Category Archives: Thunder Pre-game Report

Pre-game post

Summer League: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Clippers preview (Game 3 of 5)

christon thunder payton magic

  • When: Tuesday, 07 July 2015 at 4:00 PM CST
  • Where: Amway Center – Orlando Magic practice facility, Orlando, FL

The Oklahoma City Thunder showed what a team with a little bit of chemistry can get accomplished in their last game against the Orlando Magic Blue team. This Thunder team, which is mostly comprised of players from the Thunder’s Developmental League affiliate, the Blue,  have something a lot of teams in summer league do not have: familiarity. Whether its Semaj Christon knowing exactly what sets to run, Frank Gaines setting up in optimal spots to get wide open shots, or Talib Zanna and Richard Solomon knowing when to roll or where to rebound, its a team that knows itself. And that becomes very evident in the first couple games of summer league.

The Thunder find themselves sitting at 2-0, behind the Miami Heat and the Orlando Magic White team, who are also undefeated, but have either won more quarters than the Thunder or have won by a larger margin. There comes a point in summer league, where the players who are bonafide NBA players, rise to the top of the heap. That’s what happened in the last game as Mitch McGary and Aaron Gordon put on a show. Gordon finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds on 8-11 shooting, while showing a vast array of ball-handling skills and play-making ability. McGary on the other hand, finished with 19 points on 9-12 shooting, and showed a Magic Johnson-like ability to grab a rebound on one end of the court and start a one-man fast break towards the other end of the court, usually ending with a transition basket.

The Opponent

los angeles clippers summer league

The Los Angeles Clippers summer league team is currently 0-2, one of four teams in the Orlando Summer League to yet win a game. The team is comprised of several players who have NBA experience, but the chemistry appears to be lacking. The strength of the team lies in its backcourt duo of Nate Wolters and CJ Wilcox. Wolters has been in the league two years and is looking to latch onto to a team for this upcoming season. Wilcox, the Clippers’ first round selection from last season, played in only 21 games and is looking to expand his role on the team with the departure of Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes. Another player looking to get picked up by a team for this upcoming season is Jordan Hamilton, who has four years of experience in the NBA. Hamilton is a versatile power forward who has played with Denver, Houston, and Los Angeles (Clippers) in his short career. Diante Garrett comes off the bench for this team and can be a spark plug 6th man. Royce White, who was last with the Sacramento Kings, is looking to get back in the league after issues with various front offices over his mental health caused him to get waived. Second round pick Branden Dawson is looking to see some action this season in the NBA and has shown a knack for rebounding and defense.

Three keys in the Game

1. Power forward match-up – Mitch McGary will have another tough match-up on his hands today going up against Jordan Hamilton. While not as versatile as Aaron Gordon, Hamilton is more of a post player, but can step out for the occasional 3-pointer. With the word out on McGary’s transition ability, look for the Clippers to get back on defense as soon as a shot goes up. McGary will likely further showcase his perimeter game today.

mcgary thunder

2. Attack the defense – Los Angeles has proven they can score in their two games, but they’ve also shown to be a bad defensive team, giving up 75 and 77 points, respectively. None of their players are known as defensive stalwarts and with Semaj Christon’s ability to get past the first line of defense and into the teeth of the defense, it could spell trouble for the Clippers.

3. Rebounding – Rebounding has been an issue for the Clippers this summer. Their only good rebounder is Branden Dawson, who has grabbed 19 boards total in the Clippers’ first two games. Look for Dakari Johnson and Talib Zanna to have double digit rebounding games today.

Orlando Summer League: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Orlando Magic Blue Team preview (Game 2 of 5)

thunder summer league

  • When: Monday, 06 July 2015 at 2:00 PM CST
  • Where: Orlando Magic practice facility, Orlando, FL

Summer league games are, in essence, exercises in hope. If you’ve watched summer league long enough, you know 80-90% of the guys on the court won’t ever make it to the NBA. If your name was not called in the first round, your chances of making it to the bigs drop significantly. With all that said, though, we still watch. If you are a true fan, you become familiar with all the players on the roster and even start to pick up little tidbits about them. A week later, unfortunately, all that knowledge gets cycled into the memory dump of our brains, and most of those players become but a distant memory. But as you watch the games, you start to notice things about players that may actually help your NBA roster.

