Tag Archives: Dallas Mavericks

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.

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Scoreboard Watching: The Last 10 Games

adams kanter westbrook thunder

In a season that started off with championship aspirations, the Oklahoma City Thunder still find themselves in a position to achieve that goal, albeit a lot lower in the standings than previously envisioned. If healthy, the Thunder would clearly be atop the Western Conference standings. But as is the case when the words, “if healthy,” are used, the Thunder this season have been anything but healthy. Of the players currently on the roster, the Thunder have lost about 164 games due to injury. That figure would likely rival the last 5 seasons combined. Regardless of all of this, though, the Thunder are still firmly entrenched in the 8th spot of the Western Conference with 10 games to play. Their magic number to clinch a playoff spot is 8.

Anytime you are in the middle of a playoff race, you always have to look at the teams you are trying to gain ground on and the teams that are looking to gain ground on you. You watch out for, not only your team’s scores, but also the scores of those teams you are looking out for. Here’s a look at some of the teams who fortunes directly affect the future of the Thunder’s playoff hopes and beyond.

The Predators

Phoenix Suns

  • Current Record – 38-34
  • Position in the Conference/Position in relation to the Thunder – 9th in the conference, 3 games behind OKC
  • Remaining Schedule – vs. Portland, vs. OKC, @Portland, @Golden State, vs. Utah, @Atlanta, @Dallas, @New Orleans, @San Antonio, vs. Los Angeles Clippers
  • Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .630

After the trade deadline, Phoenix had to adjust after trading two of their top three guards (Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas). While they gained Brandon Knight, the adjustment period did cause the Suns to lose 7 of their first 11 games after the All-Star break. That spurt allowed the Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans to push ahead of the Suns in the battle for the 8th spot. The Sun have probably the toughest remaining schedule of the three teams looking for the 8th spot. Not only is the winning percentage of the teams remaining on their schedule .630, six of those ten games are on the road. The only solace the Suns can take is that some of those teams may be resting players in preparation for the playoffs.

green morris suns evans withey pelicans

New Orleans Pelicans

  • Current Record – 37-34
  • Position in the Conference/Position in relation to the Thunder – 10th in the conference, 3.5 games behind OKC
  • Remaining Schedule – vs. Sacramento, vs. Minnesota, @Los Angeles Lakers, @Sacramento, @Portland, vs. Golden State, @Memphis, vs. Phoenix, @Houston, @Minnesota, vs. San Antonio
  • Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .495

While the Pelicans have a much easier upcoming schedule, they are still dealing with injuries to two key players. Point guard Jrue Holiday remains without a timetable and Ryan Anderson is still about a week or so away from returning. The lack of depth in their guard rotation has started to rear its ugly head in the last few close games. Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon have had to log major minutes in the last two months, and seem to be tiring at the end of games. Anthony Davis is doing everything he can to help the Pelicans, but teams are starting to double him in the post. If the Pelicans are going to make any moves, it’ll be in the next four game, as their next four opponents have a winning percentage of .307.

The Prey

San Antonio Spurs

  • Current Record – 45-26
  • Position in the Conference/Position in relation to the Thunder – 6th in the conference, 4.5 games ahead of OKC
  • Remaining Schedule – vs. Dallas, vs. Memphis, @Miami, @Orlando, vs. Denver, vs. Golden State, @OKC, vs. Houston, @Houston, vs. Phoenix, @New Orleans
  • Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .568

The Thunder had a golden opportunity to make up ground on the Spurs last night, but watched that wilt away before halftime, as they fell behind by as much as 30 points in the 3rd quarter. The Spurs’ remaining schedule is not easy, but, luckily, they play the more difficult opponents at home. In year’s past, the Spurs would usually rest their players during this stretch of the year, but with the Mavs and the Thunder on their tails, the Spurs will likely not be doing that so much this season.

nowitzki mavericks duncan spurs

Dallas Mavericks

  • Current Record – 45-27
  • Position in the Conference/Position in relation to the Thunder – 7th in the conference, 4 games ahead of OKC
  • Remaining Schedule – @San Antonio, @Indiana, @OKC, vs. Houston, vs. Golden State, vs. Phoenix, @Denver, @Los Angeles Lakers, @Utah, vs. Portland
  • Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .538

The Mavs have been prone to inconsistencies of late (6-7 in their last 13 games) and may still be suffering from chemistry issues. Monta Ellis’ effectiveness hasn’t been the same since the Rajon Rondo trade and the Mavericks’ big man depth is questionable. They struggle a bit on the road and have two 3-game road trips coming up. The Thunder have one more game against the Mavericks and it comes at the back end of a tough 3 game road trip. If there is a team that may relinquish their positioning, it may be Dallas.

The Future Commodities Stakeholder

Washington Wizards

  • Current Record – 40-32
  • Position in relation to the Thunder – 1 game worse than OKC
  • Remaining Schedule – vs. Charlotte, vs. Houston, vs. Philadelphia, vs. New York, @Memphis, @Philadelphia, @Brooklyn, vs. Atlanta, @Indiana, @Cleveland
  • Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .476

While the Wizards’ fortunes hold no bearing for the Thunder’s playoff implications, they do hold significance for the Thunder’s first round draft pick. The Thunder currently have a better record than the Wizards which would give them the 19th pick in the upcoming draft. The trade that garnered Dion Waiters for the Thunder came at a cost of the Thunder’s first round pick. That pick had a restriction of Top 18, meaning that if the pick was in positions 1-18, the Thunder would keep the pick. If the Thunder were to pick in the 19-30 spot, that pick would be conveyed to the Philadelphia 76ers (via Denver from Cleveland). If the Thunder and Wizards finish with the same record, the position of the pick will be decided by a coin flip, with the winner of the flip getting the 18th pick.

