Tag Archives: Denver Nuggets

Oklahoma City Thunder acquire Randy Foye from the Denver Nuggets

foye

The Oklahoma City Thunder acquired Randy Foye from the Denver Nuggets on the trade deadline. The Thunder gave up DJ Augustin, Steve Novak, and both of their 2016 2nd round picks (theirs and Charlotte’s, which was acquired in the Jeremy Lamb trade this past offseason). In Foye, the Thunder get a combo guard who is a good (not great) defender and someone who can knock down open shots. This season, Foye is averaging 6 points and 2.1 assists in nearly 20 minutes of action per game. He is shooting only 29.6% from deep, but has shot 37% from that distance over his career. He shoots much better when he is wide open. He rarely got that opportunity in Denver, but will get a lot more looks in Oklahoma City with attention grabbers like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on the floor.

The Thunder’s M.O. is usually to have three point guards on the roster. Foye is a good enough ball-handler to be a 3rd string point guard, while also being a good enough shooter to be a spacer off the bench. He will help the bench unit defensively and will add another ball-handler to that line-up. But his biggest value may be as a go-between for Cameron Payne as he gains experience in this, his rookie season. Payne has performed well this season, but when the lights were brightest (the Warriors game) he looked wide-eyed and shaky. Which is exactly what you’d expect from a rookie. The Thunder trust Payne, but if the stage gets too big for him come April, Foye is the perfect back-up plan to bridge the gap between this season and next season.

Many people will pan this trade, but I thought it was a good play by the Thunder. Augustin and Novak were out of the rotation and on expiring deals. Instead of just sitting on that, the Thunder decided to get a player that could possibly have an impact in the near future who was also on an expiring deal. In addition, the move generated a $3.75 million dollar traded player exception (TPE) and opened up a valuable roster spot for the Thunder.

That roster spot could be used on a buyout candidate later in the season. Names that have been thrown out as buy-0ut candidates are Kevin Martin, Joe Johnson, Lance Stephenson, and Andrea Bargnani. Players that won’t necessarily take over a starting spot, but could play a role for a playoff team.

In addition to the roster spot, the move also shaves off over $8 million dollars from the Thunder luxury tax bill. There was never going to be a move that brought the Thunder above the tax line. But any move that could lessen the blow a bit was always welcomed.

In the end, the Thunder felt they were good enough to stand where they currently were. The addition of Foye could prove to be the type of move that helps them against a Golden State in the postseason or it could just be a lateral move where the Thunder traded away two end of the bench players for another end of the bench player. Either way, what the Thunder received outside of Foye (the roster spot, the TPE, the smaller tax bill) could have bigger ramifications for the Thunder moving forward.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Denver Nuggets preview (Game 13 of 82)

ibaka adams faried thunder nuggets

  • When: Wednesday, 19 November 2014 at 8:00 PM CST
  • Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

The last time the panic alarm was this loud in Thunder Nation was after the 2nd game of the season. The Thunder had just lost 2 close games on the road, and to top it off, they lost their All-Star point guard to a broken hand. The roster was down to 8 healthy players, none of which had ever been tasked with leading a team to battle. The Thunder needed a respite and they needed it fast. Enter the Denver Nuggets. The Thunder got off to a big lead and still had the fortitude to win a close game when Denver got hot in the 4th quarter. From there, the panic dampened as the Thunder started getting some players back from injury and actually won a couple more games. But with the Thunder staring at a 3-9 record, the offense struggling, and their superstar duo probably not coming back for at least another 2 weeks, the panic alarm is once again wailing.

