Tag Archives: Blake Griffin

Daily Thunder Rumblings – 30 June 2017


Happy Friday to all. Here is the DTR on eve of the madness we all know as free agency. At 11:01 PM CST tonight, the Thunder should have somehow acquired Blake Griffin, Paul George, and Kristaps Porzingis, right? That’s how NBA free agency works, right?

Semaj Christon and Taj Gibson made the list of buzzer-beaters for the 2016-17 season.

Well if Blake Griffin and his injured toe don’t work in OKC, maybe Rudy Gay and his surgically repaired Achilles tendon will: “The Thunder tried to acquire Gay last October in a deal which would have send Cameron Payne and other pieces to Sacramento. That was before Gay tore his Achilles after playing only 30 games. Gay declined a player option worth $14.2 million for 2017-18. With career averages of 18.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 34.2 percent from 3-point range, Gay figures to command a higher salary when free agency open Saturday.”

Andrew Schlecht of Daily Thunder looks at Gay’s fit with the Thunder: “Will Gay accept a role? If he is a starter at either forward position, will he be satisfied spotting up? He could allow Westbrook to be off-ball some, but it would be more of a  “your turn, my turn” than the motion offense that Billy Donovan wants. The truth is, if the Thunder can’t make a major splash, Rudy Gay is not a terrible option. The ideal situation would be Gay signing for a small dollar amount within one of the exceptions, and agreeing to come off the bench. This would allow the Thunder to move on from Enes Kanter without giving up any bench scoring. Gay could also close games at the power forward position. If he gets his touches earlier in the game, he would probably be fine spotting up in closeout situations.”

As July 1st approaches, a sobering reality comes into view if Westbrook declines to sign the Designated Player Veteran Exception: “Russell Westbrook called his teammates to the stage Monday night in New York. So up trotted Nick Collison, Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson, Taj Gibson and Enes Kanter to stand in solidarity as Westbrook delivered his MVP speech. Irony oozed in Basketball City. The brotherhood was evident. So was the likelihood that the band is about to break up. Of Westbrook’s five teammates on stage, one (Kanter) is on the trading block and three others (Collison, Roberson, Gibson) are free agents, with none better than 50-50 of staying in Oklahoma City.”

Tim Bontemps looks at three small-market stars who could be on the move come the start of free agency: “But when Westbrook was asked a few minutes later about the potential of signing an extension with the Thunder, he did everything he could to avoid an answer. “Man, tonight is so important for me, and obviously with the contract and stuff coming up, it’s not really on my mind at the moment, honestly,” Westbrook said. “I’m just overwhelmed with a tremendous amount of blessings I’ve been able to get to be able to get this award. “Man, I’m just thinking about tonight, and then after that, I’ll move on.” Not the most reassuring of answers for a Thunder fan.”

When you have a good GM, openings will lead to rumors: “This does bring up an interesting scenario though. The past ten years (yes Presti was there for one Seattle season) SuperSonics/Thunder fans (yes there are a few of us out there) have been blessed with a young, intelligent General Manager. Unlike players, GM’s don’t switch teams unless they are 1) fired from one job or 2) one of the best GM’s in the game. It just so happens Presti falls in Category #2. So now the Big Fish of the NBA want in on Oklahoma City’s biggest off-the-court advantage.”

Mountain Dew unveils the triple-double breasted suit to honor the MVP.

An art teacher in the OKC school district celebrated Westbrook’s MVP win in a way only an art teacher would appreciate.

The HBO show Vice looks at the Enes Kanter situation against Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. 

According to Yahoo Sports, the Thunder have been interested in Blake Griffin for months: “It’s a shame for the Thunder they backed off their plan to sign Griffin last summer, signing Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo to contract extensions, only to resume it a few months later. Letting Adams and Oladipo hit unrestricted free agency would have given Oklahoma City an additional $22,514,699 in cap flexibility while maintaining Adams’ and Oladipo’s Bird Rights. That alone wouldn’t have been enough to offer Griffin a max salary, but dumping Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler and either Doug McDermott or Domantas Sabonis would’ve projected to get the Thunder there. In that scenario, Oklahoma City could have also exceeded the cap to re-sign Adams and Oladipo after inking Griffin.”

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Daily Thunder Rumblings – 29 June 2017

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So Houston actually got Chris Paul. I wonder what this means for the Thunder and Blake Griffin? Let us explore on this edition of DTR.

It’s no secret the Thunder like Blake Griffin. But to make it work, Griffin needs to like OKC: “It’s uncertain what the move means for the Thunder, but it’s another power play for a Western Conference team in a relatively quiet summer (so far) for OKC. What could be revealed soon, however, is the fate of Blake Griffin – the Oklahoma City native and former University of Oklahoma All-American who the Thunder has reportedly had interest in for more than a year.”  Continue reading Daily Thunder Rumblings – 29 June 2017

Do the Thunder have a chance at acquiring Paul George?

paul george russell Westbrook

At around 2:00 PM CST on Father’s Day, The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski released the following tweet:

First off, the timing of the tweet makes it very purposeful. Over four days before the NBA Draft is due to take place gives the Indiana Pacers plenty of time to receive trade offers that have some meat behind them. While many will look at this as a negative move from Paul George’s part, it actually likely helps the Pacers in the long run.

