Tag Archives: Cavs

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Cleveland Cavaliers Preview (Game 47 of 82)

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  • When: Saturday, 02 February 2013 at 6:30 PM CST
  • Where: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH

Apparently the schedule makers thought one game on Oklahoma City was enough, and sent the team back on the road. After blowing out the short-handed Memphis Grizzlies, 106-89, the Oklahoma City Thunder travel to Cleveland to face Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers. Not that the blowout of the Grizzlies wasn’t without controversy. Everyone on the NBA landscape has heard about the eruption of Mount St. Westbrook. My quick reaction to this outburst is that Westbrook needs to look at things in the context that they are occurring. The Thunder were up by 25 points at the time of the incident with Thabo Sefolosha. Instead of barking back and forth at each other for “miscommunications,” that could have been a great opportunity for an ‘in-game’ video session where Sefolosha and Westbrook discuss what are the options if a similar incident occurs in the future. Instead, Westbrook gets taken out of the game earlier than usual and throws a fit which frazzles the team a bit and turns a 25 point lead into a 10 point one. That Westbrook came back into the game in the 4th quarter and performed beautifully is besides the point. Every Thunder fan knows Westbrook is an emotional player, and that emotion is what fuels him and what makes us love him. But in this situation, cooler heads could have prevailed and kept this incident in check.

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These two teams met earlier this season in Oklahoma City, with the Thunder winning it 106-91. The aforementioned Westbrook had 27 points and 10 assists to lead the Thunder, while Kevin Durant had 26 points. First time All Star Kyrie Irving led the Cavs in that game with 20 points. The Cavs will look a lot different in this game than they did in the game in OKC. First difference is that C Anderson Varejao won’t play in this game (or the rest of the season for that matter) due to a blood clot. Secondly, the Cavs made the first big trade of the regular season (remember, the Harden trade was before the season), sending Jon Leuer to the Grizzlies for Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, and Josh Selby. Speights has been great in Varejao’s absence, averaging 14 points off the bench for the Cavs in 4 games.

Probable Starters

Cleveland Cavaliers

  • PG – Kyrie Irving
  • SG – Dion Waiters
  • SF – Alonzo Gee
  • PF – Tristan Thompson
  • C – Tyler Zeller

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

Keys to the Game

  1. Russell Westbrook – Any time Westbrook has one of the “those” games, he usually comes back calm and composed in the next one. That’s spells bad news for the Cavaliers. As great of a player as Irving is, he’s not yet strong enough defensively to effectively guard Westbrook. The only one stopping Westbrook in this game is Westbrook. cavsrr_westbrook6_121111_1
  2. Guard the 3-point line – This team loves to shoot 3-pointers. And sometimes, a lot of them go in. The Thunder do an average job of getting back out to the open 3-point shooters and this could be an issue in this game. The dribble penetration ability of Irving and Waiters will suck the defense in and allow shooters (not just of the 3-point variety) to get open looks. imagesCA18KM2S
  3. Turnovers – Young teams feast on turnovers. Its the lifeblood the provokes their transition game. Take care of the ball and your best transition defense is not having to play transition defense at all.
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….The More They Remain The Same

Any time something catastrophic happens, people always measure time from that point forward. In the show “Revolution”, everything is measured from the blackout, which is the catastrophic event in the show. Similarly, anytime something shocking happens to a sports team (i.e. trade, injury, retirement, suspension, etc), everything is measured from that time for the immediate future. No matter what they tell you, Clevelanders are still thinking about Lebron and The Decision. It’ll take a nice playoff run or two from Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, and the young Cavs to start to erase the time clock from their collective memory. Chicagoans have become quite adept at handling these differentiating time clocks for the past 20 years. They’ve had Michael Jordan’s first retirement, his comeback, his second retirement, and, finally, Derrick Rose’s knee injury. They are just chomping at the bit to start the Derrick Rose comeback timeclock.

