Monthly Archives: February 2013

New Orleans Hornets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 57 of 82)

Austin Rivers, Robin Lopez, Kendrick Perkins, Russell Westbrook

  • When: Wednesday, 27 February 2013 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Home, sweet home. After suffering their first 3-game losing streak since last season’s Finals, the Thunder were looking to rebound with three straight home games. And rebound they have, winning the first two games of the home stand by an average of 23 points. While Kevin Durant continues to be mired in a slight slump, Russell Westbrook has stepped his game up to the tune of 25.1 points, 6.4 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals per game in the month of February, while shooting 50.6% from the field and 45.8% from the 3-point line. Serge Ibaka has also been much more impactful in his play during the home stand which has provided the Thunder with some semblance of a post presence.

Reggie Jackson, Xavier Henry

The Thunder and New Orleans Hornets have met 3 times this season, with OKC coming out on top in the first two games by an average of 18 points. In the third meeting, the Thunder needed a late second half spark from then seldom used point guard Reggie Jackson to come back and win a close game, 92-88. Since that game, Jackson has solidified himself as the back-up point guard for the team, supplanting Eric Maynor.

The Opponent

hornets

The New Orleans Hornets come into the game 20-38 record, good for 13th in the conference. The Hornets are in the midst of a rebuilding project following the Chris Paul/David West years. Statistically, they rank in the bottom half of the league in nearly every category. Offensively, they only score 94.5 points per game (22nd in the league), and defensively, they allow a respectable 97.3 points per game (13th in the league). They are paced by point guard Greivis Vasquez, who is averaging 13.7 points, 9.4 assists, and 4.6 rebounds per game. Shooting guard Eric Gordon, oft injured since being acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers last season, has come back in the past 20 games, and is averaging 16.7 points while working his way back from knee surgery. Although Al-Farouq Aminu is given a bad rap as having a low basketball IQ, he is the glue of the team, providing anything from points to boards to defense. Up front, the team depends on rookie Anthony Davis and center Robin Lopez who supply respectable post defense and rebounding. Off the bench, the Hornets are led by stretch power forward Ryan Anderson, one of the premier 3-point shooters in the league. The rest of the bench is inconsistent with rookies Austin Rivers and Brian Roberts being one of the focuses of the rebuilding project.

Probable Starter

New Orleans Hornets

  • PG – Greivis Vasquez
  • SG – Eric Gordon
  • SF – Al-Farouq Aminu
  • PF – Anthony Davis
  • C – Robin Lopez

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

1. Tempo – With this being the 2nd game of a back to back for the Hornets, the Thunder need to push the pace, and get out in transition whenever possible. It’s very surprising that the Hornets, while being a very young team, do not push the tempo. They are very similar to the Memphis Grizzlies in that respect. Also, the 2nd team for the Thunder will be chopping at the bit with new additions Ronnie Brewer and Derek Fisher ready to play in their first game of the season for the Thunder.

brewer fisher

2. Perimeter defense – With Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson on the floor, the Hornets have guys that can catch fire quickly from the perimeter. While Lopez and Davis are of some threat to score down low, the Thunder defense does not need to sink in on most possessions to help out.

martin hornets

3. Kevin Martin – For some reason, Martin loves playing against the Hornets. He averages 21 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 2 assists per game against the Hornets, by far, his best statistical team split of the season.

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The OKC Thunder and their trade deadline moves

presti-sam

After so much speculation and rumor, this was just about the most anti-climactic trading deadline ever. Other than the Sacramento Kings unloading Thomas Robinson in a “scratch your head” trade to Houston, most teams played it safe and kept their assets. This is probably the first visible sign of how the new CBA will affect how teams view their assets moving forward.  The name of the game is cap space and most teams stuck with what they had instead of taking on salary and risk.

The Oklahoma City Thunder were a microcosm of the trading deadline, itself. The Thunder had one player who was a virtual lock to get traded, in Eric Maynor. The rumors were that teams were interested in Maynor as a solid back-up point guard, but were unwilling to unload a first round pick in exchange for him, which was the asking price from the Thunder. Then on Wednesday, a big rumor sprang up involving the Thunder and the Phoenix Suns. In the proposed trade, Phoenix would send Marcin Gortat and PJ Tucker to the Thunder for Kendrick Perkins, Jeremy Lamb, and a 1st rounder. Though the rumor died down as the day went along, it gained a little bit of momentum late Wednesday when Perkins was a late scratch in the Thunder’s game because of a knee sprain. By Thursday, though, the deal was all but dead. In the end, the Thunder traded Maynor, kept the asset train rolling, and obtained a veteran lock-down defender for virtually nothing.