The Thunder are firmly in the 8th spot in the West. Their playoff destiny could be decided in the next 6 games. They have a tough 2 game road trip remaining (@Phoenix and @Utah) and then play the Texas triangle and Memphis after that. Come out of that gauntlet with a winning record, and you control your playoff destiny. Finish less then .500 in these next 6 games, and things could get very harry. This is my favorite time of year to not only watch the games involving the Thunder, but also watch the games of the teams that can affect the Thunder’s future. Here’s to the last 3 weeks of the season.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Dallas Mavericks preview (Game 32 of 82)

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When: Sunday, 28 December 2014 at 6:30 PM CST

Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX

To a point guard, the Western Conference has to feel like a field littered with land mines. At the end of that field, is a championship trophy. But, at every step, you are bound to encounter a detonation. All the land mines come in different sizes with different modes of exploding. And if it wasn’t bad enough, the Dallas Mavericks, who had some of the dullest land mines on the field, went and added another shiny land mine to the field. If this was David Stern’s vision of a handcheck-less NBA, well then, mission accomplished.

This is the first of four meetings between these two teams. The Mavericks won the season series last year 2-1. The first two games weren’t very close, but the third was an overtime game that Dallas eventually won. Because of locale, these games carry a little more meaning than most NBA games around here. It’s almost like the Red River Rivalry of basketball.

The Opponent

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The Dallas Mavericks currently have a 21-10 record, good for 5th in the Western Conference. They sport the best scoring offense in the league at 109.4 points per game and the 2nd best offense in terms of offensive rating. Their current starting line-up is considered to be one of the best, if not the best, in the NBA. The defense, though, is in the bottom third of the league in terms of defensive rating and points allowed. They score a lot, but they also allowed a lot. Leading the Dallas attack is the newly acquired Rajon Rondo. After showing that he had recovered sufficiently enough from an ACL tear from two seasons ago and a hand injury at the beginning of this season, the Mavericks made the move to obtain Rondo from the Celtics. In his first 4 games with Dallas, Rondo is averaging 13.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 8.8 assists, and 1.8 steals, whiling helping the Mavericks to a 2-2 record in that span. At the other guard, Monta Ellis’ production has seemed to wane since the arrival of Ronda. Ellis was used to being a high-usage guard that could work with the ball in his hands. Now, he’s truly an off-guard playing off the ball. It’ll be interesting to see how that dynamics works itself out. At the forward spot, Chandler Parsons is giving the Mavericks basically the same thing he gave the Houston Rockets in his first 3 seasons there: good perimeter shooting and the ability to drive when covered closely on the perimeter. At the other forward spot, Dirk Nowitzki is a lot like another ageless power forward, Tim Duncan. You think they are going to eventually slow down, but they continue performing at the same level they have for the past 5 seasons, except more efficiently. In the middle, Tyson Chandler provides shot blocking and a great target for the pick and roll. While the Rondo trade may have strengthened the starting unit, it also weakened the bench. Gone are Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson, and Jae Crowder. The bench now consists mainly of veterans near the end of their careers: Charlie Villanueva, 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 – Andre Roberson
SF – Perry Jones
PF – Serge Ibaka
C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Perimeter Defense – The dribble drive ability of Rondo and Ellis will open up opportunities for Chandler off of pick and rolls and for the bevy of shooters on the perimeter. It will be extremely important for Westbrook, Roberson, and Reggie Jackson to stay in front of their man and prevent any penetration.

2. Transition Opportunities – With the long ball comes long rebounds and transition opportunities. Dallas isn’t necessarily a quick team with stellar athletes, so this may be a phase of the game where the Thunder can take advantage.

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3. Bench – The Thunder bench has taken a bit of a hit lately due to its inconsistent play. With Dallas’ weakened bench, look for the Thunder reserves to assert themselves early in this game.

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Southwest Division

Southwest Divison

1. San Antonio Spurs

spurs championship 2014

Last season: 62-20 (1st in the Southwest Division, 1st in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy after Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat

Key Additions:

  • Kyle Anderson – Draft (No. 30 in the 2014 NBA Draft)

Key Departures:

  • Aron Baynes – Unsigned

Season Preview – Everyone keeps waiting for the Spurs to age, but every year, they come back wiser and better. The reigning NBA champs come back with the entire team basically intact. While chemistry won’t be an issue, a couple of the main players are coming back from injury. Manu Ginobili spent most of the offseason nursing a stress fracture in his leg and Patty Mills had rotator cuff surgery that will keep him out half the season. But as is the Spurs, they will turn that into a positive as Mills will be very well rested when the playoffs start next April.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Spurs repeat as champions

Projected 2014-15 Record: 59-23

2. Memphis Grizzlies

prince gasol allen conley randolph grizzlies

Last season: 50-32 (3rd in the Southwest Division, 7th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 7 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder

Key Additions:

  • Jordan Adams – Draft (No. 22 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Vince Carter – Free agent signing
  • Jarnell Stokes – Draft (No. 35 in the 2014 NBA Draft)

Key Departures:

  • Jamaal Franklin – Waived
  • Ed Davis – Signed with the Los Angeles Lakers
  • Mike Miller – Signed with the Chicago Bulls
  • James Johnson – Signed with the Toronto Raptors

Season Preview – The Grizzlies have slowly put together a balanced team that doesn’t entirely depend on the post play of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. The additions of Jordan Adams and Vince Carter, and the return of Quincy Pondexter from injury should help spread the floor for the big man duo to operate a little easier in the interior. Mike Conley remains one of the more underrated floor generals in the league and Tony Allen is still a premier defensive menace, as we saw in last season’s playoff series against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Grizzlies make it to the Western Conference Finals

Projected 2014-15 Record: 54-28

3. Dallas Mavericks

nowitzki ellis mavericks

Last season: 49-33 (4th in the Southwest Division, 8th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 7 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs

Key Additions:

  • Al Farouq Aminu – Signed free agent
  • Tyson Chandler – Obtained in a trade with the New York Knicks
  • Raymond Felton – Obtained in a trade with the New York Knicks
  • Richard Jefferson – Signed free agent
  • Ivan Johnson – Signed free agent
  • Jameer Nelson – Signed free agent
  • Chandler Parsons – Signed free agent
  • Greg Smith – Obtained in a trade with the Chicago Bulls

Key Departures:

  • Jose Calderon – Traded to the New York Knicks
  • Shane Larkin – Traded to the New York Knicks
  • Shawn Marion – Signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Samuel Dalembert – Traded to the New York Knicks
  • Vince Carter – Signed with the Memphis Grizzlies
  • DeJuan Blair – Sign and traded to the Washington Wizards

Season Preview – Other than the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Mavericks probably had the most player movement of any team in the leauge. The team that took the eventual champs to 7 games in the first round, got their defensive stopper in the lane (Chandler), and got an up-and-coming star in Chandler Parsons. The Mavs should be a little better balanced defensively, but that all depends on the health of Chandler. If he misses a big chunk of the season (15-20+ games), the Mavericks could be in trouble defensively. The point guard position is also a question mark, as each of the three possibilities (Felton, Nelson, and Devin Harris) have been starters in the past, but also have glaring weaknesses.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Mavs make it to the Western Conference Finals

Projected 2014-15 Record: 53-29

4. Houston Rockets

harden howard rockets

Last season: 54-28 (2nd in the Southwest Division, 4th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 6 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against the Portland Trailblazers

Key Additions:

  • Jeff Adrien – Free agent signing
  • Trevor Ariza – Free agent signing
  • Clint Capela – Draft (No. 25 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Jason Terry – Obtained in a trade with the Sacramento Kings
  • Joey Dorsey – Free agent signing
  • Ish Smith – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Jeremy Lin – Traded to the Los Angeles Lakers
  • Omer Asik – Traded to the New Orleans Pelicans
  • Chandler Parsons – Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Jordan Hamilton – Signed with the Toronto Raptors

Season Preview – After striking gold in the last two offseasons, Rockets GM Daryl Morey hit a rough patch this offseason. He traded away 2 of this team’s top 5 players (Asik and Lin) for basically nothing, and failed to resign Parsons, even though the Rockets held his Bird Rights. The reasons they made these moves was an “all in” attempt at either Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh. By the time those two players had re-signed with their respective teams, the damage had already been done to the Rockets’ roster. The Rockets salvaged a little life this offseason by signing Trevor Ariza. The Rockets will still win games due to the talent of James Harden and Dwight Howard. But depth will be an issue, and any injury to any of the major players on the Rockets will be a huge blow to the team’s playoff chances.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Rockets make it to the 2nd round of the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 47-35

5. New Orleans Pelicans

Jrue Holiday, Tony Wroten, Anthony Davis

Last season: 34-48 (5th in the Southwest Division, 12th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Omer Asik – Obtained in a trade with the Houston Rockets
  • Jimmer Fredette – Free agent signing
  • John Salmons – Free agent signing
  • Russ Smith – Draft (No. 47 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Patric Young – Rookie free agent signing (Undrafted)

Key Departures:

  • Al-Farouq Aminu – Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Greg Stiemsma – Signed with the Toronto Raptors
  • Jason Smith – Signed with the New York Knicks
  • Anthony Morrow – Signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Brian Roberts – Signed with the Charlotte Hornets

Season Preview – After a great showing in the FIBA World Cup, Anthony Davis is ready to finally take his team to another level. The acquisition of Asik will allow Davis to play his natural position of power forward. On the outside, Ryan Anderson returns from neck surgery and should help space the floor for Davis and Jrue Holiday to operate. The depth of this team is worrisome, and if the injury bug hits again, they could once again struggle to stay above water.

2014-15 will be succesful if: The Pelican make the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 42-40

Breaking Down the 2014-15 Thunder Schedule

nba schedule

It’s a rite of passage every August to look at the newly released NBA schedule and predict the record of your team. It’s usually a losing battle as many of the variables that come into play during the season (injuries, trades, chemistry issues) have yet to come to fruition. But we are fans and this is what we do. I always like to look at an 82 game schedule in chunks; no less than 10 games and no more than 25 games. In that amount of time, patterns tend to develop, momentum can be built, and the foundation for a successful season can be established. Unfortunately, as we saw with the Indiana Pacers’ second half last season, it can also work the other way around. Here’s a look at the Thunder’s upcoming season in chunks.