The Opponent

Indiana Pacers v Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets come into the game with a 3-7 record. They won their first game, and then proceeded to lose their next 6, before finally winning the last 2 of 3, including a road victory in Cleveland in their last game. The Nuggets are middle of the pack when it comes to scoring (101.5 ppg), but give up the 4th most points in the league (107.1 ppg). Their rebounding is one of their strengths and it fuels their transition game. Ty Lawson is one of the better pace pushers in the league, using his speed to beat defenders up the court and causing havoc in the paint. On the perimeter, Arron Afflalo and Wilson Chandler have had their troubles being consistent. Up front, the big man rotation of Kenneth Faried, Timofey Mozgov, and JJ Hickson provides plenty of energy in going after rebounds and hustling defensively. The Nuggets are one of the deepest teams in the league, usually going at least 12 deeep into the rotation. The bench players that receive most time are Randy Foye, Danilo Gallinari, JaVale McGee, Alonzo Gee, and Nate Robinson.

Probable Starting Line-Up

Denver Nuggets

  • PG – Ty Lawson
  • SG – Arron Afflalo
  • SF – Wilson Chandler
  • PF – Kenneth Faried
  • C – Timofey Mozgov

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Jeremy Lamb
  • SF – Andre Roberson
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Consistency – The Thunder have held leads in the last few games they have lost. Sometimes those leads even balloned up into the double digits. But the Thunder have failed to capitalize on those leads due to a stagnant offense. When the Thunder play their best is when they are passing and moving. As soon as the offense becomes iso-oriented, the Thunder struggle due to having their iso MVPs on the bench in street clothes. The Thunder can’t stop playing their current brand of basketball as soon as they see a little light at the end of the tunnel. They aren’t good enough to go off the cuff. They need to stick to their script.

2. Rebounding – I feel like I’ve written this in the last few pre-game reports as a key to the game, but the proof is in the pudding. In their last 3 games (all losses), the Thunder have been outrebounded by an average of 11 rebounds and have allowed the opponent to grab an average of 16 offensive rebounds. While I like the new found perimeter aggressiveness of Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka, I feel like them being so far from the basket takes away from their opportunities to grab offensive rebounds. On the defensive end, Steven Adams needs to play bigger and occupy more space to grab more defensive boards.

Denver Nuggets vs Oklahoma City Thunder

3. Reggie Jackson – The offense goes as he does. If he is masterfully setting up his teammates and controlling the flow of the game, the Thunder usually are usually in control and rolling. As soon as he goes off script, the Thunder tend to struggle. I don’t necessarily fault Jackson. This is his first foray as the focal point of the offense, and he is still adjusting to being shadowed by at least one other defender.

Thunder forward Mitch McGary breaks foot

mcgary adams mozgov thunder nuggets

Oklahoma City Thunder rookie forward Mitch McGary suffered a broken foot in Wednesday’s preseason game against the Denver Nuggets and is expected to be out 5-7 weeks. First reported by Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, McGary suffered the injury late in the preseason game and was receiving treatment after the game. McGary finished the game with 14 points and 4 rebounds in an impressive debut.

The 21st pick out of Michigan has had a history of injuries. After surprising everyone with his performance in the 2nd half of his freshman season in college, McGary took a step back his sophomore year while recovering from back surgery. Since being drafted, though, he has been reportedly healthy and working out in Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Denver Nuggets preview (Preseason Game 1 of 7)

faried ibaka thunder nuggets

  • When: Wednesday, 08 October 2014 at 8:00 PM CST
  • Where: Pepsi Center, Denver CO

Finally. After eons of waiting, the time has arrived. Well, not really the real time. That would be reserved for 20 days from today. But real enough to follow a GameCast of the game on ESPN. Real enough to catch highlights on NBATV. And real enough to begin complaining about Scott Brooks and his lack of offensive imagination. The rest of the season for the Thunder begins today.

The Denver Nuggets come into the game having already played one preseason game. They lost to the Los Angeles Lakers 98-95 in Kobe Bryant’s first game in action since an injury riddled 203-14 campaign. The Thunder are set to face their Northwest Division rivals four times this season.