No one in the NBA wants to see a lame duck season from a player or a team. That’s what the 2017-18 season would’ve been like for the Pacers had they allowed George to just go through the motions next season. With this definitive statement from the George camp, both sides can now put into motion the necessary steps to move forward from this break-up. Continue reading Do the Thunder have a chance at acquiring Paul George?

Daily Thunder Rumblings – 16 June 2017

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Enes Kanter thinks Russell Westbrook will finish out his career in Oklahoma City: “Enes Kanter has been very outspoken this summer, but this time it was about Russell Westbrook. In an interview with SI.com published Thursday, the Thunder center said he thinks Westbrook, who isn’t a free agent this summer but is eligible for the Designated Veteran Player Exception contract which would keep him in Oklahoma City an additional five years, will stay with the Thunder his entire career. “One thing I saw about him is he’s a loyal guy,” Kanter said. “I understand he’s from L.A., he loves L.A., he goes to L.A. every summer, but he’s a loyal player. “I think he’s gonna finish his career in Oklahoma City.”

In the midst of a Jerry West to LA Clippers article, we start to see the bread crumb-like rumors of Blake Griffin possibly going to Oklahoma City: “Paul also has plans to talk with the Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets, one executive said. Griffin can sign a five-year deal worth $175 million with L.A., or sign a four-year deal worth $130 million with another team. The Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder are two teams that will make a bid for Griffin, according to several executives.” Continue reading Daily Thunder Rumblings – 16 June 2017

Los Angeles Clippers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 64 of 82)

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Clippers at Oklahoma City Thunder

  • When: Wednesday, 11 March 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

A team usually heads into the playoffs in one of two ways. The first is what the Oklahoma City Thunder have experienced in the last few seasons, which is to wrap up a playoff spot with about a month to go, and either play for positioning or begin to rest players for the playoffs. The second scenario is for a team to scrap and claw until the final day of the regular season to get into the playoffs. The Thunder haven’t had to experience the latter scenario since the 2009-10 season. And it appears this season will also fall into the latter scenario. The New Orleans Pelicans continue winning despite a myriad of injuries. The Thunder currently hold the 8th spot by he slimmest of margins (.002), but have an “easier” upcoming schedule.

This is the 3rd and final meeting of the season between these two opponents. Each team won on their respective courts, as the losing team was missing a key player in each game. In the first meeting, the Thunder were without Kevin Durant, and later without Russell Westbrook after he broke his hand in the first half of that game. In the second meeting, the Clippers were without Blake Griffin, who missed the game due to a staph infection in his elbow.

The Opponent

paul jordan clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers are currently 41-23, good for 5th in the Western Conference. Once again, they are one of the top offensive teams in the league, ranking number one in offensive rating, averaging the 2nd most points per game (106) and averaging the 3rd most assists per game (24.4). That part of the game has never been a problem for the Clippers. It’s the other end of the floor where the Clippers struggle. They rank No. 19 in the league in points allowed per game (100) and are the 14th ranked team in terms of defensive rating. Surprisingly, even though they have the best rebounder in the league in DeAndre Jordan (14.5 rebounds per game), they rank 21st in total rebounds per game. The Clippers’ attack is led by the best pure point guard in the league in Chris Paul, who is putting up 18.2 points and 10.2 assists. On the wing, JJ Redick and Matt Barnes provide good release valves for perimeter offense, shooting 42.5% and 36.5%, respectively, from deep. Spencer Hawes has been a bit of a disappointment since signing a contract for the full MLE in the offseason. Nonetheless, his ability to stretch the floor has kept the middle devoid of extra defenders in Blake Griffin’s absence. Up front, DeAndre Jordan has stepped up his production since Griffin went out, averaging 14.6 points and 18.6 rebounds in those 13 games. Injuries to Griffin and Jamal Crawford have muted some of the Clippers’ depth, as they are having to depend on Austin Rivers, Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu, and the newly signed Nate Robinson for bench production.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Los Angeles Clippers

  • PG – Chris Paul
  • SG – JJ Redick
  • SF – Matt Barnes
  • PF – Spencer Hawes
  • C – DeAndre Jordan

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kyle Singler
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Enes Kanter

Three Things

1. Pick-n-Roll Defense – I still think Kanter starts, but it would not surprise me if Steven Adams gets the nod in this game. While Kanter has proven himself to be a good 1-on-1 post defender, he struggles mightily in pick and roll situations involving good point guards and competent bigs. Westbrook usually does a good job of staying in front of Paul, so Kanter has that working for him. But Adams has more experience in playing with Westbrook and the positionality that is required to be successful in defending the pick and roll.