October 29, 2014 – November 14, 2014

I guess I would much rather start the season road-heavy, than end it road-heavy. The Thunder’s first four road games are against teams that made the playoffs last season, while the one home game is against a wild card team. Denver is a mystery to everyone. With so many players coming back from injury, Denver could either surprise everyone in a Phoenix Suns-like revival or they could be the same inconsistent bunch we saw last season. After those first five games, the Thunder host the team they dispatched in the first round last season, the Memphis Grizzlies. From there, it’s easy street as the Thunder face four lottery teams.

Possible Trap: Three back to backs.

  • Record through 10 games – 8-2

November 16, 2014 – December 7, 2014

westbrook thunder barnes warriors

Houston’s depth (or as James Harden would call them “role players”) got depleted this offseason, but they still have Harden and Dwight Howard. After that, it’s a back to back roadie in the oxygen-deficient Rocky Mountains. A four game homestand follows as the Thunder face the Golden State Warriors for the first time in the season. If you remember the first two meetings between these two teams last season, then you’ll definitely have your DVR tuned in if you aren’t at the game. After the homestand, there’s a three game road trip that features 3 lottery teams.

Possible Trap: The Utah game between the Golden State and New York game.

  • Record through 20 games – 16-4

December 9, 2014 – December 23, 2014

The prodigal son (LeBron James) makes his only regular season trip to OKC. How ironic is it the Thunder play James and the Cavs one game and then play Andrew Wiggins and the Minnesota Timberwolves the next? After that, it’s a 3-game West Coast swing that includes the Warriors and the Lakers. Finally, a sneaky difficult two game homestand follows against Anthony Davis and the Pelicans and the Trailblazers.

Possible Trap: At Sacramento. The Kings are one of those teams yearning for respect. They always seem to play lights out against the Thunder at home.

  • Record through 29 games – 23-6

December 25, 2014 – February 11, 2015

The toughest stretch of the season for the Thunder will probably be the 24 games from Christmas to the All-Star break. It was during this time last season, with Russell Westbrook recovering from his third knee surgery in 8 months, that Kevin Durant solidified his status as an MVP candidate. He led the Thunder on a 19-7 tear, against some of the top teams in the league, that had Oklahoma City heading into the All-Star break with the league’s best record.

durant thunder wall wizards

The 24-game stretch can be broken down into two stretches: a 10-gamer and a 14-gamer. The 10-game stretch, from December 25, 2014 to January 16, 2015 features a tough, even-keeled run (five home, five away) against 7 playoff teams (and Phoenix). It starts with the Western Conference Finals rematch on Christmas against the Spurs in San Antonio. The next night its back to OKC to face the Charlotte Hornets. Two night later, it’s down to Dallas for a tussle with the Mavs. And then back home to face the Phoenix Suns to close out the year. The year begins with a home game against the Washington Wizards…you know, the team Thunder fans will be hearing about in their nightmares for the next two seasons. After that its back on the road to face the Warriors. The 10-game stretch finishes with the Rockets and the Warriors (again).

Side note: It feels like we play the Warriors 10 times this season.

The 14-game stretch that follows is probably more difficult because 9 of the 14 games are on the road, including a 5 game Eastern Conference romp. Of the 9 road games, four are against playoff teams from last season, one is against Cleveland, and another is against the mercurial Knicks. Of note on the road games, is one against Washington (yeah, that team again), where the Thunder have not won since the 2010-11 season. Washington DC has become a house of horrors for the Thunder of late.

Possible Trap: All the road games in a short time span.

  • Record through 53 games – 40-13

February 19, 2015 – March 5, 2015

After a week long All-Star break, the Thunder start the second half of the season at home against the Mavericks. They then travel to Charlotte to play the Hornets, and then return home the next night to play Denver. Oklahoma City is lucky in that they don’t have to make transcontinental treks on road trips, but they also suffer with these weird road/home back to backs that take them to one coast and then back home. After another home game (Indiana), it’s back to the West Coast to face Phoenix, Portland, and the Lakers. After a home reprieve (Philadelphia), it’s back on a plane for a prime time match-up against the Bulls in Chicago.

  • Record through 62 games – 46-16

March 8, 2015 – March 24, 2015

In this stretch, the Thunder play 8 of their next 9 games at home, while the road game is in Dallas (a one hour plane ride). Six of the nine opponents are playoffs teams, so it is by no means an easy stretch. It is also a non-tiring schedule, that features only one back to back. If there was ever a time in the schedule for the Thunder to either gain a little ground, or put some space between themselves and those teams under them, this would be it.

  • Record through 71 games – 53-18

March 25, 2015 – April 15, 2015

durant thunder duncan leonard spurs

The final 11 games of the season features 6 road games and 5 home games. In the last couple seasons, the end of the regular season has been road heavy for the Thunder. This season’s home heavy finish is a good reprieve from previous seasons. The Thunder play San Antonio twice during this stretch, so first place in the Western Conference may be up for grabs in these last few weeks of the season. The Thunder play the Texas trio at home during this stretch, while playing Phoenix and Memphis on the road. They finish the season in Minnesota, which may be important if the Thunder are still battling for a seeding.