The Opponent

nuggets training camp

The Nuggets are looking to build off a season that saw four rotational players miss significant portions of the season due to significant knee injuries (Danilo Gallinari, Nate Robinson, JJ Hickson, and JaVale McGee). The Nuggets are two years removed from being the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference heading into the playoffs. That team featured a lot of the same players that are still on the roster. The offense is spearheaded by Ty Lawson. The prodigal son, Arron Afflalo, returns after getting traded back to the Nuggets in the offseason to bring them defensive stability on the perimeter. Up front, Kenneth Faried and Timofey Mozgov form an energetic duo that gets most of their points off rebounds and garbage baskets. Off the bench, the Nuggets will probably try to play their rookies Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic to get them some in-game experience.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Denver Nuggets

  • PG – Ty Lawson
  • SG – Randy Foye
  • SF – Arron Afflalo
  • PF – Kenneth Faried
  • C – Timofey Mozgov

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. SG battle – This preseason will be about deciding who will start at SG for the Thunder. Roberson seems to have the edge on Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson, though. He started 16 games for the Thunder last season and outplayed Lamb in the Blue and White scrimmage.

roberson thunder

2. Young guys – Mitch McGary, Grant Jerrett, and Perry Jones should see some action this preseason.

3. Ball-movement – The talk about the offense coming into every season is always about the increase in ball-movement. Yet, anytime the going gets tough or when the game is on the line, the offense always reverts back to iso-ball.

BONUS – 4. Don’t get hurt – It’s the preseason. We are playing for June.

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Northwest Divison

Northwest Division

1. Oklahoma City Thunder

westbrook ibaka durant jackson jones thunder

Last season: 59-23 (1st in the Northwest Division, 2nd in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs

Key Additions:

  • Mitch McGary – Draft (No. 21 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Anthony Morrow – Free agent signing
  • Sebastian Telfair – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Thabo Sefolosha – Signed with the Atlanta Hawks
  • Caron Butler – Signed with the Detroit Pistons
  • Derek Fisher – Retired (Head coach of the New York Knicks)
  • Hasheem Thabeet – Traded to the Philadelphia 76ers

Season Preview – After years of relying on internal improvement/development, the Thunder finally threw their hat into the free agency fray. They failed in getting Pau Gasol or Mike Miller to OKC, but did get the deep-range threat they coveted in Anthony Morrow. If healthy, this team is one of the best in the league. Sporting the current MVP and another top 5 players in Westbrook, the Thunder should benefit from their more versatile additions. When it comes to a team like the Thunder, though, its all about May and June. With the team’s shortcomings in the playoffs with such a talented roster, might this be the year that coach Scott Brooks starts to feel the heat?

2014-15 will be successful if: The Thunder win the championship

Projected 2014-15 Record: 61-21

2. Portland Trailblazers

aldridge batum lopez matthews lillard trailblazers

Last season: 54-28 (2nd in the Northwest Division, 5th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 5 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the San Antonio Spurs

Key Additions:

  • Steve Blake – Free agent signing
  • Chris Kaman – Free agent signing
  • James Southerland – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Mo Williams – Signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Earl Watson – Unsigned

Season Preview – The Trailblazers basically bring back the same team as last season, but with a little bit more veteran presence. Chris Kaman and Steve Blake should help shore up some of the inexperience off the bench. With that said, the Blazers’ Achilles heel this season will be the same as last season’s: lack of bench production. Second year guard CJ Mccollum will be expected to fill the production provided by Mo Williams. They were lucky the injury bug didn’t bite that hard last season. They will need similar health next season to produce the same output.

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 52-30

3. Denver Nuggets

Indiana Pacers v Denver Nuggets

Last season: 36-46 (4th in the Northwest Division, 11th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Arron Afflalo – Obtained in a trade with the Orlando Magic
  • Gary Harris – Draft (No. 19 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Jusuf Nurkic – Draft (No. 16 in the 2014 NBA Draft)

Key Departures:

  • Evan Fournier – Traded to the Orlando Magic
  • Jan Vesely – Signed overseas
  • Anthony Randolph – Signed overseas
  • Aaron Brooks – Signed with the Chicago Bulls

