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Thunder bring three-game win streak to San Antonio
The new-look Oklahoma City Thunder make their first trip to the Alamo City this season to play the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, but don't expect any real revelations when the two teams clash at the AT&T Center.
The Thunder, now 7-7 after waylaying Chicago 92-79 at home on Wednesday, are still trying to find the best use of their Big 3 -- reigning NBA MVP guard Russell Westbrook as well as forwards Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, the two All-Stars they acquired in the offseason.
So far, it's been a bit of a struggle for Oklahoma City, as can be expected in the early season with so many dynamics -- and personalities -- involved.
After racing to a 27-7 lead in the first quarter Wednesday versus the Bulls, the Thunder posted their third consecutive home win by maintaining strong defense after the opening quarter.
Westbrook led Oklahoma City with 21 points, five rebounds and seven assists, but didn't score until the 6:41 mark of the second quarter when he hit a 3-pointer to give the Thunder a 20-point lead. That basket kicked off a scoring flurry in which the point guard reeled off 12 points in three minutes.
Anthony added 18 points and 11 rebounds in the win over Chicago. After missing Sunday's game with a sore back, he poured in seven consecutive points early in the first quarter.
"It definitely helps in all aspects of the game to have him back just because Carmelo knows how to play the game so well," Westbrook said. "We did a good job of being aggressive, using our hands. That's how we win games."
Anthony entered Wednesday's game attempting almost seven 3-pointers per game but took only two shots from beyond the arc against Chicago, making one.
"I always like Carmelo taking threes, personally, because he's such an elite 3-point shooter, especially above the break, trailing," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "The more we can get him the better off it is. But I'm sure for him, being out for a couple days, he's probably trying to get back a rhythm."
Oklahoma City played without center Steven Adams for the third straight game due to a right calf contusion, allowing forward Dakari Johnson to find a place in the starting lineup for the third consecutive start.
The Thunder were 0-6 against teams from the Western Conference before breaking through with a win over the L.A. Clippers on Nov. 11.
"They might be 1-77 and you'd be worried because they have so much talent," Spurs reserve guard Manu Ginobili said of the Thunder. "When you make such big changes and you put together so many alpha players, it takes a little bit of time."
With a slew of injuries to start the year and still no court time for either star forward Kawhi Leonard or point guard Tony Parker, the Spurs are biding their own time. They've held together well enough to win nine of their first 15 games as players have adopted different roles.
San Antonio heads home after a 98-86 loss at Minnesota on Wednesday on the second of back-to-back road games. The Spurs were led by LaMarcus Aldridge's 15 points and 10 rebounds, which came a night after he scored a season-high 32 points in a victory over Dallas.
Aldridge was limited to four points in 10 first-half minutes after getting into foul trouble.
"When your best player gets into foul trouble and can't play in a normal rhythm, it's going to affect you a little bit," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "But, be that as it may, I think Minnesota is a fine, young, talented squad. They're a tough matchup, so you better have all your wits about you and you better execute well at both ends. They did that very well tonight."
San Antonio had won five of its previous six games before that loss. Pau Gasol added 13 points as for the Spurs.
Popovich hasn't given much thought to how OKC might strike a balance with its trio of high-volume scorers.
"Without being glib, I have enough to worry about," Popovich said. "I am trying to figure out my team. If I got that right, then we'd be undefeated."
Updated November 17, 2017