  • Record through 82 games – 61-21

April 18, 2015 – mid June 2015

NBA champions!!!!! You heard it here first.

All in all, the schedule is pretty balanced. While the Thunder do play a lot of good teams (partly because they are in the Western Conference), there is a lot of time for rest, which should aid the Thunder in the playoffs.

Josh Huestis and the Paul George Injury

paul george injury

First off, let’s get this out of the way. Josh Huestis is not Paul George. George is a two time All-Star, a two time member of the All-NBA third team, and a member of the 2014 NBA All-Defensive first team. Huestis, on the other hand, barely registered on the draft radar until he was surprisingly chosen at the end of the 1st round by the Oklahoma City Thunder. To say that these two would somehow intersect in the basketball stratosphere, would be surprising at best and insulting at worst. But in the wake of George’s catastrophic leg injury in Thursday’s Blue and White scrimmage, a case could be made that somehow intertwines their two stories.

As I previously wrote, Huestis and the Oklahoma City Thunder agreed to a one of  a kind deal the NBA had never seen. The American born Huestis agreed to become the first domestic draft and stash player that was drafted in the first round. He would hold off on signing his guaranteed rookie contract, and instead, would develop for a season under the guise of the Thunder’s D-League team. Huestis’ earnings would go from a guaranteed high of $900,000 to about $30,000. After a bit of backlash from NBA media members, the truth finally revealed that it was a joint deal concocted by both the Thunder and Huestis and his agent.

durant love coach k colangelo

After the George injury, Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban got back on his pedestal and started bellowing into his megaphone about the risk the teams were taking with their top players participating in international competition. In some respect, I do agree with Cuban. The NBA team takes all the risk when it comes to their player(s) participating in basketball related activities outside of the team’s scope. Players participating in USA basketball are the best of the best and their salaries usually reflect that. The Indiana Pacers signed George to a max contract (5 years/$92 million) last summer. This past season was the last year of George’s rookie contract, so his extension kicks in this upcoming season. Unfortunately for the Pacers, George will probably spend the first two years of his max extension working his way back into form. By the time he is fully healed, the championship contending Pacers team we’ve seen the the last two season may look entirely different.

While I do agree that NBA teams take the brunt of the risk, I don’t agree with his quest to stop NBA players from playing in international competitions. The USA basketball program under Jerry Colangelo and Coach K has been very organized and has had a near clean track record in regards to the health of the players. If I’m an owner, I would much rather have my guys practicing under the guise of an NBA-like practice, instead of playing with a bunch of no names on the blacktops in Manhattan or at the Drew League. In addition, while the competition between NBA players is fierce, there is probably a modicum of restraint in practice as all the players know the bigger goal in mind is making it to the gold medal game healthy and making it to training camp healthy.

josh huestis summer league

 

The one variable that was different between the Paul George injury occurring in the Thomas and Mack Center and that injury occurring in an NBA arena was the amount of space between the court and the goal’s stanchion. The play itself, a fast break block attempt, is one that happens numerous times in a game. Paul George has probably made that play thousands of times in his life time. This time, all the variables went against him, and he ended up with a grusome injury. That could have happened in the Thomas and Mack Center, just like it could have happened at Pauley Pavillion, just like it could have happened at Rucker Park, just like it could have happened at the Staples Center. Players play. That’s what they do. And they’d rather do it with their peers, as opposed to doing with a coach and a bunch of stationary chairs positioned on the court. As Kevin Durant said, “Steel sharpens steel.” Players push each other to get better. That is a rite of passage every offseason. I’d just rather have it done with Coach K screaming at the players instead of Hannibal “The Most Electrifying”.

But back to Huestis. While the teams are taking all the risk when it comes to international basketball, Huestis is taking all the risk when it comes to his career. The Thunder own Huestis’ rights, but if Huestis were to suffer a Paul George or Shaun Livingston-like injury in the D-League, it will be very interesting to see if the Thunder will just cut their losses and renounce Huestis’ rights, thus making him an unrestricted free agent. That was the objection that a lot of NBA writers put up when they heard about this deal. And that was all before the Paul George injury pierced through each one of our optic nerves. Now that we’ve been reminded that freak accidents happen when human beings are jumping and sprawling all over the place, I’m almost hoping that Huestis makes it out of this next season completely healthy. I have no doubt the Thunder would honor the first two years of Huestis’ contract out of sheer loyalty. Say what you want about how the Thunder operate, but player loyalty is never something they are lacking in. I just hope it doesn’t have to become a decision.

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder series preview

NBA: Playoffs-Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder

So it’s set. First up on Oklahoma City’s platter is the team that knocked them out of last season’s playoffs, the Memphis Grizzlies. It took a bit longer than expected for the playoff seeding to be decided, but in the end, it was almost manifest destiny for these two teams to meet in the playoffs once more. It’s like fate didn’t really like how the series played out last season (you know, no Russell Westbrook and all), so she decided to initiate a do-over.

Fate has a habit of matching the Thunder against opponents they have a history with. Last season it was James Harden-led Houston Rockets in the first round (and the subsequent Patrick Beverly fallout). Two seasons ago, it was the Dallas Mavericks, who had beaten the Thunder the previous season in the Western Conference Finals and the Los Angeles Lakers, in a metaphorical passing of the torch.

