Tag Archives: Beat LA

5 for 5: The Run

durant westbrook thunder lakers fisher farmer

5 for 5: The Longest Shortest Season  |  5 for 5: Tragedies, Courtrooms, and Beginnings  |  5 for 5: The Rivalries  |  5 for 5: The Thunder’s Godfather

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 weeks heading into training camp, 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.

When the Thunder went into the 2009-10 season, their expectations weren’t that high. They were coming off a 23-win season that saw them change coaches mid-season and continued cultivating the young talent that would eventually become their core. They drafted James Harden with the 3rd pick in that year’s draft and ushered in Serge Ibaka, who was drafted in the previous year’s draft, but stayed in Europe for an extra season of development. With the coaching staff firmly entrenched under Scott Brooks and a full year after the Seattle to Oklahoma City transition, the team was looking for tangible improvements on the floor and in the win column.

Hindsight being what it is, the most important addition to the Thunder that season didn’t even don a jersey. After Scott Brooks took over for PJ Carlismo in late November of the previous season, the team also fired Carlismo’s number one assistant Paul Westhead. On December 31st, probably in response to Brooks’ inexperience as a head coach, the team hired veteran assistant coach Ron Adams, whose specialty was defense. The teachings of Adams didn’t immediately pay dividends as the team saw their opponents’ scoring average go from 102.2 ppg before his arrival to 103.7 after his arrival. But the seeds of his defensive principles started to take root after the team had an entire offseason and training camp with Adams.

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The team came out the next season with a defensive mindset that immediately showed results not only in the stat column, but also in the win column. They improved their defensive rating from 20th to 9th in the league, and held opponents to 98.0 ppg, which was a 5 point improvement from the previous season. The continued evolution of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook into All-NBA stewards also helped in the improvement process, as well. The result was a 27 win improvement that netted the Thunder the 8th seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Their opponent in wait were the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. Continue reading 5 for 5: The Run

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Kobe Bryant’s Impact on the Thunder

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There’s something to be said about big brothers. I never had one growing up, and, honestly, most of the people I associated with while growing up were the oldest children in their families. But in the examples that I did see while growing up, big brothers can help shape and mold younger brothers into something better than what they themselves are. As we’ve seen with the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, big brothers don’t even have to be related to their younger brethren to have an impact.

Big brothers serve two purposes in life: to frustrate and to motivate. The frustration part comes from the big brother’s ability to dominate over the little brother due to being older, bigger, and wiser. The motivation part comes from the little brother wanting to be better than the big brother. The thing about this big brother/little brother dynamic is that the little brother is able to take notes on how to best his big brother, while the big brother just has to wing being a big brother.

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In a lot of ways, with all due respect to Kendrick Perkins, Nazr Mohammed, Royal Ivey, Kevin Ollie, and Desmond Mason, the best example of a big brother to the Oklahoma City Thunder has been Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. With his recent season-ending (and hopefully, not career ending) Achilles tendon tear, I was forced to evaluate Bryant’s legacy when it comes to the Thunder.

If there is one word to describe my feelings towards Bryant’s basketball ability, it’s respect. Off the court, though, Bryant is one of those people that I would try to avoid like the plague. His arrogance and A-type personality, combined with a penchant to place blame on others when things don’t go his way, would be a package that I would completely avoid, if possible, in real life. But on the court, those personality traits, and the fact that he plays for the most polarizing franchise in NBA history, make for must see TV. Bryant is a five tool player that has a lethal 6th tool: the overwhelming need to completely decimate his opponent night in and night out, year after year. Michael Jordan had this 6th tool. Larry Bird had this 6th tool. Bill Russell had this 6th tool. Russell Westbrook HAS this 6th tool.

To view Bryant as an opponent is to respect someone out of fear. Fear for what he could do against your team. Fear that he’ll conjure up some bulletin board material for his mental bulletin board, and go off on your team for no particular reason. Fear that he could miss 10 shots in a row, but the 11th shot, with the game on the line, will go in without hesitation. That’s the kind of respect that Kobe Bryant garners. And yet, it’s a fear that keeps you staring in awe. He’s the type of player that fans say, “I hate what he does to my team, but I love to watch him play.”

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Every successful up and coming team has that one hurdle they set their sights on. If you’re a team that is coming out of the dredges of the draft lottery, you mark successes in increments. First step is to be competitive on a nightly basis. Then the next step is to get into the playoffs. Then the next step is to be successful in the playoffs. You keep going until, hopefully, eventually, you win a championship. But along the way, especially in the early stages of the success journey, you always target that one team that’s been there and done that. For the Chicago Bulls in the late 80’s and early 90’s, it was the Detroit Pistons. For the Orlando Magic in the mid 90’s, it was the New York Knicks. And for the Thunder, it was the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

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As fate would have it, that 2010 playoff series that pitted the No. 1 seeded Lakers vs. the No. 8 seeded Thunder was probably the best thing for the development of the Thunder. The fact that they were able to give the eventual champion Lakers a fight in the first round did wonders for the confidence of the young Thunder. But if you broke it down to its simplest form, the Thunder didn’t give the Lakers a test. They gave Kobe a test. They planted the seed in Kobe’s head that we would be a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future. When the crowd would chant, “Beat LA”, they were actually chanting “Beat Kobe”. Nobody feared Pau Gasol. Or Andrew Bynum. Or Derek Fisher (hehe!). We knew that Kobe had received the message. And that was both awesome and fearful (respectful) at the same time.