Deal 1 : Oklahoma City sends Eric Maynor to the Portland Trailblazers for a $2.35 million trade exception and the rights to Georgios Printezis

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One of the greatest things in the world is receiving an extension to a deadline. The Thunder were facing the possibility of losing Maynor for nothing this offseason. While the Thunder didn’t receive the 1st round pick they were initially looking for, they did receive an asset that could help them immensely in the future. The trade exception is actually a little more than Maynor’s actual salary. In essence, the Thunder got a 1 year reprieve on Maynor’s expiring contract, without having a live body taking up a roster spot.

For a player that many fans thought wouldn’t garner anything of value, the Thunder made the best of the situation and got themselves a valuable asset. With possibly 3 draft picks (2 first rounders and a 2nd rounder) in the upcoming draft, look for Oklahoma City to put a package together to get something of high value on draft night.

georgios-printezis-olympiacos-piraeus-eb12-42058

As for Georgios Printezis, he’s a 6’9” PF that currently plays for Olympiacos in the Euroleague. His game is similar to that of Luis Scola of the Phoenix Suns, but with a little more range on his jumper. He is best known for hitting the game winning shot in the Euroleague finals against CSKA Moscow. The 28 year old recently signed a 3 year extension with Olympiacos that will probably keep him in Europe for the rest of his career.

Deal 2: Oklahoma City receives Ronnie Brewer from the New York Knicks for a 2014 2nd round pick.

One of Sam Presti’s tenants is that he never deals for a player with just one team in mind. When he dealt for Kendrick Perkins, many people thought he did that with only the Los Angeles Lakers (who had Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol) in mind. But the entire Western Conference is full of skilled big men, especially the playoff teams. Teams like Memphis (Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph), Utah (Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap), San Antonio (Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter), and the Los Angeles Clippers (DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin) all pose a threat on the inside to the Thunder.

With our recent struggles against the Miami Heat, many Thunder fans were clamoring for a big wing defender like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute of the Milwaukee Bucks or Jared Dudley of the Suns to be that mythical being called a “Lebron stopper”. The truth is, when you play a team that plays inside/out like the Heat or the Spurs, a big wing defender is tantamount when it comes to recovering on 3-point shooters. Players like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Dwayne Wade, and James are great at dribble penetrating, breaking down a defense, and finding the open guy on the perimeter. While the Thunder already have a great perimeter defender in Thabo Sefolosha, an extra set of long arms and active hands would not hurt.

02212013_ronnie_brewer

The New York Knicks, in an effort to slash some payroll and open up a roster spot, were looking to unload one of their perimeter defenders. The early rumor was that they were trying to trade Iman Shumpert for an offensively minded guard like Orlando’s  J.J. Reddick. Instead, the Knicks made Brewer available and the Thunder swung the deal for him. Brewer is regarded as one of the toughest big wing defenders in the league. He’ll be especially helpful to Kevin Martin and the bench unit as their best wing defender. Also, if necessary, in small ball line-ups, Brewer can be put in at SF or SG to help on the defensive end.

An added bonus is that Brewer’s salary is nearly half of what Maynor’s was ($2.3 million for Maynor compared to $1.2 million for Brewer). That saved money could be used to get a veteran free agent for the final roster spot, similar to what the Thunder did in obtaining Derek Fisher last season.

okc lbj

Overall, I think these moves made the Thunder slightly better in the present and made them even more dangerous on the draft/trade front in the future. Whether Brewer proves to be of any use is still to be seen. But it’s better to have a player like that on your team than on your opponent’s team. With the more punitive luxury tax looming next season, many teams will be looking to dump some salary in the offseason. With all their assets they’ve accrued, the Thunder should feel pretty good about themselves as we move forward under the guise of this new CBA.

The Thunder and their tradeable assets

After the pomp and circumstances that was the NBA All-Star Weekend, it is now time to get to the meat of the NBA season. But before we even reach that point, there’s a little something called the trade deadline that can change the fates of aspiring championship teams. For the next 4 days, you will hear every sort of rumor, from the asinine to the very believable. And that is what makes this time of year one of my favorites.