Regular season series

Wins in the regular season don’t always paint a clear picture as to how a series will play out. Many variables exist during the season that do not exist during the playoffs. Scheduling, fatigue, and sample size are all factors that come into play during the regular season, but have little to no bearing during the playoffs. But there are always factors within a season series that are highly applicable to the playoff series.

westbrook conley thunder grizzlies

The Thunder won the season series against the Grizzlies 3-1. Injuries played a major role in the outcome of a couple of the games. In the first game, a 116-100 OKC victory, the Grizzlies were without Marc Gasol, who was out with a knee injury. In the second game, a 90-87 Memphis victory, the Thunder were without Russell Westbrook, while the Grizzlies had their full complement of players.  In the 3rd game, both team were without their starting point guards, but the Thunder prevailed 86-77. The fourth game, a 113-107 OKC victory, saw both teams basically at full strength (even though Kendrick Perkins was out and Thabo Sefolosha only played 4 minutes) and is probably more indicative as to how the series will go.

Schedule

  • Game 1 – Saturday, 19 April 2014 at 8:30 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Game 2 – Monday, 21 April 2014 at 7:00 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Game 3 – Thursday, 24 April 2014 at 7:00 PM CST (FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN)
  • Game 4 – Tuesday, 26 April 2014 at 8:30 PM CST (FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN)
  • Game 5 – Tuesday, 29 April 2014 TBD (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)*
  • Game 6 – Thursday, 01 May 2014 TBD (FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN)*
  • Game 7 – Saturday, 03 May 2014 TBD (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)*

* If necessary

Probable Starting Line-ups

Memphis Grizzlies

  • PG – Mike Conley
  • SG – Courtney Lee
  • SF – Tayshaun Prince
  • PF – Zach Randolph
  • C – Marc Gasol
  • Bench depth – Tony Allen, Mike Miller, Kosta Koufos, Ed Davis, Beno Udrih

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins
  • Bench depth – Reggie Jackson, Nick Collison, Derek Fisher, Caron Butler, Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Series

Post defense – Strength on strength. The Grizzlies’ offensive strong suit is the Thunder’s defensive strong suit. The Thunder have no problem packing the paint and retreating back on shooters. In fact, it’s what they do best (not the retreating back on shooters part, though). The Thunder have 4 players capable of defending Gasol, Randolph, and Kosta Koufos. What will be interesting is who starts off on who. Positionally, it should be Ibaka on Randolph and Perkins on Gasol. But, style-wise, Randolph’s bruising style is more suited for Perkins and Ibaka should be able to stay on Gasol, who likes to operate from 15 feet in.

perkins ibaka randolph gasol thunder grizzlies

Pace – Memphis tries to muddy up the game and keep it in the 90’s. If they are able to run their offense (half court-oriented, using a lot of the clock), and are able to dictate how you run your offense, that keeps them in their comfort zone. But if you force turnovers, score in transition, and don’t allow them to settle in defensively, it becomes very difficult for the Grizzlies to keep up in the scoring department.

Point guards – Probably the biggest factors in the series. Last season, the Thunder were without Russell Westbrook for the entire series. This season, the Grizzlies come into the series with a point guard that may have a nagging hamstring injury (Conley) and no back-up, due to Nick Calathes being suspended for 20 games due to a failed drug test. The Grizzlies come into the series with a slightly injured starting point guard and Beno Udrih. The Thunder on the other hand, come into the series with both their point guards in tow.

X-factors

For Memphis – Their X-factor is Mike Miller. The one way to combat a defense that focuses on the paint is to punish it with perimeter shooting. Mike Miller has the ability to punish teams from the outside, and it’s one of the reasons the Thunder pursued so aggressively in the offseason.

miller thabeet thunder grizzlies

For Oklahoma City – Their X-factor is Reggie Jackson. With Calathes being suspended for the series, Jackson should run roughshod when he’s in the game against the bench.

Prediction

Thunder in 5.

Two things: First thing, not only is Russell Westbrook back and healthy for the Thunder, but the point guard depth for the Grizzlies took a hit with Calathes’ suspension. Secondly, Kevin Durant has taken last season’s disappointment and learned from it. He’s more adept at finding the open man and willing to punish teams with the pass, instead of firing up an ill-advised jumper with two or three defenders draped on him.

New Orleans Pelicans vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 79 of 82)

durant ibaka defense thunder pelicans

  • When: Friday, 11 April 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The magic number for the San Antonio Spurs to clinch the No. 1 seed throughout the playoffs is now 1, after their defeat of the Dallas Mavericks. While it is still mathematically possible for the Thunder to get the No. 1 seed from San Antonio, they would require a ton of help. Namely, for the Spurs to lose the rest of their games and for the Thunder to win the rest of theirs. Not impossible, but not entirely probable, either. Instead, with their position firmly entrenched in the No. 2 spot, look for the Thunder to start resting their players. This will be especially helpful for Kevin Durant, Reggie Jackson, and Serge Ibaka, who have had to shoulder the load  all season while Russell Westbrook and others have been out with injuries.

This will be the 2nd of 3 meeting between these two teams. The Thunder have won 9 in a row against the Pelicans, dating all the way back to the 2nd half of the 2010-11 season. You can say that the upsurge of the Thunder has coincided with the downslide of the Hornets/Pelicans since the Chris Paul trade.

