ORLANDO- The Oklahoma City Thunder conquered the second quarter to get back on track in the bubble.
One game removed from blowing a huge lead against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Thunder cruised to a 121-103 victory over the Washington Wizards.
“We were much better. I thought the ball movement was better,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said after the win.
“The way we attacked the paint was much better than it was coming out of the Memphis game.”
Oklahoma City handled Washington shorthanded, making d0 without the services of Dennis Schroder, Steven Adams, Nerlens Noel and Andre Roberson.
“We’re a team that’s going to come out and compete every night no matter who suits up,” Thunder forward Hamidou Diallo said after the game. “That’s the great thing about playing on this team right here. All of us want to compete.”
Mike Muscala, a beneficiary of the absence of Noel and Adams, pushed his team out to an early lead in his first start for the Thunder. Pouring in nine points on 3-of-4 from deep in the first quarter, Muscala’s hot start distanced Oklahoma City from the Wizards.
“My job is to be ready to shoot,” Muscala said. “Got a few good looks in the first quarter.”
After easing his way back into playing shape, forward Danilo Gallinari put in his best performance in the bubble. Meshing well with Chris Paul today, Gallinari finished with 20 points on just 6-of-8 shooting, also adding two rebounds and two assists.
“That’s what makes [Gallinari] and [Paul] who they are as offensive players in this league is their efficiency and how well they can score the ball,” Donovan said.
Darius Bazley also took advantage of the extra available minutes, posting a career high 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Bazley was also accurate from deep, posting an efficient 5-of-8 for the afternoon.
“Everything that comes his way he’s well deserving of. He works really hard,” Muscala said of Bazley. “He’s going to be a good player in this league. A great player.”
Given a different assignment against Washington, Bazley was asked to play closer to the basket and match up with the Wizards’ center.
He said he doesn’t care much about what position he plays, he’s just happy to help contribute to the team.
Bazley did highlight an advantage he feels he has when matching up with bigs across the league though.
“A lot of fives are obviously a lot bigger than me and often times slower,” Bazley said.
“I have a bit of an advantage on the offensive side.”
The Thunder will complete the three games in four days gauntlet tomorrow against the Phoenix Suns.
Questions surrounding the Suns inclusion in the bubble have disappeared as Phoenix is still undefeated in the seeding games.
A familiar face is helping lead the Suns’ charge. Former Thunder guard Cameron Payne has been a key contributor on the Phoenix second unit, averaging 11.4 points and three assists per game during the five game streak.
Rebounding was an area Muscala singled out for Oklahoma City to improve on if they want to notch another win tomorrow.
“Monty Williams has done a great job there,” Muscala said. “They’re gonna be tough but we’re looking for the challenge.”
Tip-off between Oklahoma City and Phoenix is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Monday afternoon.