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Ball Don't Lie

The Oklahoma City Thunder tie the NBA record for fewest turnovers, with two

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie

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Russell Westbrook dribbles past Jodie Meeks, keeps the ball (Layne Murdoch Jr./ Getty).

By any available metric, the Oklahoma City Thunder have one of the best offenses in the NBA. They score 110.4 points per 100 possessions (2nd, only 0.1 points off the Miami Heat), shoot 48.3 percent from the field (3rd), hit 39.1 percent of their three-pointers (2nd), knock down 83.1 percent of their free throws (1st by a wide margin), etc. Their only really blemish is that they turn the ball over a lot — 15.8 times per game (29th) and with a 14.7 turnover ratio (tied for last). The idea of the Thunder not turning it over is frightening, because they're already one of the most prolific scoring outfits in the league even with their problems handling the ball.

So it's likely that the Los Angeles Lakers were not prepared for what the Thunder accomplished on Tuesday night. In a comfortable 122-105 win, OKC turned the ball over only two times, tying an NBA record set by the Milwaukee Bucks against the Indiana Pacers in April 2006 and by the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Portland Trail Blazers in March 2009 (in a game that somehow went to overtime).

OKC's first miscue occurred on the first possession of the second quarter, when Kevin Martin threw a pass to Ronnie Brewer along the baseline that deflected off Brewer and out of bounds. Yet Brewer, Nick Collison, and OKC head coach Scott Brooks didn't even think this play should have been listed as a turnover. Somehow, the Thunder didn't their second and final turnover until the 5:05 mark of the fourth quarter when Russell Westbrook — who was otherwise stellar with 37 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists — shuffled his feet for a travel. That's nearly 31 minutes of game time without a turnover, an unreal stat that makes any offense tough to handle. Plus, this game was played at a fast pace, with the Thunder regularly beating the Lakers down the court for transition baskets. It's not as if this was a slow game in which the Thunder tried to minimize their mistakes by limiting the number of possessions (although history suggests that style leads to more turnovers relative to pace).

Committing only two turnovers is a mark of a terrific night, but it's also a serious aberration. The Lakers are very bad at forcing turnovers (13.1 per game, 29th in the league), but they're only separated from the Clippers, the top team, by 3.6 turnovers. Just by virtue of playing against another professional team, an NBA squad is usually going to turn the ball over in the double digits. Making two mistakes, even against a bad defense, has to involve a good amount of luck.

Nevertheless, the Thunder figured out a way to commit two turnovers, and that means they don't have to be a team that turns it over as often as they do. If they're able to improve that stat even a little, the Thunder have the chance to become far and away the best offense in the NBA (and, again, they arguably already have the best one). Anything that increases the possessions for Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, two of the greatest offensive superstars in the league, will be a boon to OKC's title chances.

This team is already the odds-on favorite to represent the West in the NBA Finals, especially now that Tony Parker will miss approximately a month — but they're going to need to optimize their approach if they face the Miami Heat for the second season in a row. Cutting down on turnovers could be the easiest way to vault their offense to that level.

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