Monthly Archives: March 2014

Sacramento Kings vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 72 of 82)

westbrook perkins sefolosha cousins kings thunder

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

It’s games like these next two that make people complain about the length of the NBA schedule. A team that has already clinched a playoff spot versus two teams that are already playing for next season. Don’t get me wrong, though. This has nothing to do with the effort of the players. They are still giving their all (or giving enough to fake it). These types of games don’t offer much in the emotional investment department, unless you take into account caring about playoff seeding.

This is the third meeting of the year between the Thunder and the Sacramento Kings. The Thunder lead the season series 2-0. The first game was a back and forth affair that the Thunder won 97-95 in Sacramento. In the 2nd meeting, the Thunder took control of the game in the middle two quarters and cruised to a 108-93 victory.

The Opponent

Orlando Magic v Sacramento Kings

The Kings currently sit at 25-46. They are in the middle of a weird rebuild. They have some pieces to build off of (DeMarcus Cousins and Ben McLemore), but most everyone else on the team is in flux. To combat the youth of some of the key players on the team, the front office made some moves to obtain some veteran presence in Rudy Gay, Jason Terry, and Reggie Evans. The Kings are middle of the pack offensively (101.3 ppg, 13th in the NBA), but terrible defensively (103.6 ppg, 26th in the NBA). The team is a collective of isolation players as evidenced by their team assist totals (19 per game, last in the NBA). Isaiah Thomas does a good job as an attacking point guard, but acts more like an extremely undersized shooting guard at times. DeMarcus Cousins is finally starting to show some of the potential that tantalized many teams when he came out of Kentucky 4 seasons ago. He has transformed himself into a 20/10 guy. Rudy Gay is Rudy Gay: inefficient volume scorer who offers little else. The bench is a lot like the team itself: a weird mix of veterans and young players that doesn’t quite fit.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Sacramento Kings

  • PG – Isaiah Thomas
  • SG – Ben McLemore
  • SF – Rudy Gay
  • PF – Reggie Evans
  • C – DeMarcus Cousins

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Tempering the Hot Hand – While its true that the Kings are inconsistent, their scorers are streaky and can heat up pretty quickly. Rudy Gay, Isaiah Thomas, and DeMarcus Cousins all have the ability to light a defense up for 20 or more points. And we all know the Thunder are the team to play if you want to score a new career high.

2. Rebounding – With Reggie Evans and DeMarcus Cousins up front, one of the things this team does well is rebound. Giving a bad team more opportunities to score is never a recipe for success. Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison have to make it a point to box out and keep the Kings off the glass.

westbrook thomas kings thunder

3. Russ post-ups – Whether its Thomas or Ray McCallum, this should be a game where the Russell Westbrook post-up comes into play. Westbrook is too tall (Thomas) and/or too strong (McCallum) for either of these players to handle.

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Westbrook, Minutes, Playoffs, and Questions

westbrook thunder

In last Tuesday’s game, the Oklahoma City Thunder, in the middle of the tightly contested game with playoff implications, decided to sit Russell Westbrook for the first 3 minutes of overtime. He had already played 31 minutes in regulation and the Thunder were sticking to their strict minutes restriction diet of only 32 minutes for Westbrook. In that 3 minutes span, the Thunder fell behind by 7 points to the Mavericks and never recovered. Look, I get it. In the grand scheme of things, a loss in game 71 of the regular season when the team basically has either the No. 1 or 2 seed in the Western Conference locked up pales in comparison to losing your 2nd best player for an extended period of time. But the plan the Thunder are using not only confuses me, but also worries me.

The minutes restriction plan is pretty self evident. The Thunder want to restrict Westbrook’s minutes to reduce the wear on his knee during the regular season. As in everything in life, though, the tough question is, “What is the end game?” Due to the Thunder organization’s tight-lipped nature, its hard to know what the Thunder are thinking moving forward. Since returning on February 20th, Westbrook has averaged 26.7 minutes per game in the 13 games he’s played. Now let’s say he continues on this charted track of minutes played for the remaining 11 games of the season (of which he’ll probably only play about 8). When the playoffs arrive, is he realistically going to jump from 28-32 minutes per game to 38-40 minutes per game? Wouldn’t that kind of bump in playing time have the same effect on the knee as his first return did in the beginning of the season?

