Monthly Archives: February 2014

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 59 of 82)

Oklahoma City Thunder v Memphis Grizzlies - Game Three

  • When: Friday, 28 February 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Okay, guys. This whole “we’re just getting acclimated once again to life with Russell, while also missing Perk” thing was cute for about two games. Now, it’s kind of becoming a bit of a thing. The problem is, the offense has not been the issue. Many people thought the offense would suffer a bit as Westbrook tries to work out the kinks on his road to recovery from a 3rd knee surgery in an 8 month period. Instead, it is the defense that has looked abhorrent. The Thunder have given up two 40+ point quarters in the last two games, while allowing their opponents 114 points per game in the last 3 games. That is definitely not Thunder basketball.

This will be the 4th meeting of the year between these two teams. The Thunder lead the season series 2-1, with the last two games being dog fights that were decided in the 4th quarter. The Grizzlies eliminated the Thunder from last season’s playoffs in the 2nd round in 5 games. In the last 8 meetings between these two teams, Westbrook has only played in one of those games, a 116-100 Thunder victory.

The Opponent

gasol conley allen randolph grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies currently sit at 32-24, half a game back of the 8th seeded Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference. Participants in last season’s Western Conference Finals, the Grizzlies were looked at as one of the dark horses to come out of the West this season. Injuries have played a part in their current position in the conference, but with the entire team finally healthy, the Grizzlies have reeled off 6 wins in their last 8 games. The cornerstones of the offense, Mike Conley (ankle) and Marc Gasol (knee), have worked their ways back from injury and are starting to find their rhythm. Zach Randolph continues to be an effective double/double machine averaging 17.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. Due to the health of the team, the bench has gotten a boost from the return of Tony Allen from a hand injury, and the consistent play, of late, from James Johnson and Kosta Koufos.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Memphis Grizzlies

  • PG – Mike Conley
  • SG – Courtney Lee
  • SF – Tayshaun Prince
  • PF – Zach Randolph
  • C – Marc Gasol

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Foul Trouble – Randolph, Gasol, and Koufos are all crafty big men that play the game with as much IQ as they do brute strength. They know that Ibaka still bites on pump fakes a bit and that Steven Adams is just a rookie. It’s important that Ibaka, Adams, and Nick Collison use their fouls wisely and don’t get into foul trouble.

NBA:  Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder

2. Transition – True to their motto, Memphis loves to grind the game down to a half court affair with the big boys inside while also caring for the ball. They average only 12.6 turnovers per game, good for 3rd in the league. Look for the Thunder to swarm the ball when it goes to the post to try and create turnovers.

3. Pace – Does this game become a grinder or do the Thunder impose their will and push the pace. Look for the Thunder to go small if the game is close in order to push the pace a bit and get the Grizzlies out of their element.

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Thunder sign Caron Butler

caron butler thunder bucks

Per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sport, Caron Butler has informed teams that he will be signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder once he clears waivers this afternoon. Terms of the deal were not released.

Players have to be waived by their current teams before March 1st to have to ability to be on the playoff roster for another team.

In 34 games this season for the Milwaukee Bucks, Butler is averaging 11.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists in 24 minutes. He is shooting 36.1% from 3-point territory this season. He won a championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, but was not a part of the team’s run in the playoffs due to a ruptured patella. He was an All-Star for the Washington Wizards in 2007 and 2008.

The Thunder will look for Butler to provide scoring and experience off the bench.

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 58 of 82)

westbrook durant irving thompson cavs thunder

  • When: Wednesday, 26 February 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

There is no way that a game in late February should feel like a must-win. But this game almost has that feel. Not necessarily for anything regarding the Thunder’s record or seeding. But more to get the bad taste of the last week out of our collective mouths. A week long All-Star break followed by losses against two top 5 teams in the next week. Thunder nation has not seen a notch in the win column in two whole weeks. Going that long between victories usually involves an offseason for the Thunder.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have an almost Washington Wizards-like relationship with the Thunder. It’s a game that the Thunder should win easily, based on record. But every time Oklahoma City plays Cleveland, it turns into a dog fight with somebody on the opposing team (Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, etc) going off. This is the first meeting of the year between these two teams. The teams split the season series last season.

