THUNDER: By George, OKC's struggling

AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George, front, pursues a loose ball with Denver Nuggets guard Will Barton in the second half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, in Denver. The Nuggets won 121-112.

Could Paul George have added to his MVP candidacy in recent Thunder losses?

If you equate MVP with being the league’s best player, probably not.

However, if the “most valuable” part of MVP holds sway, he might have, because in each of the Thunder’s last three losses, George’s shot has abandoned him and Oklahoma City has not been able to recover.

Tuesday, the Thunder fell 121-112 to the Denver Nuggets and one stat that stuck out was Oklahoma City’s 34 personal fouls (to Denver’s 28) and the Nuggets’ 26 of 35 free-throw shooting (to the Thunder’s 16 of 25).

Speaking to OKCThunder.com afterward, coach Billy Donovan called the fouls and free throws “the biggest thing in the game.”

Given the things that Donovan’s willing to pin a game on, he might be right. However, among the things Donovan’s never going to do in a postgame press conference is blame a loss on his MVP candidate’s shooting struggles. However, those struggles are real.

The Thunder have lost three of their last four games and in those losses George has made 30.6 percent of his attempts (22 of 72) and 20 percent (8 of 40) of his 3-point attempts.

The only game the Thunder have won of their last four, in double overtime over Utah, George made 17 of 31 attempts and 5 of 13 3-point attempts, scoring 45 points.

Tonight, Oklahoma City plays host to the Philadelphia 76ers, and will do it with the good fortune of not facing All-Star center Joe Embiid, who’s been ruled out with left knee soreness.

Embiid has his own claim in the MVP race, averaging 27.3 points, 13.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists.

His absence should help, as should the Thunder returning home. Finding that elusive defense that defined the first half of the season would also help.

Just playing 24 good defensive minutes to begin the game would help, something the Thunder haven’t offered since holding Portland to 49 first-half points on Feb. 11. In their four games since, they have allowed, on average, 62.5 first-half points.

Yet, getting a big night of offense from George could make the most difference.

The last time he went two games with so few made field goals — 11 — came in Games 42 and 43, against San Antonio and Atlanta, when George combined to go 11 of 35 from the field, and the only other time it’s happened came in Games 7 and 8, against Charlotte and Washington, when he combined to go 10 of 32.

After tonight, OKC plays five of its next six away from home, making this evening's a fairly important game.

It would be nice if the Thunder's MVP candidate could prove how much he helps when shooting well, rather than how much it hurts when he’s not.

Game 61

Philadelphia at Oklahoma City

Time: 7 p.m.

Place: Chesapeake Energy Arena

Records: Thunder 38-22, 76ers 39-22

TV: TNT

Radio: WWLS-FM 98.1

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