Dallas Mavericks vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 75 of 82)

westbrook thunder chandler nowitzki rondo parsons mavericks

  • When: Wednesday, 01 April 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Exactly a week ago, in the preview of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s game against the San Antonio Spurs, I wrote that if the Thunder had visions of getting higher than the 8th seed, then that game would be one of the more important ones remaining in the regular season. The Thunder then proceeded to crap the bed in San Antonio (and in Utah two nights later), thus killing any chance the Thunder had of catching the Spurs. But, lo and behold, a week later, the Thunder find themselves in the exact same position. The Thunder currently sit three games back of the Dallas Mavericks with 8 games to play. Win tonight and that number goes down to 2, with Dallas facing a tough schedule in their next 4 games (v. Memphis, Golden State, Phoenix, and @Denver).  While Oklahoma City’s schedule isn’t necessarily a cake walk either, the possibility is there for the Thunder to make up some ground.

This will be the 4th and final meeting of the season between these two cross-state rivals. The Mavericks currently lead the season series 2-1, with each team winning on their respective home floors.

The Opponent

nowitzki jefferson barea parsons mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks come into the game with a 45-29 record, good for 7th in the Western Conference. They boast one of the top offenses in the league (3rd in points per game at 104.1 and 5th in offensive rating), while having a middle of the road defense (21st in opponents’ points per game at 100.9 and 17th in defensive rating). The team has struggled in finding consistency since acquiring Rajon Rondo from Boston on December 20th. Before Rondo, the Mavs were 19-8. Since then, they are just 26-21. Dallas was hoping to get the Rondo that dominated in Boston from 2009-2012. Instead, they’ve gotten the “not fully recovered from knee surgery” version that still believes he’s one of the top point guards in the league. The chemistry between Rondo and back-court mate Monta Ellis has been shaky, at best. From the beginning of the season through January 31st, Ellis averaged 20.5 points per game on 46.1% FG shooting. In February and March, Ellis’ numbers slipped to 16.4 points on 40.2% FG shooting. Some of that could possibly be attributed to a buildup of nagging injuries, but a lot of that has to do with the apparent bad fit of Rondo and Ellis. After struggling a bit in the beginning of the season, Chandler Parsons’ numbers have begun to climb as his role has increased within the flow of the Dallas offense. Even though he’s getting long in the tooth, Dirk Nowitzki is still someone you have to game plan for and not leave open in critical situations. Up front, Tyson Chandler is still churning out double-doubles, averaging 10 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. The Dallas bench is full of crafty vets like JJ Barea, Amar’e Stoudemire, Devin Harris, and Richard Jefferson.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Dallas Mavericks

  • PG – Rajon Rondo
  • SG – Monta Ellis
  • SF – Chandler Parsons
  • PF – Dirk Nowitzki
  • C – Tyson Chandler

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Dion Waiters
  • SF – Kyle Singler
  • PF – Enes Kanter
  • C – Steven Adams

Three Things

1. Defense on Nowitzki - There are three players on the Thunder that can effectively guard Nowitzki. And all three (Kevin Durant, Nick Collison, and Serge Ibaka) are injured. Hell, the wild card that has been used on stretch 4’s to close out games recently, Andre Roberson, is also on the mend. That leaves the Thunder in a bit of pickle in terms of defending Dirk. Put Kanter or Mitch McGary on him, and the Mavs will either pick and pop him to death on the perimeter or drive around him to the basket.  Adams would probably be the best choice, but putting him on the perimeter can cause problems for the Thunder defense. Perry Jones is too undisciplined and Kyle Singler, who performed admirably against Markieff Morris in the second half of the Suns’ game, would likely be too short. It may turn into a difficult game against Nowitzki.

adams nowitzki thunder mavericks

2. Transition - One thing that usually trumps age is speed. With Westbrook leading the charge, the Thunder should be aiming to get a ton of points in transition. This will keep the Dallas defense off-kilter and will allow Westbrook to not only find openings into the paint, but also find open teammates. We lose this game if Westbrook doesn’t get his assist total into the double digits.

3. Hack-a-Rondo - Thunder coach Scott Brooks has never shied away from using the Hack-a-(player) ploy to try to get back into games. Since arriving in Dallas, Rondo is shooting just 39.4% from the FT line. If the Thunder find themselves in a close game in the 4th quarter, look for them to deploy this tactics on Rondo.

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Posted in Thunder Pre-game Report

Kevin Durant officially ruled out for the rest of the 2014-15 season

durant injured augustin thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder sent out a press release updating the Kevin Durant injury situation. In it, Sam Presti stated that Durant’s original fracture of his fifth metatarsal was beginning to show signs of regression. After consulting with three medical experts, the Thunder and Durant’s camp agreed that he would have a bone-graft procedure to further assist in the healing process. Durant is expected to return back to basketball activity in the next 4 to 6 months.

