Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook Clicking Just in Time and Sunday NBA Takeaways

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2015

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Forty games into the 2014-15 season, the Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook combo finally looks like the league's top one-two punch again.

Better late than never.

Durant casually piled up 21 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in the Oklahoma City Thunder's walkover 127-99 victory against the Orlando Magic. It took him just 28 minutes to get the job done.

Westbrook scored 17 points and handed out six dimes in 24 minutes. And his highlight-reel slam midway through the third quarter put an early exclamation point on the proceedings.

Afterward, Westbrook downplayed his levitation, via Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:

Dunk aside, this one was over at halftime, when the Thunder had already built a 79-45 lead. Those first 24 minutes were, statistically, the best in recent franchise history, per ESPN Stats & Info:

OKC's second straight win moved its overall record to 20-20, just the second time the team has hit the break-even mark this year.

That the Thunder are hitting their stride like this at the season's halfway point is bittersweet. It certainly hints at the team's potential going forward—potential we all saw before the year started so inauspiciously, with a Jones fracture costing Durant the first 17 games.

At the same time, it makes you wonder what could have been if not for such rotten luck. Remember, Durant has also missed time with an ankle injury, and Westbrook's broken right hand shelved him for all but one game in November.

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So far, Durant and Westbrook have played just 17 games together. When sharing the court in those contests, they've posted a net rating of plus-10.7 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com. Of course, that doesn't tell us anything new.

Instead, it reinforces what we've known all along and have only recently seen a reminder of: No tandem is scarier than KD and Russ.

It helps that the Thunder are also getting production elsewhere of late.

Serge Ibaka hit four threes against the Magic, giving him 60 long-distance makes on the year at a clip of 41.7 percent. Just nine players in the league have made that many treys at such a high-accuracy rate this year, and none of them provide anything close to the rim protection or matchup difficulties Ibaka does.

Ibaka's Rare Company
Player3PM3P%
Kyle Korver125.53.6
Rasual Butler6046.5
Klay Thompson11144.4
Mike Conley6543.3
J.J. Redick10443.2
Aaron Brooks6042.9
Kyle Singler6042.9
Serge Ibaka6041.7
Mike Dunleavy6041.7
Basketball-Reference.com

New addition Dion Waiters has shoved Reggie Jackson down in the rotation, and the ex-Cleveland guard contributed an efficient 16 points on nine shots on Sunday.

In the interest of completeness, KD and Westbrook aren't getting help from everyone. Andre Roberson came up just a hair short on this one:

For all that, the Thunder are just .500 on the year, which leaves them three games behind the No. 8 spot in the West. OKC will need efforts like the ones it got from Durant and Westbrook against Orlando on a nearly nightly basis from now on.

Not because that's what it'll take to make the playoffs—the fear that they'll miss out on the postseason entirely has become a bit overblown—but because that's what it will take for the Thunder to reach 55 wins and a possible top-four seed.

That's critical because the dirty secret about OKC is that it hasn't performed on the road (8-13 so far this year), which means it needs as much home cooking as possible. To reach that 55-win mark, Durant and Westbrook can't miss anymore time, and they'll need to lead the Thunder to a closing stretch of 35-7.

Sounds impossible, right? You'd rule out most two-man combos from achieving such a remarkable feat.

Durant and Westbrook aren't most combos, though. Rule out this pair at your own risk.

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The Pelicans Can Take a Punch

After holding the reeling Toronto Raptors to a season-low 36 points in the first half, the New Orleans Pelicans, playing without Anthony Davis or Jrue Holiday, gave it all back (and then some) after the break.

Toronto forced turnovers left and right en route to a 35-14 surge that ripped control of the game away from the Pellies. Nonetheless, New Orleans rallied late, bouncing back to take a 95-93 win at the Air Canada Centre.

Tyreke Evans, whose game-winning layup with 1.6 seconds remaining sealed the deal, lauded his team's resiliency, per Jim Eichenhofer of Pelicans.com:

Evans finished with 26 points, five rebounds and five assists on 9-of-14 shooting.

New Orleans received eye-opening production from the ultra-big frontcourt combo of Alexis Ajinca and Omer Asik, which helped compensate for the absence of their two best players and Ryan Anderson's 3-of-11 effort, as The Bird Writes noted:

Ajinca put up 22 points and six rebounds in 34 minutes off the pine. Asik, the starter, posted 11 points and nine boards.

The win moved the Pellies to 20-20, and the late-game gumption they displayed will be vital in the season's second half, when the playoff race out West intensifies.

Toronto has now lost seven of its last nine, and if they weren't sounding loud and clear already, alarm bells are surely ringing up north now.

Australia, Stand Up!

SAN ANTONIO - January 18: Aron Baynes #16 of the San Antonio Spurs takes a shot against the Utah Jazz at the AT&T Center on January 18, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this
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The San Antonio Spurs took care of the Utah Jazz by a final score of 89-69 on Sunday, getting 12 points and 11 rebounds from Aron Baynes off the bench. And though we wouldn't normally lead with Baynes, his solid performance was actually part of history, according to Fox Sports News:

Australian milestones aside, the Spurs got nice efforts from South America as well: a game-high 14 points from Tiago Splitter and a team-high four blocks from Manu Ginobili.

You read that last part right, by the way.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was pretty surprised himself by Ginobili's defensive stats, via ProjectSpurs.com's Paul Garcia:

San Antonio won this one on the defensive end, holding the Jazz to 33.3 percent shooting from the field and allowing just 53 points in half-court sets.

The Spurs are now 26-16 on the year, just two-and-a-half games behind the fourth-seeded Houston Rockets in the West. With a defense that has crept into the top five and depth of intercontinental quality, it's starting to feel like a classic San Antonio run is on the way.