Season Preview – I only wrote three names on the “Key Additions” section, but with half the team coming back from injury, you could easily add about 5 players to that section. Now, half the team is a bit of an exaggeration, but the players who are coming back are core members of the rotation. JaVale McGee, Danilo Galinari, JJ Hickson, and Nate Robinson all missed time last season with surgery necessitating injuries. With all those key players coming back and Kenneth Faried coming off a great showing in the FIBA World Cup, Denver becomes the wild card in the Western Conference. Two seasons ago, they were the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference with many of these players on the team. It may take Denver a bit to gel, but I could definitely see them being a nuisance come the second half of the season.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Nuggets make it to the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 40-42

4. Utah Jazz

burke hayward favors jazz

Last season: 25-57 (5th in the Northwest Division,  15th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Trevor Booker – Free agent signing
  • Dante Exum – Draft (No. 5 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Rodney Hood – Draft (No. 23 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Steve Novak – Obtained in a trade with the Toronto Raptors

Key Departures:

  • Richard Jefferson – Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Marvin Williams – Signed with the Charlotte Hornets
  • Brandon Rush – Signed with the Golden State Warriors
  • Diante Garrett – Traded to the Toronto Raptors

Season Preview – The Jazz are probably at the midway point of their rebuild. Their young guys from 2-3 seasons ago are starting to come up for extensions and they have yet to show much fruit. They had to pay Gordon Hayward max money in order to keep him away from Charlotte. And their backcourt consists of a rookie (Exum) and a 2nd year player (Trey Burke). I think the Jazz take a step this season. Not necessarily a big one, but a 5-7 win improvement through the internal development of Hayward, Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, and Trey Burke. Show improvement and the team probably stays the course. But, flounder again, and the team may be looking at a smaller rebuild for the future.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Jazz win 35 games

Projected 2014-15 Record: 31-51

5. Minnesota Timberwolves

"blg 04 wolves state fair"

Last season: 40-42 (3rd in the Northwest Division, 10th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Anthony Bennett – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Zach Lavine – Draft (No. 13 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Glenn Robinson III – Draft (No. 40 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Andrew Wiggins – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers (No. 1 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Mo Williams – Free agent signing
  • Thaddeus Young – Obtained in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers

Key Departures:

  • Kevin Love – Traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Luc Richard Mbah a Moute – Traded to the Philadelphia 76ers
  • Alexey Shved – Traded to the Philadelphia 76ers

Season Preview – The Timberwolves seem to have a problem holding on to great power forwards. Kevin Garnett about seven years ago and Kevin Love this offseason. But they got a much better haul this time around for Love than they did for Garnett. Wiggins has franchise player potential and Bennett has match-up problems potential if he is healthy this season. Thaddeus Young is a good veteran stopgap at the forward spot, but is also young enough to grow with this group. I believe this team will surprise some people. Rubio is made to be a fast break point guard and now has the horses to let loose his talent. In the end though, this team is extremely young and will have plenty of growing pains this season. Luckily, they’ll also be exciting as hell.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Timberwolves’ young players show development throughout the season, and they still garner a Top 5 pick.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 30-52

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.

Denver Nuggets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 70 of 82)

  • When: Monday, 24 March 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

It’s a good thing that the Oklahoma City Thunder and their fans have had at least a day to decompress from what was a crazy game on Friday and the subsequent “awaiting the MRI results on Russell’s knee” on Saturday. Thankfully, the Thunder won the game in double overtime against the Raptors and Westbrook’s knee sprain showed no further damage to the knee. Even better, Durant’s performance in that game (51 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists, GW 3-pt) pretty much sowed up the MVP award for him.

This is the fourth and final meeting of the season between these two teams. The Thunder lead the season series against their division rivals 2-1. Games between these two teams usually come down to the 4th quarter with the point guards taking over the show.

