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Thunder vs Magic, final score: Oklahoma City ends two game losing streak, defeats Orlando 104-97

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Don't let this tough stretch get you down, Left Shark. I know a thing or two about bad dance moves too.
Don't let this tough stretch get you down, Left Shark. I know a thing or two about bad dance moves too.
W. Bennett Berry

Box Score | Orlando Pinstriped Post

The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Orlando Magic, 104-97. Snapping a two game losing streak, the Thunder offense finally put together two consecutive competent offensive quarters by scoring 61 points in the 1st half (but not quite the output from last game). However, it was not until the 3rd quarter when OKC put together their best stretch of the night on both ends, opening the quarter with a 9-0 run over the first 4 minutes of action which stretched their lead to 20 points. From there on out, it was simply a matter of keeping the Magic at arm's length and waiting out the clock.

The win gets the Thunder back to .500 on the season at 24-24 after a disastrous end to last week, which saw the OKC offense fall apart late in games in successive losses to the Knicks and Grizzlies.

The Thunder were led by Russell Westbrook, who finished with a triple-double, tallying 25 points, 14 assists, and 11 rebounds. He was aided by Dion Waiters, who finished his strongest (and most minutes played) game in several weeks, finishing with 24 points on 9-15 shooting.

The Magic were led by Victor Oladipo, who finished with 22 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists.

What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?

I can't believe I still have to write this statement, but here it is: the best thing about this win is that it wasn't a loss. The Thunder were aided greatly by the fact that they've actually played better at home amidst this abysmal stretch (7 wins at home, 14-7 overall) and despite being without Kevin Durant, their offense looked to be its most fluid in several weeks. In fact, this is the first time since the Wizards win that OKC has broken 100 on the night. That said, the Magic might be in worse free-fall now than the Thunder, as rumors abound that their head coach Jaqcue Vaughn may be fired by All-Star break.

Also, there is this, from the recap at Orlando Pinstriped Post:

Orlando's defense, which has been their biggest issue of late, looked better, forcing the Thunder into tough shots on many possessions.

Oh, if I only had the heart to tell you guys...

What was, overall, the main reason why the Thunder won?

It's sadly a redux of the win over the Timberwolves, but likely the overriding reason the Thunder won is because Orlando is playing terrible basketball, worse than OKC. As a result, the Thunder were not greatly hurt by the absence of Durant, who we hope is simply resting so that he's ready for two HUGE games against the Pelicans this week.

Let's at least try to accentuate the positives, measured though they may be:

  • Westbrook did a very good job especially in the 1st half in getting his teammates open looks. The Thunder have struggled in making any kind of shots with regularity, so for the team to accomplish this while scoring 61 is significant.
  • Anthony Morrow, OKC's 3-point specialist who has notably struggled all year long with consistency, regained some of his form tonight, hitting 3-3 from long range and finishing with 15. It cannot be underscored how important it is for the Thunder to spend a lot of time working to build an offense that features Morrow taking good shots.
  • Dion Waiters is still one dimensional, but at least that dimension showed up tonight. Recording a team-high 41 minutes, Waiters finished shooting a good percentage, hitting 9-14 shots, even hitting 3-5 in that dubious "long-2" range.
  • Mitch McGary sighting!
There were however some negatives:
  • If there is one thing that OKC has been able to hang their hats on this season, it is the fact that they're a great rebounding team. Best in the league, in fact. Tonight they got out-rebounded by the 28th best rebounding team, including 14 ORB's.
  • Reggie Jackson continued his baffling display of inertness, finishing with zero points on 0-4 shooting.
  • Andre Roberson was given plenty of room to play tonight, and it didn't really pay off on the offensive end. I'm going to throw out a crazy idea now. Ready? Move Waiters to the starting line-up. Yes, yes, I know. It's Waiters. This is the problem though - Roberson's offensive deficiencies needs no explanation, and Brooks isn't going to trust Morrow for heavy minutes the way he trusts Waiters (I have no idea why). So move Waiters to the starting 2-guard position and let him get open jumpers off of Durant and Westbrook instead of relying on his own creativity and forcing bad shots.

    Here's the real reason for my strategy - it puts the 2nd unit exclusively in the hands of Reggie Jackson, who likely needs the vote of confidence more than anyone. This Thunder team has been built on an imperfect premise of key individual players playing well every night, and Jackson is one of those key players. If he stays the way he is now, the bench is dead and OKC has no shot at anything. If they can re-invigorate Jackson by essentially telling him, "The 2nd unit is yours through the playoffs," it might be enough to get his mind right. If Jackson's mind is right and he returns to the way he played for much of last season, it turns the Thunder bench into something else entirely.
  • And if not Jackson, maybe the guys are ready to trust in Jeremy Lamb?

Check out this exchange between Russ and Lamb (h/t @BradenMerritt)

A video posted by Jon Hamm (@jon.hamm) on

Ok, maybe not.

Addendum:

All hail the Grizzlies, who came from behind to defeat the Suns, moving OKC within 2 games in the loss column to the 8th seed.

Meanwhile, thanks Atlanta, you had to see your 19 game winning streak snapped tonight by the Pelicans, of all teams.

***

Sherman's Awards

Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, 25 points, 14 assists, 11 rebounds, 4 steals, 1 block

Thunder Down Under: Steven Adams, 12 points, 4 rebounds

Thunder Blunder: Reggie Jackson, 0 points in 17 minutes

Thunder Plunderer: Victor Oladipo, 22 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists

***

Next game: @ New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday, Feb 4 at 7PM CDT