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In the last two seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder have made some sort of move at the trade deadline. In Feb. 2010, they traded Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to the Boston Celtics for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson. Last season, they eschewed a trade, instead choosing to sign veteran guard Derek Fisher for their playoff run that went all the way to the Finals. This season, the Thunder made their big splash before the season started, trading reigning 6th man of the year James Harden to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and 3 draft picks. The Thunder went from a team with hardly any assets to one brimming with them. Any one of those assets or combinations of assets could be used to make a bigger move to help the Thunder either in the short term or in the long term.

Here are the top 5 tradable assets for the Thunder in terms of their desirability from other teams.

5. Eric Maynor

Two seasons ago, when the Thunder made a surprise run to the Western Conference Finals, Maynor was viewed as one of the top back-up point guards in the league. The fervor that is currently surrounding Los Angeles Clipper’s back-up point guard Eric Bledsoe was akin to what was being said about Maynor two seasons ago. A young floor general that was good enough to start for many other teams, and maybe even good enough to start ahead of Russell Westbrook. 

emaynor_648218153

The Thunder, sensing that Maynor’s rising stock may make him difficult to keep, drafted guard Reggie Jackson in the 2011 NBA draft. At the beginning of last season, it became increasingly evident that Maynor’s game had stagnated and hadn’t really improved that much during the offseason. Then, before the season was even 10 games old, Maynor tore his ACL and was lost for the season. While Maynor was rehabbing, Jackson was receiving his baptism by fire and earning precious playing time on a championship contending team. When this season started, Maynor was given the opportunity to earn his spot back as back-up point guard. He played as the primary back-up point guard for the first 23 games of the season. What became evident was that the injury had sapped Maynor of what little athleticism he had, and the Harden trade had robbed Maynor of his greatest asset off the bench. Thunder coach Scott Brooks chose to go with the more athletic Reggie Jackson off the bench to anchor the 2nd team from there on out.

reggie jax

Maynor is in the final year of his rookie contract that owes him $2.34 million. He has value as a cheap rental for a team looking to scout point guards for next season. Maynor has recently shed his bulky knee brace and is moving around a lot better than he did at the beginning of the season. He is just 14 months removed from major knee surgery and may be getting back to being healthy again.

Percentage the Thunder move Maynor: 65% (The Thunder aren’t going to move Maynor just to move him. If they are able to acquire any value, such as a high 2nd rounder or a young player, they’ll make the move. If not, they’ll roll with Maynor for the rest of the season as the insurance point guard.)

4. Charlotte’s 2013 2nd round pick

Second round picks are usually tossed back and forth between teams in almost comedic fashion. Most players selected in the 2nd round usually never make it onto an NBA roster, instead spending most of their careers in the D-League or overseas. The beauty of 2nd round picks, though, is that their contracts aren’t guaranteed and don’t fall into the pay scale system of the 1st round picks.

The valuable 2nd round picks are those that fall in the 31-35 range. In those picks, you can get a good player that has slipped into the 2nd round for a variety of reasons. A good example would be Dejuan Blair of the San Antonio Spurs, who slipped into the 2nd round because of injury concerns with his knees. Being that this pick belongs to Charlotte, who currently owns the worst record in the league, it could be a good asset as the first pick of the 2nd round.

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Percentage the Thunder moves this pick: 0.000001% (The Thunder fought long and hard to get this pick back. They initially obtained this pick in the trade that sent Byron Mullens to the Bobcats. The pick was later given to the Boston Celtics by the NBA as punishment for the deal involving Jeff Green, who had a heart condition that the Thunder may or may not have known about. Boston then sent the pick to the Houston Rockets in an off-season deal that sent Courtney Lee to the Celtics. And then the Thunder re-obtained the pick in the James Harden deal. I honestly think Thunder GM Sam Presti would have dealt Kevin Durant to get this pick back.)