2. Bench – The reserves were the main reason the last meeting between these two teams turned into a rout in the Thunder’s favor. The Thunder’s bench scored 62 points, with 3 reserves scoring 15 points or more. The Clippers’ dependence on Austin Rivers and Hedo Turkoglu should benefit the Thunder.

collison mcgary thunder

3. Protect Your Hands – Two games against the Clippers this year, two broken hands to a Thunder starter. It was Westbrook in the first meeting and Adams in the 2nd meeting. Rebound with your chest, guys.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers preview (Game 2 of 82)

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

The Oklahoma City Thunder played great for the first 40 minutes of the night against Portland. Russell Westbrook was going all SuperNova on the Trailblazers, Lance Thomas (LANCE THOMAS!) was doing his best Kenneth Faried impression, and the defense was clamping down on the Portland shooters. Then the 4th quarter started. The defense lost its discipline, the role players started playing like role players, and Russell Westbrook, who was on the bench to begin the quarter, couldn’t bring the Thunder back with the Portland defense keying in on him. With all the odds that were stacked against the Thunder, this did feel like a bit of a moral victory. A loss was expected, but to have a 2 point lead heading into the 4th quarter, and then completely fall apart, was a bit disappointing. But as the venerable Swizz Beatz would say, “On to the next one.”

The Los Angeles Clippers open up their season in the same place and against the same team where it ended last season. The Thunder defeated the Clippers in 6 games in the 2nd round of last season’s playoffs. In what is quickly becoming a budding rivalry in the league, the Clippers are trying to get to where the Thunder have been. The teams split their regular season meetings last year, with each team winning one game on the other’s court.

The Opponent

griffin barnes jordan paul redick clippers

The Clippers finished last season 57-25, good for 3rd in the Western Conference. They defeated the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs as the series went the distance. They then lost to the Thunder in 6 games in the second round. The Clippers had the highest offensive rating in the league last season (112.1), and bring back most of the core from the previous year. Leading the charge is one of the best players in the league, Chris Paul. He led the league in assists per game (10.7) and steals per game (2.5). Joining Paul in the backcourt is sharp shooter JJ Redick who shot nearly 40% from 3-point territory last season. Up front, MVP candidate Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan continue to cause havoc with their athleticism and size. The Clippers sport one of the better benches in the league, which features 2-time 6th Man of the Year award winner Jamal Crawford, Jordan Farmar, and stretch center Spencer Hawes.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Los Angeles Clippers

  • PG – Chris Paul
  • SG – JJ Redick
  • SF – Matt Barnes
  • PF – Blake Griffin
  • C – DeAndre Jordan

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Perry Jones
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Perimeter Defense – Much like the Portland game, one of the keys to holding a high scoring offense in check is guarding the 3-point line. The Thunder did a good job of that for 3 quarters, but got undisciplined in the 4th quarter and paid a costly price. The Clippers have 6 players who shot at least 34% from deep last season. The perimeter defenders (especially Andre Roberson and Perry Jones) need to do a better job of staying with the shooters and not following the ball so much.

2. A little help – I don’t know if he is out of shape, hurt, or trying to do too much, but Ibaka did not look like himself last night. He was pump-faking and trying to create, which led to his team high 5 turnovers. He was hesitating on his outside shot, which is unlike him, and shot only 4/11. He may just be out of sync due to missing most of training camp. Hopefully, its something he can work through and correct as soon as possible. Perry Jones, after two great preseason games, looked very lost out there in the starting line-up. He shot 1-9 from the field and was spun around a couple times on the defensive end. Roberson was okay, but the Thunder may still need more from him, even if its as a slasher. You know the team is struggling a bit when Lance Thomas is the 2nd leading scorer on the team with 14 points. Westbrook will need more help this game. Speaking of Westbrook…

Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers

3. Paul vs. Westbrook – Are there any more contenders for best point guard in the game? Maybe a healthy Derrick Rose, but for the most part, I think not. Last season’s dual was won by Westbrook in dominating fashion. Round 2 will likely be as entertaining.

Uncharted Waters: The Thunder and the Kevin Durant injury

durant thunder injury

In life, things have a way of working out oppositely to what we expected. The job promotion you thought would make you happy, actually makes you miserable working under the megalomaniac you call your new boss. The breakup with that significant other you thought would sink you into a depression, actually allowed you to find THE ONE. Life has a strange way of finding its own equilibrium. And that’s exactly how I’m approaching this injury to Kevin Durant. There are negatives and positives to any situation, even this one.

