Originally Published: Jan 18, 2010 7:48 PM CDT
Oklahoma Sports Staff Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma City officially reached the halfway point in the season after its game against the Hawks.
With its win over Atlanta, the Thunder notched its 23rd win of the season, its most in the previous two seasons – one as the Seattle Supersonics. If Oklahoma City continues its pace of 23 wins in the second half of the season, it will win more games than the previous two seasons combined.
As it stands right now, the Thunder is sitting primed to make its first playoff appearance since winning the division as the Supersonics in 2004-2005 season, Kevin Durant’s junior year in high school. They are seventh in the western conference, sitting eight and a half games behind the Lakers.
Despite the vast improvement over its previous history, Oklahoma City still can improve on its first half performance.
The Thunder is only 8-14 against Western Conference opponents and 2-2 against Northwest Division foes. Oklahoma City is the second youngest team in the NBA, and despite outstanding play from the young stars of the team, has showed its age.
Recent losses to Dallas, San Antonio and New Orleans serve as examples of how the Thunder was unable to close out an opponent, and blew a lead late in the game. If Oklahoma City hadn’t lost those three games, it would be at 26-15 on the season and sitting third in the Western Conference behind Denver and Los Angeles.
Durant’s performance this season has continued to improve, and the third-year man out of Texas has seen his star continue to rise. He is averaging 29.1 points per game, third in the league, and only nine-tenths of a point behind league leading Carmelo Anthony. Durant has had 22 games this season with 30 or more points, including three 40 point performances in the first 41 games. So far this season, he has scored 1,165 points and is on pace to set a franchise record for points, 2,253 set by Dale Ellis during the 1988-1989 season.
But it hasn’t been all good for the young superstar. There have been games this season where Durant’s shots weren’t falling yet he continued to force them and it cost the team. On seven different occasions this season, he has shot less than 40 percent, including an abysmal 3-20 against Portland early in the year.
The knock on Oklahoma City in previous seasons is that the supporting cast for Durant’s leading role wasn’t strong enough.
The same cannot be said this season.
Second-year point guard Russell Westbrook has blossomed into a scoring threat, and a threat to help his teammates score. Westbrook is averaging 16.3 points per game, while dishing out 7.4 per game, which ranks eighth in the league. If he can limit his turnovers in the second half of the season, Oklahoma City will continue to get better.
Jeff Green continues to be a matchup nightmare, his own unique blend of size and speed that allows him to blow by larger forwards and physically dominate smaller forwards. The third-year man out of Georgetown is averaging 14 points per game and 5.9 rebounds per game, and has recorded seven double-doubles this season.
The biggest surprise this season has been the exceptional play of rookie James Harden, who is averaging 9.8 points per game, sixth among rookies. The five players in front of him are starters for their respective teams. Harden has three games this season with 20 or more points, while averaging 10.4 points per game in the months of December and January.
Oklahoma City kicks off the second half of the season against the Minnesota Timberwolves (9-33) Jan. 20 in Minneapolis.
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