The Opponent

kyrie irving all star mvp cavs

Due to their streaky nature, Cleveland is an extremely difficult team to gauge. Their record currently stands at 22-36, which puts them 5 games back of the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. In their last 15 games, the Cavs have lost 6 games in a row, then won 6 games in a row, and are currently on a 3 game losing streak. Some days they look like they can be righting the ship and other days they look like they should be tanking for a high lottery pick. The Cavs are led by All-Star Game MVP Kyrie Irving, who is currently averaging 21.2 points, 6.3 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. His ability to get into the paint is the key to Cleveland’s attack. On the wing, mid-season acquisition Luol Deng has yet to find his footing on this team, and his numbers have dropped since his trade from the Chicago Bulls.  Up front, Tristan Thompson has shown signs of being a double/double machine, but has had trouble with consistency. Spencer Hawes, who was recently picked up from the Philadelphia 76ers, provides a great release valve for the pick and roll attack of Irving. Cleveland’s bench depth will be impacted as Anderson Varejao, CJ Miles, Dion Waiters will all be out with injury.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Cleveland Cavaliers

  • PG – Kyrie Irving
  • SG – Jarrett Jack
  • SF – Luol Deng
  • PF – Tristan Thompson
  • C – Spencer Hawes

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Small ball – Spencer Hawes is a perimeter oriented center. While Steven Adams may be more mobile than Kendrick Perkins, having to guard a perimeter oriented center completely negates his strengths on the defensive end. The Thunder will probably be best served going small for most of the game and having Durant guard Hawes on the perimeter and having Ibaka guard Thompson on the inside.

durant jackson hawes thunder cavs

2. Depth – With the Cavs’ depth being decimated by injuries and this being the 2nd night of a back to back, look for the Thunder to get out in transition and try to wear the Cavaliers out. Even if Cleveland keeps it close, this could be a game where they run out of gas late in the fourth quarter.

3. Point guards – More than anything, the Thunder point guards (Westbrook, Derek Fisher, and Reggie Jackson) need to establish themselves defensively. Irving is the only player on the Cavs’ squad that can create his own shot consistently and he has beaten the Thunder in the past.

The Thunder and their Recent Struggles

westbrook thunder

Everybody take a deep breath. Count to 10. Back up off the ledge, and calm down. 

Good. Now let’s begin.

Heading into the All-Star break, the Oklahoma City Thunder were probably the hottest team in the league. They had won 15 of their previous 17 games, and had the look of being the best team in the league. Kevin Durant was Reaping, Serge Ibaka was becoming the best roller in the pick and roll NBA, Derek Fisher was hitting every game-changing 3 that he shot, and everybody else was handling their roles to a T.  The weren’t just surviving while awaiting the return of Russell Westbrook; they were thriving.

Sometimes, though, the worst thing for a team on a roll is a break. It happens all the time when teams head into halftime. Earlier this season, the Houston Rockets scored 73 on the Thunder in the first half of a game, but could only muster 19 total points after halftime. It happens in the playoffs, where a team may have a break of 4 or more days due to dispatching their opponent in quick fashion, and having to wait for their opponent to finish their series. And it may happen during the All-Star break, as it did with the Thunder, where a team goes in hot, but comes out of the break a little out of sync.

Here are a couple other factors that may explain the Thunder’s slow start to the unofficial second half of the season.

Period of Adjustment

In my experience working with the military, I’ve seen many cases where one spouse deploys while the other spouse stays at home to care for the house and the kids. During this period, the spouse that stays at home usually tightens the ship and sticks to a strict routine. This routine helps maintain order during a chaotic time (deployments). Eventually, the deployed service member comes home and all is great with the world, right? Wrong. There’s usually a period of adjustment where the deployed spouse has to get used to the routine the home-bound spouse has established, and the home-bound spouse has to get used to having another variable in her established routine. Talk to anyone who has gone through, and they’ll more than likely tell you that it was not an easy transition.