After one game, the Oklahoma City Thunder sit at 1-0, having defeated the Charlotte Hornets 76-74. Lacking a dearth of NBA experience, the Thunder summer league roster depended on defense for key stretches in the game and on their back-court duo of Semaj Christon and Frank Gaines, who combined for 31 points. Christon notched a double-double with 14 points and 10 assists, while also hitting the deciding basket on a drive on the Thunder’s final possession. Mitch McGary and Dakari Johnson cleaned up well around the basket, each grabbing double digit rebound totals (24 rebounds total between the two). The spark off the bench came from Travis Bader who came into the game in the 2nd quarter, and quickly racked up 10 points on 2 3-point shots, a mid-range jumper, and 2 free throws. Defensively, McGary struggled a bit with Hornets’ rookie Frank Kaminsky, losing him several times on the pick and roll. Kaminsky finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Hornets, but did not score in the 4th quarter.

The Opponent

mario hezonja magic

Orlando brings two teams into their summer league. Their White team is made up mostly of guys that will likely spend most of their time next season in the Developmental League and overseas. The Blue team on the other hand, is made up of all the first and second year players that will likely see significant minutes in the NBA this season. This is an extremely smart move by the Magic who would like to see their young guys play together to develop a rhythm, instead of having them mixed with players who, honestly, likely will never sniff an NBA court. The Blue team won its first game against the Los Angeles Clippers, 75-74, in overtime. The Blue team is led by point guard Elfrid Payton, who was first team All-Rookie last season. Joining him on the wing are Magic first round pick Mario Hezonja and second year player Devyn Marble. Hezonja hit the deciding 3-point shot in overtime in the Blue team’s first summer league game. Up front, Aaron Gordon and Brandon Davies all have NBA experience. Off the bench, the Magic (Blue team) will likely use their 2nd round pick Tyler Harvey as an offensive spark plug.

Three Keys in the Game

1. Experience – The bulk of the minutes doled out to players on the Magic team will be to those players with NBA experience. While the Thunder don’t have the same amount of NBA experience, they do have a team that is quite familiar with itself as most of the Thunder’s roster is composed of players who were on the Thunder development team, the Blue.

semaj christon thunder II

2. Summer league superstar match-ups – While there aren’t necessarily any superstars in summer league, there are some interesting match-ups in this game. Aaron Gordon and Mitch McGary will likely match up a lot in this game. Both are athletic forwards that have a year’s worth of NBA experience under their belt. The other interesting match-up will be Elfrid Payton against Semaj Christon. The Thunder love Christon’s game and this will be a good barometer as to how ready he is to play in the NBA.

3. Mario Hezonja – Aside from the Thunder players, I’m most excited to see Super Mario. He was okay in his first game, but when the spotlight shined the brightest in the closing seconds of overtime, he hit the dagger three. This guy is far from a finished product, but his confidence and swagger make him a must-watch in summer league action.

 

Oklahoma City Thunder at Minnesota Timberwolves preview (Game 82 of 82)

westbrook thunder hamilton wiggins twolves

  • When: Wednesday, 15 April 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN

And it comes down to this. Eighty one games could not decide the future for the Oklahoma City Thunder and the New Orleans Pelicans. It all comes down to the 82nd and final game of the regular season. Considering everything that has happened to the Thunder this season, it is quite fitting that fans of Oklahoma City will be on pins and needles until about 9:30 PM CST tonight. It’s a position that is unfamiliar for Thunder fans. Even in their inaugural playoff season, the 8th-seeded Thunder finished 7 games ahead of the 9th-seeded Houston Rockets. There was never any late season drama other than their annual battle with the Spurs for the top two positions in the West. This season, though, the Thunder not only need to win their final game, but also have to depend on another team to extend their season. It almost feels like the Thunder are playing two road games tonight: their game against the Timberwolves in Minnesota and the Pelicans, at home, against the Spurs. Just like in real life, its kind of scary having to depend on other people.