The Opponent

evans pelicans

The Pelicans are currently 32-46 and sit in the 12th spot in the West. While they’ve already improved from last season, injuries have derailed what may have been an even greater improvement. Point guard Jrue Holiday, who was obtained in a deal on draft day last June (and will probably cost the Pelicans a lottery pick in the next draft), has only suited up for 34 games. Anthony Davis, the foundation of the franchise, has played in 67 games and will not be available for the rest of the season. Ryan Anderson, the stretch four who was brought in to space the floor, played in only 22 games before a herniated disc killed his season. Injuries are one of those things that can kill a rebuild quick. With the possibility of the team having no first rounder in this next draft, the Pelicans will be dependent on their key players coming into next season healthy. Of the players who are still healthy, only Tyreke Evans averages in double figures (14.0 points per game).

Probable Starting Line-Ups

New Orleans Pelicans

  • PG – Brian Roberts
  • SG – Tyreke Evans
  • SF – Darius Miller
  • PF – Al-Farouq Aminu
  • C – Greg Stiemsma

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Reverse Obama – Don’t give them hope. Take it all away. Do it in the first quarter, if possible. I want the starters off the floor by the middle of the third quarter.

2. Continue working on rhythm – IF the regular starting line-up plays, use this game as a pre-season game and continue to work on rhythm and continuity.

ibaka durant westbrook sefolosha

3. Bench – The Bench Mob should get plenty of run in this game. Here’s hoping newly signed rookie Grant Jerrett gets some reps in. He may have a future as a stretch 4 for the Thunder.

The Race for 8th and the Thunder

shield

I have really enjoyed this first season of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’. Many critics have panned it, but I think it has melded well with the Marvel movie universe, and has enough gumption to stand on its own. This season has focused on their hunt for The Clairvoyant, a villain who always seems to be one step ahead the agents. So much so, that the agents start to think the villain is in their head.

Well, I would like to let the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D know that I have found The Clairvoyant. His name is  Matthew Winick, and he’s the mastermind behind the NBA schedule. He has to be The Clairvoyant. Who else would’ve scheduled the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, and Memphis Grizzlies to play each in round robin fashion in the final week of the season for the 8th seed in the Western Conference.

randolph nowitzki grizzlies mavericks

We rarely see “win and you’re in” scenarios in basketball, but this season we could possibly have 3 games which impact where those teams end up on the final day of the season. First off, the tie breakers are as follows:

  • Dallas owns the tie breaker versus Memphis (3-0)and is tied with Phoenix (1-1).
  • Phoenix is tied with Dallas (1-1).
  • Memphis owns the tie breaker versus Phoenix (3-0)

With Dallas holding a 1/2 game lead over the Suns and a 1.5 game lead over the Grizzlies, they are firmly in the driver’s seat. But the teams they face in their final 3 games have a winning percentage of .654. It doesn’t get any easier for Phoenix, whose four remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of .577. The easiest trek may be Memphis’, which currently sits in the 9th position in the West. They play the 76ers and the Lakers before beginning their round robin games against the Suns and Mavs. They are in a much better position than Phoenix to control their destiny.

calderon dragic suns mavericks

 

As a basketball fan, you live for this time of year. The first two days of the playoffs have always been my favorite days of the season. Two days, two quadruple-headers. That is sweet nectar from the basketball gods. Luckily, basketball fans will get a 3 game play-in tournament before the playoffs even begin. Those games are:

  • April 12th – Phoenix @ Dallas
  • April 14th – Memphis @ Phoenix
  • April 16th – Dallas @ Memphis

With the Oklahoma City Thunder firmly in control of the No. 2 seed in the West after last night’s victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, my focus can be redirected towards the West’s 8th seed. Those three teams will be battling for the 7th and 8th seed. Other than who might finish with the 7th seed, how does this affect the Thunder?

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder

The answer to that lies in San Antonio. There’s still a sliver of hope the Thunder can get the No.1 seed in the conference, and in the league. That hope lies in the fact that the Spurs will face the Mavericks and Suns on back to back nights. Two desperate teams against a team that is known to rest its starters as the season winds down. Tony Parker will be out for tonight’s game against the Mavericks. After they face the “duo of desperation”, the Spurs then travel to Houston to face the Rockets, who may be needing to win in order to stay ahead of the Portland Trailblazers for the 4th spot (and final home court position) in the West.

All told, if the Spurs finish 1-3 in their final 4 games, and the Thunder win out, Oklahoma City will head into the playoffs with the No. 1 seed. A lot of things will have to fall in OKC’s favor, but it’s not an impossible scenario. With the Spurs playing 2, or possibly, 3 desperate teams, the onus may be on them to hold on to the top seed in the West.

Scoreboard Watching (2014 edition)

durant westbrook thunder

If you are a fan of a team, you’re always aware of your team’s games. But, sometimes, if you are wholly invested in one team, you tend to miss what out on what is going on around the rest of the league. Last season, I wrote a similar article concerning the other teams Thunder fans should be looking out for as that season closed (namely the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors). In a vacuum, a fan should only be worried about their team. But, in reality, with playoff positioning and/or draft positioning at stake, watching how other teams perform at the end of the season can add some drama to a point in the season where drama is sometimes lacking. This season, there are 5 teams Thunder fans needs to be paying attention to than can affect their near future.