The Oklahoma City Thunder experienced something very similar a month ago. On October 27, 2012, the Thunder traded James Harden, Daequan Cook, Lazar Hayward, and Cole Aldrich to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, 2 future first round picks, and a 2013 2nd round pick. The Thunder were just coming off a trip to the Finals with their young core just coming into its own. They had their world-class scorer in Kevin Durant, their hyper-competitive floor general in Russell Westbrook, their pogo-stick blocking machine in Serge Ibaka, and their “jack of all trades” in James Harden. All under 24 years of age at the time. THIS team was supposed to grow together and contend for the next decade. Instead, after not being able to come to terms on a long term extension, Thunder GM Sam Presti decided to pull the trigger on the trade,  and send Harden to Houston. 

The first thought amongst Thunder fans was how Martin would compare to Harden. The players, while similar in some facets, were completely different in other facets. Both were great shooters who were very adept at drawing fouls when driving to the basket. The major difference between the two players was that Harden was more of a playmaker, while Martin was more of a scorer. That major difference was of chief concern to Thunder fans because Harden was usually the go-between when Durant and Westbrook were on the floor together in the 4th quarter. When Durant and Westbrook were out there on the floor together, teams had an idea on how to guard the duo. But add Harden to that mix, and the floor spaced out like the Red Sea of Moses.  

Basketball skills aside, the primary concern was how this trade would affect the Thunder’s chemistry. This Thunder team was one that had been hardened by its experiences. The struggles of learning how to win followed by the lessons of winning when favored. It was a 180 degree turn that many teams never experience. Many teams have trotted out young talented rosters that have either failed to pan out or were destroyed from within when it was time for contract extensions. The best comparison I have for the Durant-Westbrook-Harden-Ibaka Thunder was the late 90’s Dallas Cowboys of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin. Eliminate one of the Triplets from that mix, and the Cowboys aren’t winning 3 Super Bowls in four seasons. This is the current dilemma facing the Thunder.

One month in, and the transition has been about as smooth as it can be when changing out key parts. There have been some transitional growing pains, but that is to be expected when a core shattering trade is made 4 days before the start of the regular season. What is important is the Martin seems to be integrating quite nicely into his role as the team’s 6th man. Luckily, the team’s schedule has been home-heavy in this early going with the opponent’s collective win percentage being under .500. On the other hand, against teams with strong playoff pedigrees, such as the Spurs, Grizzlies, Clippers, and Celtics, the team has struggled and is 1-3 against those teams. The surprising revelation is that compared to James Harden’s stat line from last season’s first 15 games, you would almost not even notice a difference.

  • Stat                                       Harden (11-12)      I       Martin (12-13)
  • Minutes per game                     30.0                              30.7
  • Points per game                       16.3                              15.9
  • Turnovers per game                  1.8                                 1.8
  • Steals per game                         0.8                                1.3
  • Blocks per game                        0.2                                 0.1
  • Assists per game                       3.1                                 1.8
  • Rebounds per game                  3.9                                 2.7
  • FT Attempts per game               6.5                                 4.6
  • FT Made per game                     5.7                                 4.4
  • FT %                                             86.7%                           94%
  • 3pt FG attempts per game          4.6                                4.9
  • 3pt FG made per game               1.7                                 2.4
  • 3pt FG %                                       36.2%                           50%
  • FG attempts per game                 9.9                                9.9
  • FG made per game                      4.5                                4.6
  • FG %                                              43%                              46%
  • TS %                                               66%                             66.5%
  • eFG %                                            58.2%                          58.3%
  • Thunder Record                            12 – 3                            11 – 4

Other than the difference in assists per game, Harden and Martin have virtually the same offensive stats. Eventually, even the assists may be a wash, as Martin has shown a willingness to become more of a playmaker. People tend to forget that Martin has been the main offensive option on most of the teams that he’s played on and has been given the green light to shoot at will. But, with teammates like Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka on the floor, Martin has shown that he can find the open man for an easy bucket or two. 

Defensively, Martin has been a liability, but Harden wasn’t necessarily on his way to being named to any of the All-Defensive Teams. This first half of the season will be one lesson after another for the Thunder. Durant and Westbrook have been learning on the fly how to incorporate Martin into their crunch time offense. And Martin has been learning how to be more aggressive as a bench player. Overall, the transition has gone a lot smoother than many Thunder fans had feared. With Harden coming to town on Wednesday with his new team, the cycle seems to have come full circle. The more things change…….