It’s Feast week in college basketball, but the NBA does some cooking too. The league is not coming to the table empty-handed in a week where football commands the largest presence on Thanksgiving Day.
The league takes the night off, but passive-aggressively sneaks in its licks and decided to make sure to become a subject of conversation on Thursday morning.
It’s not a coincidence Kevin Durant is returning to Oklahoma City for a second-year helping of boos on Wednesday night. He’ll be back for the first time as a champion, but in an unfortunate development, may not play since he sat out Sunday’s game with an ankle tweak. Hopefully, he wakes up that morning ready to participate, because that’s what everyone wants to see. Whether he plays or not, Golden State will be a favorite against a Thunder team that has really struggled thus far, entering the week under .500 following a painful weekend loss.
The Thunder have shown signs of getting it together lately and would’ve taken a four-game winning streak into New Orleans had they not blown a 23-point lead in San Antonio on Friday night, continuing a disturbing trend that has plagued new-look OKC over the first full month of action. They’re blowing double-digit leads and haven’t discovered how to play together just yet, relying on the very basic premise of isolating and riding the hot hand.
Russell Westbrook was the culprit in the Spurs loss, struggling to finish shots he typically makes in his sleep down the stretch. Paul George also missed multiple easy looks and failed to grab a key rebound on the defensive end in the 104-101 loss to the Spurs. Combined, Westbrook and George shot 10-for-38 and were brutal down the stretch.
Carmelo Anthony scored a team-high 20 points but probably feels he didn’t get the ball enough in the second half to keep the game from tightening back up in the first place. None said much to reporters about the brutal loss after the game, but among one another, need to continue to communicate and grow because that Friday night setback is the type that can linger if not addressed.
The Warriors have to be licking their lips coming into town to feast on cupcake references and tears, so even if Durant doesn’t play, they’ll be favored by multiple possessions given what we’ve seen out of Oklahoma City thus far. The next meeting won’t be until April 3, and if it matters and the Thunder have played well enough to be in position for a top-four seed out West, then I’d entertain making this closer to a pick’em. Until then, they’re a team still meddling, alternating between wins and losses like the majority of the league.
Westbrook isn’t playing like an MVP just yet, because it isn’t easy to cater, just mandatory in today’s NBA climate. The Thunder don’t have their house in order just yet, but at least got center Steven Adams back after a three-game absence due to a calf issue. They went 3-0 without him, but still miss his presence clogging up the paint and rebounding.
Another potential contender trying to figure things out is New Orleans, which faces a big week as they attempt to start learning how to win consistently. Thus far, the individual performances have surfaced, but as a group, it’s still a guessing game whether they’ll have enough to compete from night-to-night.
Despite DeMarcus Cousins joining Shaquille O’Neal and Moses Malone as the only players in NBA history to score 400 points and grab 200 rebounds over a season’s first 15 games – a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since Shaq did it in 2000 – the Pelicans opened the week with just the seventh-best record in the Western Conference, a half-game up on Oklahoma City and slumping Memphis.
Anthony Davis cleared concussion protocol after an examination on Sunday, diagnosed instead with a contusion of the orbit bone above his right eye. New Orleans welcomed back Rajon Rondo and will play him and Holiday in tandem, which is Plan A for making sure both bigs remain happy and efficient. The Pelicans host the Spurs on Wednesday before a Friday-Saturday back-to-back at Phoenix and Golden State, so you may want to fade them for a little extra turkey money.
Another team unlikely to yield much return this week is Memphis, which has shelved point guard Mike Conley indefinitely as they try to keep an Achilles issue from becoming a season-altering problem. Forward Brandan Wright and guard Tyreke Evans each left a Saturday night loss to Houston injured, so the Grizzlies will certainly be significantly short-handed, banking on Marc Gasol to put the entire operation on his shoulders.