This is worrisome because it seems that Westbrook, at 25 years of age, is on a similar rest plan as Dwayne Wade, who is 7 years Westbrook’s senior. Is this a cautious move by the Thunder to preserve Westbrook’s career or is there something still going on with Westbrook’s knee? It’s a scenario that leads not just to one elephant in the room, but a herd of them.

westbrook wade thunder heat

Elephant #1 – What happens if a playoff game goes into overtime? Double overtime? Or further? Playoff basketball is coming and the intensity ratchets up. We saw that in the double overtime thriller that was the Raptors game and the overtime loss in the Mavs game. A coach can never take into account overtime when they are thinking about a minutes restriction plan. Scott Brooks can’t play Westbrook 36 minutes and then take him out the final two minutes of a game using the thought process that “the game might go into overtime”. What happens if Game 4 of the 2011 West Semi-Finals repeats itself? If you don’t remember, that was the triple overtime classic the Thunder won in Memphis.

Elephant #2 – Speaking of Wade, what happens if Westbrook’s knee flares up and/or swells? The last 2 times that happened, the Thunder sent Westbrook to the operating room. True, the first time was a loose stitch. And the second time may have a precautionary procedure for loose bodies in the knee. What happens the third time the knee swells, though? Will the Thunder sacrifice Russell’s future for immediate success if a championship is at stake?

Elephant #3 – If Westbrook is forced to sit, how will this affect the team’s rhythm? As we’ve seen in this slew of back to backs, the Thunder are a different team with Westbrook on the floor. That change in rhythm can work in the regular season where you may play a good team one night and a terrible team the next. But in the playoffs, where an opponent has ample time to game plan for most scenarios, that change in rhythm can be a huge hindrance to the Thunder.

durant westbrook thunder bench

There are a ton of questions regarding the Westbrook knee situation. It is uncharted territory, not only for Westbrook and the Thunder, but also for the fans of the team. The organization will always protect itself. If Westbrook reinjures himself or if his knee swells up, I don’t think the Thunder would hesitate in shutting him down and protecting their asset for the future. But it’s the way they are setting it up that worries me. Now, I’m no doctor and I haven’t stayed at a Holiday Inn Express lately, but to have a guy with a recently repaired knee go from playing 28 minutes in the 20 games leading up to the playoff to 38-40 minutes in the playoffs, seems like a recipe for disaster to me. Hopefully, the team increases Westbrook’s work load in these last 11 games so the jump in minutes in the playoffs won’t be a shock to Westbrook’s body (knee).

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Dallas Mavericks preview (Game 71 of 82)

durant nowitzki thunder mavs

  • When: Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX

There’s a couple different ways to look at this game:

1. The Thunder will be out for revenge. In their previous meeting, the Mavericks humbled the Thunder, in Oklahoma City, to the tune of a 23 point drubbing, 109-86. That was the beginning of the Russell Westbrook Rest Experiment (RWRE). The Thunder came out a little flat and never recovered from a bad start. The Thunder were down three starters and the 3’s kept falling for the Mavericks (13-24 3pt FG, 54.2%). Needless to say, it was one of the worst losses at home since the team became a playoff contender 4 seasons ago. This time around, though, they have Russell Westbrook in tow and a little momentum gained from a 4 game winning streak.

2. The Mavericks are fighting for their playoff lives. The Mavs were given one of the greatest gifts afforded to a team looking to secure one of the final spots in the playoffs: an 8-game home stand. They are 2-2 through the first 4 games and have slipped down to the 9th spot by virtue of a tie-breaker with Phoenix. If the Thunder come out flat-flooted, they may just run into a desperate animal needing to win as many games as possible to secure a playoff seed.

