one of seven Thunder players to score in double figures, the first time that’s happened this season. "Serge has an amazing ability to score around the basket," Brooks said. "Those are not easy shots, the four- to six-foot shots. It’s a touch shot. He’s one of the best at making those. When he does miss it’s surprising. His hands are improving every day."

Kevin Durant honored by a special T-shirt designed by Chris "Drama" Pfaff - Page 2 - ESPN
He started his own music studio and production company and launched his own clothing line, called Young & Reckless. For Y&R's spring 2010 line, Drama designed an exclusive T-shirt in honor of NBA phenom Kevin Durant. Page 2 asked why. "

Dude is young and killing the game right now," Drama said. "I'm a big fan of young people doing big things. He was on my radar when he was at Texas, too. First freshman to win the Naismith Award. Big things!" Another KD, Kevin Delaney, introduced the pair. Delaney, the brand manager for Young & Reckless, is friends with the Oklahoma City Thunder's young phenom...

The shirts, available at the Young & Reckless Web site, come in traditional All-Star colors, blue and white. There's also a special, very limited run in the Oklahoma City Thunder's colors. How limited? Only 35 were made -- in honor of Durant's jersey number.

Wizards sign Shaun Livingston to 10-day contract | Dime Magazine
Just about anybody who followed Shaun Livingston when he came out of high school in 2004 has been rooting for him to make it. The injury-plagued former point guard phenom last played in the NBA with the Thunder, who waived him in December after what had been a solid showing in training camp.

Earlier today — in fact, three years to the day of his infamously horrific 2007 knee injury suffered during a Clippers/Bobcats game — the Wizards signed Livingston to a 10-day contract. Washington will technically be his fifth NBA team, following stints with the Clippers, Heat and OKC. (The Grizzlies cut him the same day they traded for him in 2009.) So far Livingston has played in 167 NBA games during his career, but has made only 22 appearances since that ‘07 knee injury. The new-look Wizards have been starting Randy Foye at point guard, with Earl Boykins backing him up. Nick Young and Mike Miller are splitting time at the two. The team became thinner on the perimeter earlier this week when Josh Howard went down for the rest of the season with a torn ACL.

Hoopsworld | NBA Courtside Blog
After the game, Brooks credited the Thunder's defense for the win. "It was a good win tonight. Active hands, everybody was in their defensive stance, we had five guys engage defensively." And Brooks gave a special shout-out to the development of Westbrook, saying: "He's a dynamic athlete that can go to the offensive boards, that can rebound, that can pass, attack the basket and get to the free throw line. He's not a traditional point guard, nor would I want him to be a tradtional point guard."

He spoke on the virtues of Westbrook's attack-mode, decision-making and plain ole' hard work. Wolves coach Kurt Rambis was candid about the Thunder's skills and how they are winning games. "They are very active and aggressive. This isn't the type of team that you're going to come into this environment and outscore. You're going to have to find ways to get stops and we weren't doing that." "They are one of the best teams in the league at recognizing transitions and exploding out of the gates and finish(ing) at the other end or they'll pop out and hit a long-range shot in transition," Rambis continued.

Brewer commented that that the crowd got into the game early, and once that happened, "it's hard to win." The crowd was indeed loud and proud and full of the female persuasion, as it was "Ladies Night" at the arena. Soon after the game ended, Jeff Green and D.J. White were holding court, laughing and answering questions to a large crowd of appreciative women.

NBA: Surprise teams have one thing in common - ESPN
A couple of days ago, another writer asked me a simple question. Do the surprise results of Atlanta and Oklahoma City, he wondered, make you rethink how you predict teams at the start of the season? Well, that got me thinking. We come up with all kinds of reasons for the success of surprise teams -- the young guys learned how to win, the star player stepped his game up another level, a new acquisition gave a much-needed boost, etc.

I don't mean to denigrate those factors, because for both Atlanta and Oklahoma City, they're very real. The Hawks and Thunder are young teams that learned how to play hard every night, stars like Kevin Durant and Josh Smith have stepped their games up this season, and new acquisitions (Thabo Sefolosha for Oklahoma City, Jamal Crawford for Atlanta) certainly have been helpful.

But there's another element to their success that people rarely consider: good health. Shockingly good, pristine health, actually. Look at four of this season's biggest surprise teams: the Thunder, Hawks, Rockets and Grizzlies. Now, do you know which NBA teams have the fewest missed games due to injuries among their top six players this season? Would you believe ... the Thunder, Hawks, Rockets and Grizzlies?