The Opponent

faried lawson nuggets

Although ACL only has three letters in it, it might as well be a 4-letter word in Denver. With Danilo Gallinari, Nate Robinson, and now, J.J. Hickson out with ACL injuries, the Denver team is a shell of what it was expected to be in the beginning of the season. The Nuggets, currently at 32-38, are out of the playoff hunt for the first time in the last 11 seasons. The team does a good job of scoring points (103.9 per game, 9th in the league), but allows too many defensively (105.8 ppg, 28th in the league). The offense is spear-headed by point guard Ty Lawson, whose break-neck style leads to many points in the paint and many open looks on the perimeter for shooters. On the wings, Randy Foye, Wilson Chandler, Evan Fournier, and Darrell Arthur are usually the beneficiaries of Lawson’s ability to get into the paint. In the post, Kenneth Faried is one of the more active rebounders in the league while Timofey Mozgov is a big mobile body that can carve out space and score if given the opportunity. Due to injuries, the bench for Denver is a bit muted, but Denver was one of the deeper teams to begin with and still has a decent bench that features Aaron Brooks, Fournier, and Arthur.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Denver Nuggets

  • PG – Ty Lawson
  • SG – Randy Foye
  • SF – Anthony Randolph
  • PF – Kenneth Faried
  • C – Timofey Mozgov

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Rebounding – Denver’s rebounding took a hit with the loss of J.J. Hickson. But, Faried and Mozgov are still 2 of the more better rebounding bigs in the league. Faried has 9 games of 13 or more rebounds and Mozgov has 8 games of double figure rebounding. If the Thunder are disciplined in boxing these two out, they can hurt the Thunder with offensive boards in the same way that Hickson would have.

2. Dribble Penetration – Ty Lawson causes the havoc that ignites Denver’s offense by getting into the lane. I would start Roberson on Lawson and put Reggie Jackson on Randy Foye. Jackson has trouble staying in front of quick guards, but does a pretty good job of recovering on shooters, due to his wing span.

3. Durant – Against a defense that gives up the 3rd most points in the league, what show can Durant put on against the Nuggets?

The Stretch: The Thunder’s next 6 games

When the Oklahoma City Thunder were novices to playoff basketball, home court advantage was a must. In their first playoff series against the Lakers in 2010, the only two games the Thunder won in the series were in Oklahoma City, with a third victory being stolen by a Pau Gasol tip-in as time expired in the 4th quarter. The next season, the Thunder rode home court advantage all the way to the Western Conference Finals, where they lost to the higher seeded, and eventual champions, the Dallas Mavericks. The next season, the Thunder made a repeat trip to the WCF, where the met the higher seeded San Antonio Spurs. Three years worth of playoff experience helped the Thunder weather a 2-0 deficit in the series, and they eventually went on to win the next 4 games (3 of which were in OKC) to make it to the NBA Finals.

The Thunder are experienced enough to not get phased by road playoff games. But getting the highest seed possible is more of a psychological ploy than anything else. The opportunity to not only get the first two games at home, but also the deciding game, if necessary, gives a team a little more confidence moving forward.

Do the Thunder need to get HCA throughout the playoffs? Probably not. But the Thunder aren’t yet to the point where they are willing to sacrifice late season games in order to rest their weary starters. Resting Russell Westbrook is a given due to the delicate nature of his recovery from 3 knee surgeries in an eight month period. Other than Westbrook though, I think the rest of the players are gunning for as a seeding as possible. In order to achieve that, the next 6 games will be extremely pivotal to positioning the Thunder near the top of not only the Western Conference, but also the entire league.

The Thunder were in a similar position last season, with the same cast of characters playing similar parts this season. The Thunder once again trail the Spurs, this time by 2 games. They, of course, will need some help from other teams. The Spurs play 6 games between now and their April 3rd meeting with the Thunder. The combined winning percentage of those 5 team (they play Denver twice in that span) is .482. When you factor the home/road splits compared to where the games are being played (whether in San Antonio or on the road), that percentage jumps up to .495. That’s not an easy stretch for the Spurs.