3. The Thunder are fighting for their own playoff seeding. A lot like last season the Thunder find themselves behind the Spurs with about 12 games to play. They have one more meeting with the Spurs in early April at home. If the Thunder could position themselves to be a game behind the Spurs when the meet on April 3rd, then they could take over first place, not only in the Western Conference, but also for the entire playoff run if they make it to the Finals. OKC already owns the tie-breaker by virtue of winning the first 2 games against the Spurs this season and San Antonio has a tendency to rest its players the final month of the season.

The Opponent

calderon marion nowitzki ellis mavericks

The Mavericks currently find themselves outside of the playoff race in the Western Conference with the same record as the 8th seeded Phoenix Suns, at 42-29. Phoenix owns the tie-breaker by virtue of having the better conference record. The Mavs are a good offensive team, scoring 104.6 points a game, but rank near the bottom third of the league in terms of opponent’s points per game, allowing 102.3. In their current home stand, the Mavs are 2-2, with defense being the main culprit. In the 2 wins, they only allow 97.5 points per game, while in the 2 losses, they’ve allowed 115 points per game. Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis do the heavy lifting on the offense, but Jose Calderon is the one who sets it in motion. Calderon, who took a hit to the face that limited him to one minute in their last game, will play in this game. The Mavs boast a veteran-laden bench that can give teams fits with players like Devin Harris, Vince Carter, and Brandan Wright.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Dallas Mavericks

  • PG – Jose Calderon
  • SG – Monta Ellis
  • SF – Shawn Marion
  • PF – Dirk Nowitzki
  • C – Samuel Dalembert

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Perimeter Defense – Anytime the Thunder made a push in the last game, the Mavs usually answered with a 3-pointer to keep the Thunder at bay. The Thunder allowed the Mavs to shoot over 50% from 3-point territory in the last game, which would make it difficult for any team to win.

2. Bench help – While the Thunder bench was a bit muted in the last game by injuries, there should be no reason why the Mavs’ bench outscored the Thunder bench by 16 (38-22). The Thunder will face more of the same tonight, with Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins still out. Having Reggie Jackson back in his familiar 6th man role should help the bench unit out.

lamb jackson lillard thunder trailblazers

3. Russ’ knee – The MRI performed on Saturday revealed no further damage to Westbrook’s right knee. That’s the good news. But we are kind heading into unchartered territory as a fan base where we grimace every time Russell takes a tumble or grimaces in pain. Here’s to hoping he suffers no further scares the rest of the season (regular and post).

Denver Nuggets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 70 of 82)

  • When: Monday, 24 March 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

It’s a good thing that the Oklahoma City Thunder and their fans have had at least a day to decompress from what was a crazy game on Friday and the subsequent “awaiting the MRI results on Russell’s knee” on Saturday. Thankfully, the Thunder won the game in double overtime against the Raptors and Westbrook’s knee sprain showed no further damage to the knee. Even better, Durant’s performance in that game (51 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists, GW 3-pt) pretty much sowed up the MVP award for him.

This is the fourth and final meeting of the season between these two teams. The Thunder lead the season series against their division rivals 2-1. Games between these two teams usually come down to the 4th quarter with the point guards taking over the show.

The Opponent

faried lawson nuggets

Although ACL only has three letters in it, it might as well be a 4-letter word in Denver. With Danilo Gallinari, Nate Robinson, and now, J.J. Hickson out with ACL injuries, the Denver team is a shell of what it was expected to be in the beginning of the season. The Nuggets, currently at 32-38, are out of the playoff hunt for the first time in the last 11 seasons. The team does a good job of scoring points (103.9 per game, 9th in the league), but allows too many defensively (105.8 ppg, 28th in the league). The offense is spear-headed by point guard Ty Lawson, whose break-neck style leads to many points in the paint and many open looks on the perimeter for shooters. On the wings, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Evan Fournier, and Darrell Arthur are usually the beneficiaries of Lawson’s ability to get into the paint. In the post, Kenneth Faried is one of the more active rebounders in the league while Timofey Mozgov is a big mobile body that can carve out space and score if given the opportunity. Due to injuries, the bench for Denver is a bit muted, but Denver was one of the deeper teams to begin with and still has a decent bench that features Aaron Brooks, Fournier, and Arthur.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Denver Nuggets