The Thunder likely knew about this a week ago when Presti originally had a press conference to update the media on Durant’s progress. After further tests and scans, the original diagnosis was confirmed. The Thunder currently sit in the 8th spot in the Western Conference, three games ahead of 9th place Phoenix.

Here’s the original press release from the organization. http://www.nba.com/thunder/news/pressrelease_durant_150327

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Scoreboard Watching: The Last 10 Games

adams kanter westbrook thunder

In a season that started off with championship aspirations, the Oklahoma City Thunder still find themselves in a position to achieve that goal, albeit a lot lower in the standings than previously envisioned. If healthy, the Thunder would clearly be atop the Western Conference standings. But as is the case when the words, “if healthy,” are used, the Thunder this season have been anything but healthy. Of the players currently on the roster, the Thunder have lost about 164 games due to injury. That figure would likely rival the last 5 seasons combined. Regardless of all of this, though, the Thunder are still firmly entrenched in the 8th spot of the Western Conference with 10 games to play. Their magic number to clinch a playoff spot is 8.

Anytime you are in the middle of a playoff race, you always have to look at the teams you are trying to gain ground on and the teams that are looking to gain ground on you. You watch out for, not only your team’s scores, but also the scores of those teams you are looking out for. Here’s a look at some of the teams who fortunes directly affect the future of the Thunder’s playoff hopes and beyond.

The Predators

Phoenix Suns

  • Current Record – 38-34
  • Position in the Conference/Position in relation to the Thunder – 9th in the conference, 3 games behind OKC
  • Remaining Schedule – vs. Portland, vs. OKC, @Portland, @Golden State, vs. Utah, @Atlanta, @Dallas, @New Orleans, @San Antonio, vs. Los Angeles Clippers
  • Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .630

After the trade deadline, Phoenix had to adjust after trading two of their top three guards (Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas). While they gained Brandon Knight, the adjustment period did cause the Suns to lose 7 of their first 11 games after the All-Star break. That spurt allowed the Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans to push ahead of the Suns in the battle for the 8th spot. The Sun have probably the toughest remaining schedule of the three teams looking for the 8th spot. Not only is the winning percentage of the teams remaining on their schedule .630, six of those ten games are on the road. The only solace the Suns can take is that some of those teams may be resting players in preparation for the playoffs.

green morris suns evans withey pelicans

New Orleans Pelicans

  • Current Record – 37-34
  • Position in the Conference/Position in relation to the Thunder – 10th in the conference, 3.5 games behind OKC
  • Remaining Schedule – vs. Sacramento, vs. Minnesota, @Los Angeles Lakers, @Sacramento, @Portland, vs. Golden State, @Memphis, vs. Phoenix, @Houston, @Minnesota, vs. San Antonio
  • Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .495

While the Pelicans have a much easier upcoming schedule, they are still dealing with injuries to two key players. Point guard Jrue Holiday remains without a timetable and Ryan Anderson is still about a week or so away from returning. The lack of depth in their guard rotation has started to rear its ugly head in the last few close games. Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon have had to log major minutes in the last two months, and seem to be tiring at the end of games. Anthony Davis is doing everything he can to help the Pelicans, but teams are starting to double him in the post. If the Pelicans are going to make any moves, it’ll be in the next four game, as their next four opponents have a winning percentage of .307.

The Prey

San Antonio Spurs

  • Current Record – 45-26
  • Position in the Conference/Position in relation to the Thunder – 6th in the conference, 4.5 games ahead of OKC
  • Remaining Schedule – vs. Dallas, vs. Memphis, @Miami, @Orlando, vs. Denver, vs. Golden State, @OKC, vs. Houston, @Houston, vs. Phoenix, @New Orleans
  • Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .568

The Thunder had a golden opportunity to make up ground on the Spurs last night, but watched that wilt away before halftime, as they fell behind by as much as 30 points in the 3rd quarter. The Spurs’ remaining schedule is not easy, but, luckily, they play the more difficult opponents at home. In year’s past, the Spurs would usually rest their players during this stretch of the year, but with the Mavs and the Thunder on their tails, the Spurs will likely not be doing that so much this season.

nowitzki mavericks duncan spurs

Dallas Mavericks

  • Current Record – 45-27
  • Position in the Conference/Position in relation to the Thunder – 7th in the conference, 4 games ahead of OKC
  • Remaining Schedule – @San Antonio, @Indiana, @OKC, vs. Houston, vs. Golden State, vs. Phoenix, @Denver, @Los Angeles Lakers, @Utah, vs. Portland
  • Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .538

The Mavs have been prone to inconsistencies of late (6-7 in their last 13 games) and may still be suffering from chemistry issues. Monta Ellis’ effectiveness hasn’t been the same since the Rajon Rondo trade and the Mavericks’ big man depth is questionable. They struggle a bit on the road and have two 3-game road trips coming up. The Thunder have one more game against the Mavericks and it comes at the back end of a tough 3 game road trip. If there is a team that may relinquish their positioning, it may be Dallas.

