Tag Archives: Dwayne Wade

Daily Thunder Rumblings – 16 Oct 2017

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It’s Opening Week. Let’s Go!!!!!

 

Royce Young (ESPN) explaining why the Thunder could have a crunch-time conundrum on their hands: “With Paul George and Carmelo Anthony now his teammates, that appears likely to change. “Carmelo’s been a closeout guy the places he’s been, the same thing with Paul. But any time you have a team you have to do it by finding the open man,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “Clearly for us last year, somebody creating and generating a shot for himself or someone else, it was Russell. But obviously now with Carmelo and Paul being here, I think it’s about making the right play and right decision.”

The Thunder will be in the midst of a 3-game road trip when Halloween hits, so they decided to celebrate it a little early this year.  Continue reading Daily Thunder Rumblings – 16 Oct 2017

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NTTB Podcast (Episode 15) – Westbrook (finally!) signs his extension

IMG_4109On Episode 15 of the NTTB podcast, we discuss the following topics:

  • Westbrook signs extension
  • Blue and White scrimmage
  • Hoodie Donovan
  • Thunder season preview
  • Preseason games
  • D-Wade chooses the Cavs
  • Lottery reform approved

Intro/Outro music provided by OSC Productions

Thank you for listening. We will be doing a podcast once a week. If you have any Thunder or NBA related questions, make sure you hit us up on Twitter (@alexroig_NTTB or @Montero_A13).

We are on ITunes under the NTTB Podcast. Make sure you leave us a 5-star review if you can. As always, Thunder Up!

Daily Thunder Rumblings – 06 September 2017

img_4133-5Woke up this morning and it was a bit chilly! Fall is coming. Basketball is coming! Here are the Rumblings…

R.K. Anthony of WTLC says if Steven Adams is to be successful this season, he needs to work on his post moves: “Watch the Adams, Kanter, and Sabonis practice video again. Kanter and Sabonis utilize a hop catch. Perhaps without a great deal of enthusiasm or on every single rep, but the fundamental is there in their back-to-basket game. But Adams never executes one … ever. If the Thunder wants Adams to develop a back to the basket post game, it is imperative they remember how raw he still is for his age and must follow the basics on every rep, starting with his footwork BEFORE he catches the ball.” Continue reading Daily Thunder Rumblings – 06 September 2017

Oklahoma City Thunder at Miami Heat preview (Game 41 of 82)

durant wade thunder heat

  • When: Tuesday, 20 January 2015 at 6:30 PM CST
  • Where: American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL

There was a time when this match-up was THE MATCH-UP. There was a point in time where this game would’ve gotten TNT Thursday night love or first available Sunday after football on ABC billing. Such is the power of LeBron James. With James taking his talents to Northeast Ohio, this game has been mitigated to NBATV exclusivity on the same day the President will be giving his State of the Union address. In other words, don’t expect a 4.9 viewership rating for this game.

The Thunder finally have a bit of a rhythm going to their game. They’ve won 2 of 3 since their five day break and have scored 127 points (non-overtime) in consecutive games. They beat the best team in the league and then molly-whooped a lottery team on their own floor. Though the sample size is small, the team seems to found a comfort zone with Dion Waiters that is paying instant dividends. The Waiters-Reggie Jackson combo is keeping the pressure on teams, even when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are off the floor. Another plus during the Thunder’s recent play has been Serge Ibaka’s play. He’s doing a much better job of mixing his inside and outside presence whenever the team needs it. In the Warriors game, Ibaka shredded Golden State in the 4th quarter, scoring 10 consecutive points on 4 shots (2 lay-ups, 1 dunk, and a 3-pointer), which were all assisted by Westbrook. Then, against Orlando, with the lane opening up like the Red Sea for the Thunder’s playmakers, Ibaka stepped to the outside and thrashed the Magic with four 3-pointers.

This is the first of 2 meetings this season between these two teams. These teams split their meetings last season, with each team winning on the other’s home floor.

The Opponent

MIAMI HEAT V ATLANTA HAWKS

The Miami Heat currently stand at 18-22, good for 7th in the Eastern Conference. They are bottom third in most statistical categories. They are the slowest team in the league (30th in pace), which helps their scoring defense out, allowing only 97.2 points per game. Unfortunately, they only score about 93.5 points per game. The departure of LeBron James has changed the way Miami plays, and they are still adjusting to life without him. Mario Chalmers still leads the current Miami attack, but is likely not getting yelled at as much. Dwayne Wade is leading the team in scoring, at 22.1 points per game, and in assists, at 5.6 per game. When Wade has been out, rookie Shabazz Napier has stepped in. Luol Deng is still one of the premier 3 and D guys in the NBA and has been a good fit for the Heat. Up front, Chris Bosh is still one of the better inside/outside big men in the league, averaging 21.6 points on 40.5% shooting from 3-point territory. Up front, Most Improved Player candidate Hassan Whiteside has been one of the more pleasant surprises in the NBA. Whiteside’s journey has seen him go from Sacramento to Lebanon to China to the D-League, and then to Miami where he seems to have finally gotten his professional footing. Off the bench, Miami has a couple veteran players (Udonis Haslem, Danny Granger, Chris Andersen, Norris Cole), but lacks a consistent scorer.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Miami Heat

  • PG – Mario Chalmers
  • SG – Dwayne Wade*
  • SF – Luol Deng*
  • PF – Chris Bosh
  • C – Hassan Whiteside

* – Dwayne Wade is questionable due to a hamstring issue and Luol Deng is questionable due to illness.