  • PG – Ty Lawson
  • SG – Randy Foye
  • SF – Anthony Randolph
  • PF – Kenneth Faried
  • C – Timofey Mozgov

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Rebounding – Denver’s rebounding took a hit with the loss of J.J. Hickson. But, Faried and Mozgov are still 2 of the more better rebounding bigs in the league. Faried has 9 games of 13 or more rebounds and Mozgov has 8 games of double figure rebounding. If the Thunder are disciplined in boxing these two out, they can hurt the Thunder with offensive boards in the same way that Hickson would have.

2. Dribble Penetration – Ty Lawson causes the havoc that ignites Denver’s offense by getting into the lane. I would start Roberson on Lawson and put Reggie Jackson on Randy Foye. Jackson has trouble staying in front of quick guards, but does a pretty good job of recovering on shooters, due to his wing span.

3. Durant – Against a defense that gives up the 3rd most points in the league, what show can Durant put on against the Nuggets?

The Stretch: The Thunder’s next 6 games

When the Oklahoma City Thunder were novices to playoff basketball, home court advantage was a must. In their first playoff series against the Lakers in 2010, the only two games the Thunder won in the series were in Oklahoma City, with a third victory being stolen by a Pau Gasol tip-in as time expired in the 4th quarter. The next season, the Thunder rode home court advantage all the way to the Western Conference Finals, where they lost to the higher seeded, and eventual champions, the Dallas Mavericks. The next season, the Thunder made a repeat trip to the WCF, where the met the higher seeded San Antonio Spurs. Three years worth of playoff experience helped the Thunder weather a 2-0 deficit in the series, and they eventually went on to win the next 4 games (3 of which were in OKC) to make it to the NBA Finals.

The Thunder are experienced enough to not get phased by road playoff games. But getting the highest seed possible is more of a psychological ploy than anything else. The opportunity to not only get the first two games at home, but also the deciding game, if necessary, gives a team a little more confidence moving forward.

Do the Thunder need to get HCA throughout the playoffs? Probably not. But the Thunder aren’t yet to the point where they are willing to sacrifice late season games in order to rest their weary starters. Resting Russell Westbrook is a given due to the delicate nature of his recovery from 3 knee surgeries in an eight month period. Other than Westbrook though, I think the rest of the players are gunning for as a seeding as possible. In order to achieve that, the next 6 games will be extremely pivotal to positioning the Thunder near the top of not only the Western Conference, but also the entire league.

The Thunder were in a similar position last season, with the same cast of characters playing similar parts this season. The Thunder once again trail the Spurs, this time by 2 games. They, of course, will need some help from other teams. The Spurs play 6 games between now and their April 3rd meeting with the Thunder. The combined winning percentage of those 5 team (they play Denver twice in that span) is .482. When you factor the home/road splits compared to where the games are being played (whether in San Antonio or on the road), that percentage jumps up to .495. That’s not an easy stretch for the Spurs.

In that same stretch, the Thunder only play 4 games: a home/road back to back against Denver (tonight) and Dallas. Then they play Sacramento on Friday and Utah on Sunday. That’s basically 4 home games in that stretch, as Dallas is a 50 minute plane ride from OKC and the stands will be peppered with plenty of Thunder fans. The Denver/Dallas B2B will be difficult as both teams attack the Thunder where they are weakest (perimeter defense) and score a lot of points.

