After ending their franchise record-tying 14-game losing streak their last time out, the Thunder visit a Bobcats team that’s starting to play better under first-year coach Larry Brown.
Oklahoma City (2-16) opened the season with a pair of losses before beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 88-85 at home on Nov. 2. The Thunder followed that victory with 14 straight losses before ending the skid with their first road win of the season, 111-103 over the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday in the opener of a four-game trip.
Kevin Durant scored 30 points and Jeff Green added 22 as Oklahoma City avoided setting the franchise record for consecutive losses. The team also dropped 14 in a row in 2007-08, its final season in Seattle.
“Unbelievable. Great feeling,” said Durant, who leads the Thunder with 22.2 points per game. “Everybody came into the locker room, and we were all smiles. That’s what we need. We’ve been down after some tough losses.”
Oklahoma City trailed by 14 in the first half, but outscored Memphis 68-49 in the final 24 minutes, shooting 62 percent.
“I am happy for our guys, I am happy for our fans, and I am happy for myself and the staff,” said interim coach Scott Brooks, 1-4 since taking over for the fired P.J. Carlesimo on Nov. 22. “We have all hung in there together. It hasn’t been the easiest ride.”
Charlotte (6-11) hasn’t had an easy time in its first season under Brown, but appears to be turning things around. The Bobcats have won three of their last five after posting three victories in their first 12 games.
Richardson scored a season-high 25 points to continue his strong play following arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. He missed seven games from Nov. 14-26 and is averaging 22.7 points in three games since returning.
“It’s pretty difficult because there are so many demanding things that he wants you to do,” Richardson said of the 68-year-old Brown. “But we’re a team that’s willing to learn, was ready to listen and looking for something different. We still don’t have everything down, but the things we’re doing are heading toward it.”
Okafor also set a season high with 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for Charlotte, which hasn’t won two in a row since a three-game run March 26-29.
“That’s (Brown’s) history with teams,” Okafor said. “When he first comes in it takes some time to adjust. There’s a learning curve. Once everybody learns it, people get going.”
Durant is hoping the Thunder can get on a roll, but they lost both games last season to Charlotte, which held him to an average of 17.0 points and 31.0 percent shooting (9-for-29).
“If we continue to play like we’ve been playing these last couple of games,” Durant said, “I think the wins will start piling up.”