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Pace – The Heat play at the slowest pace in the league. The Thunder, when healthy, like to move the ball up the court as quickly as possible. It would behoove the Thunder to play their brand of basketball.

westbrook chalmers thunder heat

2. Bench – The Heat have one of the weaker benches in the league. With Wade and Deng a possibility to miss the game due to various ailments, the Thunder reserves can be the key to an easy Thunder victory.

3. Half-way Point – This is the 41st game of the season a.k.a the half-way point. It will be up to the Thunder to see if they finally end up above .500 for the first time this season, or if they, once again, dip a game under .500.

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Southeast Divison

Southeast Division Preview

1. Washington Wizards

beal wall gortat wizards

Last season: 44-38 (2nd in the Southeast Division, 5th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against the Indiana Pacers

Key Additions:

  • DeJuan Blair – Sign and trade from the Dallas Mavericks
  • Kris Humphries – Sign and trade from the Boston Celtics
  • Paul Pierce – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Trevor Ariza – Signed with the Houston Rockets
  • Trevor Booker – Signed with the Utah Jazz

Season Preview – The young players for the Wizards finally started coming into their own last season. John Wall became an All-Star for the first time, and Bradley Beal showed signs of being one of the best 2-guards in the league. In addition, the acquisitions of Nene and Marcin Gortat have given this team an inside/outside balance that is one of the better ones in the league. The loss of Trevor Ariza may show itself more on the defensive end, but Pierce should be an adequate stop-gap as the Wizards wait on the development of Otto Porter. The only trip up I see with this team is perimeter depth. If Wall or Beal go down for any extended amount of time, this team could be in trouble.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Wizards make it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 49-33

2. Charlotte Hornets

walker jefferson hornets bobcats

Last season: 43-39 (3rd in the Southeast Division, 7th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Game 4 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Miami Heat.

Key Additions:

  • P.J. Hairston – Draft (No. 26 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Brian Roberts – Free agent signing
  • Lance Stephenson – Free agent signing
  • Noah Vonleh – Draft (No. 9 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Marvin Williams – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Luke Ridnour – Signed with the Orlando Magic
  • Josh McRoberts – Signed with the Miami Heat
  • Anthony Tolliver – Signed with the Phoenix Suns
  • Brendan Haywood – Traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Chris Douglas-Roberts – Signed with the Los Angeles Clippers

Season Preview – The Hornets (formerly the Bobcats) come into this season with as high of expectations as they’ve ever had in their 10 year reincarnation. Michael Jordan and GM Rich Cho have slowly put together a balanced team that is built on defense. The key now will be developing the young talent they’ve obtained over the past 2 seasons, while also learning how to consistently win. Al Jefferson provides the Hornets with a go-to scorer, while Stephenson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will be nightmares on the defensive end for opposing wings. If the Hornets can find consistent scoring from the perimeter, they may be a surprise team in the East.

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 47-35

3. Miami Heat

wade bosh heat

Last season: 54-28 (1st in the Southeast Division, 2nd in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Game 5 loss in the 2014 NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs

Key Additions:

  • Luol Deng – Free agent signing
  • Danny Granger – Free agent signing
  • Josh McRoberts – Free agent signing
  • Shabazz Napier – Draft (No. 24 in the 2014 NBA Draft)

Key Departures:

  • LeBron James – Signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • James Jones – Signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Ray Allen – Unsigned
  • Shane Battier – Retired
  • Rashard Lewis – Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Toney Douglas – Signed overseas
  • Michael Beasley – unsigned

Season preview – It was a good run, boys. The four year “Big 3” experiment yielded four consecutive trips to the Finals and two championships. “Not 1, not 2…” wait, yeah, only 2. LeBron James returning back to Cleveland has brought the Heat back down a notch or two on the NBA spectrum. While Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh are still in tow, the engine that made the team run is no longer there. The team that we’ve seen for the past four years will be completely different. No longer will the threat of a driving James cause defenses to collapse into the paint, leaving a plethora of wide open shooters. Instead, Miami will likely run its offense inside/out through Bosh. Gone are the shooters that provided that floor spacing for James and Wade to operate. And the lingering concern over Wade’s health still remains. The Heat will still win games, but there will be a significant drop-off from the previous four seasons.