Much like last season, focus will be the key word when it comes to this stretch. The team may be on high alert when it comes to the B2B, but then may let their guard down when it comes to the Sacramento and Utah games. The Thunder have a tendency to play down to their opponents, and Utah and Sacramento can give the Thunder problems, if allowed.

 

One major difference between last season and this season is the injuries. Last season’s team was completely intact when it when on its stretch run. The playoffs, of course, were a different story. This season, though, the Thunder will be missing Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins for all of the stretch and likely will be missing Westbrook for some of the stretch. If I were a betting man, I’d say that Westbrook will miss the Denver game and one of the Sacto/Utah games.

Much like last season, the Thunder will get a 3-day break before the Spurs game. And then, they will hit the road for another game the next night, this time against the Houston Rockets. Luckily for the Thunder, it’ll be easy to get up for both of these games. The question is whether Westbrook will be available for both of these games.

If the Spurs stay true to form, they’ll start to rest their core on differing night beginning in April. If the Thunder are able to take the conference lead and maintain, they should be able to repeat what they did last season. And this time, not only is the number one seed in the conference at stake, but also the number one seed heading into the playoffs.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Toronto Raptors preview (Game 69 of 82)

durant valanciunas sefolosha westbrook raptors thunder

  • When: Friday, 21 March 2014 at 6:00 PM CST
  • Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario

Rewind back to this point last season when we were not only keeping track of the Thunder’s record, but also keeping track of the Raptor’s record. Because of the James Harden trade at the beginning of last season, the Thunder held the Raptors first round pick, which was Top 3 and 15-30 protected. At this point last season, it was known that the Raptors weren’t making the playoffs. The only question was where the Raptors would be picking in the 2013 NBA Draft. Well, the Thunder ended up with the 12th pick and they selected Steven Adams with that pick. Fast forward to this season, and the Raptors are the No. 3 seed in the East. If that pick would have somehow been moved to this season, the Thunder would have had to wait another season for a possible lottery pick. Thank goodness Rudy Gay happened to the Raptors last season.

This will be the 2nd and final meeting of the season between these two teams. The Raptors beat the Thunder on Dec. 22nd, 104-98. In that game, the Raptors used a 15 point advantage in the 4th quarter to turn a 9-point deficit into a 6-point victory. The Raptors had 5 players that scored at least 13 points, while, for the Thunder, only Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook scored in double figures.

The Opponent

toronto raptors

The Raptors’ season could be broken down into two phases: With Rudy Gay and Post Rudy Gay. In the first 19 games of the season, the Raptors were 7-12 and looking like a lottery bound team. Then they traded Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings. Since then, they are 31-17 and one of the top defensive teams in the league. They allow only 97.5 points per game, good for 5th in the league. They are led by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Lowry has become one of the better offensive point guards in the league and DeRozan has become a much better scorer in Gay’s absence. Terrence Ross is hot and cold, but if he gets hot, he has the ability to score many points in a short time. Up front, Amir Johnson is a double double waiting to happen, and Jonas Valanciunas is just now tapping into his potential. The Rudy Gay trade provided the team with much of their fire power off the bench and leads to a much balanced team.

Probable Starting Line-Up

Toronto Raptors

  • PG – Kyle Lowry
  • SG – Terrence Ross
  • SF – DeMar DeRozan
  • PF – Amir Johnson
  • C – Jonas Valanciunas

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Pick and Roll Defense – Kyle Lowry does a great job of penetrating in the lane and using his strength to score in the paint or rack up fouls on the opposing team. His PnR with Amir Johnson is one of the better ones in the league. And if the defense collapses, Terrance Ross (who shoots over 40% from 3-point territory) and DeMar DeRozan are waiting on the wing. A lot like the Lakers game, this may be a game where Roberson’s perimeter defense helps the Thunder out.

Kyle Lowry

2. Rebounding – The Raptors aren’t necessarily a great rebounding team, but their big wings and active interior players can get their hands on a lot of loose balls.

