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Thunder's defense slipping just as offense starting to click

From ESPN - January 9, 2018

OKLAHOMA CITY -- There has been clear progress for the Oklahoma City Thunder over the last month, which is what makes performances like Tuesday's against the Portland Trail Blazers, a 117-106 clinic by the visitors, so frustrating.

The Thunder spent the first 30 or so games of the season as a shockingly mediocre offensive team, clinging to life in the Western Conference almost entirely on the back of an elite defense. But as they have finally clicked and grown into the explosive offensive team they were expected to be, they have slipped significantly on the other side of the floor. The message from the locker room Tuesday cited a lack of energy and effort, easily identifiable culprits, albeit ones that are hard to explain.

"To sit here and try and pinpoint that is ... I think the easiest answer is, it happens," Carmelo Anthony said. "It's happened to us these past two games, and we have got to figure out a way to not allow it to happen. Maybe know that it's there, maybe understand it happens throughout the course of a season, but try to do some things where we do bring the energy, where we do bring the effort. We should never have a lack of effort out there."

Russell Westbrook almost always is the tone-setter for the Thunder with his intensity and energy, and while he was solid against Portland -- 22 points, 9 rebounds and 12 assists -- there were multiple occasions where Westbrook showed frustration with teammates not being in the right spots or getting into a set with the right timing. Energy is Westbrook's basketball identity, and with that being a clear issue for the Thunder on Tuesday, he was not happy about it. Following the game, Westbrook left the locker room via a back door before the room opened to the media for postgame availability.

"I thought at times we really tried to turn it on, on both offense and defense at times," coach Billy Donovan said. "It's really difficult to do that at this level."

Since Dec. 16, the Thunder have featured the best offense in the league, scoring 114.2 points per 100 possessions. It's been a striking improvement from the disjointed, disconnected offense they were operating within before that, with Westbrook, Anthony and Paul George all getting settled and comfortable playing with each other.

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