The Future Commodities Stakeholder

Washington Wizards

  • Current Record – 40-32
  • Position in relation to the Thunder – 1 game worse than OKC
  • Remaining Schedule – vs. Charlotte, vs. Houston, vs. Philadelphia, vs. New York, @Memphis, @Philadelphia, @Brooklyn, vs. Atlanta, @Indiana, @Cleveland
  • Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .476

While the Wizards’ fortunes hold no bearing for the Thunder’s playoff implications, they do hold significance for the Thunder’s first round draft pick. The Thunder currently have a better record than the Wizards which would give them the 19th pick in the upcoming draft. The trade that garnered Dion Waiters for the Thunder came at a cost of the Thunder’s first round pick. That pick had a restriction of Top 18, meaning that if the pick was in positions 1-18, the Thunder would keep the pick. If the Thunder were to pick in the 19-30 spot, that pick would be conveyed to the Philadelphia 76ers (via Denver from Cleveland). If the Thunder and Wizards finish with the same record, the position of the pick will be decided by a coin flip, with the winner of the flip getting the 18th pick.

The Thunder are firmly in the 8th spot in the West. Their playoff destiny could be decided in the next 6 games. They have a tough 2 game road trip remaining (@Phoenix and @Utah) and then play the Texas triangle and Memphis after that. Come out of that gauntlet with a winning record, and you control your playoff destiny. Finish less then .500 in these next 6 games, and things could get very harry. This is my favorite time of year to not only watch the games involving the Thunder, but also watch the games of the teams that can affect the Thunder’s future. Here’s to the last 3 weeks of the season.

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Oklahoma City Thunder at San Antonio Spurs preview (Game 72 of 82)

westbrook adams ibaka roberson thunder parker splitter spurs

  • When: Wednesday, 25 March 2015 at 8:30 PM CST
  • Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX

This has usually been the case in the past four seasons. As the Oklahoma City Thunder approach the end of the season, they usually look up in the standings and see the San Antonio Spurs. And, usually, the NBA is gracious enough to schedule about two OKC vs San Antonio games in the last three weeks of the season. The big difference this season as compared to previous seasons is that the Thunder are the 8th seed and are looking up at the Spurs, who are currently the 6th seed, but only by virtue of percentage points over the Dallas Mavericks. The Spurs have one of the tougher finishing schedules in the league and stand 3.5 games ahead of the Thunder. The 7th and 8th seed in the West may be in contention by these two familiar rivals that are used to battling atop the Western Conference standings.

This is the 2nd of 3 meetings this season between these two teams. The Thunder beat the Spurs in their only previous meeting on Christmas day, 114-106. In that game, the Thunder outscored the Spurs by 9 points in the 4th quarter, as Russell Westbrook led the team with 34 points and 11 assists.

The Opponent

leonard duncan green spurs

The San Antonio Spurs come into the game with a 44-26 record, good for 6th in the Western Conference. As is usually the case every season, the Spurs seem to be getting healthy at the right time. Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills, Tiago Splitter, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Boris Diaw have all had their injury issues throughout this season. But they are all relatively healthy and rearing up for their yearly playoff run. The Spurs are pretty consistent in their stats, ranking 11th in team scoring (102.4 ppg), 5th in assists (24.2 per game), and 9th in opponent scoring per game (97.9 ppg). The offense is, of course, led by Tony Parker, who has looked a lot more like himself in the past month after struggling with injuries previous to that. On the wing, Danny Green is tied for 7th in the league with 2.4 makes per game on almost 41% shooting from deep. And Kawhi Leonard, a lot like Parker, has started to round into form after struggling with injuries for much of the first half of the season. Up front, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter continue to be one of the more consistent big men tandems in the league. Off the bench, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw, Marco Belinelli, and Manu Ginobili continue to give the Spurs one of the better benches in the league.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

San Antonio Spurs

  • PG – Tony Parker
  • SG – Danny Green
  • SF – Kawhi Leonard
  • PF – Tim Duncan
  • C – Tiago Splitter

