Russell Westbrook, Paul George Dominant as Thunder Cruise to Win vs. Knicks

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistJanuary 21, 2019

New York Knicks forward Noah Vonleh (32) defends as Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George (13) bobbles the ball beneath the Thunder's basket during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Jan. 21, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

The Oklahoma City Thunder needed a pick-me-up after a stretch of five losses in six games.

It appears a road trip through the Atlantic Division has done the trick.

Russell Westbrook nearly had a triple-double and Paul George scored 31 points, leading the Thunder to a 127-109 win over the New York Knicks on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The Thunder have won road tilts in Philadelphia and New York after a difficult stretch that pushed them out of the race for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. They responded with a 117-115 nail-biting win over the Sixers before taking care of business against the Knicks, who have lost six straight.

New York has just one win this calendar year and has lost 14 of its last 15 games.

Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 23 points to lead the way for the Knicks. Enes Kanter had 11 points and three rebounds against his former team.


Thunder Must Carry Offensive Efficiency into Critical Homestand

The Thunder defense, which spent much of the first two months of the season leading the NBA in efficiency, has fallen apart in January. OKC entered Monday giving up 113.8 points per 100 possessions this month, the league's sixth-worst rate and nearly 10 more points than their regular-season total.

There's no real injury or smoking gun to point to; the Thunder have just fallen off, and the ship should right itself eventually. But with a trio of matchups against Portland, New Orleans and Milwaukee upcoming, the fix likely isn't coming over the next week.

The Thunder got a little bit of a break with Anthony Davis expected to miss at least the next week with a sprained finger. That said, the Pelicans offense doesn't crater as much as their defense without Davis; they still score at a top-10 rate with him on the bench.

Without the foundation of their top-five defense, the Thunder are going to need their uptick in efficiency on the offensive end to continue these next three games. OKC was in near-peak form beating up on a listless Knicks team Monday, knocking down 15 threes and playing with fluidity.

Westbrook had his dials turned up fully to Good Russ, shooting an efficient 6-of-12 from the floor and picking up his nine assists mostly within a framework rather than assist hunting. Westbrook has been arguably the league's most disappointing superstar this season, an awfully strange thing to say about a guy averaging a triple-double.

George continued what will surely be an All-Star and All-NBA campaign, pouring in 31 points on 18 shots. He knocked down four threes and forced himself to the line nine times.

The Thunder are the league's third- or fourth-best team when they're playing at the peak of their capabilities. It's just hard to be too impressed when they do so against the Knicks.

We'll get a better idea of whether they're out of the funk when they return home this week.


Knicks Need to End Awkward Enes Kanter Limbo and Move On

Some facts:

  • Enes Kanter is the best player in the Knicks rotation.
  • Kanter came off the bench Monday and played 19 minutes.
  • Kanter has been coming off the bench since late last month as part of an understandable youth movement for a tanking team.
  • Kanter has made his displeasure with this arrangement known.
  • Kanter is in the last year of his contract.
  • Kanter is not a player who is impactful enough to bring back a first-round pick in a trade—barring the Knicks' taking back long-term salary.
  • The Knicks see themselves as players on the free-agent market this summer and won't take on any long-term contracts that would hurt their chances of signing Kevin Durant or another big-ticket name.

There is no logical reason for Kanter to be on the Knicks roster. It's the second-least logical ongoing roster saga in the league, behind only Carmelo Anthony's continued occupancy of a roster spot in Houston.

The Knicks know Kanter is leaving sooner rather than later, and the big man clearly does not want to be there—even if he won't go far enough to outright request a trade, as Kanter told reporters earlier this month regarding his meeting with general manager Scott Perry:

"I did not say, 'Scott, trade me.' No, I did not say that. Because I like it here a lot. And I probably won't say to Scott's face, 'Scott, I want to get traded.' Because I like it here a lot.

"But again, in the end, we all are competitors, basketball players. I like it here so much, but again I want to win. I want this team to get to the playoffs one day. This is my blood, man. ... I'm going out there to get a win every time."

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News reported the Knicks have struggled to find takers for Kanter. Most teams don't have $18.6 million in free cap space or matching contracts floating around. Kanter's contract and the Knicks' unwillingness to take on future money makes this a near-impossible situation.

Just buy him out and move on already.

What's Next?

The Thunder host the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday. The Knicks host the Houston Rockets on Wednesday.


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