In that same stretch, the Thunder only play 4 games: a home/road back to back against Denver (tonight) and Dallas. Then they play Sacramento on Friday and Utah on Sunday. That’s basically 4 home games in that stretch, as Dallas is a 50 minute plane ride from OKC and the stands will be peppered with plenty of Thunder fans. The Denver/Dallas B2B will be difficult as both teams attack the Thunder where they are weakest (perimeter defense) and score a lot of points.

Much like last season, focus will be the key word when it comes to this stretch. The team may be on high alert when it comes to the B2B, but then may let their guard down when it comes to the Sacramento and Utah games. The Thunder have a tendency to play down to their opponents, and Utah and Sacramento can give the Thunder problems, if allowed.

 

One major difference between last season and this season is the injuries. Last season’s team was completely intact when it when on its stretch run. The playoffs, of course, were a different story. This season, though, the Thunder will be missing Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins for all of the stretch and likely will be missing Westbrook for some of the stretch. If I were a betting man, I’d say that Westbrook will miss the Denver game and one of the Sacto/Utah games.

Much like last season, the Thunder will get a 3-day break before the Spurs game. And then, they will hit the road for another game the next night, this time against the Houston Rockets. Luckily for the Thunder, it’ll be easy to get up for both of these games. The question is whether Westbrook will be available for both of these games.

If the Spurs stay true to form, they’ll start to rest their core on differing night beginning in April. If the Thunder are able to take the conference lead and maintain, they should be able to repeat what they did last season. And this time, not only is the number one seed in the conference at stake, but also the number one seed heading into the playoffs.

Kevin Durant and the evolution of his Alter-Egos

slim reaper kd

If you know me, you know that I used to be a huge fan the East Coast hip-hop scene in the 90’s to early 00’s. In fact, my favorite hip-hop group of all time is the Wu-Tang Clan. Two seasons ago, I wrote an article comparing the members of the Wu to the 9-man rotation the Thunder were using at the time. One of the things that I loved about the Wu was how they used all their aliases. For example, Rza, the musical genius and de facto leader of the group, went by a couple of aliases that related to his mood. If he felt like a partying B-boy, his alias was Bobby Digital. If he wanted to incite deep thought through his lyrics, he was known as the Rzarector through his side group, the Gravediggaz. And if he wanted to hit you with some street-inspired raps, he was known as Bobby Steels. It’s a trend that many rappers used. Eminem was probably the best known artist to use this technique. Eminem has three alter egos: Eminem (the rapper), Marshall Mathers (the tragic, real life figure from where the pain comes from), and Slim Shady (the YOLO, don’t give a (word) psycho that offends anyone and everyone while waving two middle fingers in the air).

In essence, though, we all have differing alter egos. No matter how much you try to deny it, you act differently when you are around different people. The “hanging out with friends” you is different than the “having dinner with the parents” you. The “going to church” you is different than the “just had a few drinks and now I’m loose” you. Alter egos are just ways to adjust to different situation. Artists have taken that concept and turned it into an art form. And, of course, as the saying goes, “musicians want to be athletes and athletes want to be musicians”. So, it was only natural, that athletes would start to participate in this act.

Rockets v Lakers

You could say that Daryl Dawkins started this trend when he decided to name his dunks. But the trend reached its zenith when Shaquille O’Neal decided to name himself every possible nickname available to man. The alias could be regional (The Big Shaqtus for when he played for Phoenix), heroic (Superman), or philosophical (The Big Aristotle). No matter how corny the names were, they worked for the big jovial lug. It became the norm to give yourself a nickname. Kobe Bryant, probably tired of being called just Kobe, and needing a marketing ploy, decided to coin himself Black Mamba. And though it felt forced, it actually became second nature to refer to Kobe as the Black Mamba.

I miss the days when nicknames were, not only original, but earned from outsiders. Gone are the times when a guy could come into the league with the moniker “Magic”, and become a magician on the court. Or when a guy was bestowed the name Air because of his ability to seemingly transcend gravity. It got to the point where originality was lost and most nicknames became shortened versions of the player’s name (VC, TMac, AI, DWade, etc).

