Oklahoma City and Washington aren't over

It’s fair to say that the aughts got away from us, in defiance of all those Y2K goofs we had to wonder about. The NBA began and ended the decade with the Lakers as champs, no complaints there, but the league has had a tough time culling greatness from what led that dynasty. Weird, considering all the hours that Shaq, Kobe and Phil spent telling us How Things Should Be.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are part of this, they boast three faces that came of age in different parts of the Headband Era, the team’s triumphs and struggles are all TNT-documented, the hope is for spring while winter plays out the string.

The Thunder lost on Thursday to the Nuggets in a thriller, Gary Harris hit a game-winner while the whole of the internet cackled at Russell Westbrook’s inattention to detail, because look who decided to lose himself:

He’d stay there for several seconds, long enough for us to realize that Westbrook was just a rebound short of a triple-double. Thunder teammate Jerami Grant was on the wrong end of a no-call, referees aren’t going to whistle the home team for Roger Craig’ing through a visiting defender, and Oklahoma City lost a close one on the road to a very talented basketball team.

Russ hit a game-winner in Denver last spring, he can handle the screenshots. Just as annoying is the credible strain of reasoning that suggests Russell confident he can grab a carom off a shot taken with less than a second remaining, securing a triple-double in a year where nobody knows the score. He thinks that way, don’t question the diss.

What’s just as likely is Billy Donovan’s repeated insistence that his most mercurial player, the one that seems forever fit to jump at the sight of a flashing light, may have been asked to camp out in that lane.

Nikola Jokic could put the ball at the front of the rim from a hundred paces in pajamas and possibly pink eye, Stephen Adams wasn’t getting in the way of that, and some Thunder was going to have to deter things. It doesn’t mean that you forget about an entire person named “Gary,” but we know the impetus.

That’s just an option, Donovan probably insisted to his pillow on Friday morning, and not the structure. Russell Westbrook doesn’t come from a normal structure, though. He comes from the aughts.

It’s a video game decision, using ratings that go from 1-to-100 instead of the IRL follow-through, and I’m sure the feint has worked well for Westbrook in the past. Likely while playing as Kobe, and not Kwame, roaming after turning the zone option off on 2K7.

The Thunder have lots of that: Paul George is two years younger, they both remember what Carmelo Anthony looked like in that episode of Cribs:

“I don’t take baths. I don’t believe that males should take baths. The dirt is still in your bath.”

All Carmelo Anthony has ever represented is a desperate move. The league didn’t want another Glenn Robinson, when Melo entered in 2003, Big Dog about to play for his third team in as many years in 2003-04 and would be out of the NBA at age 32 after Anthony’s second season as a pro. There weren’t a lot of only-scoring forwards to go around back then, though, and by 2003 the NBA’s last three top draft picks had come from China, high school, and Cincinnati: Carmelo was the big college stud that the pros thought they were missing.

Even that took waiting out LeBron and Darko in the draft, but the glean was enough: Anthony’s association with James’ presumed greatness, and all that came from dancing with the mop-tops from Kansas on CBS.

It was enough for George Karl to keep coming back to the well, desperate for the quick hits that turned Anthony’s second-half of a second season into something magical, at last, for Denver. Emerging with bitterness enough to fill a book.

Enough for the Knicks to jump ahead of their own line in time to deal for Anthony, and it’s enough for the half-full in us to still categorize the Enes Kanter-for-Anthony deal as a grower for OKC. Kanter wasn’t doing anything but getting in the way on this club, anyway, you don’t need a guy that never misses shots.

The despair with Anthony is the same as it’s always been – when you hold the ball, you lose the potency that arrived with it. It isn’t that the basketball is meant to be shared, it’s that the rock is meant to be dangerous. You can’t catch up to a moving basketball, but basketball long ago caught up to Carmelo Anthony.

That doesn’t mean he still can’t score over the top of it.

The Thunder’s assistant coaching staff never found a moving Yugo that its legs could keep up with – Adrian Griffin, Mark Bryant and even Maurice Cheeks were more strapping than sprightly – they’re stuck sitting in front of something that will never sleep:

Oklahoma City gets by defensively with slaps and the collection of lost art, and the team’s work on the offensive glass is the only thing OKC’s offense leads anything in. They’re literally the best at cleaning up the mess.