3. Last Team Standing – The Raptors are the only team the Thunder have not beat this season. True, they only play them twice due to the Raptors being an Eastern Conference team. But, beating every team in the league at least once is a feather in the cap in my books.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Cleveland Cavaliers preview (Game 68 of 82)

durant deng thunder cavs

  • When: Thursday, 20 March 2014 at 6:00 PM CST
  • Where: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH

Part Two of the Russell Westbrook Rest Experiment (RWRE). In Part One, the team looked completely overwhelmed by potential first round opponent Dallas in the game in which Westbrook didn’t play, while looking completely dominant in the game which he did play. It’s too easy to say that the team won simply because Westbrook played. Dallas is an opponent that gives the Thunder problems because of their propensity to score from the outside and because they have a premier score in Dirk Nowitzki. Chicago, on the other hand, lacks both of these traits, which enhances the Thunder’s strengths.

The first game of Part Two of the RWRE sees the Thunder face the Cleveland Cavaliers. This is the second meeting of the season between these two teams, with the Cavs taking the first one in Oklahoma City, 114-104. Every season, Cleveland PG Kyrie Irving seems to have at least one “4th quarter explosion” game against the Thunder. Last season, Irving scored 13 points in the final 2:51 of the 4th quarter to turn a 1-point deficit into a 5-point victory for the Cavs. This season, Irving scored 14 of his 31 points in the 4th quarter to turn a 4-point deficit into a 10-point victory. The good thing about tonight’s game: the Thunder don’t have to worry about Irving who is out with a bicep injury.

The Opponent

cleveland cavaliers

Cleveland was supposed to be one of those up and coming teams that made the jump. A lot like the Minnesota Timberwovles, injuries and inconsistent play have derailed any chance the Cavs have of advancing to the playoffs this season. With a record of 26-42, the Cavs are still mathematically alive in the Eastern playoff race, but with less than 20 games to go, will need some help from the teams above them. Complicating matters is the fact that their best player, Kyrie Irving, may be out for the rest of the season with a biceps injury. In his absence, Jarrett Jack, who has been a disappointment this season, will be running point. On the wing, embattled 2nd year guard Dion Waiters can shoot the Cavs into games and shoot them out of them. Up front, Tristan Thompson is a near double double player and Spencer Hawes is one of the better perimeter-minded centers in the league. Anderson Varejao is still one of the better energy players in the league and comes off the bench for the Cavs. Because of injuries to key players (Irving, Luol Deng, CJ Miles), the bench is stretched about as thin as it can get.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Cleveland Cavaliers

  • PG – Jarrett Jack
  • SG – Dion Waiters
  • SF – Alonzo Gee
  • PF – Tristan Thompson
  • C – Spencer Hawes

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Interior Match-ups – With the Cavs PF being more of the inside presence and their C being the perimeter-oriented big, it would make sense to start Adams on Thompson and put Ibaka on Hawes. It would probably make more sense to start with a small line-up, and put Ibaka on Thompson and Durant on Hawes. But we know Scott Brooks would never do that as he has to have a classic center and a classic power forward starting every game.

hawes ibaka cavs thunder

2. Perimeter defense – This will be the only way the Cavs should keep up in this game. Even if the team decides to sit Westbrook in this game, there should be no reason why the Thunder have trouble against this depleted Cavs team. But if the team plays lackluster perimeter defense and Waiters, Jack, and Hawes all heat up from outside, this could be a repeat of the Dallas or Lakers game.

3. Bench – With a couple lackluster performances behind them, this would be a good game to get some of their mojo back. Maybe Fisher or Lamb can find their stroke again in this game. It only takes one shot to go in.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Chicago Bulls preview (Game 67 of 82)

durant noah bulls thunder

  • When: Monday, 17 March 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: United Center, Chicago, IL

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Oklahoma City Thunder are now 0-1 when they are missing 3 starters this season. That’s some heavy fact finding right there. The loss last night doesn’t really bother me as much as the effort does. Many teams in the NBA will have a tough night when their starting PG, SG, and C are out. But most teams don’t have the supposed depth the Thunder have. That depth, though, is laced with a bunch of young players. That can be a gift and a curse. Teams like Miami, San Antonio, and the Clippers have veteran-laden benches with players that have started and starred before. But the Thunder bench consists of Derek Fisher, Caron Butler, Nick Collison, and a bunch of rookies and 2nd year players. When injuries push that pecking order up a bit, you can have nights of inconsistencies.