2014-15 will successful if: The Heat make it to the Eastern Conference Finals

Projected 2014-15 Record: 44-38

4. Atlanta Hawks

horford millsap korver hawks

Last season: 38-44 (4th in the Southeast Division, 8th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Game 7 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Indiana Pacers

Key Additions:

  • Kent Bazemore – Free agent signing
  • Adreian Payne – Draft (No. 15 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Thabo Sefolosha – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Lou Williams – Traded to the Toronto Raptors
  • Elton Brand – Unsigned
  • Gustavo Ayon – Signed overseas
  • Lucas Nogueira – Traded to the Toronto Raptors

Season preview – If there is a team in the league that wants the season to start already, it is the Atlanta Hawks. The offseason can be a cruel time for a team that is embroiled in controversy. The Bruce Levenson/Danny Ferry race fiasco is a situation that probably won’t be completely resolved until next season. On the court, Atlanta is one of those teams that’s always good enough to win more games than it should, but loses out on getting a good draft pick because of that. Al Horford returns after missing most of last season with a torn right pectoral muscle. Their front line of Horford, Pero Antic, and Paul Millsap will be one of the more dynamic front courts in the league. The addition of Sefolosha will help shore up the perimeter defensively, but will provide little from an offensive standpoint.

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 40-42

5. Orlando Magic

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Orlando Magic

Last season: 23-59 (5th in the Southeast Division, 13th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Evan Fournier – Obtained in a trade with the Denver Nuggets
  • Channing Frye – Free agent signing
  • Aaron Gordon – Draft (No. 4 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Ben Gordon – Free agent signing
  • Willie Green – Claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Clippers
  • Elfrid Payton – Draft (No. 10 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Luke Ridnour – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Jameer Nelson – Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Arron Afflalo – Traded to the Denver Nuggets

Season preview – The Magic are at the point in their rebuild where they need to decide on what to do with some of their young guys. Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris will be coming up on restricted free agency next offseason, with Andrew Nicholson, Maurice Harkless, and Fournier coming up with offseason after that. The Magic will probably be a big player at the trade deadline as they need to start moving some of their young pieces for either a big name player or assets. On the court, the Magic will continue to be an uptempo transition team, especially with Payton manning the point. Victor Oladipo will need to show improvement on his jump-shot, but Ben Gordon and Frye will provide some of the spacing Oladipo needs to operate. I see the Magic slightly improving, but still struggling to consistently win.

2014-15 will be successful if: The young guys continue to develop and the Magic end up with a Top 7 pick.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 26-56

Westbrook, Minutes, Playoffs, and Questions

westbrook thunder

In last Tuesday’s game, the Oklahoma City Thunder, in the middle of the tightly contested game with playoff implications, decided to sit Russell Westbrook for the first 3 minutes of overtime. He had already played 31 minutes in regulation and the Thunder were sticking to their strict minutes restriction diet of only 32 minutes for Westbrook. In that 3 minutes span, the Thunder fell behind by 7 points to the Mavericks and never recovered. Look, I get it. In the grand scheme of things, a loss in game 71 of the regular season when the team basically has either the No. 1 or 2 seed in the Western Conference locked up pales in comparison to losing your 2nd best player for an extended period of time. But the plan the Thunder are using not only confuses me, but also worries me.

The minutes restriction plan is pretty self evident. The Thunder want to restrict Westbrook’s minutes to reduce the wear on his knee during the regular season. As in everything in life, though, the tough question is, “What is the end game?” Due to the Thunder organization’s tight-lipped nature, its hard to know what the Thunder are thinking moving forward. Since returning on February 20th, Westbrook has averaged 26.7 minutes per game in the 13 games he’s played. Now let’s say he continues on this charted track of minutes played for the remaining 11 games of the season (of which he’ll probably only play about 8). When the playoffs arrive, is he realistically going to jump from 28-32 minutes per game to 38-40 minutes per game? Wouldn’t that kind of bump in playing time have the same effect on the knee as his first return did in the beginning of the season?

This is worrisome because it seems that Westbrook, at 25 years of age, is on a similar rest plan as Dwayne Wade, who is 7 years Westbrook’s senior. Is this a cautious move by the Thunder to preserve Westbrook’s career or is there something still going on with Westbrook’s knee? It’s a scenario that leads not just to one elephant in the room, but a herd of them.

westbrook wade thunder heat

Elephant #1 – What happens if a playoff game goes into overtime? Double overtime? Or further? Playoff basketball is coming and the intensity ratchets up. We saw that in the double overtime thriller that was the Raptors game and the overtime loss in the Mavs game. A coach can never take into account overtime when they are thinking about a minutes restriction plan. Scott Brooks can’t play Westbrook 36 minutes and then take him out the final two minutes of a game using the thought process that “the game might go into overtime”. What happens if Game 4 of the 2011 West Semi-Finals repeats itself? If you don’t remember, that was the triple overtime classic the Thunder won in Memphis.