In the Thunder’s past 71 games (to include last season’s playoffs and this season’s preseason), Westbrook has only been in the lineup for 26 of those games. Despite early struggles, the Thunder have learned how to play without Westbrook. Since the game after the Christmas, the Thunder have posted a .750 winning percentage, all without Westbrook. To think that there would not be an adjustment period would have been short sighted.

kevin durant thunder

The Thunder have to be more careful with Westbrook this time around. The last time Westbrook came back, he was full tilt from the get go. That may or may not have contributed to the setback that necessitated a third surgery on Westbrook’s knee. At the same time, Westbrook has to adjust to playing in shorter spurts. Westbrook is the type of player that continuously grinds until he wears the opposing team out. That takes time. Without that time on the floor, Westbrook’s effect is muted a bit.

Fatigue

The starters and veteran bench players are playing nearly the same amount of minutes they usually play. In fact, Durant is actually playing the least amount of minutes per game since the team arrived in Oklahoma City. The fatigue issue  is more geared towards the younger players in the rotation, namely Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb.

Minutes played

Player Season Regular Season D-League Postseason Total
Reggie Jackson 2012-13 991 114 368 1473
2013-14 1634  0  N/A  1634
Jeremy Lamb 2012-13 147 691 0 838
2013-14 1259  0  N/A  1259

Those are significant jumps in minutes per game. Lamb and Jackson may not yet be used to the grind that is an 82 game season, and the Thunder may be seeing the effects fatigue has on their play.

Rhythm

As mentioned before, the worst thing for a team on a roll is a break. From the Christmas game to the All-Star break, the Thunder played either every other day or back to back. They only had one 2-day break in that time frame. While that leads to fatigue, it also leads to a rhythm. When you play nearly everyday, you tend to become much more in sync with your teammates. That “in sync-ness” then turns into chemistry. And if you have a talented roster, that chemistry can start to produce wins in bunches.

sefolosha ibaka jackson thunder

That’s what the Thunder had in January and early February. Durant was Reaping, Ibaka was the mid-range king, and all the role players were performing their roles. Then came the week long All-Star break. While that week long break may have rested a nagging injury here or there, the rhythm and chemistry that was gained before the break was at risk to be lost. Add to that Westbrook returning from injury and several more 2 day breaks in between games, and you get what you see now: a team in a bit of a funk.

National TV likes to see great teams matched up against great teams.

New Flash! The Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers are pretty good team. It’s not like the Thunder were playing the Sisters of the Poor the first two games back from the All-Star break. These are 2 of the best teams in the league and we caught them when we were in a bit of a transition phase. I’m not usually one for excuses, but these are the realities of the current situation.

The Thunder will make it out of this funk. But the season doesn’t stop. On the first game back from the break, with Westbrook finally back from injury, the Thunder lost center Kendrick Perkins for up to 6 weeks due to a strained groin that had to be surgically repaired. He should be back by the start of the playoffs. But the season marches on. In the grand scheme of things, these last two games were just 2 of 82. Look for the Thunder to readjust and get better in time for the playoffs.

Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 56 of 82)

westbrook james jones heat thunder

  • When: Thursday, 20 February 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

First game out of the shoot after the All-Star break, and we get a prime time match up against our ultimate rivals, the Miami Heat. The story lines heading into this game are a plenty. The first story line is whether Russell Westbrook will return after missing the last 8 weeks due to arthroscopic knee surgery. As of Thursday morning, he was still a game time decision. If Westbrook does return, how will his presence affect the Thunder’s play after they adjusted so well to life without him. Another story line at play is the MVP debate. Kevin Durant was the favorite for the award heading into the All-Star break, but LeBron James decided to launch a “look at me” media campaign and has, once again, entered the narrative for the MVP award.

The Thunder won the only other meeting of the season between these two teams. After falling behind by 18 six minutes into the first quarter, the Thunder went on to outscore the Heat 108-73 the rest of the way. The game was never in doubt for much of the 4th quarter. It was the Thunder’s first victory in the last 7 tries against the Heat, which included Games 2-5 in the 2012 NBA Finals. But, in the end, that victory was just that: a regular season victory. In the grand scheme of things, when all the numbers are put together, that win in Miami will just be one of the many wins for the Thunder in the regular season. Plus, we all know what happened the last time the Thunder won a game against Miami.

