Do the Thunder finally have things figured out?

With leading scorer Russell Westbrook nursing an ankle injury, the Oklahoma City Thunder have found the perfect time to play their best basketball of the season.

Paul George had 20 points to lead six players in double figures Thursday night, and the Thunder beat the Houston Rockets 98-80 for their seventh consecutive win after starting the season with four straight losses.

Westbrook missed his second game after spraining his left ankle Monday. For the second straight night, though, the Thunder used a stellar defensive effort to overcome their own shooting struggles. Oklahoma City forced 17 turnovers and held Houston to 37.8 percent shooting, including 11-of-42 (26.2 percent) from 3-point range.

Houston’s 80 points are the fewest any team has scored so far this season. On Wednesday, the Thunder limited the Cavaliers to 37.1 percent shooting and forced 19 turnovers for a 95-86 victory in Cleveland. The Cavaliers’ 86 points are tied for the seventh-fewest.

“All year long we’ve been preaching, as long as we play defense everything else will fall into place,” George said in an on-court interview with TNT.

“We’re just gonna help one another. We’re gonna help, we’re gonna load up. We’re not gonna leave nobody out here on an island. Everybody trusts one another. We trust that we’re gonna be in the right spots. We’re gonna try to make everything difficult for guys,” George added.

Prior to Westbrook’s injury and the past two defensive outings, a resurgent offense had been fueling Oklahoma City’s turnaround.

The Thunder lost their first four games while shooting 39.1 percent from the field and scoring 101.8 points per game (league average is 110.9). During the seven-game win streak, they’re shooting 48 percent as a team and averaging 115 points a night.

Westbrook is listed as day-to-day with the ankle injury. He missed the preseason and the first two games of the regular season after a summer knee procedure. With the offense finding its rhythm and the defense showing signs of life, the Thunder can be more cautious bringing Westbrook back than they may have initially thought.

Oklahoma City’s upcoming schedule is also fortuitous. The Thunder’s next four games are against teams in the bottom third of the league, then they face the overachieving Sacramento Kings. As they continue to round into form and Westbrook gets a chance to heal, the Thunder have a chance to push their win streak to double digits ahead of a Nov. 21 showdown against the Golden State Warriors.

Follow Matt Eppers on Twitter @meppers_.

 

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