Elephant #2 – Speaking of Wade, what happens if Westbrook’s knee flares up and/or swells? The last 2 times that happened, the Thunder sent Westbrook to the operating room. True, the first time was a loose stitch. And the second time may have a precautionary procedure for loose bodies in the knee. What happens the third time the knee swells, though? Will the Thunder sacrifice Russell’s future for immediate success if a championship is at stake?

Elephant #3 – If Westbrook is forced to sit, how will this affect the team’s rhythm? As we’ve seen in this slew of back to backs, the Thunder are a different team with Westbrook on the floor. That change in rhythm can work in the regular season where you may play a good team one night and a terrible team the next. But in the playoffs, where an opponent has ample time to game plan for most scenarios, that change in rhythm can be a huge hindrance to the Thunder.

durant westbrook thunder bench

There are a ton of questions regarding the Westbrook knee situation. It is uncharted territory, not only for Westbrook and the Thunder, but also for the fans of the team. The organization will always protect itself. If Westbrook reinjures himself or if his knee swells up, I don’t think the Thunder would hesitate in shutting him down and protecting their asset for the future. But it’s the way they are setting it up that worries me. Now, I’m no doctor and I haven’t stayed at a Holiday Inn Express lately, but to have a guy with a recently repaired knee go from playing 28 minutes in the 20 games leading up to the playoff to 38-40 minutes in the playoffs, seems like a recipe for disaster to me. Hopefully, the team increases Westbrook’s work load in these last 11 games so the jump in minutes in the playoffs won’t be a shock to Westbrook’s body (knee).

Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 56 of 82)

westbrook james jones heat thunder

  • When: Thursday, 20 February 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

First game out of the shoot after the All-Star break, and we get a prime time match up against our ultimate rivals, the Miami Heat. The story lines heading into this game are a plenty. The first story line is whether Russell Westbrook will return after missing the last 8 weeks due to arthroscopic knee surgery. As of Thursday morning, he was still a game time decision. If Westbrook does return, how will his presence affect the Thunder’s play after they adjusted so well to life without him. Another story line at play is the MVP debate. Kevin Durant was the favorite for the award heading into the All-Star break, but LeBron James decided to launch a “look at me” media campaign and has, once again, entered the narrative for the MVP award.

The Thunder won the only other meeting of the season between these two teams. After falling behind by 18 six minutes into the first quarter, the Thunder went on to outscore the Heat 108-73 the rest of the way. The game was never in doubt for much of the 4th quarter. It was the Thunder’s first victory in the last 7 tries against the Heat, which included Games 2-5 in the 2012 NBA Finals. But, in the end, that victory was just that: a regular season victory. In the grand scheme of things, when all the numbers are put together, that win in Miami will just be one of the many wins for the Thunder in the regular season. Plus, we all know what happened the last time the Thunder won a game against Miami.

The Opponent

bosh james wade heat

The Heat are currently 38-14, which puts them 2 games behind the Indiana Pacers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. It was during this time last season that the Heat were in the midst of one of the greatest runs in NBA history, winning 37 of their last 39 games, which included 26 in a row. The Heat seem to be raring to put together a similar run to close out this season. They are 11-3 in their last 14 games, and seem to have found some motivation in the successes (threats?) of the Thunder and the Pacers.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Miami Heat

  • PG – Mario Chalmers
  • SG – Dwayne Wade
  • SF – LeBron James
  • PF – Shane Battier
  • C – Chris Bosh

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. A Motivated LeBron James – It seems that the Heat may have been pulling a bit of a rope-a-dope in the first half of the season. They rested Dwayne Wade for some games, their role players looked old, and LeBron wasn’t his usual magnificent self. But it appears that they were biding their time for the 2nd half of the season and for the Second Season. All the MVP talk that filled the air in late January/early February was all directed towards Durant. And I think, for the first time in a while, James felt a little bit threatened/disrespected. The greatest usually use the slights as motivation, so it’ll be interesting to see what James does in the game in Oklahoma City.

2. Third Wheels – The key to this match-up has been the 3rd wheels (Chris Bosh and Serge Ibaka). After years of inconsistency on the offensive end, Ibaka seems to finally be comfortable in his role as the 3rd option/release valve for both Durant and Westbrook. His 22 points, 8 rebounds effort was part of the reason the Thunder were able to weather the storm early in the first game and finally take over in the second half.

bosh ibaka thunder heat

3. Russ – Will he be back or not? If he is, how will he assimilate to the team? More importantly, how will the team assimilate to him? It’ll be interesting to see how the team (and the team’s psyche) adjusts if Westbrook is indeed playing.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Miami Heat preview (Game 47 of 82)

lebron james kevin durant thunder heat

  • When: Wednesday, 29 January 2014 at 6:00 PM CST
  • Where: American Airlines Arena, Miami, FL

Game 47 of 82. Just another game, right? WRONG! All the players and coaches will say the same clichéd “this game is no different than the rest of them”. But they are lying to you. This game is very important for a myriad of reasons for both teams. The Oklahoma City Thunder are the hottest team in the league right now and the Miami Heat are the hottest team in the NBA this decade.