This is the fourth and final meeting of the season between these two Northwest division rivals. The Thunder won the first three meetings by an average of 13.7 points.

The Opponent

NBA: Houston Rockets at Minnesota Timberwolves

The Minnesota Timberwolves currently finding themselves with a 16-65 record, good for the worst record in the NBA. They are riding an 11-game losing streak heading into this game and claim the best chance of getting the No. 1 pick in the next draft if they lose tonight. The Tiimberwolves have stuck to the tanking script for the past month, sitting veterans with nagging injuries and playing their young players the majority of the minutes. The Wolves are definitely playing for the future, and feature two rookies that could have a significant impact in years to come. Reigning slam dunk champ Zach LaVine has been manning the point in the last 5 games, averaging an impressive 23.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 6.4 assists in that quintet of games. His back court mate, Kevin Martin, is shooting 38.7% from 3-point territory and averaging nearly 20 points a game. Kevin Martin is questionable for tonight’s game. If he misses, look for Chase Budinger to start in his place. On the wing, Rookie of the Year candidate Andrew Wiggins is a developing franchise player in the Paul George/Tracy McGrady mold. Up front, rookie power forward Adreian Payne is just now starting to get significant minutes and Justin Hamilton is one of those “guys you sign to be a 3rd center off the bench” type guys. With so many guys out for this finale, the bench will feature Robbie Hummel, Lorenzo Brown, and Arinze Onuaku. Yeah, I don’t know too much about them either.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Minnesota Timberwolves

  • PG – Zach LaVine
  • SG – Kevin Martin
  • SF – Andrew Wiggins
  • PF – Adreian Payne
  • C – Justin Hamilton

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Dion Waiters
  • SF – Andre Roberson
  • PF – Enes Kanter
  • C – Steven Adams

Three Things

1. Front offices tank, not players – The Timberwolves’ front office has done a good job of positioning itself to continue in its rebuilding process. They’ll like get a top-3 draft pick in this next draft, and have given their young players ample time to develop this season. You know who doesn’t care about Minnesota’s position in the next draft? Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. I, mean, they care, because they are invested in the continued success of their organization. But tonight, they aren’t thinking about Jahlil Okafor or Karl Anthony Towns. Tonight, Wiggins is only thinking about dropping 35 on Andre Roberson. Tonight, LaVine is only worried about getting a triple double against Westbrook.

If the Thunder treat this game like the Timberwolves are the worst team in the league, they may find this to be a competitive game heading in to the 4th quarter. The last thing you want if you are the Thunder is to give the Wolves hope heading into the closing quarter of the game. Minnesota has played their last two opponents (New Orleans and Golden State) close, and will likely treat this game like it is their Game 7. This would be their ultimate “feather in the cap” if they are able to beat the Thunder and ruin their playoff chances.

2. Play through the jitters – Westbrook and Nick Collison have been here before. They’ve been in pressure-packed games that mean something. Enes Kanter, Dion Waiters, Kyle Singler, and Andre Roberson, on the other hand, haven’t. The team with all the pressure on them will be Oklahoma City. How will those players react if their first couple shots don’t fall? How will they react if Westbrook’s first couple shots don’t fall? Let’s just hope that doesn’t come into play.

westbrook waiters kanter thunder

3. Win – The only thing Oklahoma City can control is what it does in Minnesota. They can’t control what the Spurs do. They can’t control how the Pelicans will play. All you can do is win and hope for the best.

Thunder Up!