The Opponent

bosh james wade heat

The Heat are currently 38-14, which puts them 2 games behind the Indiana Pacers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. It was during this time last season that the Heat were in the midst of one of the greatest runs in NBA history, winning 37 of their last 39 games, which included 26 in a row. The Heat seem to be raring to put together a similar run to close out this season. They are 11-3 in their last 14 games, and seem to have found some motivation in the successes (threats?) of the Thunder and the Pacers.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Miami Heat

  • PG – Mario Chalmers
  • SG – Dwayne Wade
  • SF – LeBron James
  • PF – Shane Battier
  • 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

1. A Motivated LeBron James – It seems that the Heat may have been pulling a bit of a rope-a-dope in the first half of the season. They rested Dwayne Wade for some games, their role players looked old, and LeBron wasn’t his usual magnificent self. But it appears that they were biding their time for the 2nd half of the season and for the Second Season. All the MVP talk that filled the air in late January/early February was all directed towards Durant. And I think, for the first time in a while, James felt a little bit threatened/disrespected. The greatest usually use the slights as motivation, so it’ll be interesting to see what James does in the game in Oklahoma City.

2. Third Wheels – The key to this match-up has been the 3rd wheels (Chris Bosh and Serge Ibaka). After years of inconsistency on the offensive end, Ibaka seems to finally be comfortable in his role as the 3rd option/release valve for both Durant and Westbrook. His 22 points, 8 rebounds effort was part of the reason the Thunder were able to weather the storm early in the first game and finally take over in the second half.

bosh ibaka thunder heat

3. Russ – Will he be back or not? If he is, how will he assimilate to the team? More importantly, how will the team assimilate to him? It’ll be interesting to see how the team (and the team’s psyche) adjusts if Westbrook is indeed playing.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Lakers preview (Game 55 of 82)

durant young thunder lakers

  • When: Thursday, 13 February 2014 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

There was once a time when the Thunder looked up at the Los Angeles Lakers. A time when mostly everyone knew that they would have to go through Kobe Bryant and the Lakers if they wanted to seek NBA supremacy. That time, seems but a distant memory now. What once was a match-up you circled on the calendar is now just another game.

This is the 2nd of four meetings between these two clubs. The Thunder have dominated the series in the past 3 seasons, going 10-3 in the last 13 games between these two teams, to include the playoffs. It’s a clear case of one team’s window opening at the same time of another team’s window closing.

The Opposition

1418690_SP_0428_lakers_WJS

Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. That’s all you have to say about the Lakers’ season. It started with Kobe Bryant rehabbing from a torn Achilles at the beginning of the season. It has since trickled down to 6 players being on the injured list (to include Bryant, again), and led to one of the rarer moments in sports, when an NBA team only had 4 players available after their 5th active player fouled out and 2 other players got injured. The Lakers are currently 18-34 and are probably reaching the point where they start to become sellers in the market. Their injury list includes 3 future Hall of Famers (Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash) and 3 good perimeter players (Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, and Jodie Meeks). The survivors include Steve Blake and Chris Kaman, probably the only players on the team capable of generating any offense on their own. Kendall Marshall has shown to be a capable game manager, but still lacks as far as offensive production. Up front, Jordan Hill has shown flashes, but is still a bit too inconsistent. The bench…LOL, what bench?.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Los Angeles Lakers

  • PG – Kendall Marshall
  • SG – Steve Blake
  • SF – Wesley Johnson
  • PF – Shawne Williams
  • C – Chris Kaman

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

1. Trap Game Potential – An emotional win in Portland and the All Star break coming up. This game has all the markings of a trap game. Even though Los Angeles is currently a wounded animal, they still have players that can score if given the chance.

2. Durant and Thabeet – I’m hoping Durant gives one more virtuoso performance before the All Star break. And I hope that performance includes him sitting much of the 4th quarter. And I hope Hasheem Thabeet get double digit minutes.

thabeet kelly thunder lakers

3. Great 1st half – This turned out to be a great first half of basketball for the Thunder. Hopefully everyone rests up and prepares for the second half of the season.