But then, in comes this man. A man whose physical attributes warrant a nickname, but whose game warrants another nickname. A man whose style of play warrants even another nickname. Kevin Wayne Durant came into the league in 2007, and since then, people have been looking for that one name that sticks. But really, every nickname that been bestowed on Durant makes the man.

Durantula

The name given to Durant since the beginning of his career because of his physical attributes. A 6’11” frame (don’t give me that 6’9″ poppycock) with a 7’4″ wingspan. Tall, lean, and rangy, but also with the fluidity to move around like a guard. When those arms go out and frame gets down into a defensive crouch, that’s over 7300 cubic inches of real estate to get around, taking into account 83 inches for height and 88 inches for length. It can almost seem like Durant has got 8 arms with as much ground and air space that he can take up.

But that name never really took off. I mean, it was used on shirts and print, and was semi-popular, but Durant never really endorsed it. And then some guitarist with an inferiority complex named Mark Durante decided to sue Durant, claiming that he used the nickname Durantula first. So, that basically spelled the end of it for that nickname.

Velvet Hoop

A Nike ad campaign for House of Hoops in 2009 gave Durant the nickname Velvet Hoop. Nothing ever really came out of it, but I have always loved that moniker. It personifies Durant’s game so well. Smooth like velvet. But unfortunately, it also makes for a stupid nickname. Too long and an inability to become personified. It just doesn’t roll off the tongue. “At forward, 6’9″, from Texas, KEVIN ‘VELVET HOOP’ DURANT!!!” Yeah, on to the next one.

KD

kd nike

The brand. While originality lacks when it comes to this nickname, it still works great. It’s short and rolls off the tongue. It’s not shrouded in any emotional or negative imagery. It’s just two letters. A “K” and a “D”. It works well with adult and children alike. Durant is able to put his full support behind it without any fear of litigation. They are his initials and there are no copyright infringement laws when it comes to a person’s initials. This is the empire that Durant (and Nike) will continue to build off of.

The Junkyard Dog

Think of a junkyard dog. What descriptive images come to mind? Something that is snarling and over-salivating. Something that elicits fear. Something big and strong. When Durant starts to take charge of a game, he is all these descriptors wrapped in one. It is during these runs that he tries his hardest humiliate and emasculate the opponent. The Junkyard Dog doesn’t come out very often, but when he does, opponent are usually left trembling in fear in his wake.

The Slim Reaper

The Slim Reaper comes out very seldom. Always in the 4th quarter and always when the Thunder are down. But when he does show up, his antics are spoken of near and far. It usually starts when something gets Durant angry. The trigger could be as slight as a missed call, a harassing player, a technical foul, or just plain annoyance. But when the fuse is lit, the ride is just beginning. We’ve seen glimpses of the Reaper. Game 5 against the Denver Nuggets in the 2011 NBA playoffs. The Thunder found themselves down by 9 with four minutes left in the 4th quarter. Lose the game and you risk having a Game 6 in Denver. Then the Reaper showed up and outscored the Nuggets 14-6 in the final four minutes to win the game and clinch the Thunder’s first playoff series. Then the Reaper went dormant. He would show up occasionally, but it was sometimes difficult to discern between The Junkyard Dog and the Slim Reaper. 

durant thunder slim reaper

It’s usually something in a game that brings the Reaper out. But this time, I think it was a game itself that turned Durant into the Reaper. When the Thunder faced the Memphis Grizzlies on January 14th, the team reverted back to it’s playoff mode of depending on Durant to do everything. The team fell behind in the third quarter, and could never make up that deficit. But something happened in Durant that night. Maybe he looked at the schedule and saw that 4 of the team’s next 5 opponent were against the upper echelon of the Western Conference. Maybe he finally realized how to play in the absence of Russell Westbrook. Maybe he embraced that fact that, for this team to win, he would need to shoulder the load offensively and be more aggressive. Maybe he realized that the best option on the floor 90% of the time is the guy whose jersey number is 35. Or maybe he just got hot at the right time and realized the no one, no team, and no scheme in the NBA, can guard him.