As the Thunder’s two superstars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, progressed in the NBA world, they would eventually come in contact more often with Kobe Bryant. On Western Conference All-Star teams and, most importantly, the Olympics, Thunder fans can only hope that our superstars soaked up any of the psychological warfare that Bryant uses on a daily bases. Those blurbs that you hear from media members about Bryant talking trash to Durant, Westbrook, and at the time, James Harden during the Olympics, when they heard that the Lakers had acquired Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, is just classic mental warfare from Bryant. It’s the equivalent of how the military drops leaflets into countries they are warring with stating how their government is endangering them, the common citizen.

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So with that, I say, thank you to Kobe Bean Bryant. He has as much a stake in the Thunder’s ascension and success as does any of the veterans that played for the team. He was the target that we went after when we wanted to be successful. Much like an older brother, he frustrated us. But he also motivated us. And we learned much from facing him and defeating him. Here’s hoping that Bryant does come back, while, realistically realizing, that the Bryant we knew, may have gone down in a heap in the Staples Center on Friday night. Whatever the future holds for Kobe, just realize that the future of the Oklahoma City Thunder was shaped, in part, by the man in the Lakers uniform that we feared and respected the most.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Preview (Game 60 of 82)

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  • When: Tuesday, 05 March 2013 at 8:30 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City OK

When the Oklahoma City Thunder handily defeated the Los Angeles Lakers for the 2nd time in the season on January 11th, I jokingly tweeted that I would only wear my “Beat LA” Thunder shirt for Clippers games from here on out. On their third meeting of the season, though, the Lakers grinded out a hard fought victory at the Staples Center and started their climb towards mediocre respectability. Since that win on January 27th, the Lakers are 11-5 and within 2 games of the 8th spot in the Western Conference playoff race. So with that, I’m currently wearing my “Beat LA “shirt. Congratulations Laker-Nation, you’ve earned by closet’s respect again.

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All joking aside though, this is a big game for both parties involved. With the injury to San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker, the Thunder see this game as an opportunity to make ground on the Spurs in their quest for home court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs and into the Finals. Also, this is an opportunity to keep these pesky Lakers at bay, because, truthfully, an 8-seeded Lakers team is a whole helluva lot scarier than an 8-seeded Houston Rockets or Utah Jazz team.  The Lakers, of course, see this game as a must win in their quest to salvage the season and make the playoffs.

2012 NBA - Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers (92-77) - April 16, 2012

The big question concerning the Thunder is the availability of Serge Ibaka. Because of his karate chop of Blake Griffin’s baby factory, there may be a possible suspension upcoming. As of early Tuesday afternoon, though, there has been no word from the NBA offices. If Ibaka is not available for the game, look for Perry Jones III to start in his place. Scott Brooks is not very keen on deviating from his substitution patterns and the Lakers are pretty thin at power forward, with Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill being injured. With Jones III in the starting lineup, Brooks can continue with his substitution pattern of Nick Collison and Hasheem Thabeet off the bench, with Kevin Durant possibly playing some power forward in the 2nd half. With all that said, though, I think Ibaka skirts by with a hefty fine and no suspension.

Probable Starters

Los Angeles Lakers

  • PG – Steve Nash
  • SG – Kobe Bryant
  • SF – Metta World Peace
  • PF – Earl Clark
  • C – Dwight Howard

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

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1. Composure – With the near fracas that formed in the Staples Center, and the recent comments by Kobe Bryant that he would’ve “smacked him (Ibaka) in the mouth,” look for there to be an almost playoff-like, charged atmosphere in the arena tonight. If anyone has followed Kobe Bryant’s career though, you’ll know that he uses psychology more than any other player. That statement was a psychological bait he threw out into the water. It’s up to the Thunder players to keep their composure and not take the bait.

2. KD and Russ – It will be interesting to see how the Lakers start out the game defensively. With Westbrook coming into the game playing the best basketball of his career, do the Lakers start out with Kobe on Westbrook, or do they leave Nash on him? This decision may dictate how KD plays. If Kobe start off on Westbrook, then it’s up to Durant to take over. But if Nash starts off on Westbrook, Durant should take more of the facilitator role and let Westbrook handle the weaker, slower Nash.

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3. Perkins – Dwight Howard seems to be coming around from his earlier injuries. He seems to finally be getting into shape and he hasn’t complained about his shoulder. With that said, this is the main reason we have Kendrick Perkins on our team. Contain Howard and that forces Kobe to go into hero-mode, which works in the Thunder’s favor when you have a defender like Thabo Sefolosha.