The Thunder and the Trading Deadline (2014 Edition)

thabo sefolosha thunder

Heading into the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder were in the unfamiliar position of being a title contender, while also having a war chest worth of assets that would make any team in rebuild mode jealous. Most championship contending teams have an experienced core that was obtained by trading away assets. But the James Harden trade from the beginning of last season gave the Thunder some cap flexibility and assets to play with heading into this season. They have a veteran on an extremely cap friendly expiring contract (Thabo Sefolosha), young players with potential on rookie scale contracts (Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, and Perry Jones), an extra draft pick (Dallas’ protected 1st rounder), and two sizable Traded Player Exceptions.

They have everything necessary to make a monster trade. But two important questions come to mind when a team nears the trade deadline. The first question is “What does the team need?”. Every team has weaknesses that can be addressed via a trade. The important thing when it comes to addressing weaknesses is what does the team have to offer and what is the team willing to give up. Those two things may seem to be the same, but are entirely different. For example, the Heat can address any of their weaknesses by trading Chris Bosh. But in reality, the Heat will, instead, choose to make a smaller deal or stand pat.  Which leads to the second question, “Does the team need to make a trade?”.

When a team has the best record heading into the All Star break, while also missing their 2nd best player for much of the first half of the season, the above question becomes a valid one. Much of the Thunder’s success can be attributed to the chemistry the team has cultivated over the years. Making a trade now, especially one where a rotational player is traded, could have it’s consequences.

Two things have to be weighed when contemplating a trade: how the trade affects you currently and how the trade can affect you in the future. The reality with the Thunder is that they will be toeing the tax line for the foreseeable future. With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka on max (or near max) deals, finding bargains will be the rule of the land. Anything that includes extra salary and extra years will probably be nixed.

durant ibaka westbrook thunder

Another thing to factor is the fact that the Thunder have assets that are not currently on the roster, but could come into play as early as next season. Tibor Pleiss, the Thunder’s 2nd round Eurostash from 2010, could possibly join the team next season. Another possible roster spot could go to Grant Jerrett next season. The stretch 4 out of Arizona was acquired by the Thunder in the 2nd round of last year’s draft. His rights are still owned by the Thunder as he develops in Tulsa under the guise of the Thunder D-League team.

Also, the team will have to decide if obtaining a player will have any impact on future roster moves, such as extending Jackson and/or Sefolosha. Only the front office knows what they plan to do with those two players, but their futures will probably have a bearing on what the Thunder do this season at the trade deadline.

In the end, the first question asked comes into play. What, exactly, do the Thunder need? They head into the All-Star break with the best record in the league. They are top 5 in offense (ppg), offensive rating, defensive rating, and rebounds. They are top 10 in points allowed and 2nd in margin of victory. And they have done this with their All-Star point guard  missing more games than he’s played. So, what exactly, does this team need? It’s like asking the guy who has everything what he wants for Christmas.

jones jackson lamb ibaka durant westbrook thunder

I can only see two areas of need for this team: 3-point shooting and point guard depth. If there is a player that could supply both while not minding being the 11th or 12th man on this team, then I’m all for it. Only problem is there aren’t many players like that. Point guards with the ability to shoot usually find their ways into line-ups.

So where does that leave us? I think the Thunder will stand pat as far as their current roster is concerned. Realistically, their most available assets are two empty roster spots, a $2.3 million trade exception, Hasheem Thabeet ($1.2 million this season), two future 2nd rounders from the Ryan Gomes trade, and possibly their own first rounder for this upcoming draft (slotted to be in the 28-30 range). I think the Thunder will attempt to get a shooter with their trade exception, possibly CJ Miles of the Cleveland Cavaliers or Anthony Morrow of the New Orleans Pelicans. Then I think they’ll sign Royal Ivey for the rest of the season once his season is done in China.

sam presti thunder

The Thunder don’t have to do much tinkering. Their biggest acquisition may be the return of Russell Westbrook from injury. They have enough roster flexibility to adapt to any style thrown at them. And they have enough experience to get through any rough patch. As long as health does not become a factor, they should finish the regular season out in the same fashion they went into the All Star break. But somewhere, deep in the recesses of my mind, I imagine Sam Presti reading this article, letting out a diabolical laugh, and calling up Adam Silver to put his stamp of approval on a 12 team, 38 player trade involving 25 draft picks, 13 Euro-stashes, and $21 million dollars worth of cash considerations right at the trade deadline.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Portland Trailblazers preview (Game 54 of 82)

durant batum thunder trailblazers

  • When: Tuesday, 11 February 2014 at 9:00 PM CST
  • Where: Moda Center, Portland, OR

The Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves in good footing heading into the All-Star break. They are 3.5 games up in the Western Conference and have gotten the tougher part of the schedule out of the way (since Dec. 27, the Thunder have either played back to backs or have had only one day off between games). Also, the Thunder have a certain somebody coming back after the All-Star break.