Bad News First: The Negatives:

1. Risk of Reinjury – We saw last season how nagging surgical interventions can be. The battle is not won when the surgeon proclaims, “This surgery was a success.” On a side note, I’ve always wondered what that meant. How do you know it was successful if you haven’t even tested the fix yet? I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘the surgery was a success’ is doctor speak for ‘we operated on the correct leg and the patient is still alive’. Russell Westbrook’s initial meniscus surgery was labeled a success. But complications do occur and that’s what the Thunder faced when Westbrook’s knee began to swell during training camp. Scans were run, and it was determined that a loose internal stitch had caused the swelling. Westbrook had a second, probably minor, arthroscopic surgery to fix that issue. The second surgery kept Westbrook out all preseason and two games into the regular season. Westbrook returned on the third game of the season and played like nothing had ever happened to him. That is, until his knee began to swell again around the Christmas game. The team performed another scope of the knee, which kept Westbrook out until after the All-Star break. In all, Westbrook missed 36 games last season.

The area where Durant suffered the break is notorious for being a difficult heal spot. The blood flow to that area of the bone is much less then at the ends of the bone. There have been plenty of players who have suffered this break and have had this surgery and have come back to the game just fine. But there have been others, like Brook Lopez of the Brooklyn Nets and CJ McCollum of the Portland Trailblazers, who have suffered reinjury of the same bone, usually within a year or two of the initial surgery.  I bring up those two names because they span the spectrum of player body types. Lopez is a 7-footer who weighs over 250 pounds and plays in the post. McCollum is a 6’3 combo guard that can take it to the rim and shoot the outside shot. Durant is like the best of both worlds: a 6’11 forward who moves like a guard. Luckily, he doesn’t pack the same mass as Lopez. Will Durant lack of size actually benefit him in his recovery from this injury or will his style of play (guard-like) be a deterrent in his recovery?

brook lopez injury

2. Falling behind in the Western Conference – A lot changed this offseason in the NBA. One thing that remained the same: the Western Conference is still brutal. Most every team in the conference either improved or stayed the course, with the exception, possibly, of Houston and Minnesota. Over the past 5 seasons, the wins average to get into the playoffs in the West has been 47 games. Prior to Durant’s injury, this team was slated to win between 58 and 62 games and be in contention for the number one seed, not only in the Western Conference, but also, throughout the playoffs. That wins estimate will probably need to be curtailed back a bit depending on when Durant gets back, and how he looks when he does get back.

A Westbrook-Ibaka-Jackson core could easily lead the Thunder to 45 wins, which may be good for an 8th seed in the West. And although the Thunder have won road playoff games before, they would much rather play in the friendly confines of the ‘Peake come playoff time. With that said, one of the biggest lessons this team has learned in the past 3 seasons is that home court advantage probably counts more in the early rounds of the playoffs than in the later rounds. Veteran teams like San Antonio and Dallas, who have routinely been to the later rounds of the playoffs, don’t really care where they play. They usually perform the same whether they are at home or on the road. Maybe the Thunder are becoming veteran enough to realize that sacrificing a couple victories in the regular season for rest, may come back to help them in the playoffs, whether its at home or on the road.

3. Derailment of Durant’s repeat MVP campaign – Is it possible that Durant could repeat as MVP this season, even while missing up to a quarter of the season? It’s plausible, but highly unlikely. First of all, the season’s narratives are all working against Durant this season. LeBron James is back in Cleveland in the homecoming of all homecomings. Derrick Rose is back after being sidelined for nearly two years due to various knee ailments. Kobe Bryant is back from injury and looking like the Bryant of old. And Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are ready to take the next step in their development after a tumultuous final year of ownership under Donald Sterling. Narrative and time on the court are both working against Durant. Hopefully, Durant is more worried about the Finals MVP, since he already has a regular season one under his belt.

Good News: The Positives

1. We’ve been here before – We’ve been through this already with Westbrook. When he was scheduled to miss the first month of the season recovering from his second knee surgery in 4 months, many Thunder fans thought the team would struggle mightily out the gates. Instead, Westbrook returned in the third game of the season, and the Thunder played like a fully healthy Thunder team would play. Then, in late December when Westbrook was slated to be out for another two months, everybody fretted about the upcoming schedule. Instead, Durant went supernova on the league (Slim Reaper) and the Thunder made it out of that run relatively unscathed. Will this be the same situation? Probably not.

The Thunder had a good replacement player for Westbrook in Reggie Jackson. While Jackson is no Westbrook, he does a lot of the same things that Westbrook does, which allows the Thunder to play their style of basketball. Unfortunately, there is no one on the roster that can mirror what Durant does for the Thunder. Perry Jones is a candidate, but doesn’t have that extra gear to be a factor on the floor. Anthony Morrow is a possibility, but, while he’s a great shooter, he struggles in creating his own shot.

