Northwest Notes: Thunder, Dieng, Murray, Blazers, Lofton

The Thunder‘s 57-25 record and No. 1 finish in the Western Conference represents an ahead-of-schedule arrival for a team that looked two years ago like it might be rebuilding for a few more seasons, writes Tim Cato of The Athletic. Still, Oklahoma City isn’t doing a victory lap after going from 24 wins in 2021/22 to 40 last season to 57 this year.

“When we wake up Tuesday morning, we’re 0-0,” Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault said on Sunday. “It’s a new season. Everything that we did in the regular season doesn’t matter except opponent and seeding. … We’ll go into it with great respect for our opponents, but great respect for ourselves.”

While the Thunder prepare for their first playoff series since 2020, the team’s G League affiliate – the Oklahoma City Blue – won its first ever championship on Monday, closing out the Maine Celtics in Game 3 of their best-of-three series (story).

As Cato points out, the Thunder’s entire starting lineup consists of players aged 25 or younger, but not all of the team’s recent lottery picks are playing major roles at the NBA level. Ousmane Dieng, the 11th overall pick in 2022, played limited minutes in just 33 games for the Thunder this season, but he helped the Blue secure its NBAGL title on Monday, earning Finals MVP honors by putting up 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting to go along with six rebounds, four assists, and two blocks in the deciding game.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Speaking to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, Nuggets guard Jamal Murray explained why he wants to spend his entire career in Denver, how he feels about not having made an All-Star team, and why he thinks he and Nikola Jokic are the best duo in the NBA. “I think (other duos are) in a bigger market and people have more interest in LeBron and AD in L.A., or what Dame and Giannis could be, or what Luka and Kyrie could do,” Murray said. “If we’re talking about the best duos in getting the job done and how they play for each other and with each other, I think me and Jokic are undoubtedly number one.”
  • Bill Oram of The Oregonian (subscriber link) looks ahead at some of the difficult decisions facing the Trail Blazers this offseason, including whether the front office wants to push for a play-in spot in 2024/25 or rebuild slowly and seek another high draft pick. If Portland takes the latter route, the club may need to look into moving some veterans, including perhaps Anfernee Simons, Oram suggests. Blazers management will also have to make sure it’s on the same page as head coach Chauncey Billups, Oram adds, given that he has talked about wanting to get the club back to the playoffs next season.
  • Kenneth Lofton Jr.‘s play down the stretch was a bright spot for the Jazz, writes Riley Gisseman of The Salt Lake Tribune. Lofton averaged 16.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 6.3 assists off the bench in the final three games, making a strong case for a spot on next season’s roster. Lofton’s deal with Utah includes non-guaranteed salaries for two seasons after this one, so if he continues to show promise, the team is in position to retain him on the cheap.
View Comments (3)