Sacramento Kings vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 79 of 82)

westbrook adams thunder evans kings

  • When: Friday, 10 April 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Four straight losses. And yet, the Oklahoma City Thunder still find themselves in the midst of being able to get the 8th and final playoff seed in the Western Conference. With the way this season has gone, it only seems apropos that it would come down to the final four games of the season for this team. The Thunder are currently tied in the standings with the New Orleans Pelicans, who hold the tie-breaker by virtue of winning the season series 3-1. With that said, the Thunder will need help from other teams to ensure that they do not finish with the same record as the Pelicans. The road ahead is a little bit tougher for the Pelicans, but that could also be a mirage as the two playoff teams they are facing in the next week may be resting their players. The Thunder on the other hand, play a Pacers team on the road that is trying to claw its way back into the Eastern Conference playoffs and division rival Portland, who may or may not be resting their starters in that game. For as much as the Thunder control their own destiny, they still need help. Here’s to being a Minnesota, Phoenix, Houston, and San Antonio fan in the next few days.

This is the 4th and final meeting of the season between these two teams. The Thunder lead the season series 2-1, with the victor of each game winning pretty convincingly. Injuries have played a role in each of the games, as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were absent for the first game, DeMarcus Cousins was injured for the second game, and Durant was out again for the third game.

The Opponent

mccallum mclemore miller kings

The Sacramento Kings come into the game with a 27-51 record. The Kings’ season started positively enough as they opened up the 2014-15 campaign 9-5. But injuries and in-fighting between the head coach and the front office quickly changed the course of the season in a negative way. In the end, head coach Mike Malone was fired in mid-December and the Kings never regained any of the momentum they had when they started the season. Since then, they’ve gone on to hire veteran coach George Karl to be their coach for the foreseeable future.  The coaching change hasn’t done much to stem the tide, as the Kings have gone 9-17 since Karl was hired. They score 100.9 points per game (good for 13th in the league), but give up 104.9 points per game (which is 28th worst in the league). The current starting back-court for the Kings is an inexperienced bunch made up of two 2nd year players (Ray McCallum and Ben McLemore). Both have been inefficient in their shot selection and decision making. On the wing, veteran Omri Casspi  has been the Kings’ best player in the last 3 games. There is a possibility that Rudy Gay may play in this game, but he has been dealing with the after effects of a concussion. With DeMarcus Cousins being out with foot injury, the Kings have been shuffling their glut of power forwards into and out of the starting front court (Jason Thompson, Reggie Evans, Derrick Williams, and Carl Landry). Off the bench, the non-starting power forwards, Ryan Hollins, and Andre Miller will provide much of the reserve playing time.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Sacramento Kings

  • PG – Ray McCallum
  • SG – Ben McLemore
  • SF – Rudy Gay
  • PF – Jason Thompson
  • C – Carl Landry

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Dion Waiters
  • SF – Andre Roberson
  • PF – Enes Kanter
  • C – Steven Adams

Three Things

1. Trap Game Potential – The Kings are not a very good team, but sometimes, the Thunder have a tendency to play down to their opponents. With so much on the line, I could definitely see a scenario where the Thunder start the game off cold and then try too hard to come back. A lot of the Thunder’s new players have never had to deal with this type of pressure, so a trap game scenario is definitely a possibility.

2. Rebounding – The Kings aren’t good at a lot of things. But they are pretty good at rebounding. And bad teams that can rebound tend to stay around in games they have no business being in contention for. Surprisingly, though, outside of Cousins, the Kings’ other big men aren’t necessarily great at rebounding. The Kings’ small forwards though, gobble up their fair share of boards, so everyone on the Thunder will have to be disciplined on the blocks for the rebounds.

kanter adams thunder

3. Twin Towers – The Thunder’s big men have a significant size advantage (outside of Sim Bhullar) over the rest of the Kings’ big men. This is another game in which both players could possibly get double-doubles against the Kings’ smaller front line.