So how will the Thunder survive? The same way they survived when Westbrook went down. Rely on Westbrook to provide a lot of the offense, and have other players step up their games offensively and defensively. Ibaka, Jackson, and Jeremy Lamb can each do their parts offensively. The team will probably have to start Steven Adams as he is much more offensively adept as compared to Kendrick Perkins. And coach Scott Brooks will probably have to trust his young guys a lot more. Will it be easy? Probably not. Will it be frustrating at times? Yes. Will it be exhilarating at times? Hell yeah.

jackson ibaka jones thunder

2. Young guys get to step up – A lot like last season, the Thunder young core (Adams, Lamb, Jones, and Andre Roberson) has to step up if the team is to stay afloat and succeed. If anything, this season is a big one for Lamb and Jones, as they are eligible for their first extensions after this season. If that isn’t motivation to step up your game, I don’t know what is. It’s put up or shut up time for these two players. The organization seemingly likes these two guys, but with them coming up on extensions in the next two seasons, it’s time to see if they can really be core members of the team or if they are trade bait for future assets.

Last season, when Westbrook went down, Lamb provided some of the fire power off the bench that was missing when Jackson was tasked to start. In the first half of the season, Lamb almost averaged double figures. His scoring average and playing time went down when he started slumping after the All-Star break and after the Thunder acquired veteran forward Caron Butler. Jones was used as a utility man, playing any position not named point guard or center. He showed flashes, but continues to be a mystery because his physical attributes would suggest he would dominate on the court.

The real key will be Adams and Roberson. If they are both tasked with starting, their rapid development will be tantamount to how the Thunder react to their time without Durant. If Adams is able to stay on the floor, that make Perkins and his $9 million dollar expiring contract extremely movable. If Roberson is able to get some semblance of offense, his perimeter defense will take some of the pressure off Westbrook, so he can focus on offense. The young’ins have stepped up before. They’ll be expected to do it again.

3. Kickstart to Westbrook’s MVP campaign – This is probably the most exciting part of Durant sitting out the first month of the season. I mean, the Durant sitting part isn’t exciting. But if you’re going to find a silver lining, it’s the fact that we finally get to see what a Westbrook-led Thunder team can do. And no, I do not subscribe to the train of thought that Westbrook will go all Iverson on us and jack up 25-30 shots per game. Instead, I think Westbrook will beautifully manage games, attacking when needed and distributing whenever available.

westbrook mvp

In last season’s playoffs, Westbrook was probably the 2nd best individual player in the playoffs. In 19 games, Westbrook averaged 26.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.1 assists, and 2.2 steals, while outplaying the likes of Mike Conley, Chris Paul, and Tony Parker. The MVP talk for Westbrook for the upcoming season hit an uptick during those playoffs. But the reality was that Westbrook would probably never win an MVP with Durant in tow. But now, with Durant out of the picture for a stretch, Westbrook could toss his name into the MVP discussion. Other than LeBron’s homecoming, there’s no better narrative than Westbrook doing for the Thunder this season, what Durant did for them last season. Which is, carry them for long stretches and come up with game winning plays. I’m prepared to see games where Westbrook forces the issues and shoots 3-21 with 5 turnovers and the Thunder get blown out by 25. But I’m also prepared to see games like Game 4 of last season’s Western Conference Finals (40 points/ 10 assists/ 5 rebounds/ 5 steals) or Game 4 of the 2012 NBA Finals (43 points/5 assists/ 7 rebounds). The Westbrook Experience is just beginning.

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Pacific Division

Pacific Division

1. Los Angeles Clippers

paul griffin jordan clippers

Last season: 57-25 (1st in the Pacific Division, 3rd in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 6 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder

Key Additions:

  • Chris Douglas-Roberts – Free agent signing
  • Jordan Farmar – Free agent signing
  • Spencer Hawes – Free agent signing
  • Ekpe Udoh – Free agent signing
  • C.J. Wilcox – Draft (No. 28 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Joe Ingles – Australian free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Jared Dudley – Traded to the Milwaukee Bucks
  • Danny Granger – Signed with the Miami Heat
  • Ryan Hollins – Signed with the Sacramento Kings
  • Willie Green – Claimed off waivers by the Orlando Magic
  • Darren Collison – Signed with the Sacramento Kings

Season preview – While one team gets embroiled in a controversy related to race (Atlanta), another team is getting out of their racial controversy relatively unscathed. With the Donald Sterling fiasco behind them, and with new ownership, the Clippers look to build on the success from last season. The highest scoring team in the league (107.9 ppg) brings back its main core, while also adding the perimeter shooting of Spencer Hawes and Chris Douglas-Roberts to the mix. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are legit MVP contenders and the Clippers should be in the thick of things when it comes to championship contenders.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Clippers make it to the Finals

Projected 2014-15 Record: 59-23

2. Golden State Warriors

curry thompson splash bros warriors

Last season: 51-31 (2nd in the Pacific Division, 6th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 7 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers

Key Additions:

  • Leandro Barbosa – Free agent signing
  • Shaun Livingston – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Steve Blake – Signed with the Portland Trailblazers
  • Jordan Crawford – Unsigned
  • Jermaine O’Neal – Unsigned

Season Preview – Golden State is one of those teams that seems to be on the cusp of becoming an elite team, but is missing that extra “oomph” to get them there. Unfortunately, whatever that oomph is was obtained in the offseason. The Warriors basically bring back the same team from last season. While Curry and Thompson may continue to get better, the rest of the team, for the most part, has already plateaued in terms of skill improvement/refinement. I see the Warriors still being good, but also, still not being good enough.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Warriors reach the 2nd round of the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 50-32

3. Phoenix Suns

dragic bledsoe suns

Last season: 48-34 (3rd in the Pacific Division, 9th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Tyler Ennis – Draft (No. 18 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Isaiah Thomas – Signed and traded from the Sacramento Kings
  • TJ Warren – Draft (No. 14 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Anthony Tolliver – Free agent signing

Key Departures

  • Channing Frye – Signed with the Orlando Magic

Season Preview – The Eric Bledsoe contract situation has the ability to cast a huge shadow on this season for the Suns. After the feel good story that was last season, the Suns appear headed for a fork in the road with this Bledsoe situation. If he signs his 1-year qualifying offer, that could play out any number of ways, with some of those options blowing up in the Suns’ face. The Suns may be forced to trade Bledsoe, in order to keep Goran Dragic, who is an unrestricted free agent in 2015. All in all, I see this Bledsoe situation being too much of a distraction throughout the season for them to continue with what they started last season. Add to that the fact the Suns will no longer be able to sneak up on teams, and you are looking at a team-wide “sophomore slump”. This team will score a ton of points, and will be fun to watch, but will they be able to stop elite team on the other side of the court?

2014-15 will be successful if: The Suns make the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 45-37

4. Sacramento Kings

demarcus cousins kings

Last season: 28-54 (4th in the Pacific Division, 13th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Omri Casspi – Free agent signing
  • Darren Collison – Free agent signing
  • Ryan Hollins – Free agent signing
  • Nik Stauskas – Draft (No. 8 in the 2014 NBA Draft)

Key Departures:

  • Jason Terry – Traded to the Houston Rockets
  • Aaron Gray – Signed with the Detroit Pistons
  • Isaiah Thomas – Signed and traded to the Phoenix Suns

Season Preview – The Kings seem to finally be on the upswing. They are starting to assemble a team around DeMarcus Cousins, with shooters on the outside (Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas) and rugged enforcers/rebounders on the inside (Reggie Evans and Jason Thompson). Rudy Gay will provide further perimeter scoring and Darren Collison will attempt to quarterback the whole thing. They will continue to fall short due to the weakness of the point guard position, but the maturation of Cousins will start to point the ship in the right direction. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Kings make a play for Rajon Rondo sometime this season.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Kings surpass 35 wins.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 37-45

5. Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant

Last season: 27-55 (5th in the Pacific Division, 14th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Carlos Boozer – Claimed off amnesty waivers from the Chicago Bulls
  • Ed Davis – Free agent signing
  • Jeremy Lin – Obtained in a trade from the Houston Rockets
  • Julius Randle – Draft (No. 7 in the 2014 NBA Draft)

Key Departures:

  • Pau Gasol – Signed with the Chicago Bulls
  • Chris Kaman – Signed with the Portland Trailblazers
  • Jodie Meeks – Signed with the Detroit Pistons
  • Kendall Marshall – Waived; Claimed off waivers by the Milwaukee Bucks
  • Kent Bazemore – Signed with the Atlanta Hawks
  • Jordan Farmar – Signed with the Los Angeles Clippers

Season Preview – As someone who respects Kobe Bryant, this is not how I envisioned his final years. The Lakers are going to struggle, and struggle bad. Kobe may have a couple Kobe games left in him, but Father Time remains unbeaten (unless your name is Timothy Theodore Duncan). The Lakers are loading up on short contracts to coincide with the end of Kobe’s contract. Then, the Lakers will look to do what the Lakers usually do: lure top talent with the auspices of Hollywood glitz. But until then, it will be a lot like Lolo Jones’ performance on Dancing With the Star, which is to say cringe-worthy.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Lakers keep their 2015 first round pick (Top 5 protected; if it’s outside of that range, it goes to Phoenix)

Projected 2014-15 Record: 29-53

Five Thoughts from the Clippers Series

durant griffin thunder clippers

With a 104-98 win in Game 6 of their 2nd round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Oklahoma City Thunder advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the 3rd time in four years. Before we look ahead to the San Antonio Spurs, here are 5 thoughts from the electrifying series that was.