3. Kevin Martin

This was the player the Thunder got back in the James Harden trade that could be labeled as “of equal or comparable value”. Martin is one of those fringe All-Star players that can average 20 points per game in the NBA, but bring little else to the table. Martin has done a good job this season of reproducing the offensive production that Harden gave the Thunder last season. Martin’s trade value, though, comes in the fact that he has a $12 million expiring contract.

kevin-martin-thunder

Martin is still a really good player that could still average 20 points per game if he were on a bad team. He’s one of the top players in free throw percentage and 3-point FG percentage and averages 15 points per game off the bench. He had done a good job of assimilating himself to his role on the Thunder and assimilating himself to the culture of the city. He has made it known that he would like to stay in Oklahoma City and sounds like he would be willing to take a pay cut to stay. (Annnd, cue Thunder fans saying “We’ve heard that before”).  

Percentage the Thunder move Martin: 12.5% (Having already made a major trade to start the season, I doubt the Thunder make another major trade in the middle of the season. They have the 2nd best record in the league and Martin has been a willing participant in his bench role. Unless the Thunder are able to acquire 2 players for the price of one, I think the Thunder head into the playoffs with Martin as their 6th man.

2. Jeremy Lamb/Perry Jones III

When you are a rookie on a championship contending team, playing time can be at a premium. This is where the Thunder and their rookies currently find themselves. Besides end of blowout situations, Lamb and Jones III have gotten most of their playing time with the Thunder’s D-League affiliates, the Tulsa 66ers. Their lack of playing time is not indicative of their potential, though. On a bad to mediocre team, these two would be logging major minutes. But on this team, their major function this season is in developing their game.  

lamb-jones

The league still views them as rookies dripping with potential. And that is where their value lies. I’m pretty sure many trade proposals have started with Eric Maynor and ended with one or both of these rookies. Young players on rookie deals are like gold in the NBA, and the Thunder have 2 bars in their safe.

Percentage the Thunder move either of these players: 10% (With their future salary cap situation (2 max players in Westbrook and Durant, Ibaka’s upcoming extension, Perkins’ contract, and Martin possibly resigning), the Thunder place optimum value on young players on rookie scale contracts. Both of these players emulate the Thunder model (athletic, long, and able to play multiple positions) and have performed well in their time in Tulsa.  

1. Toronto’s protected 1st round pick (2013 – Top 3 and 15-30 protected, 2014,2015 – Top 2 and 15-30 protected, 2016,2017 – Top 1 and 15-30 protected, 2018 – unprotected)

Before Toronto acquired Rudy Gay, this pick looked like it was going to be in the 6-8 range. Since the Gay trade, Toronto seems to be a much tougher out for opponents and reeled off 4 straight wins before the All-Star break. The Raptors currently sit 6 games out of the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference, so while it is not an impossibility for them to make a run at the playoffs, the hole they dug themselves before the trade may be too much to overcome this season.

Rudy-Gay-Raptors

For a team looking to rebuild, a pick in the lottery is a steal. Any draft pick is a gamble, but those in the lottery have a higher percentage of panning out than those outside of the lottery. The Raptors picks is now looking to be in the 10-14 range.

Percentage the Thunder deal this pick: 10% (The same logic that applies to the Thunder and why they probably won’t deal Lamb or Jones III, applies to this draft pick. Earlier this season, this pick looked like it was going to be in the 4-6 range. But even where it stands today, this pick probably has more value for the Thunder than for another rebuilding team, especially in a draft that is perceived to be weak.).

One thing to look out for is the empty roster spot the Thunder have. If they don’t fill this spot with someone in a trade, look for the Thunder to sign veteran forward Rasual Butler. Oklahoma City fans may remember Butler from his days with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets. He is currently playing for the Tulsa 66ers and may be what the Thunder need in a 3-point shooter and perimeter defender.

butler 66ers

The fact is that the Thunder have the 2nd best record in the league and are coming off of a Finals appearance. Sam Presti is not known to deal in haste or for a quick fix. He believes in sustainability and cap-flexibility, so any deal will have to work for the Thunder’s present and for their future. Needless to say, I don’t really see the Thunder making a move this trading deadline….but I’ll be watching.

 

Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Preview (Game 53 of 82)

okc miami

  • When: Thursday, 14 February 2013 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

This game brings to it a sense of deja vu. The last time the Oklahoma City Thunder played the Miami Heat, the Thunder were coming off a loss. The Thunder ended up losing that game to the Heat on Christmas day for their only consecutive game losing streak of the season. This time the Thunder are coming off a loss to the Utah Jazz, and would love nothing more than to get a victory against last season’s Finals opponent before heading into the All-Star break. Remember, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook has to swallow the bitter pill of playing with Lebron James in the Olympics after their NBA Finals loss. The last thing they want is to lose to Lebron and the Heat again, when they’ll probably have to link up for NBA-related activities during the All-Star break.