The NBA always prides itself in pitting the best players (and their teams) against each other. Unfortunately, a rash of injuries have prevented that from happening consistently this season. But here is where the NBA finds itself a few weeks before the All-Star break. The Pacers and Trailblazers both have great underdog stories. The Spurs are like that old guy at the YMCA that consistently drains mid-range jumpers while sporting 2 knee braces and goggles. But the NBA knows what it wants…the two best players pitted against each other. Luckily, the two best players are also possibly on the two best teams and have a possibility of meeting in late May/early June (health permitting, of course).

This is the first meeting of year between these two championship contenders. Dating back to Game 2 of the 2012 NBA Finals, the Thunder have lost 6 straight games to the Heat. Taking Game 5 of the Finals out of the equation, each game has come down to the final minutes of the 4th quarter. The two teams will meet again the Thursday after the All Star break.

The Opponent

miami heat harlem shake

The Miami Heat find themselves at 32-12, two and a half games behind the Indiana Pacers for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. They, of course, are the winners of the last two NBA championship and feature the winner of the last 4 of 5 MVP awards, Lebron James. Many have said that the Heat are currently coasting and not necessarily playing their best ball. I honestly don’t blame Miami, though. They’ve played in the last 3 NBA Finals, so their extended schedule may feel like they’ve played 4 seaons in 3 years. Add to that the fact that the major players on the team also participated in the Olympics during that span, and you can see why they might be coasting a bit this season. Regardless of coasting, the Heat are still in the top 10 in points scored and points allowed. Their Achilles heel may be rebounding where they rank dead last in the league. The Heat are led by their big 3 of James, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade. All three are performing at high levels with Wade having to implement a resting plan due to knee issues. Their offense depends greatly on dribble penetration and 3-point shooting. The Heat are in the top half of the league in made 3-pointers (8.1 makes/game), and make them at a high clip (37.4%, good for 7th in the league). James and Wade are usually the dribble penetrators who dish out to a bevy of shooters in Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Mario Chalmers. The bench is veteran-laden and can be dangerous at times, with Norris Cole, Michael Beasley, and Chris Andersen providing the relief.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Miami Heat

  • PG – Mario Chalmers
  • SG – Dwayne Wade
  • SF – Lebron James
  • PF – Shane Battier
  • C – Chris Bosh

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Scott Brooks – Will he adjust his line-up accordingly to combat Miami’s use of space or will he stubbornly stick with the line-up he’s always used? That will be the question heading into the game. I have no doubt that Brooks will adjust his line-up throughout the game after the first 6 minutes of the 1st quarter and the first 6 minutes of the 3rd quarter. But, the starting unit has had its issues with the Heat coming out of the gate. In the past six games against the Heat, the Thunder have yielded 31 points to the Heat in the time it takes from Perkins to be substituted out of the game. That’s an average of over 5 points that the team has to continuously claw their way back from early on. That’s takes a toll on a team heading into the final quarter.

perkins brooks thunder

And let me reiterate…I’m not putting this on Perkins. He is great against traditional post players and that may come into play if the Heat begin to use Greg Oden more often. But putting Perk on Bosh is just a bad match up and causes the defense to over correct and compensate for defensive lapses leading to open threes and blown coverages.

2. Picking your poison defensively – The Heat are going to do one of two things: either drive the basketball or dish it out for a perimeter shot. James and Wade are great at getting into the lane and sucking in the defense. Once in the lane, their options open up like a Golden Corral buffet. They are extremely adept at finishing (even with contact) or they can pass it out to one of their 3-point shooter or to Bosh for the mid-range shot.

The key is to try to stay in front of James. Kevin Durant is the best defender against James as his length bothers him, but that sometimes means that you are exposing KD to foul trouble. To combat this, the Thunder will shuffle defenders against Lebron, sending Sefolosha, Ibaka, or maybe even Perry Jones to guard James in order to ease the load on Durant.

When the ball is kicked out, the Thunder need to hustle back to the 3-point line and use their long wingspans to their advantage. This is where it may be advantageous to have Jackson on the floor due to his wingspan.

3. MVP – Will the MVP race be decided today? Probably not. It is currently Durant’s to lose. But if James defeats Durant, the national narrative will probably begin to change in favor of James. The stats mean nothing if your team is constantly losing to the team the competitor is on. If Durant truly is tired of coming in 2nd, tonight will go a long way to changing that narrative.

durant james thunder heat

(Bonus) 4. Getting the gorilla off the Thunder’s back – Even though it doesn’t count until June, the Thunder need to exorcise some demons in regards to their futility against the Heat. Regardless of whether the Thunder are missing their second best player or not, they’ve been playing in a fashion that if they do lose this game, it will still be a disappointment. For the psyche of the team moving forward, they have to win one of these next two games against Miami.