1. Point Guard Supremacy

If there was a match-up that was going to determine how this series would play out, it was definitely this one. Chris Paul is widely considered to be the best point guard in the league, while Russell Westbrook is its most polarizing. One is a maestro, leading a meticulous concerto of dunks, alley-oops, and 3-point shots, while the other is the Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil incarnate. The match-up basically came down to this: Would Paul be able to control Westbrook’s game. Defending Chris Paul means defending everyone on the floor. Yes, you have to stay in front of him. But it’s when the opponent strays away from one of the other players on the Clippers that Paul does his most damage.

westbrook paul thunder clippers

On the flip side, defending Westbrook is a completely different story. Due to the chaos he causes, a defender never knows how they are going to defend him. The best approach is to lay off of him, but even that has proven to be difficult as Westbrook will look for any opportunity to run in transition and is usually the quickest man on the floor. Add to that the fact that he’s had a couple games of double digit assists while scoring at least 20 points in the playoffs, and you are looking at a monster.

The numbers in the series basically cancel each other out:

  • Westbrook – 27.8 points / 6.0 rebounds / 8.8 assists / 1.8 steals on 49/35/88 shooting splits
  • Paul – 22.5 points / 3.7 rebounds / 12.0 assists / 2.5 steals on 51/46/75 shooting splits

While Paul assisted more and scored more efficiently, Westbrook scored more and grabbed more boards (over 2 offensive boards per game). The difference between the two floor general lied in the chaos they caused. More, specifically, in the free throw attempted. While Paul mainly settled for jump shots, Westbrook consistently challenged the defense by getting into the paint and looking for his own shot. Some may say that’s the staple of a scoring wing, not a prime time point guard. But with the way the rules favor dribble penetration, it may be time to stop looking at point guards as just facilitator and more as attackers. While I think Paul is still the best pure point guard in the game, Westbrook did a lot in this series in changing the way people think of the point guard position.

2. The Emergence of Steven Adams

When the Thunder made Adams the 12th pick in last season’s draft, many people envisioned a season of trips on I-44 between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Adams was expected to be a project that would not pay dividends until, at the earliest, next season. But, as they say, that is why they play the game. Adams started the season as the Thunder’s back-up center and never wavered. He even started 20 games when Kendrick Perkins went out with a groin injury in the 2nd half of the season.

Thunder head coach Scott Brooks, in his infinite quest for veteran intangibles, barely played Adams in the first 5 games of the postseason. After averaging 14.8 minutes per game in the regular season, Adams was only notching 4 minutes a night (and 1 DNP-CD) against, of all teams, the Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol-led Memphis Grizzlies, in those first 5 games. With their backs against the wall and trailing 3-2 in their first round series, Brooks relented against his default settings, and played the rookie significant minutes (22.5/game) in the next two games (both wins).

A look at Adams’ numbers don’t explain his impact. Since Game 5 of the first round, Adams has averaged 21.8 minutes, 5 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game. But it’s his combination of physicality and athleticism that has the most effect on the game. Usually, teams can do a lot of their damage in the paint when the starting big men are on the bench. In fact, James Harden made a living off of this when he played for the Thunder. Harden would come into the game and immediately begin attacking the other team’s back-up big. With Adams in the game, though, the other team has difficulty in scoring inside.

In the Clippers series, Adams was tasked with guarding all of the LA’s big men (Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Glen Davis). Surprisingly, Adams probably struggled the most with Davis. Griffin wanted no part of backing down Adams in the post and settled for mid-range jumpers. And Jordan struggles with anything not resembling a lob pass. It’s almost as if Adams is a combination of Serge Ibaka and Perkins. Someone with the athleticism of Ibaka, but with the brute strength of Perkins. The only thing missing is the experience, which Adams is gathering in heaps this postseason.

3. Resiliency

durant westbrook jackson thunder

They say great teams win the close games. But, damn, does every game have to be an ESPN Instant Classic? After the “cardiology office visit inducing” series that was the Memphis series, my health didn’t need this series, especially games 4-6. But, that the Thunder made it to the Western Conference Finals speaks to the resiliency of this team.

There’s a comfort level that’s achieved when the core of a team has been together for a number of seasons. That’s what you see with the Thunder in late game situations. Everybody knows their roles and plays them to a T. Now, why they can’t do that in the first 45 minutes of a game? I have no idea. Being that they are still a young team, they probably play the game in a fashion similar to the thought process high school/college students have towards homework. When a student is given an assignment with a due date two weeks from then, 75% of those students will wait until the night before to start working on their assignment. That’s the Thunder in a nut shell right there.

4. Defense definitely wins playoff series (and championships too)

During the regular season, the Clippers averaged a league high 107.9 points per game. They upped the ante during the Golden State series, increasing their average by 3 points to 110.9 points per game. For the Thunder series, the Clippers averaged a paltry 106.3 points per game. Seriously though, that 1.5 point drop (and 4.6 point drop from the Warriors series) may have been the difference between the Thunder winning Games 5 and 6.