In their last meeting, the Thunder and Heat played in a game that met expectation. While the Heat held the lead for most of the 4th quarter, the game was tight with Durant and Westbrook both having chances to tie the game in the closing seconds. The main characters performed well, with Durant and Westbrook leading the Thunder with 33 and 21 points, respectively, and James and Dwayne Wade leading the Heat with 29 and 21 points, respectively. The main difference were the role players, where Kevin Martin and Serge Ibaka each had 15 points for the Thunder, while Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers had 21 and 20, respectively, for the Heat.

The Opponent

miami heat starting 5

The Miami Heat come into the game with a 35-14 record, good for 1st in the Eastern Conference. They are currently riding a 6-game winning streak. Their offense is top-5 in the league (103.1 ppg, 5th in the league) and their scoring defense is in the top half of the league (96.7 ppg allowed, 12th in the league). The Heat are led by all-world forward Lebron James, who is having one of the best seasons the league has ever seen. He is leading the Heat in 4 statistical categories (scoring, rebounds, assists, and steals), while leading the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating (PER). The backcourt consists of Mario Chalmers and All-Star Dwayne Wade, who is also having a great season, averaging 21 points, nearly 5 rebound, and nearly 5 assists per game.  The front court consists of rugged PF Udonis Haslem and All-Star Chris Bosh. The bench is full of 3-point shooters (Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Norris Cole, Mike Miller) and the recently signed Chris Andersen.

Probable Starters

Miami Heat

  • PG – Mario Chalmers
  • SG – Dwayne Wade
  • SF – Lebron James
  • PF – Udonis Haslem
  • C – Chris Bosh

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

  • Perimeter Defense – Its the rock and the hard place that defenses face when they play the Miami Heat. Do you allow James and Wade to penetrate into the lane, but stay home on the shooters? Or do you collapse the defense to protect the paint, while exposing yourself on the perimeter? The Thunder always seem to get burned a one of the Heat’s role players (Battier in the Finals, Miller in Game 5, Chalmers in the Christmas game) on the perimeter. rebound
  • Rebounding – The Heat are last in the league in rebounding at 38.7 rebounds per game, which is completely unheard of for a championship contender. The Thunder bigs need to control the paint and not allow the Heat to get extra opportunities on offense. Kevin Durant needs to slide down and help out on the glass, especially when he is playing the 4, which I feel will be often in this game. brooks2
  • Scott Brooks and match-ups – This is probably one of the biggest subplots in the game. The Heat don’t play a tradition center (big, always in the paint, post presence). This negates the effectiveness of Kendrick Perkins, but Brooks always seems to have Perkins out on the floor when the Heat are playing small (usually in the 4th quarter). Will Brooks switch it up this time, or will he stay with the same defensive line-up when the Heat go small? Also, who guards Lebron James? Do you put KD on Lebron and risk Durant being in foul trouble? Or do you go with Sefolosha or Liggins? Whatever the decision is, it will probably a case of picking your poison.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz Preview (Game 52 of 82)

jazz thunder

  • When: Tuesday, 12 February 2013 at 8:00 CST
  • Where: EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, UT

It was great to watch the Tulsa 66ers play, what amounted to, an entire NBA game this past week. Whether it was Reggie Jackson making a nice dish, Daniel Orton carving out space and grabbing a rebound, Perry Jones III showing flashes of his crazy athleticism, or DeAndre Liggins playing full court defense when his team is up by 20, it was good to see that the Thunder’s youth movement in full effect. It’s a shame that Jeremy Lamb was out with a lower back strain during this four game blowout streak, because he would have had plenty of time to show off his 3-point stroke. But alas, all good things come to an end and I think the easy road ends tonight, when the Thunder play division rival Utah in Salt Lake City.

These two teams have previously met one time this season, in late November at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Thunder beat the Jazz by a score of 106 – 94, in a game that almost featured a quadruple double by Russell Westbrook who finished with 23 points, 13 rebounds, 8 assists, and 7 steals. After being down by 16 to start the 4th quarter, the Jazz got it down to a 5 point deficit, but eventually got a steady dose of Westbrook and Durant, and succumbed to the Thunder down the stretch.

