George, Thunder flying high
Oklahoma City's Paul George is ready for liftoff.
The Thunder have won five consecutive games, including a 118-112 home victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday night, when George made the highlight reel with a late one-handed dunk over MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo.
George drove from the right side and challenged Antetokounmpo at the rim.
"He got his NASA shoes on, so he definitely had to take off one time and that's exactly what he did," Oklahoma City's Terrance Ferguson told reporters. "Put that in the commercial right there."
The Thunder's rising trajectory -- they are third in the Western Conference at 31-18 -- takes them to Orlando on Tuesday night. The Magic seem unlikely candidates to bring Oklahoma City back to earth.
Orlando has lost three in a row and six of seven games. But those six losses have come by a total of only 30 points, including a 103-98 defeat at Houston on Sunday.
The Magic have especially faltered in late-game situations, unable to close out against the Rockets after leading by 16 and being tied at 95 before Houston's James Harden hit a 3-pointer and a step-back jumper in the final 75 seconds.
"It's a lot of games this year that I feel like we handed away," said Orlando forward Aaron Gordon. "We have a couple more home games coming up so we have to take care of the crib and see if we can get on a winning streak."
The Magic (20-30) fell to four games out of the final playoff spot in the East after Sunday's game, which has led to speculation that center Nikola Vucevic, among others, could be on the trading market as the Feb. 7 deadline nears.
Vucevic is averaging 20.6 points and 12 rebounds.
Orlando is kicking off a three-game homestand as it welcomes George, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder, whose five-game winning streak is their second-best streak of the season. OKC won seven consecutive games from Oct. 28 to Nov. 8.
Westbrook posted a triple-double in each of the three games of the just-completed homestand, finishing with 13 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists on Sunday. He has 16 triple-doubles this season and 120 in his career.
While he is averaging a triple-double -- 21.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 10.7 assists per game -- George leads the team in scoring at 27.1.
"(George) has been playing unbelievable, obviously, all year long and has done a great job of being consistent on a night-in, night-out basis and making big shots for us, like tonight," Westbrook told NBA.com after the win over Milwaukee.
In addition to his literal NASA shoes, George also has on his figurative shooting shoes. He has made 35 of 70 3-pointers in the past seven games. A recent team-wide hot streak from beyond the arc has pulled Oklahoma City, which spent some of the season last in the NBA in 3-point percentage, to 23rd (34.4 percent) through Sunday's games.
The Thunder is shooting 46.3 percent from 3-point range during their winning streak and 42.7 percent in their past 10 games.
And OKC is feeling especially good after Sunday's victory against the team with the best record in the NBA.
"It definitely feels good to come out and get things going," forward Jerami Grant said in a postgame interview, "especially going into the end of the season."
--Field Level Media
Updated January 29, 2019