San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 78 of 82)

westbrook adams thunder parker spurs

  • When: Tuesday, 07 April 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

It’s never a do or die game until you are certainly facing elimination with a loss. But this game certainly has the feeling of being a ‘win or go home’ type scenario. After holding a 2.5 game lead over the New Orleans Pelicans just over two weeks ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder have gone on to lose 5 of their last 6 games. Luckily for the Thunder, the Pelicans had their own bad stretch heading into these last two weeks and still find themselves a half game out with a murderer’s row of opponents coming up (Golden State – chasing history, Houston and Memphis – chasing the 2 seed, Phoenix – likely hellbent on being a playoff spoiler). After tonight’s game, three of the Thunder’s last four opponents are all under .500.  A win tonight, and the Thunder will likely find themselves 1.5 games up on the Pelicans with four to play.

This is the third and final meeting of the season between these two rivals. The previous two games were played in San Antonio, with the Thunder taking the Christmas match-up, and the Spurs throttling the Thunder nearly two weeks ago. These teams are used to battling it out for Western Conference supremacy, but now find themselves near the bottom of the playoff rankings this season. Nevertheless, this game is fraught with narratives and will have an impact on the playoff picture moving forward.

The Opponent

NBA: Finals-San Antonio Spurs at Miami Heat

The San Antonio Spurs are currently 51-26, sitting in the 6th spot in the Western Conference. They sit just 2 games back of the Houston Rockets who currently have the No. 2 seed in the West. I’ve learned that there are three guarantees in life: death, taxes, and game of ‘possum the Spurs play every regular season where it seems like they may finally be running out of steam, only to have them Lazarus their season after the All Star break. On February 25th, after a loss to the Portland Trailblazers, the Spurs found themselves at 34-23. Since then, the Spurs have gone 17-3 and the machine appears to be well-oiled once again. The Spurs attack is fueled by the rejuvenated Tony Parker, who appears to be back to his normal self after struggling with injuries and inconsistencies in the first half of the season. Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard are back to being one of the most dangerous sets of wings in the league. Up front, Tim Duncan is still a double/double threat and does of great job of positioning himself in the correct spot most times down the floor. Tiago Splitter will sit this game out with an injured calf, so look for Boris Diaw or Matt Bonner to get the nod at “center”. Off the bench, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli, Aron Baynes, and Cory Joseph are all seasoned vets who have played in big moments in the past few seasons.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

San Antonio Spurs

  • PG – Tony Parker
  • SG – Danny Green
  • SF – Kawhi Leonard
  • PF – Matt Bonner
  • C – Tim Duncan

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

Andre Roberson went through parts of practice on Monday, and may be available for this game. 

Three Things

1. Small Ball – With Splitter out, the Spurs will definitely be featuring either Bonner or Diaw as a stretch 4, to negate the Thunder’s size inside. The good thing is the Thunder can counter with a very efficient small ball line-up of their own, with Morrow and Singler playing the forward spots.

morrow westbrook thunder

2. Steven Adams – Adams has got to stay away from getting into the foul trouble. With the Thunder lack of big man depth, Adams has to find a way to stop picking up ticky-tack fouls. I understand when he’s trying to stop someone from getting a basket on their way to the rim. But Adams has to get at least 2-3 loose ball fouls a game on rebound attempts. Cut those in half, and the foul trouble goes away.

3. Late game execution – The Thunder’s last four losses have been by a grand total of 15 points, combined. That’s an average margin of defeat of 3.75 points per game. You make an extra 3-pointer and an extra free throw, and that’s a victory in some of those games. These games are coming down to the decisions in the final few minutes of the game. Without Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison in the closing line-up, the Thunder are having to depend on players that may not be used to the pressures associated with playoff-intensity type basketball. With the onus squarely on the chiseled shoulders of Westbrook, the inexperience of the other players in these situations is started to manifest itself in the form of close losses. Moral victories are still losses in the standings.