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Dion Waiters
  • SF – Kyle Singler
  • PF – Enes Kanter
  • C – Steven Adams

Three Things

1. Line-up shuffling - With the Thunder’s new Bruise Bros big man tandem, Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich may look to exploit the lack of mobility of the big men on the perimeter by inserting Diaw or Matt Bonner into the starting line-up. If Popovich sticks with his regular line-up, this may likely be an advantage for the Thunder.

westbrook thunder parker duncan spurs

2. Contain penetration - The biggest facilitator of the Spurs’ offense is the penetrating ability of Tony Parker (insert joke here), Manu Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard. The havoc those three create from getting into the paint leads to the Spurs’ 3-point shooters getting clean looks and to their big men getting open looks as the defending big men have to slide over to stop the dribble penetration. It will be incredibly important for the Thunder defenders to stay in front of these three players throughout the game.

3. 6th or 7th seed up for grabs - The Thunder’s goals this entire season have been to get healthy and make it to the playoffs. While they are still working on the getting healthy part, they hold the playoff positioning part in their hands. Yes, they will need some help, but the 6th seed is a possibility, which is saying something considering how this season started.

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Los Angeles Lakers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (Game 71 of 82)

westbrook thunder

  • When: Tuesday, 24 March 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s M.O. for the last month has been to go up about 2 games in the race for the 8th and final playoff spot in the West, only to go on a losing streak (two in a row, three out of four, etc) that threatens that positioning. The time is running short for the Thunder to continue this up and down cycle of playoff positioning. At the same time, the Thunder also have aspirations of reaching the Dallas Mavericks for the 7th seed. The Mavs have an extremely rough patch coming up in the next two weeks, and could possibly lose some ground in the next 7 games. This season has been a Sisyphean task, but with 12 games left, the Thunder are in position to make the best of their early season misfortunes.

This is the third and final meeting of the season between these two opponents. The Thunder won the first two meetings, but against one of the worst teams in the league, the average margin of victory has been only 4 points. The Thunder were without Kevin Durant during the first meeting and needed an Andre Roberson defensive stand to prevent a Kobe Bryant game winner. In the 2nd meeting, the Thunder were without Durant and Russell Westbrook, but still kept the Lakers at bay behind good performances from DJ Augustin, Enes Kanter, and Jeremy Lamb.

The Opponent

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Atlanta Hawks

The Los Angeles Lakers currently find themselves with a record of 18-50, which is the 4th worst record in the league. It has been a tumultuous year for the storied franchise, but not that any of that was unexpected. Kobe Bryant’s return from injury was marred by another season-ending injury, this time his shoulder. Steve Nash’s season, and career, apparently, was ended by luggage (no, seriously, luggage) before the season even started. And the Lakers’ star rookie, Julius Randle, played in only 1 game before succumbing to a broken leg. The issue with the Lakers this season has been defense. They rank 28th in terms of opponent’s points per game (104.5) and defensive rating. The offense is led by rookie Jordan Clarkson, who is averaging 9.8 points and 2.7 assists per game. Joining him on the wings are veteran guard Wayne Ellington and veteran forward Wesley Johnson. The power forward spot will see a change in this game, as Ryan Kelly will replace Jordan Hill in the starting line-up. Why? Because, it’s the Lakers, I guess. And the center spot will be manned by former Houston Rocket Tarik Black. The bench for the Lakers is veteran-laden, led by Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis, and Jordan Hill.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Los Angeles Lakers

  • PG – Jordan Clarkson
  • SG – Wayne Ellington
  • SF – Wesley Johnson
  • PF – Ryan Kelly
  • C – Tarik Black

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Dion Waiters
  • SF – Kyle Singler
  • PF – Enes Kanter
  • C – Steven Adams

Three Things

1. Establish the Interior - Enes Kanter has had a double-double in 6 of the last 7 games he  has played. Steven Adams has had a double-double in the 4 of the last 5 games. Ryan Kelly and Tarik Black are starting for the Lakers. If Adams and Kanter don’t each end up with a double-double at the end of the game, it will be highly disappointing.

adams kanter thunder II

2. Stop trying to block lay-ups from behind - In the last two games, we’ve lost two rotation players (Nick Collison and Andre Roberson) with sprained ankles on “from behind” block attempts. Let’s not make it a hat trick for this crazy statistic.

3. Bench - The bench for the Lakers worries me a bit because of their veteran presence. The Lakers are a bit weird in that their bench players would be starting if they weren’t needing to keep their pick. In case you didn’t know, the pick goes to the Philadelphia 76ers (via Phoenix) if it’s outside the first 5 picks of the draft.  Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill, and Ed Davis are all capable of having good to great games at any time. With the Thunder’s own depth being a bit depleted by injuries, the bench could become an issue in this game.