Thunder Halftime Report: 2013-14 Edition

durant fisher thunder

Forty one down, forty one more to go. The first half of the season for the Oklahoma City Thunder has played out like a full season. From injuries, to returns, to reinjuries, to MVP pushes, it has been a roll coaster of emotion that has run the gamut. Through it all, the Thunder have found a way to win 31 games and remain near the top of the Western Conference standings.

Here are 10 thoughts from the first half of the season:

10. The Western Conference is head and shoulders above the Eastern Conference in terms of competitiveness.

The Western Conference features 10 teams at .500 or above, while the Eastern Conference, until recently, only had 3 teams with that same win percentage range. Within the past week, three teams have joined the fray in the Eastern Conference with records of 20-20. The fact still remains, though: there’s an ocean sized gulf in the competitive balance between the two conferences. While Indiana and Miami are the crème de la crème of the EC, the West has at least 6 suitors for the top spot.

I have no doubt the Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers will be a great 7-game affair. But the amount of work that both of those teams have to put in to get to that point will pale in comparison to the battles that will be waged in every single round of the Western Conference playoffs. While that makes for a battle tested representative from the West, it also makes for a tired or injured representative that has survived a war of attrition. Something to watch for as we move on.

9. Scott Brooks needs to be considered for Coach of the Year.

Coach of the Year is usually given to the coach whose team unexpectedly excels despite what the prognosticators predicted in the preseason. If that is the case, then this award will come down to a battle between Jeff Hornacek of the Phoenix Suns or Terry Stotts of the Portland Trailblazers. When Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich have only combined for 3 COY awards between them, you know this is a fresh-face award. And that does not bode well for Brooks’ candidacy.

brooks jackson thunder

But consider this, the Thunder are tied for the 3rd best record in the league, while missing a top-10 player for about half the season so far. When Russell Westbrook was in the line-up, the Thunder had the best record in the league during that stretch. And the Thunder have had to incorporate new young players into the rotation that did not garner heavy minutes last season. The balance and willingness to adapt that Brooks has shown throughout the season makes this his best coaching job to date, and one that I think garners consideration for COY.

8. Serge Ibaka has been the glue that has held this team together.

Through all the changes that have occurred this season, the only constant has been Serge Ibaka. From Westbrook to Reggie Jackson to the young bench’s emergence to Kevin Durant’s dominance, the one factor that usually determines a Thunder victory is how well Ibaka plays. In games in which he has a double double, the Thunder are 14-3. In games where Ibaka scores 16 or more, the Thunder are 16-2.  It’s as simple as this: if Ibaka plays well, the Thunder usually win. And he’s been playing a lot more consistently this season. He’s gotten smarter defensively and is concentrating more on positioning than on chasing every shots that comes into the lane. His play has been solid enough this season to garner a real look at him making the All-Star game.

7. Kendrick Perkins currently has more value to this team than Thabo Sefolosha.

For all the chastising that Kendrick Perkins receives from fans and media members alike, he still has value on this team. Is he probably the worst offensive center in the league (starting or not)? Yes. What takes longer to get off the ground: Kendrick Perkins or an 18 wheeler using a manual jack? Probably Perk. But the experience Perkins has as a post defender is invaluable when the opponent has a player like Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, or LaMarcus Aldridge. His knowledge of defensive principles in the post also helps the Thunder out. And, well, he’s a hell of a screen setter. Is he worth $8.7 million (and over $9 million next season)? Of course not, but from team hierarchy perspective, Perkins is the guard dog that patrols the Thunder’s house, on and off the court.

sefolosha perkins thunder

Thabo Sefolosha is the team’s main perimeter defender and the anointed “corner 3” guy. Over the past two seasons, that role has worked out great for Sefolosha. He shot over 40% from 3-point territory and was, without question, the best perimeter defender on the team. This season though, his 3-point shooting percentage is down to 31% and his role as a one-on-one defender has started to decline. Also, the drafting of Andre Roberson and the emergence of Jeremy Lamb have given the Thunder options if Sefolosha leaves via free agency this offseason.

6. The team made the right choice in sticking with Jeremy Lamb. 

Heading into the last offseason, the Thunder’s biggest trade asset was guard Jeremy Lamb. Along with the No. 12 pick, the Thunder could have packaged their young asset to move up in the draft. Instead they kept their pick and chose to stay with Lamb. It has proven to be a wise choice. Lamb has provided valuable perimeter shooting to a team severely lacking it, and has been a great glue guy, providing whatever needs to be provided to win.

5. Steven Adams was made to play for this team.

When the Thunder drafted Adams, I envisioned a year full of trips down I-44 between Oklahoma City and Tulsa for the big man. Instead, Adams is probably in the second tier of rookies vying for Rookie of the Year. He brute physicality and footwork have helped him adjust to the pro game a lot quicker than most expected. He has shown flashes of an offensive game (hook shots, a developing mid-range jumper) and leads the league in PEFG (players ejected from game).

steven adams thunder vince carter

He is developing in this teams’ version of Bill Laimbeer or Dennis Rodman. A guy that who raises the ire of other players, but who also remains as cool as the other side of the pillow. He starting to develop a reputation around the league as a dirty player, but, really, he just plays strong. And this generation of player does not like getting physical.