Paul George is the mastermind in his peak, here, an abhorrent combination of Kobe and Ron Artest’s worst instincts come to life again working within a city with far too many available chicken finger entrees to count. He lunges at lacking confidence on both ends, gobbling up possessions in the defensive direction prior to nailing those release-button-at-top-of-jump Kobe Shots from outside.

It’s where he’s coming from. It’s where all of the Thunder are coming from save Nick Collison, who probably remembers the day his whole class stopped to watch Baby Jessica on TV.

The Thunder have an outrageous defense. Through injury it remains the kind that can force Nikola Jokic into his final option – tossing a Tom Henke Heave that curled into the hands of a teammate (only open because of that Wilson Chandler shove) 25-feet away from the basket in a tie game. Russell Westbrook was part of that, by hook or by crook.

The offense has enough to win a conference finals’ worth of playoff games, in most other Western eras, one 12-2 stretch at a time. Solving nothing but the stats that say we outscored you.

So, they’re all full of bad habits and bad imagery, the last generation that had to remember standard def. If the 1990s could steal a title in 2011, though, why can’t these Thunder give a push? Especially once the postseason schedule refuels the legs that have luckily remained ready and available so far.

If they still have stuff to figure out, that means we still have things to learn from them.  

YOU’RE GETTING A LITTLE TOO SMART

No political significance.

WASHINGTON

Kelly Oubre has had to get in Paul George’s face a couple of times this season, and it hasn’t worked out well – not much is going to touch PG in his prime.

Oubre’s younger, and the Thunder stars do prime the ball for so damn long, but that’s not why Kelly sprints with a smile. He runs because that’s what’s expected of his age, at this age, with these Sons of Iguodala. Oklahoma City’s crew, even in its first year, looks like it was grandfathered-in.

It’s why the Thunder looked so hapless in Washington’s rematch loss to the Wiz on Tuesday, especially down the stretch, the legs left the standstill shots in ways that have you worried about what sort of rest the Thunder stars will be allowed during the All-Star break.

Washington’s not sure if it wants the break to get here.

The team is rolling without John Wall, forever worried about Ernie Grunfeld’s next major decision; yet there appears more comfort in this than hand-wringing, among Wizards followers.

They’ve seen it before, the squad clung to a playoff berth in Gilbert Arenas’ absence in 2007, and it nearly made the postseason with Chris Whitney ably subbing for Rod Strickland in 1998. The movement that has resulted in Wall’s absence is just as familiar, because Wizards fans know good basketball.

This doesn’t make John Wall the bum, in this scenario, just another office mainstay that needed an earned rest. Some knees never scar over, you can also see the pain alongside the brio in Wall’s post-flush celebrations, and nobody should be expected to play this many damn games anyway. Buncha human oddities, out there.

Kelly Oubre wasn’t made a professional by clinging to the ball, he’s got no free hands left to pinch his nose because both arms are supposed to be o-u-T OUT on a belly-flop.

In this year, he’s Mike Riordan minus the miles.Washington is going to have some fun with this. They’re going to ask Markieff to be the only sedentary scorer while Bradley Beal tries to get 24 points in before his own wheels give out. Boards will have to be crashed, with Tomas Satoransky now breaking blocks at point guard, but defensive uptick from Wall’s shoddy-kneed contributions makes it all worth it.

For now, for barely February and maybe not March, but that’s what movement can create. And at the end of it they’ll get back to performing alongside a healthy John Wall that has watched every, single, second of this. A good guy that wants to play hard.

This is new, none of these players have ever been at 50-odd games by just the first days of February, and circling wagons aren’t stationary. If the Wizards are the team that nobody wants to catch up with – with Oubre and Otto Porter appearing the most unaffected – than you might have a stronger development than what we just saw in three Wall-less wins.

If John Wall’s new knees come back to meet a new team? The Wizards always thought they were on the list anyway, might as well let them in.

(More to come.)