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

westbrook thunder chandler nowitzki rondo parsons mavericks

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

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

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

The Opponent

nowitzki jefferson barea parsons mavericks

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

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Dallas Mavericks

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

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

Three Things

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

adams nowitzki thunder mavericks

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

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

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

westbrook adams ibaka roberson thunder parker splitter spurs

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

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

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

The Opponent

leonard duncan green spurs

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

Probable Starting Line-Ups

San Antonio Spurs

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

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

Three Things

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

westbrook thunder parker duncan spurs

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

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

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

westbrook thunder

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

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

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

The Opponent

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Atlanta Hawks

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

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Los Angeles Lakers

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

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

Three Things

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

adams kanter thunder II

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

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

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

westbrook thunder noah bulls

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

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

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

The Opponent

gasol noah mirotic bulls

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

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Chicago Bulls

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

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

Three Things

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

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

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Chicago Bulls

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

Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 65 of 82)

westbrook adams thunder pekovic dieng timberwolves

  • When: Friday, 13 March 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

A historic month by Russell Westbrook, victories in 12 of their last 17 games, and a great improvement in team chemistry. And yet with all that, the Oklahoma City Thunder still find themselves in the same position they were in the first 3 months of the season: outside the top 8 in the Western Conference. After holding on to the 8th position for a couple weeks, the New Orleans Pelicans have retaken the last playoff spot in the West. With the Pelicans holding the tie-breaker against the Thunder, Oklahoma City have to find a way to win one more game than the New Orleans when it is all said and done.

This is the 3rd of 4 meetings between these two Northwest Division rivals.  The Thunder have won the first two games by an average of 13.5 points. The Wolves were missing Kevin Martin and Ricky Rubio in both of the previous meetings.

The Opponent

garnett lavine dieng timberwolves

The Timberwolves currently have a record of 14-49, which puts them in last place in the Western Conference. They are currently in the beginning stages of a rebuild, having netted the last two No. 1 picks in a trade that sent Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers. They are a mix of inexperienced young players and high priced veterans. It is apparent when you look at the stats, that the Wolves are playing more for the future than for the present. They are 22nd in scoring (97.6 points per game), while giving up the most points per game in the league (105.4 ppg). The T-Wolves attack is led by PG Ricky Rubio who averages 9.1 assists per game. Both the wings are the catalyst on offense, with Kevin Martin averaging 19.9 points on 39.9% shooting from deep and rookie of the year candidate Andrew Wiggins averaging 15.7 points per game. Up front, Kevin Garnett and Nikola Pekovic give the Wolves an experienced post tandem that, while slow, is experienced enough to play around their weaknesses. The bench is a smorgasbord of young players and veterans, mainly featuring Zach Lavine, Gorgui Dieng, Adreian Payne, Gary Neal, and Chase Budinger.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Minnesota Timberwolves

  • PG – Ricky Rubio
  • SG – Kevin Martin
  • SF – Andrew Wiggins
  • PF – Kevin Garnett
  • C – Nikola Pekovic

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

Edit – Serge Ibaka (knee) – out tonight/day to day

Three Things

1. Defense – The Thunder have allowed 111.4 points per game in the last 7 games. Not surprisingly, their record in that stretch is 3-4. They’ve been bad at the two staples of good defense: containing penetration and defending the perimeter. While the Wolves don’t necessarily have a plethora of 3-point shooters, they do have wings that penetrate and draw the defense in. With the Thunder’s penchant for sinking into the paint on defense, it may becomes one of those games where Martin, Neal, or Wiggins go off for 4 or 5 three pointers.

augustin collison kanter morrow thunder

2. The Others – The Russell Westbrook Experience has been exhilarating this past month and a half. But with Kevin Durant still out, defenses are completely keying in on Westbrook, making it extremely difficult for him to get into the paint. In the last three games, Westbrook has averaged 8 turnovers per game, as defenses either pack the paint or have an extra defender shading over to where Westbrook might drive. Westbrook can’t do it alone, and may need more than one other teammate to step up.

3. Trash Talkin’ KG – Steven Adams may have awakened a sleeping beast with his recent comments regarding Garnett and his penchant for sanitary verbalizations. Although Adams was completely complimentary in his interview, Garnett may not take too kindly to his words. Or, he may have softened in his older age and give props to the young New Zealander.

Bonus – Must-win – While it isn’t a must-win game, it sure has the feeling of one. Darn you Anthony Davis 30-foot desperation shot.