This will be the last regular season meeting between these two Northwest Division rivals. All 3 previous games have been decided in the 4th quarter, with Portland taking the first two and OKC taking that last meeting.

The Opponent

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Portland Trail Blazers

The Trailblazers are currently 36-15, which is good for 3rd in the Western Conference standings. After a torrid start to begin the season, the Blazers are only 5-6 in their last 11 games. Their biggest issue is defense, where they give up 103.5 ppg. Fortunately for them, they combat that by averaging 108 ppg, good for 1st in the league. They also lead the league in 3-point makes per game (9.4), while making them at a 38.1% clip. Their offense is an inside-out attack, usually starting with LaMarcus Aldridge on a post-up. There, Aldridge either uses his patented fade-away jumper or passes it to a myriad of shooters (Damian Lillard, Mo Williams, CJ McCollum, or Wesley Matthews). Up front, Robin Lopez causes havoc with his energy, especially on the offensive boards.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Portland Trailblazers

  • PG – Damian Lillard
  • SG – Wesley Matthews
  • SF – Nic Batum
  • PF – LaMarcus Aldridge
  • C – Robin Lopez

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

1. Rebounding – A lot of Portland’s offense either comes through an Aldridge fadeaway or a 3-pointer. With so many perimeter shots, there’s bound to be plenty of rebounds for the taking. In their last three meetings against the Thunder, Aldridge and Lopez have amassed 21 offensive boards between them.

Serge Ibaka, Robin Lopez

2. Turnovers – In the two losses to Portland, the Thunder are averaging 11.5 turnovers per game. In the lone victory, only 7 turnovers. Now, 11.5 TO’s is below the Thunder’s season average, but if you give a jump shooting team ample opportunities to burn you, they eventually will. Also of note, Portland is a decent transition team.

3. Lamb – With Reggie moving over to the starting line-up, it seems as if Lamb has struggled in adjusting to being the No. 1 option on the second team. He’s had flashes of his early season effectiveness, but lately, there have been a lot of 1-8 and 2-10 games. With such a high scoring team, someone outside of Durant, Ibaka, and Jackson will have to step up.

5 for 5: The Thunder’s Godfather

stern bennett oklahoma city thunder

5 for 5: The Longest Shortest Season  |  5 for 5: Tragedies, Courtrooms, and Beginnings  |  5 for 5: The Rivalries  |  5 for 5: The Run

This past season, the Oklahoma City Thunder completed their 5th season in the state of Oklahoma. In a world dominated by round numbers, getting to the midway point is always a cause for celebration. In any relationship, you look back at key moments that made it possible to arrive at certain anniversary marks. In the next few months, I’ll be looking at 5 defining moments that made it possible for the Thunder to not only roar into the Plains, but also to do it in winning fashion.

“What about Oklahoma City?”

Those four words are probably the most important words ever uttered when it comes to professional basketball in the state of Oklahoma. Those words were mentioned in a conversation then NBA Commissioner David Stern had with then New Orleans Hornets owner George Shinn. The context of the conversation occurred shortly after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans in September of 2005. With much of the city destroyed and many of its citizens in exile to different parts of the country, the city of New Orleans was in no position to support either of their pro teams (the Hornets and the Saints). As Stern and Shinn were going to a list of contingency plans, Stern uttered those fateful words to Shinn.

hurricane katrina

A lawyer by trade, Stern has always shown the chops to be prepared for any situation, and to be ready with a definitive solution. When he asked Shinn about Oklahoma City, it wasn’t asked as  inquiry. It was asked as rhetoric. Stern knew what cities were hypothetically viable to support an NBA franchise in the short term. People tend to think the only thing needed to support a pro-sports franchise is population and a venue. But there’s so much more to the equation than that. Of course, you have to have the numbers (citizens). The more people in a given area, the more it is likely that 19,000 people will purchase tickets and attend games. You have to have an arena that is technologically up to date (availability of HD cables), and able to produce revenue outside of the NBA product (in-arena restaurants, kiosks, box seats, etc.). The city has to have a business community that is willing to take risks to cover the team’s operational costs if things don’t go as planned. And you have to have a fan base that is starved to support a professional team, no matter what the circumstances or parameters are.

