Thunder tops 76ers, prepares for tough stretch
BY BILL HAISTEN World Sports Writer
Saturday, January 05, 2013
1/05/13 at 8:45 AM
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OKLAHOMA CITY - Through the first 32 dates of the 82-game season, the Oklahoma City Thunder is 25-7 and has the NBA's best record.
Considering the composition of the schedule thus far, the Thunder probably should have the NBA's best record.
Oklahoma City already has played 20 home games. The schedule is about to become considerably more difficult, as the Thunder plays 11 of its next 13 away from home.
After visiting Toronto on Sunday and Washington on Monday, the Thunder can look ahead to a pair of road games against the Los Angeles Lakers (Jan. 11 and Jan. 27), a date at always difficult Denver (Jan. 20) and road collisions with the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors on consecutive nights (Jan. 22-23).
"The season is only going to get more intense," said OKC guard Kevin Martin, who scored 16 points as the Thunder defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 109-85 on Friday. Looking as much like a pugilist as a point guard, Russell Westbrook contributed 27 points to the Oklahoma City victory.
With eight stitches near his right eye (after having sustained a gash during Monday's win over Phoenix), Westbrook played in his 344th consecutive regular-season game - the NBA's longest such streak for an active player.
Westbrook, Kevin Durant said, is "making this car roll. He's doing a great job for us."
Durant had 26 points against the Sixers, and OKC improved to 17-3 in its home gym. Westbrook and Durant were a combined 18-of-32 from the field as the Thunder shot extremely well - 52 percent overall, 10-of-17 on 3-pointers and 21-of-27 on free throws. Serge Ibaka finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
"(Ibaka) is playing with a lot of confidence," Durant said. "We expect it from him. When he has a double-double (double-figure totals in scoring and rebounding), it's not breaking news. A double-double is normal for him now."
Stung by a Wednesday home setback (110-93 against the Brooklyn Nets), Oklahoma City was ragged during the first half against Philadelphia. There were 14 lead changes before OKC took a 46-42 advantage to the halftime locker room.
By the midway mark of the third period, the Thunder led by only three points. By the 8:44 mark of the fourth quarter - after OKC got consecutive baskets from Reggie Jackson, Nick Collison and Durant, followed by a Martin 3-pointer - the Thunder led by 19 points.
Friday's game was yet another testament to the Thunder's popularity. At the same time that the Oklahoma Sooners played an extremely compelling, nationally televised Cotton Bowl Classic football game against Texas A&M, a capacity crowd of 18,203 watched the Thunder play basketball.
Including playoff contests, Oklahoma City has a streak of 85 consecutive sellouts.
The Thunder has played only 12 road games - fewer than any other NBA team. Perhaps it was beneficial for the schedule to have been front-loaded with home games, considering that OKC was adjusting to a new sixth man (Martin) and the establishment of a new rotation that includes extended minutes for Jackson - instead of Eric Maynor - in the backup point guard role.
"Whether we're at home or not at home, we've got to be the same team," Thunder guard Thoabo Sefolosha said. "You just have to make the most of it. Bond with your teammates on the road."
From Jan. 18 through 27, Oklahoma City plays six consecutive road games - all against Western Conference opponents.
The 2012-13 Thunder schedule has been front-loaded with home
dates. Of the team’s first 32 games, 20 have been played at Oklahoma
City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Thunder now enters a difficult
stretch of road games. Starting with Sunday’s noon contest at Toronto,
11 of OKC’s next 13 games are played away from home. “It gives us a
chance to bond as a team,” Thunder guard Kevin Martin said.
The Thunder plays three games in Los Angeles — against the Lakers
next Friday and again on Jan. 27, and against the potent Clippers
on Jan. 22:
Sunday: at Toronto, noon, FSOK-27.
Monday: at Washington, 6 p.m., FSOK-27.
Wednesday: Minnesota, 7 p.m., FSOK-27.
Friday: at Los Angeles Lakers, 9:30 p.m., FSOK-27, ESPN-25.
Sunday, Jan. 13: at Portland, 8 p.m., FSOK-27.
Monday, Jan. 14: at Phoenix, 8 p.m., FSOK-27.
Wednesday, Jan. 16: Denver, 7 p.m., FSOK-27.
Friday, Jan. 18: at Dallas, 8:30 p.m., FSOK-27, ESPN-25.
Sunday, Jan. 20: at Denver, 7 p.m., FSOK-27.
Tuesday, Jan. 22: at Los Angeles Clippers, 9:30 p.m., FSOK-27.
Wednesday, Jan. 23: at Golden State, 9:30 p.m., NBATV-256.
Friday, Jan. 25: at Sacramento, 9 p.m., FSOK-27.
Sunday, Jan. 27: at Los Angeles Lakers, 2:30 p.m., KTUL-8
— BILL HAISTEN, World Sports Writer
Thunder 109, 76ers 85
Thunder up next
At Toronto Noon Sunday
TV: FSOK-27 Radio: KYAL fm97.1
Original Print Headline: Thunder heading into tough stretch
Bill Haisten 918-581-8397
Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant reaches for the ball in front of Philadelphia guard Jason Richardson during Friday's game in Oklahoma City. SUE OGROCKI/Associated Press