The Opponent

The Utah Jazz come into the game with a 28-24 record, good for 7th in the Western Conference. Statistically, they are a middle of the road team, averaging 98.1 ppg (11th in the league) and allowing 98.8 ppg (18th in the league). The Jazz are in the weird position where they are trying to jump start a youth movement, but are still good enough to get into the bottom seeds of the playoffs. They are led by their two big men, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, who are both on the trading block due to their cost and impending free agency. Together they average 32.3 points and 16.8 rebounds per game. Marvin Williams rounds out the front court. On the perimeter, the Jazz have had a revolving door of point guards, to include Earl Watson, Jamaal Tinsley, and Randy Foye. All have been effective for short stints and then get replaced by the next point guard in line. The intriguing players for the Jazz are the one coming off the bench. This is the youth movement that the Jazz is looking to unleash once it gets out of all of its long term contracts this offseason. The Jazz have to see what they have in Alec Burks, Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, and Gordon Hayward.

jazz young

Probable Starter

Utah Jazz

  • PG – Jamaal Tinsley
  • SG – Randy Foye
  • SF – Marvin Williams
  • PF – Paul Millsap
  • C – Al Jefferson

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

  • Russell Westbrook – None of the guards the Jazz have can contain Russell Westbrook. They are either too slow or too week to stay with him. In the last game, Westbrook almost had a quadruple double and I don’t see anything different in this game. Westbrook was the Western Conference player of the week last week, and will start his campaign to repeat this week.
  • Controlling the paint – Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are dangerous players that can go off for double double games at any time. The Jazz offense runs through these two players when the starters are in, and the bench sets run through Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors when they are in. Kanter went off for a career high 18 points when he played against us last time. It is up to Perkins, Ibaka, Hasheem Thabeet, and Nick Collison to maintain the Jazz’s bigs and protect the paint. Paul Millsap, Hasheem Thabeet
  • Home vs. Road – The Jazz sport a .760 winning percentage at home and a .333 winning percentage on the road. Needless to say, they are a much better team in the confines of EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City, UT. For a team looking to bolster its playoff odds, the Jazz will be seeing this game as a must win. Add the that the possibility that the Thunder may be looking ahead to their Finals rematch with the Miami Heat on Thursday, and this game is full of trap game implications. Sufficed to say, I think the Thunder starters will be playing in the 4th quarter of this game.

Phoenix Suns vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Preview (Game 50 of 82)

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  • When: Friday, 08 February 2013 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

What a difference a week makes. Last week we were wondering what was going on with the team following a blow up by Russell Westbrook in a blowout win against the Memphis Grizzlies, and a surprising road loss to a bottom dwelling Eastern Conference team (Cleveland). But, alas, it was probably much ado about nothing. The team was probably just road-weary after having played 12 of their previous 15 games on the road. A three game home stand is just what the doctor ordered. The Thunder have responded with two consecutive 21 point victories against quality opponents (Dallas and Golden State).

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On the third game of their home stand, the Thunder will face the Phoenix Suns. The two teams come into the game on opposite end of the spectrum, with the Thunder being the 2nd best team in the Western Conference, and the Suns being tied for the 2nd worst record in the conference. The Thunder currently lead the season series 2-0, but struggled to close out the game in their last meeting. The Thunder only held a 4 point lead heading into the 4th quarter of that game, but Kevin Durant took over, scoring 19 of his 41 points in the final quarter to lead the Thunder to a 102-90 victory.

The Opponent

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The Suns currently find themselves in the beginnings of a rebuilding process. They aren’t horrible enough to get high draft picks, but they aren’t good enough to be considered mediocre. They find themselves at 17-33, tied for 13th in the conference. They are in the bottom third of the league in scoring (95.3 ppg, 20th in the league) and scoring defense (99.6 ppg against, 22nd in the league). Needless to say, these are not your older brother’s Steve Nash-led Suns. The offensive attack is keyed by point guard Goran Dragic, who leads the team in scoring (14.2 ppg) and assists (6.4 per game). The front court is led by the veteran duo of Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola, with both averaging double figures in points and combining for over 15 rebounds per game. Rounding out the back court is the defensive duo of PJ Tucker and Jared Dudley. The Suns’ bench can be explosive, but very inconsistent, with scorers like Michael Beasley and Shannon Brown, and big men like Jermaine O’Neal and Markieff Morris.