A few months before Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, then Oklahoma City mayor Mick Cornett made a trek to New York to discuss the possibilities of Oklahoma City someday being considered as an expansion or relocation site. He had a brand new state of the art arena and business leaders willing to assist with money and influence. But as Cornett later quipped in an interview with Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports, “…the prometrics weren’t in our favor. We had no track record of major pro sports. Stern couldn’t have been kinder, but he left us with no hope for a team.” But alas, every garden starts with but a single seed. Stern, in his due diligence, probably heeded Cornett’s request and did some research of his own.

Some of the businessmen in the Oklahoma City area had previously had dealings with Stern and the NBA, so it wasn’t like OKC was a complete anomaly to the Commissioner. One of those businessmen was Clay Bennett, who once was a principal owner of the San Antonio Spurs in the 90’s and was the team’s representative at the NBA’s Board of Governors. Bennett probably kept the words Oklahoma City within an earshot of Stern every time they spoke. Even though the “prometrics weren’t in (OKC’s) favor” as Mayor Cornett stated, the fact that Oklahoma City was trying (MAPS I and II, Ford Center, downtown renovation), and was constantly being mentioned by associates of Stern probably kept the city in the back of Stern’s mind.

stern shinn oklahoma city hornets

So when Stern proposed that question to Shinn, he knew that he would be met with some opposition. As soon as you mention Oklahoma, most people outside of the region think of 3 things:  The Dust Bowl, the musical, and the Murrah building bombing. A progressive city was probably not on the list of adjectives to describe Oklahoma City. But Stern had already done his research and knew that OKC already had most of the components in place to be a successful temporary relocation site. They had the venue, just enough citizens in the metro and surrounding areas, and the business leaders. All he needed to do was convince Shinn that this would be a viable relocation site.

As is the case with the spirit of Oklahoma, when we are given a chance, we usually shine. When Cornett and Bennett made their presentation to Shinn, he was blown aback with the viability of this option. The business leaders of the City, led by Bennett, provided Shinn with a revenue guarantee. Basically, the business leaders would foot the bill if certain revenue goals were not met. With a new arena, the backing of the City’s business leaders and Stern, and not many other viable options, the decision was made to grant Oklahoma City 35 guaranteed home games for the 2005-06 NBA season.

chris paul oklahoma city hornets

With that, OKC was welcomed into the professional sports brotherhood, even if it was only temporary. And Oklahomans voraciously ate it up. We had always wanted to eat at the big boy table, and now, from out of nowhere, this opportunity was bestowed upon us. Fans came in flocks to attend a New Orleans/Oklahoma City (NOK) Hornets game. The uncertainty of how long the team would stay kept some people from becoming too attached to the team. But even with that, the team sold out over half of its games that were played in Oklahoma City. The Hornets, who had finished last in attendance the previous season, went from averaging 14,221 fans to 18,168 fans, which was a 78% increase.

With the revenue goals, not only met, but vastly exceeded, and New Orleans still in rebuild mode, the team and the NBA decided that Oklahoma City would get another season of Hornets basketball. With that increase in revenue, the team decided to trade for defensive center Tyson Chandler and sign sharp-shooter Peja Stojakovic to a near max contract. OKC would get 35 home games, while New Orleans would get the remaining 6 home games.

Attendance started strong, with OKC selling out 6 of their first 10 home games. But when the word came that it was a certainty that the Hornets would return to New Orleans, attendance, understandably, waned a bit. But it was during that time frame, that another domino got put into place.

schultz bennett sonics thunder

After failing to buy a majority stake of the Hornets from Shinn, Clay Bennett decided to set his sights on the Seattle Supersonics. The Sonics, and Stern for that matter, had been embroiled in a bitter dispute with the city over the viability of their venue, Key Arena. After putting the money up for the baseball stadium and the football stadium, the city was not in the mood to pay over $500 million to subsidize another arena.