The results have been terrifying for the league. Eleven straight games of 30 points or more. A triple double mixed in there. Averages of 38.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 6.4 assists in the last two weeks. In addition, Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson have greatly benefited from the added attention Durant has been receiving. The Reaper is a man on a mission. Durant said before last season’s playoffs started that he was tired of finishing second. Well, the Reaper is the devilish conscious that continuously reminds Durant that he has finished 2nd his entire career. And, to the chagrin of the NBA, I believe the Reaper is here to stay.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Denver Nuggets preview (Game 36 of 82)

perkins faried thunder nuggets

  • When: Thursday, 09 January 2014 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

In my opinion, this game has a bit of a must win feel to it for some reason. Maybe it’s to calm our psyche. Maybe it’s the constant pressure of needing to keep up with the top half of the Western Conference. Whatever it may be, that psyche was put a little on edge after the loss to the Utah Jazz, who own the worst record in the Western Conference. Were there factors at play that may have aided the Jazz? Of course. Two of Oklahoma City’s top three players were out when Serge Ibaka sat out with flu-like symptoms. And Utah has been playing much better since the return of Trey Burke. But still, it’s the Jazz.

Regardless, the NBA season keeps moving along. Tonight, the Thunder face their other division rival located in the Mountain Standard timezone, the Denver Nuggets. The Thunder won the first two meetings of the season between these two teams. The first meeting saw the Thunder outscore the Nuggets 32-21 in the 4th quarter to win a close one, 115-113. The 2nd game was not as close as the Thunder rode an 8 point halftime lead to a 12 point victory, 105-93.

The Opponent

faried lawson nuggets

The Nuggets have been consistently inconsistent this season. This is how their last 24 games have played out: 7 game win streak followed by losses in 11 of the next 14 games followed by the current 3 game win streak. They are a team that is highly dependent on the 3-point shot without having a consistent dead-eye shooter. Point guard Ty Lawson gets the offense going with his ability to dribble penetrate off the pick and role. Randy Foye and Wilson Chandler have greatly benefited from Lawson’s dribble drives to the tune of 35% 3-point shooting for each player. Unfortunately, Chandler will be out of tonight’s game with a strained hip. Despite their lack of size, the duo of JJ Hickson and Kenneth Faried grabs about 16.5 rebounds per game combined, and can wear a front line ragged with their energy and athleticism. Injuries and internal strife have decimated the depth of the Nuggets and turn what used to be one of the Nuggets’ biggest strengths into one of their liabilities.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Denver Nuggets

  • PG – Ty Lawson
  • SG – Randy Foye
  • SF – Jordan Hamilton
  • PF – Kenneth Faried
  • C – JJ Hickson

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

1. Pick and roll defense – Ty Lawson and Nate Robinson are great at breaking down a defense at the point of attack from the pick and role. If a defender goes under the pick, the two guards are able to punish the defenders with their shooting (over 35% 3-point shooting for both guards). If a defender tries to go over, both guards are quick enough to get past the initial line of defense. Luckily, the Denver big men aren’t great shooters, so the Thunder big men should be able to ice the picks if they happen from the free throw line and up.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Denver Nuggets

2. Bench scoring – Injuries to JaVale McGee, Danilo Gallinari, and Wilson Chandler, along with the “suspended/awaiting to be traded” Andre Miller, have decimated the depth the Nuggets once had. The Thunder bench struggled in the last game against the Jazz, so I expect them to come out focused and ready to attack.

3. Thin air – Kevin Durant and Reggie Jackson probably played more minutes than they expected on Tuesday, and appeared a bit winded near the end of the game. It will be interesting to see what happens if this becomes a competitive affair and the game minutes go into the upper 30’s to lower 40’s.