By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
OKLAHOMA CITY — Caron Butler has been in Oklahoma City less than a month. When he signed on as a free agent March 1, he had already played for six other teams in his career.
Despite that, Butler said his transition has been seamless because he always envisioned himself playing for a team like the Thunder. His 23-point performance Monday in Oklahoma City’s 117-96 victory over Denver at the Chesapeake Energy Arena is exactly how he saw himself fitting in.
“I’m a fan of the game of basketball,” Butler said. “So over the years, I’ve watched the top-tier teams — obviously, Oklahoma being one of them. Youunder stand the style of play of all the contenders. You always imagine yourself in the system. Like, if I was there I would do this or I would do that. I just tried to plug myself in.”
The injury-plagued Nuggets (32-39) were never really in contention the entire night.
Without the services of several key contributors, they did not have the horses to keep up with a Thunder (52-18) squad fighting for the best record in the NBA.
Even though it was without Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City led by 17 points going into the fourth quarter. Coach Scott Brooks let his bench finish the game.
Kevin Durant scored 27 points to lead six Thunder players in double-figure
scoring. He’s now scored at least 25 points in 35 consecutive games and is five away from tying Michael Jordan’s all-time record since the NBA merger in 1976. Durant also had eight assists and shot 10 for 21 from the field.
“He’s an unselfish superstar,” Butler said of Durant. “Probably one of the most unselfish superstars I’ve ever seen to ever play the game. I’ve played with a lot of them. From Kobe (Bryant) to Dwyane Wade to Dirk, Gilbert Arenas in his prime. And I haven’t seen a guy like him who can score pretty much at will, but such a willing passer and facilitator.”
Reggie Jackson scored 16 points to go along with a career-high 11 assists. It was his second straight double-double.Serge Ibaka added 15 points and seven rebounds.
Denver was paced by Ty Lawson, who had 25 points and seven assists. Timofey Mozgov added 12 points and nine boards. Kenneth Faried and Randy Foye each had 11 points in the loss.
The Nuggets, who were playing the second game of a back to back, didn’t help their cause with 20 turnovers, missing 13 free throws and shooting only 39 percent from the field.
“You can’t turn the ball over as many times as we did, you can’t miss as many free throws as we did against a team this good on their home floor,” Denver coach Brian Shaw said. “That’s a recipe for disaster. And that’s what it ended up being.”
Oklahoma City came out of the gates firing from all over the court. They were especially hot from 3-point range where they hit 6 of 8 in the opening period. Butler, Ibaka and Jackson combined for 24 points to help the Thunder take a 41-24 lead.
“They came out strong and we gave them a lot of easy shots,” Lawson said. “It felt like they weren’t working for anything. Everything was pretty much easy in the first half, I think.”
Denver tried to fight back in the second half as they began the period on a 9-0 run. They closed the gap to six points.
That would be as close as the Nuggets would get. Durant continued his onslaught of the Denver defense. From shaking forward Darrell Arthur for a crowd-gasping layup or draining mid-range jumpers, he easily could have been a one-man gang.
But the Oklahoma City supporting cast was just as effective.
Jackson ended the first half with 10 points and eight assists as the Thunder grabbed a 72-58 advantage, which was a season high in points scored.
“We didn’t leave the passion in Canada,” Brooks said. “We came back here and took care of business.”
Notes: Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook did not play Monday against Denver. Coach Scott Brooks said he will be the lineup Tuesday in Dallas. “We have our reasons, and there are many of them,” Brooks said. “He practiced yesterday and looked great. We felt we had this plan in place, and he will just sit out tonight and come back tomorrow.” Due to injuries, Denver had only nine healthy players in uniform in Oklahoma City. “I put on the board, ‘Then there are nine,’” Denver coach Brian Shaw said. “That’s how many players we’re down to tonight Wilson (Chandler) being out again and Jan (Vessely) being out.” ... Kevin Durant was named NBA Western Conference Player of the Week after he led the Thunder to a 3-0 week, tallying 35 points or more in all three contests. He averaged a league-best 40.3 points-per-game along with 11.7 rebounds and 6 assists.
He also shot 51.4 percent from the field and 54.2 percent from 3-point range. According to Elias, he is now on pace for NBA’s first 32-plus points-per-game, seven-plus rebounds-per-game and five-plus assists-per-game season since Michael Jordan in 1988-89.
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