Oklahoma City may not rank alongside the Golden State Warriors as one of the worst teams in the league anymore. Still, the Thunder have a long way to go before they can be considered elite.
After getting blown out by one of the NBA’s top clubs, the Thunder look to bounce back Monday night against a struggling Warriors team that will be without coach Don Nelson again.
Oklahoma City (10-9) is off to a promising start after going 23-59 last season, six games worse than Golden State. While the Thunder seem more likely to make a run at the playoffs than the Warriors (6-13), they will need to be tougher against teams such as Boston.
A 105-87 loss to the Celtics on Friday night was Oklahoma City’s most lopsided defeat at the Ford Center this season. The Thunder beat Orlando there 102-74 on Nov. 8, but lost on the road to the reigning Eastern Conference champions 108-94 on Nov. 18.
Kevin Durant(notes) was again a bright spot for Oklahoma City on Friday, scoring 36 points and becoming the second-youngest player in NBA history to reach 4,000. Durant was 21 years and 66 days old when he reached the milestone, second to LeBron James(notes) (20 years, 318 days).
The usually mild-mannered Durant, though, picked up his second career technical foul.
“That’s not me,” said Durant, averaging 28.1 points in his third year. “But I’m so passionate about the game.”
Durant averaged 33.4 points and 10.2 rebounds in his last five games against Golden State.
The Warriors have the worst scoring defense in the NBA, allowing 114.2 points a contest. Losers of three straight and five of six, they are kicking off a five-game road trip without Nelson.
The coach was on the sideline for a 126-118 home defeat to Orlando on Saturday night, but he hasn’t fully recovered from pneumonia. Nelson missed five games after his Nov. 23 diagnosis, although he returned to the bench Thursday night in a 111-109 loss to Houston.
Top assistant Keith Smart, who coached the five games during Nelson’s absence, will lead Golden State during its trip. Nelson is expected to rejoin the team when it returns to Oakland to face San Antonio on Dec. 16.
Ellis had 33 points and seven assists versus the Magic, topping the 30-point mark for the fifth time in eight games.
He got some much-needed help from second-year forward Anthony Randolph(notes), who had a career-high 28 points and 13 rebounds. Golden State badly needs Randolph to develop into a reliable post presence.
“I’m just very excited about Randolph’s game, certainly his best game he’s played for me,” Nelson said. “This is what I’ve envisioned.”
Randolph totaled seven points in two games against the Thunder last season, when Oklahoma City and Golden State tied their series 2-2.