4. When completely healthy, the Thunder are the deepest team in the league. 

The Thunder are constructed to have a little bit of everything. If you need big men, the Thunder can trot out 4 or 5 that get regular minutes. If you need veteran savvy, the Thunder can give you Nick Collison or Derek Fisher regularly. If you need scoring off the bench, I present to you Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb. If you need a jack of all trades, here’s Perry Jones. And that’s without even getting into Durant, Ibaka, and Westbrook. The Thunder are loaded when the entire team is available. When the starters sit, the bench has the ability to either chip away at deficits or blow the game wide open. If you want small ball, the team can put out 2 or 3 different combinations that are all very effective.

The point of the James Harden trade was to not only have financial flexibility, but also roster flexibility. Instead of having just one combo guard off the bench, you now have a combo guard, a shooting guard, and a developing big man. More parts for less money is always a win in any business.

3. Point guard is the hardest position to learn in basketball.

Combo guards sometimes have the most difficult job in basketball. A pure point guard has to worry about distributing first, then scoring. But a combo guard has to read the situation and determine whether he should pass or shoot. Sounds like the same situation, but there are two totally different mentalities involved. We saw that with Russell Westbrook, who had all the tools to be a combo guard, but had to neuter that a bit to learn how to be a starting point guard in this league.

jackson thunder

Reggie Jackson is learning how to make that transition. Even though he’s in his 3rd season, this is basically his 2nd season of playing. He was thrown into the fire his rookie season with Eric Maynor’s injury, but got sent back to the bench once the team signed Derek Fisher. In his 2nd season, he shuffled between the end of the bench and Tulsa for the first half of the season before finally being given the reins to the bench in the second half of last season. With the Westbrook injury, Jackson has had to commandeer the first team and has done a commendable job. Is he making mistakes? Yes. But he’s also showing signs of “getting it” and will be a valuable asset for the team moving forward.

2. Russell Westbrook’s health is the single most important factor in the Thunder contending for a championship.

That statement is self-explanatory. I don’t care what Russell Westbrook has to do to stay healthy for the remainder of the season. If he has to take every 3rd game off, let’s do it. If he has to be on the “Tim Duncan/Dwayne Wade” rest regiment, I’m down.  Whatever it takes to get this man healthy and ready for the playoffs. Because if he misses any time in the playoffs, the chances of the Thunder advancing drops dramatically.

Russell Westbrook

The team is able to tread water during the regular season because there a ton of factors that don’t exist in the playoffs. The scouting reports are shorter for regular season games. The travel is more daunting during the regular season, which leads to fatigue. But during the playoffs, when a team has days to scout their opponent and there are no back to backs, this is where the team will need Westbrook. Get well Russ!

1. If it wasn’t for the championship resumè, Durant would be considered the best player in the game. 

It’s funny how the narrative in a 41-game stretch can completely change. When the season started, everyone was wondering whether Paul George would overtake Durant for the No.2 spot in the imaginary player ranking that many media members have. Then, when Lebron James came out the gates shooting over 60% from the field, the MVP award was basically handed to him by most media members. But Durant just kept plugging along, doing what he does. Efficient, ruthless, and calculated.

Then when Westbrook went down again after Christmas, many thought the momentum that the Thunder had built up to that point would come crashing down. Rewind back to last season when Westbrook went down in the playoffs. Durant knew he needed to step up, and he did. But, I don’t think he trusted his teammates enough to allow them to do the heavy-lifting. Instead of focusing only on scoring, Durant instead became the de facto point guard, the best rebounder, and the best perimeter defender. In the end, that began to affect his stamina, and he found himself completely winded by the middle of the 4th quarter.

This season, though, Durant has trusted his teammates more and the results have spoken for themselves. Ibaka has started to become an extremely reliable mid-range release valve, and a great partner in the pick and roll. The team is rebounding and defending as a whole better. The bench offers more roster flexibility. And the offense, while still stagnant at times, has enough wrinkles to quickly get out of funks.

durant thunder batum trailblazers

But in the end, it’s all about Durant. And his play in January (37 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.9 apg on 52/39/88 splits) has been one for the ages. While MVP’s are not won in January, Durant is just now learning how to dominate, while not interfering in the game plan. He is doing this all within the flow of the game. It’s scary for the league when Durant is probably a season or two away from reaching his prime.

There’s forty more games to go. The Thunder defeated the Portland Trailblazers in raucous fashion to begin their next 41. The season is still a long ways from being over and many things can happen during that time. But, I, for one, am extremely impressed by what I’m witnessing from this team and what the future holds. Here’s to health and 16 more victories after the season.