Probable Starters

Phoenix Suns

  • PG – Goran Dragic
  • SG – PJ Tucker
  • SF – Jared Dudley
  • PF – Luis Scola
  • C – Marcin Gortat

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

  1. Contain their scorers – Sound like logical reasoning. But Phoenix’s roster is littered with guys that can become streaky and go off for 25 points in an instant. Players like Dragic, Scola, Beasley, and Gortat all have the possibility of getting hot at the right time and scoring a ton of points. Just ask the Los Angeles Lakers about Beasley going off for 27 against them, and leading the Suns to victory after they were down by 10 heading into the 4th quarter.Reggie Jackson, Markeiff Morris
  2. Bench play – The starters will do their thing, but it’s up to the bench players to maintain what the starters do. In the last game, the bench allowed the Suns to storm back at the end of the 3rd quarter to bring the Suns within 4 points. The Suns’ bench outscored the Thunder’s bench 30-19 in their previous meeting.
  3. Do what you do – The Thunder are superior to the Suns in every statistical category. And they are playing at home. If the Thunder do what they do, this should be an easy victory.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Cleveland Cavaliers Preview (Game 47 of 82)

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  • When: Saturday, 02 February 2013 at 6:30 PM CST
  • Where: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH

Apparently the schedule makers thought one game on Oklahoma City was enough, and sent the team back on the road. After blowing out the short-handed Memphis Grizzlies, 106-89, the Oklahoma City Thunder travel to Cleveland to face Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers. Not that the blowout of the Grizzlies wasn’t without controversy. Everyone on the NBA landscape has heard about the eruption of Mount St. Westbrook. My quick reaction to this outburst is that Westbrook needs to look at things in the context that they are occurring. The Thunder were up by 25 points at the time of the incident with Thabo Sefolosha. Instead of barking back and forth at each other for “miscommunications,” that could have been a great opportunity for an ‘in-game’ video session where Sefolosha and Westbrook discuss what are the options if a similar incident occurs in the future. Instead, Westbrook gets taken out of the game earlier than usual and throws a fit which frazzles the team a bit and turns a 25 point lead into a 10 point one. That Westbrook came back into the game in the 4th quarter and performed beautifully is besides the point. Every Thunder fan knows Westbrook is an emotional player, and that emotion is what fuels him and what makes us love him. But in this situation, cooler heads could have prevailed and kept this incident in check.

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These two teams met earlier this season in Oklahoma City, with the Thunder winning it 106-91. The aforementioned Westbrook had 27 points and 10 assists to lead the Thunder, while Kevin Durant had 26 points. First time All Star Kyrie Irving led the Cavs in that game with 20 points. The Cavs will look a lot different in this game than they did in the game in OKC. First difference is that C Anderson Varejao won’t play in this game (or the rest of the season for that matter) due to a blood clot. Secondly, the Cavs made the first big trade of the regular season (remember, the Harden trade was before the season), sending Jon Leuer to the Grizzlies for Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, and Josh Selby. Speights has been great in Varejao’s absence, averaging 14 points off the bench for the Cavs in 4 games.

Probable Starters

Cleveland Cavaliers

  • PG – Kyrie Irving
  • SG – Dion Waiters
  • SF – Alonzo Gee
  • PF – Tristan Thompson
  • C – Tyler Zeller

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

Keys to the Game

  1. Russell Westbrook – Any time Westbrook has one of the “those” games, he usually comes back calm and composed in the next one. That’s spells bad news for the Cavaliers. As great of a player as Irving is, he’s not yet strong enough defensively to effectively guard Westbrook. The only one stopping Westbrook in this game is Westbrook. cavsrr_westbrook6_121111_1
  2. Guard the 3-point line – This team loves to shoot 3-pointers. And sometimes, a lot of them go in. The Thunder do an average job of getting back out to the open 3-point shooters and this could be an issue in this game. The dribble penetration ability of Irving and Waiters will suck the defense in and allow shooters (not just of the 3-point variety) to get open looks. imagesCA18KM2S
  3. Turnovers – Young teams feast on turnovers. Its the lifeblood the provokes their transition game. Take care of the ball and your best transition defense is not having to play transition defense at all.