The team’s then owner Howard Schultz was losing money because of the team’s lease with the arena, and because of attendance issues. He sold the team to an outsider hoping that even the veiled threat of relocation would send the city into action to build a brand new arena. Instead, the city passed Initiative-91 which prohibited Seattle from supporting teams with city tax dollars. This initiative basically doomed any new stadium being built in the city of Seattle.

Clay Bennett gave the city an ultimatum of 12 months to approve a plan for a new arena. When that time ran its course, he put in motion plans to move the team to Oklahoma City. He was met with opposition and litigation, but in the end, the city felt it would be better if Bennett payed a hefty sum to get out of the lease instead of waiting the lease out and getting nothing in return.

bennett silver stern nba thunder

Adam Silver took over for Stern as NBA Commissioner on February 1st, 2014. But much like the space between presidential election day and presidential inauguration day, the real Silver era doesn’t begin until after the All-Star break. This space in between from Feb 1st – 14th is more of a hybrid era where we praise the exiting commish and wonder what the new commish has in store.

So in this hybrid period, I just wanted to say to Mr. Stern, “Thank you.” Thank you for giving Oklahoma City a chance at proving it’s worth as a pro-sports city. The process of OKC getting a team was a messy mixture of tragedy, finances, and politics. A lot like Marlon Brando’s character in The Godfather, Stern acted as an objective facilitator to Oklahoma City and helped us step into the world of professional sports.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Orlando Magic preview (Game 52 of 82)

oladipo adams thunder magic

  • When: Friday, 07 February 2014 at 6:00 PM CST
  • Where: Amway Center, Orlando, FL

Young, scrappy teams. I remember the days when we used to be one. Those days when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were just beginning to learn how to work their two man game. When Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic were considered our post presence. But mostly, I remember how we never backed down, no matter how big the deficit or drought was. And then eventually, I remember us starting to win some of those close games.

The Thunder’s Friday night opponent find themselves in the beginning stages of a rebuild. But, for the past two seasons, they’ve brought it every time they play the Thunder. Even though the Thunder have won the last 3 meetings between these two teams, they’ve needed to make a push late into the 4th quarter in order to come out with the victory.

The Opponent

afflalo oladipo orlando magic

The Orlando Magic come into the game with the second worst record in the leage, at 14-37. They are in year 2 of a rebuild and have amassed some good young talent and some assets for the future. Unfortunately, the word rebuild is usually associated with the word bad, and that has been the case with the Magic this season. They are in the bottom third of the league in most statistical categories. They are led by SG Arron Afflalo, who leads the team in scoring at just under 20 points per game. Veteran point guard Jameer Nelson run the offense and keeps a steady hand on the young team. Up front, Nikola Vucevic is a double double machine, averaging 13.2 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. The bench is young and features Rookie of the Year contender Victor Oladipo and second year SF Maurice Harkless.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Orlando Magic

  • PG – Jameer Nelson
  • SG – Arron Afflalo
  • SF – Tobias Harris
  • PF – Glen Davis
  • C – Nikola Vucevic

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

1. Limit the Turnovers – Young, athletic teams live off of the transition game. With a lack of 3-point shooters, Orlando generates a lot of its offense in transition. Cutting back on live ball turnovers will greatly reduce Orlando’s ability to create offense in transition.

2. Durant/Ibaka pick and roll – Orlando will be very hard pressed to defend this with Davis and Harris/Oladipo in the game. I expect the Thunder to exploit this and for Ibaka to end up with 20+ points and for Durant to have 6+ assists.

ibaka durant thompson salmons thunder kings

3. Take away their Confidence – The last couple of times we’ve played the Magic, we’ve allowed them to stick around until late in the 4th quarter, when we finally put a string of makes together and put the game out of reach. But it should never get to that point with a rebuilding team like the Magic. Snuff the confidence from the outset, and the game should be over by the beginning of the 4th quarter.