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The Oklahoma City Thunder have been the hottest team in the NBA of late, coming into Monday night's game at the Toronto Raptors on a seven-game winning streak that includes six victories against teams that would currently qualify for the playoffs. Yet this one was to be the biggest challenge yet — a visit to a second-tier contender looking to reach 50 wins for the first time in franchise history.
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The Thunder didn't just pass the test — they took it from the teacher, rewrote the questions, and refused to grade the rest of the class on a curve. OKC built up a 61-48 halftime lead and continued to dominate in the second half, leading by as many as 24 in the third to create extended garbage time in a 119-100 win. The eight-game streak is their longest of the season.
The star of the night was Russell Westbrook, who continued a historic run of triple-doubles with 26 points (10-of-16 FG), 12 assists, and 11 rebounds in 34 minutes minutes. Westbrook's seven triple-doubles in March tie him with Michael Jordan in April 1989 for the most in a calendar month over the past 30 seasons. He will have two more opportunities to break that record on Tuesday vs. the Los Angeles Clippers and Thursday vs. Detroit Pistons. Additionally, Westbrook's 16 triple-doubles for the season put him one behind in Magic Johnson in 1988-89 for the most in a single season over the past 30 years.
About the only Westbrook did wrong Monday was misssing three of his eight free throws. But he covered for one of them by tipping in his own miss:
Stephen Curry is going to win the MVP this season, but don't be surprised if Westbrook finishes second. He has been absolutely fantastic and makes just as big of an impact as Kevin Durant every night.
Which isn't to say Durant is any less of a superstar than he has been. He commanded the court against Toronto with a game-high 34 points (11-of-27 FG, 9-of-10 FT), eight rebounds, and eight assists as Westbrook's co-creator, forcing matchup problems all over the court and generally frustrating the hosts at every opportunity. Serge Ibaka (15 points), Dion Waiters (15 points), and Steven Adams joined their teammates in double figures.
OKC did well to hold Toronto to 40.9 percent shooting (including 36.9 percent for the starting five), but the story of the game (and their winning streak) was the dominance of their offense. The Thunder have controlled pace extremely well over this run and have not scored fewer than 111 points in any of the eight wins. That hasn't happened in more than 20 years:
Oklahoma City Thunder: 8 straight wins scoring at least 110 points in each.
Last team to have such a streak: Orlando Magic in 1994
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 29, 2016
The competition hasn't been chopped liver, either — four of the teams join OKC in the top 10 in defensive efficiency (Toronto is 11th), although the San Antonio Spurs rested most of the players who have gotten them to their league-leading spot. At any rate, the Thunder sits behind only the Golden State Warriors in points scored per possession and looks like a legitimate juggernaut whenever Durant and Westbrook get help from the role players.
The negative side to this streak is that it hasn't really improved the Thunder's position in any tangible way. They cannot catch the Spurs for the West's No. 2 seed and would have to suffer a serious collapse to fall behind the Los Angeles Clippers into fourth. For that matter, they have not beaten a top-tier contender at full strength during the run.
Yet OKC has gone about its business in thrilling fashion and, perhaps most importantly, is experiencing its best extended run at a time of year when most teams look to peak. The questions surrounding the Thunder's ability to beat the Warriors or Spurs over a seven-game series won't go away until they do it, but there's now more reason to hope they can. If any team other than the Warriors, Spurs, or Cleveland Cavaliers is going to win the title, it'll probably be this one.
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