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Tramel: Thunder beats the Washington Generals in the NBA bubble

Oklahoma City's Darius Bazley puts up a 3-point shot during Sunday's win over the Washington Wizards. Bazley scored a career-hih 23 points. [Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP]
Oklahoma City's Darius Bazley puts up a 3-point shot during Sunday's win over the Washington Wizards. Bazley scored a career-hih 23 points. [Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP]

Jerome Robinson. Isaac Bonga. Jarrod Uthoff. Admiral Schofield. Johnathan Williams. Troy Brown Jr.

Good thing the Wizards trotted out some names we knew or sort of knew. Ish Smith, Thomas Bryant, Jerian Grant, Rui Hachimura. Not exactly the Showtime Lakers, but at least we knew they had some connection to basketball.

An agitated Chris Paul had popped into the NBA bubble interview room Friday after the Thunder’s browbeating loss to Memphis.

“Every team out here is fighting,” Paul said. “This isn’t 30 teams here, where teams already eliminated. All these teams here are going to continue to fight and try to win.”

Except Sunday came the Wizards. A team that had no business being in the NBA restart and dropped to 0-6 in Orlando with a 121-103 loss to the Thunder.

Washington, without stars Bradley Beal and John Wall, is a Disney World punching bag for bubble teams lucky enough to have the Wizards on their schedule. Paul is right; this Orlando schedule is game after game against quality opponents. Unless you draw the Wizards, who have been reduced to a mostly-anonymous roster. Washington Generals is more like it.

“I think it’s almost scarier to play a team who has nothing to lose,” said Thunder rookie Darius Bazley, who produced a career-high 23 points Sunday as OKC rose to 3-2 in the bubble and fifth in the Western Conference standings.

You can’t come down too hard on the NBA’s 22-team format. The same system that let in the Wizards also let in the also-ran Suns, and Phoenix is 5-0 in the Magic Kingdom, threatening to make the playoffs. The Thunder plays the Suns on Monday afternoon.

“The name of the game is to win,” said old pal Scotty Brooks, the Wizards coach. “We’re all in it to win. We haven’t won a game, but we’re still going to teach. We’re still going to grow. We’re still going to work on the correct habits. That’s what we’re all here to do.”

But it’s hard to win when your three best players don’t make the trip (Davis Bertans joined Beal in opting out of the bubble; Wall has been sidelined all season).

I know it’s hard to believe, but 9 1/2 months ago, in this same NBA season, the Wizards routed the Thunder 97-85 in Oklahoma City. Four of the Wizards starters that night – all but Beal – started that Oct. 25 night. How quickly we forget. Bryant scored 21 points, Hachimura 19.

The Thunder that night fell to 0-2 and seemed on the verge of some long, cold winters. Instead, the Thunder turned into one of the NBA’s better teams.


“Chris Paul,” Brooks said. “Chris Paul, he’s won a lot of games for them. He’s won a lot of games throughout his career. He’s the coach on the floor. You see it on the sideline. He’s coaching when he’s on the bench, he’s calling plays out. He gets into the refs, and they understand.

“Chris Paul is a difference-maker. He changes the game. He keeps you in every game. He manages, knows time and score, been a winning basketball player his entire career.”

CP3 was his usual stabilizing self in the first half Sunday; he had five points, five assists and his team had a 64-48 lead. But the Thunder — playing without Steven Adams, Dennis Schroder and Nerlens Noel — let the Wizards hang around.

So in a 92-80 game early in the fourth quarter, Paul took over. On consecutive Thunder possessions, he swished a forceful mid-range jumper, set up a Hamidou Diallo bucket with a nifty bounce pass and drilled a deep 3-pointer. Suddenly it was 99-80, and just like in those thousands of Globetrotter games, the Generals would not go home with a win.

And the Thunder has its only automatic victory behind it.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at

Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›