The Thunder did a great job defending Griffin and Jordan on the inside in the series. After posting up 12.1 points and 15.1 rebounds per game in the Warriors series, the Thunder limited Jordan to 6.7 points and 9.5 rebounds. Griffin’s points and rebounds went up slightly in the Thunder series, but his efficiency went down.

ibaka adams griffin thunder clippers

With the inside locked down, the only other options for the Clippers were Paul’s penetrations and their plethora of 3-point shooters. The Thunder did a great job of going under the screens and negating the driving lanes for Paul. With Paul not getting into the lane as much, the perimeter defenders were able to stay on the shooters for an extra bit longer. The trio of Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford, and JJ Redick averaged 0.6 less 3-point FGs made in the Thunder series, and Crawford saw his 3-point percentage drop 8.4 percentage points from the Warriors series. All these factors combined made it difficult for the Clippers to do what they did best; which was to score at will.
5. Coming through in the clutch

Many people will look at this postseason run and wonder whether Westbrook had a better postseason than Durant. The numbers suggest this is a very distinct possibility. All things being equal in the Memphis series (when Durant played bad, so did Westbrook, and visa versa), Westbrook has surprisingly been more efficient in the Clippers’ series. But in terms of making the necessary MVP-like plays in the final 3 minutes of games, Durant is still the man. In Games 4-6, in the final 3 minutes of play, Durant scored 16 points on 4-7 shooting (1-1 from long range), 7-8 FT, and only had 1 turnover. Conversly, Westbrook scored 11 points on 2-7 shooting and 7-7 from the line.

The mark of an MVP is not necessarily their stats throughout the game, but how they pull through in the clutch. Durant has proven time and time again that no matter how the first 40 minutes of the game play out, he’s usually there in the final few minutes when the team needs him the most.

Where the Thunder Stand After 4 Games (Round 2)

griffin clippers

Four games in: a blowout for each team and a close victory for each team. Series tied 2-2. Pretty much what you would expect from the 2 vs. 3 match-up in the Western Conference playoffs. The only caveat is how the Thunder lost Game 4. Up by 16 with a little more than nine minutes left should be a comfortable lead, even in the playoffs. But it’s how the Thunder lost the lead that has Thunder Nation in a bit of a tizzy. After a string of 4.75 out of 6 games where the Thunder looked like world-beaters, the Thunder reverted back to their bad habits in the fourth quarter relinquishing Game 4 to the Clippers.

The offense became extremely vanilla, with most of it consisting of Russell Westbrook dribbling for 10 seconds, while Kevin Durant tried to get position on all 6 feet of Chris Paul (really, Chris Paul…c’mon Kevin). Once Durant got the ball, one of two things happened: either the Clippers sent a hard double team, with a soft third defender, which led to 3 turnovers in the quarter or Durant got the ball in the basket (4/5 FG, 10 points in the 4Q). While Durant’s “success” on offense would lead you to believe the Thunder were either maintaining their lead or building on it, the Thunder’s defense told a different story. With Westbrook and Serge Ibaka hampered by foul trouble in that 4th quarter, the Thuder weren’t able to be as aggressive on defense, which led to undisciplined overplays and unsuccessful reach-arounds as Paul and Darren Collison were able to get into the lane without much resistance.

Another little discussed faux pas was Scott Brooks’ inexcusable over-use of timeouts. At some point, when the other team is making their run, you have to hold onto to at least two timeouts in case the other team actually completes their run. This is the second time in these playoffs where Brooks’ mishandling of timeouts has put undue strain on the Thunder. The first time, in Game 5 of the Memphis series, Brooks was bailed out by the steal and subsequent game-tying dunk by Russell Westbrook with a few seconds left in the game. This time, though, the Thunder lucked into a hurried miss by Blake Griffin, but still could not capitalize on a last second shot by Russell Westbrook. A timeout and the ability to move the ball to halfcourt could have helped the Thunder in trying to tie the game. Oh, who am I kidding? It’s Scott Brooks we’re talking about. Anything less than five seconds left on the clock is usually accompanied by a 29 foot fall-away 3-point attempt by Durant with two defenders in his face.

Durant Barnes clippers thunder

In the end, the Thunder got a split in Los Angeles and wrestled back home court in the series. Mission accomplished? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on how you look at it. The narrative in these playoffs tends to change by the game. After the Game 1 blowout by the Clippers, most people were ready to shovel dirt on the Thunder’s grave. Then came two convincing victories after the galvanizing MVP speech by Durant, which led to people wondering whether the Thunder would lose again in these playoffs. Finally, the Game 4 collapse has allowed the pendulum to swing once again, this time back in the Clippers’ direction. Media fandom in the playoffs can be so fickle at times.