1. San Antonio Spurs

  • Why it matters: The No. 1 seed in the Western Conference (and in the league) is at stake.
  • Team’s outlook: Currently 59-16 (1st in West), with 4 road games and 3 home games remaining.

Serge Ibaka

This is very reminiscent to what happened last season. This time though, it seems like the Spurs are far enough ahead to not have to worry about the Thunder chasing down the No. 1 seed from behind. The Spurs are currently on a roll, coming into the Thunder game having won 19 in a row, and hold a 4 game lead over the Thunder. With their penchant to rest starters late in the season, the Thunder still have a slight chance to catch the Spurs. But it seems like a foregone conclusion that the Spurs will head into the playoffs with the No. 1 seed in the West. One thing to remember is that if San Antonio does stumble, the Thunder own the tie-breaker over them.

2. Dallas Mavericks

  • Why it matters: The Thunder own the Mavericks’ first round pick if it is outside the Top 20.
  • Team’s outlook: Currently 44-31, (7th in the West) with 5 road games and 2 home games remaining

The Thunder got this draft pick in the Harden deal from Houston. There are two factions when it comes to this pick. Those that want the pick this season (slotted to be in the 21-23 range) and those that want the pick to go all the way until 2018, when it becomes unprotected. It will all depend on if Dallas make the playoffs or not. If they make the playoffs, they’ll be one of the top 10 teams in the league, thus garnering a pick in the 21-30 range, which transfers over to the Thunder. If they don’t make the playoffs, the Mavericks will pick in the lottery and will keep the pick.

The Mavericks are battling with the Memphis Grizzlies and the Phoenix Suns for the last two seeds in the Western Conference playoff race. Of the remaining games between the 3 teams, the Mavericks face the harder road with their opponents having a .525 winning percentage combined. But the road will not be easy for either one of the 3 teams because, NEWSFLASH!, they all play in the Western Conference. That being said, the Mavericks had their opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the other two teams, but flubbed an 8 game home stand to the tune of going 4-4. Luckily, all three teams play each other in the final week of the season.

I’m torn as to what I want to do with this pick. Part of me thinks that Thunder GM Sam Presti, with two draft picks late in the first round, could package those to move up a couple slots and get a shooter like Nik Stauskas of Michigan. But part of me also wants to see what happens if this pick actually reaches 2018 unprotected. Unless Dirk Nowitzki goes on Tim Duncan’s offseason training program, I see his effectiveness, and that of the Mavs, steadily going down in these next couple of seasons. And hopefully, they completely bottom out in the 2017-18 season.

3 and 4. Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat

  • Why it matters: The only teams that matter in the Eastern Conference
  • Teams’ Outlooks – With a virtual tie for the Eastern Conference top spot, these two teams meet one last time on April 11th. Indiana currently leads the season series 2-1.

heat pacers

With a 2.5 game lead over these two teams in the league standings, the Thunder are in control to maintain home court advantage against any of the East’s top teams if they meet in the NBA Finals. The major issue here is whether the Pacers will give Miami a run for their money and make the Eastern Conference Finals somewhat competitive. While Miami has been surging in the last 10 games, going 7-3, the Pacers have been doing the exact opposite, going 7-10 in their last 17 games.

The jump from being a good team to becoming an elite team is the hardest jump to make in the NBA. Not only do you have to start positioning your role players correctly, but your star players have to start taking that next step. For Indiana, a combination of questionable in-season moves and lack of player progression has slightly slowed that progression from good team to elite team. The mid-season trade that sent Danny Granger to the Philadelphia 76ers for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen has yet to bear fruit. And the mid-season signing of Andrew Bynum can probably be deemed a failure due to a reoccurrence of knee issues for the center. In addition, Paul George and Roy Hibbert have failed to significantly improve from where they were in the beginning of the season. With this recent slide, rumors of infighting and selfishness have begun to sneak into the vernacular that describes the Pacers. The mental aspect of making the jump from a good team to an elite team is the hardest thing for a young team to grasp, and its currently showing with these Pacers.

The reason this matters to the Thunder is because the Western Conference playoffs are going to be a gauntlet. The first round match-ups will be formidable and the series will only get tougher from there. If Miami is able to skip through the East playoffs easily, and get some rest in the process, that could spell trouble for the team that comes out of the West, regardless of who it is.

5. New York Knicks

  • Why it matters: The Denver Nuggets own the Knicks’ pick for this draft
  • Team’s Outlook – Currently 33-43 (8th in the East), with 3 road and 3 home games remaining.

Looking towards the future at division rivals, the team that has the best chance of getting better quickly is the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets suffered a myriad of injuries this season that prevented them from ever making a run at the playoffs. But with many of those players coming back next season and a potential lottery pick, the Nuggets are in position to get back to their winning ways. If the Knicks make the playoffs, their pick moves down to the No. 15 slot. But if the Knicks miss the playoffs, Denver will be slotted to pick in the 7-9 range, while also having the potential of getting a top 3 pick.

Seeding doesn’t seem to affect the Thunder that much. They know they can beat the Spurs in San Antonio, if necessary. Their main goals to finish this season are to stay ahead of the LA Clippers, Miami Heat, and Indiana Pacers, and to get/remain healthy. As the season rolls to a close, it’ll be interesting to keep a vested interest in these 5 teams, as their outcomes all have the potential of affecting the Thunder in the near future.