Trade Talk and the Importance of Jeremy Lamb

Utah Jazz v Oklahoma City Thunder

The trading deadline in the NBA may be February 20th, 2014, but the date that gets a lot of the movement started is December 15th, 2013. That is the date when most free agents who signed in the offseason become eligible to be traded. As that date approaches, the inevitable trade chatter starts to ramp up. If you are a team that holds many desirable assets such as good, young players on rookie pay scales, multiple first round picks, and expiring contracts, then your name is bound to show up in a lot of the trade talk.

And that is where the Oklahoma City Thunder currently find themselves. With young bench players on rookie scale contracts that are performing surprisingly well and a couple of semi-attractive expiring contracts (namely Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha), that trade chatter has already started to rev up about the Thunder. Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio had the following quip on his NBA Notes from December 9th:

Multiple league sources have said the Oklahoma City Thunder are willing to deal second-year guard Jeremy Lamb if they can find a more experienced (and consistent) player to come off the bench. Lamb has already been traded once – from the Rockets as part of the James Harden deal before last season.

Then Bill Simmons on NBA Countdown suggested that the Thunder should trade Lamb, Perkins, and 2 first round picks to the Orlando Magic for Arron Afflalo. Now this would usually be seen as conjecture on the part of a media pundit, but a lot of fans around the country see Simmons as something of an NBA savant who is the end all/be all when it comes to NBA information/predictions.

Adding fuel to the trade talk fire, Reggie Jackson, who has been performing almost at ‘Harden as a 6th man’-like levels throughout the season, recently signed with powerhouse sports agency CAA. This is the same agency that represents Dwayne Wade, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony to name a few, and also partners with Roc-Nation, who represents Jackson’s teammate Kevin Durant. Did I mention that Jackson has a possible extension looming this offseason? Scary thought, especially when we all remember what happened the last time a great Thunder bench player was up for an extension.

Kevin Durant, Reggie Jackson

Whenever these trade talks start to ratchet up in December, it’s always important to remember the previous 3 months when there were hardly any trade talks. That period from September through November is usually reserved for roster building and evaluation. Yes, big trades do happen during that time frame, as we saw with the Harden trade last season, but those types of transactions are usually reserved for February, June, and July. When the trade talk is quietest amongst media members is actually when the trade talk is loudest amongst GMs. It is during this roster building and evaluation period that GMs try to gauge the interest of the “tradeable” assets on their rosters. It is when the posturing and positioning of “GM chess” occurs.

When you hear phrases like “multiple league sources”  or “an Eastern/Western Conference GM said”, just know that the news coming from that report may not be current. Take for example Jeremy Lamb, who was a very attractive asset heading into this season. The Thunder probably did their due diligence in June during the NBA draft to see if there was anything of value that they could get for Lamb. Also, during the preseason, when Lamb was struggling with his shot, there was probably some probing by Thunder GM Sam Presti to see if anyone would bite in return for an experienced bench player. But that was when Lamb was an unknown commodity, not only on the court, but also to other teams. But now, after averaging 10.5 points and 2.5 rebounds on 53% FG shooting and 39% 3pt FG shooting over the past 12 games while playing good defense, Lamb is not only a known commodity, but also a key component for a championship contending team. While the rumors of the Thunder shopping Lamb may be true, they may also be 3-6 months old.

jeremy lamb thunder 2

If you follow the Thunder and are familiar with their salary cap structure, then you would know that they value production at a low cost. The ability to take one player and flip him into 2 or 3 players of great value while preserving their cap space was one of the main reasons the Thunder traded James Harden. Could history repeat itself with Reggie Jackson? That will be the most pressing issue for the Thunder moving forward. But, while there are similarities between the Harden/Jackson comparisons, there are also differences. The Thunder are a lot better equipped to handle a contract extension for Jackson now, than they were when it was time for Harden to be extended. By the time Jackson’s extension kicks in, Sefolosha, Perkins, and, (God forbid) Nick Collison’s contracts will all be expired. That’s almost $15 million in available salary to play with. The good thing is, Jackson won’t command a max or near max contract. When I think of Jackson, I don’t think of a top 5 player at his position. Two years ago, you could argue that Harden was the 3rd best shooting guard in the league, even if he was coming off the bench. You can’t say the same about Jackson at this point in his career. Also of note is that Harden was traded in the offseason, not in the middle of the season. The Thunder wouldn’t dare trade Jackson during the season when he is arguably their 4th best player. If anything, they’ll Harden-ize him during the offseason.

Which brings me back to Lamb. This is why it is completely asinine to think that the Thunder would want to trade Lamb. His most important asset to the Thunder at this moment is as an insurance policy. If the Thunder decide to either trade Sefolosha before the deadline or allow him to walk in the offseason, they can feel comfortable in the fact that they have a player in Lamb capable of starting for them either after the deadline or into next season. If the Thunder decide to trade Jackson in the offseason, they know that they have a player that can provide offense off the bench and can play with the starters during crunch time. In the grand scheme of things, Lamb may be the piece that makes other moves possible.