Thunder wins 6th in a row, downs Denver 119-94

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Point guard D.J. Augustin passes off to a teammate during Sunday's win over Denver.
Russell Westbrook passes the ball to Serge Ibaka. Westbrook finished with 21 points, 17 assists and eight rebounds. Ibaka contributed 20 points and eight boards.
Oklahoma City's Enes Kanter tries to grab a rebound but gets sandwiched between two Denver defenders.
Serge Ibaka blocks a shot attempt by Danilo Gallinari during first half action Sunday. Ibaka, the third-leading shot blocker in the NBA, rejected eight Denver shots.
Russell Westbrook makes a move into the paint but is fouled on the play.
Dion Waiters shoots over a Denver defender. Waiters scored 17 points and grabbed three rebounds.

By Tim Farley

Oklahoma City arguably looks as strong as ever four days after four new players arrived to play for the resurging Thunder which now has won six in a row including Sunday’s 119-94 blowout over the Denver Nuggets.

With Kevin Durant out for the second game in a row due to a sore foot, the Thunder relied, as usual, on point guard Russell Westbrook who led the charge with 21 points, 17 assists and eight rebounds. Veteran Serge Ibaka had another steady night with 20 points and eight rebounds.

Still, a statistical look at the new players and fans will see the immediate impact they’ve had, especially third-year center Enes Kanter who tallied 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for a double-double. As Thunder head coach Scott Brooks and General Manager Sam Presti noted last Thursday, Kanter gives Oklahoma City a legitimate low post scoring threat, which will be necessity to advance deep into the playoffs.

“There is no question 20 and 12 is outstanding,” Brooks said. “We like what he is doing, we like what the other guys are doing, but I thought he played well tonight. The last couple of games have been great.”

But don’t stop with Kanter. Forward Kyle Singler was perfect from the field and chipped in seven points while backup point guard D.J. Augustin scored eight points, grabbed three rebounds and collected two assists in 29 minutes. Steve Novak played eight minutes toward the end of the blowout, but didn’t score.

Although Brooks likes what he sees so far, he’s reluctant to call this the best Oklahoma City team he’s coached – from top to bottom.

“There’s a lot of room to improve and I like the spirit of the group,” he said. “We’re playing for each other and we’re doing it at a high level. We want to play our best basketball at the end of the season.”

So far with the four new players, the Thunder is 2-0

This roster’s list of scoring threats is much greater than when Oklahoma City played Miami in the NBA Finals four years ago. At that point, the Thunder relied on Durant, Westbrook, James Harden and a less skilled Ibaka.

Now, Oklahoma City has scorers from top to bottom. Now, the Thunder doesn’t have to rely solely on two or three players. Singler, Kanter, Dion Waiters, Anthony Morrow, Augustin and rookie center Mitch McGary can light up the scoreboard at any given time.

On Sunday, Waiters had 17 and McGary scored 10 while Morrow chipped in nine.

Sunday was the first home game for the new players, which has proven to be a humbling and thrilling for most players who are added to the Oklahoma City roster.

“We are proud to play here and we are proud to be a part of the community and every player that we bring in we make sure that they understand how we feel about playing here and how we feel about playing for our crowds,” Brooks said. “And our fans, they are great. They cheer the guys on like they have been here for 100 years.”

Oklahoma City (31-25) didn’t have much trouble with the Nuggets (20-35) although the game was tight for the first five minutes. Tied at 12-12, Oklahoma City went on a 12-0 scoring run, and then finished the first quarter on another 12-6 spurt to lead 36-18 after one quarter.

From that point, the win was never in doubt. The only questions were the victory margin and would Westbrook record another triple-double.

By halftime, Westbrook had 14 points and a dozen assists. After three quarters, Westbrook had compiled his game-end stats of 21 rebounds, 17 assists and eight rebounds. The triple-double would have been inevitable but Westbrook left the game with three minutes remaining in the third quarter.

“Russell was nearly flawless other than the two missed free throws that we are going to work on tomorrow,” Brooks said, smiling. “Other than that, he was passed, defending and shooting. I thought everybody did a good job of helping us get the win tonight.”

Oklahoma City led by as many as 33 points midway through the final quarter with every Thunder player getting into the game. Jeremy Lamb and Novak were the only players who didn’t score.

Denver was led in scoring by point guard Ty Lawson with 17 points followed by Danilo Gallinari with 16.

During the six-game win streak, the Thunder has won by an average of 16 points a game. The streak is the longest active streak in the NBA. Oklahoma City hopes to extend its winning ways Tuesday when the Indiana Pacers come to town for a 7 p.m. tipoff. The Thunder then begins a critical West Coast swing with games at Phoenix Feb. 26, at Portland Feb. 27 and at the Los Angeles Lakers March 1.

GAME NOTES: Oklahoma City outscored Denver in the paint (48-46), on second chance points (18-10) and in fast break points (26-17)…For the game, the Thunder shot 52 percent from the field compared to 36 percent for Denver…Oklahoma City won the rebound battle, 60-42, and swatted away more shots 10-5.

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