This will be the 2nd and final meeting of the regular season between these two teams. The Thunder won the first game in Oklahoma City 107-95. In that game, Kevin Durant had a near triple double with 32 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists, while Russell Westbrook had a double double with 20 points and 10 assists. For the Bulls, Joakim Noah led the way with 23 points and 12 boards.

The Opponent

noah gibson butler dunleavy bulls

The Bulls this season have been a microcosm of the Bulls for the past 2 seasons. No Derrick Rose, lots of defense, great coaching, and a resilient bunch. That’s the Bulls in a nutshell. After losing Derrick Rose AGAIN! in late November for the rest of the season,  the Bulls went on a bit of a rough patch, losing 11 of their next 14. But Coach Thibodeau righted the ship, and the Bulls find themselves with a 37-29 record, good for 4th in the Eastern Conference. After trading Luol Deng to the Cleveland Caveliers, the Bulls found themselves without a consistent scorer. Enter Joakim Noah. Noah has been a revelation this season as an offensive weapon; not necessarily a scorer, but more as a point center, registering 3 triple doubles. Kirk Heinrich, DJ Augustin, and Mike Dunleavy Jr. have done a good job on the perimeter, while Noah, Carols Boozer, and Taj Gibson have done their thing in the post. Their bench is a bit thin, but can produce points with Gibson and Augustin.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Chicago Bulls

  • PG – Kirk Heinrich
  • SG – Jimmy Butler
  • SF – Mike Dunleavy Jr.
  • PF – Carlos Boozer
  • C – Joakim Noah

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Turnovers – The Bulls aren’t going to score many points (93.4 points per game – 30th in the league), but they may not need to. Backed by the best defense in the league, in terms of opponents’ ppg, the Bulls ususally win close games because of their defense. One of their tenants is to defend the paint and force turnovers. The Thunder have a tendency to get a bit careless with the ball, while will create more opportunities for the Bulls on the offensive end.

butler thunder

2. The Bench – The showing in the Dallas game was atrocious, to put it nicely. But the bench has done a good job of bouncing back this season after bad performances. Here’s to a bounce back game.

3. The Duo – The Bulls don’t really have anyone that can stick with Westbrook and Durant on the offensive end. If these two do their thing, while getting others involved, it could be a difficult night for the Bulls.

Dallas Mavericks vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 66 of 82)

westbrook ellis thunder mavericks

  • When: Sunday, 16 March 2014 at 6:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

This will be the first real test to see if this team has relocated its mojo. It was easy to get up for the Houston game because the Thunder had just lost its previous two games in embarrassing (by their standards) fashion and because of the team’s recent history with the Rockets. And the Lakers game was easy to mark down as a revenge game. But with the lack of recent histrionics with the Mavericks, this will be a good test to see if this team needs emotional juice to get itself pumped up for these last 16 games of the season.

This will be the 2nd meeting of the year between these two teams. The Thunder won the first game 107-93. In that game, Serge Ibaka had a double double with 17 points, 13 rebounds, and 3 blocks.