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Posted in Thunder Pre-game Report

Durant out for the season with another broken bone in his foot

durant thunder

And the hits keep on coming. According to one of my sources, Kevin Durant suffered another broken bone in his foot. That bone could be the one the screw was rubbing against for weeks on in, while playing. For all intents and purposes, though, Durant will likely be sidelined for the rest of the season, to include the playoffs.

It was about a week ago that Thunder coach Scott Brooks announced Durant would likely be back within a week or two. But a week into that timeline, it became apparent that Durant wasn’t progressing as he should be. He wasn’t practicing with the team and he was still experiencing soreness after his individual workouts. While soreness is always to be expected when coming back from surgery, this soreness was reminiscent of the pain he was feeling before the screw was replaced. As Thunder GM Sam Presti reported today, Durant will be out indefinitely and will be removed from all basketball activities.

Posted in News

Chicago Bulls vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 66 of 82)

westbrook thunder noah bulls

  • When: Sunday, 15 March 2015 at 12:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

One of the things the trade deadline did for the Oklahoma City Thunder was give them the option to play in a variety of manners. The time where Oklahoma City’s roster was littered with one-way players has gone by the way side. In its stead, the Thunder now have a roster full of players that, while not necessarily top notch on either end of the floor, are usually able to be net-positives in their time on the floor. In that same token, if a certain player is struggling, then another is waiting in the wing to pick up the slack. That overall depth is something that has been lacking since the days of James Harden, Eric Maynor, and Daequan Cook. And even though the Thunder played a team that could possibly end up with the first pick in the next draft in their last game, that depth is the reason why the Thunder were able to survive a line-up shuffle that saw them with Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka.

This is the 2nd, and final, meeting of the season between these two teams. The Chicago Bulls won a thriller a week and a half ago, 108-105, on an unlikely E’Twaun Moore 3-pointer in the final seconds of the game. The Thunder wasted a 43 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists masterpiece by Russell Westbrook, as the defense could not hold on to the 7 points lead they had going into the 4th quarter.

The Opponent

gasol noah mirotic bulls

The Chicago Bulls come into this game with a 40-27 record, good for 4th in the Eastern Conference. Since they last met the Thunder, they’ve gone on to lose 4 of their next 5 games. Their problem in that span has largely been defense, as they have given up an uncharacteristic 102.2 points per game in that stretch. With Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, and Jimmy Butler still sidelined, the Bulls will have to depend on their defense to win games. The patch work back-court of Aaron Brooks and Tony Snell have kept the Bulls afloat with their occasional good games, and Mike Dunleavy Jr has provided the perimeter threat the Bulls lacked when he and Doug McDermott were out with injuries earlier in the season. Up front, Joakim Noah has been a bit hobbled, but will likely play in Sunday’s game. Pau Gasol continues to have one of his better season, posting 18.4 points and 12.1 boards per game. Off the bench, rookie of the year candidate Nikola Mirotic has been a revelation of late, averaging 15.2 points and 7.2 rebounds since the All-Star break.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Chicago Bulls

  • PG – Aaron Brooks
  • SG – Tony Snell
  • SF – Mike Dunleavy Jr.
  • PF – Pau Gasol
  • C – Joakim Noah

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Dion Waiters
  • PF – Mitch McGary
  • C – Enes Kanter

Three Things

1. Line-Up Changes - From now until the beginning of the game, there may be a lot of moving parts. Serge Ibaka (knee), Enes Kanter (knee), and Steven Adams (hip) all sat out practice on Saturday. Joakim Noah was extremely hobbled in their last game with a knee ailment and may be a game time decision. As I wrote in the opening paragraph of the preview, the Thunder are a lot better equipped to handle these types of situations now than they have been in the past.

2. Turnovers - More specifically, Russell Westbrook’s turnovers. Westbrook is averaging 9 turnovers per game in the last 3 games. For as great as he has been, he could be better. Westbrook’s turnovers are usually of the live-ball variety, which increase the opponent’s transition opportunities. If Westbrook could maybe cut that average down to 4, the Thunder will be able to hold on to leads and cut into deficits a lot better.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Chicago Bulls

3. Nikola Mirotic - The Thunder had no answer for Mirotic in their first meeting. Even though he didn’t shoot it great from outside, he controlled the action offensively. The Thunder bigs were afraid of his ability to make 3’s, so they flashed out everytime he got the ball on the perimeter. And when he pump-faked, they jumped. He is quickly becoming a prime-time player, and Thunder will have to find someone to keep him in check.

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Posted in Thunder Pre-game Report
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