The Opponent

nowitzki ellis marion calderon mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks come into the game with a 39-27 record. They are the 7th seed in the Western Conference, 1 game ahead of the Phoenix Suns. The Mavs have the 8th best offense in terms of team scoring, at 104.2 ppg. They did a bit of an overhaul in the offseason, bringing in Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, and Samuel Dalembert. They’ve become more of a potent offensive team, but have suffered in terms of defense, giving up an average of 102.3 ppg. The offensive responsibility is now being shared by Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki. Calderon does a good job of managing the team and Dalembert is average in the middle. The bench is veteran-laden, with former All-Stars Vince Carter and Devin Harris being major contributors.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Dallas Mavericks

  • PG – Jose Calderon
  • SG – Monta Ellis
  • SF – Shawn Marion
  • PF – Dirk Nowitzki
  • C – Samuel Dalembert

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Perimeter Defense – With hardly any inside presence, the Mavericks rely on the isolations skills of Nowitzki and Ellis to break down the defense. Both are adept at hitting the open man if double teamed.

nowitzki ibaka thunder mavericks

2. Transition – Dallas has a lot of veterans on their team, but that also means they have some age on their team. If the Thunder can create turnovers and turn this into a horse race, the Thunder should be on the plus side of this.

3. Russell Rest Watch – The Thunder will be resting Westbrook on one of the games of the remaining 6 back to backs in the last month of the season. This will be the first B2B in that stretch. It would not surprise me if the Thunder chose to sit Westbrook in this game, instead of in the Chicago game.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 65 of 82)

Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Lakers

  • When: Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 8:30 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Never, in recent memory, has this team been what I like to call “consistently inconsistent”. But that’s what the Thunder have been in the past 9 games. The results of their last 9 games have gone as followed: Lose 3, Win 3, Lose 2, Win 1. The win against the Houston Rockets in their last game may have quieted some of the rumblings concerning team unity, but consistent play may be the only way completely silence those concerns.

This will be the 4th and final meeting of the season between these two teams. The Thunder lead the season series 2-1. The season series has been a clash of styles, especially for the Lakers. In the first game, the Lakers were still getting acclimated to life with Kobe Bryant and lost 122-97. The second and third games of the series have been a different story. Both games have been decided by 4 points, with the Thunder winning one and the Lakers winning the latest one.

The Opponent

gasol meeks marshall lakers

With the news that Kobe Bryant will officially be out for the season, the Lakers can fully immerse themselves in the D’Antoni ball experience. Even though he only played 6 games for them, the Lakers were a different team with Bryant. The offensive pace slowed and the ball stuck in Bryant’s hands more. With him out, the Lakers are highly dependent on transition opportunities and 3-point shooting. That lends itself to a frenetic, fast paced style of basketball that leans on points and not defense. The wing heavy line-up of Jodie Meeks, Wesley Johnson, Jordan Farmar, and Kent Bazemore spreads the floor out with their 3-point shooting. Kendall Marshall does a good job of setting up his teammates, while Pau Gasol does his thing from the post. The bench is inconsistent, but can be effective at times due to the Lakers’ style of play.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Los Angeles Lakers

  • PG – Kendall Marshall
  • SG – Jodie Meeks
  • SF – Wesley Johnson
  • PF – Ryan Kelly
  • C – Pau Gasol

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Perry Jones III
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Perimeter defense – The Thunder focus a lot of their defense on the interior and hope that their length disrupts opposing shooters into missing shots. And that works most of the time, especially when legs begin to tire in the 4th quarter. But if a team catches fire, similar to what the Lakers did in the 2nd half of their previous meeting with the Thunder, then the Thunder can find themselves in a hole, quickly.

2. Andre Roberson – While I like Perry Jones in the starting line-up against most teams, the Lakers don’t have a traditional line-up. Putting Jones on a player like Meeks does not make use of Jones’ strengths. A player like Roberson is more apt to better defend a shorter, quicker player like Meeks on the perimeter.

roberson ibaka gasol thunder lakers

3. Keep your foot on the pedal – The Thunder don’t have a problem building leads. They’ve led by double digits in each of the past 3 games. But their problem is complacency once they build the lead. They get careless on offense and porous on defense. The Thunder did  a much better job of staying focused in the Rockets game. They held the Rockets at bay most of the second half and held on to win the game.

(Bonus) 4. Reggie Williams – This is the final game in his 10-day contract. Can we please get this man some playing time???