Tag Archives: Dwight Howard

Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 77 of 82)

lamb adams thunder howard rockets

  • When: Sunday, 05 April 2015 at 12:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Its becoming quite apparent that the race for the 8th seed in the Western Conference (and Eastern Conference, I guess) is likely coming down to the last few days of the season. Both New Orleans and Oklahoma City have 6 games remaining as of the start of Sunday, with the Thunder holding a slim one game lead. Injuries and tough schedules have made it difficult for either team to gain any separation in the standings from the other. Just when the Thunder looked like they were beginning to put it together, down go Serge Ibaka, Nick Collision, and Andre Roberson in succession to various knee and ankle ailments. Just when the Pelicans thought they could gain ground on the Thunder, down goes Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson with ankle and knee injuries. While injuries are a shame, its good to know that both teams are battling through them and remaining relatively competitive. Here’s to both remaining healthy the remainder of this season and into next season.

This is the third and final meeting of the season between these two teams. Houston has won the previous two meetings. The first game was one of the more weirder games you’ll ever see. The Thunder were down both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, but completely muddied up the game and held the Rockets to 69 points in the game. Unfortunately, for the Thunder, they only scored 65 in that game. The second game featured all the star players, but lacked any real drama, as Houston opened the game with a 40-18 first quarter, and put that baby to bed early.

The Opponent

howard harden terry rockets

The Houston Rockets come into the game with a 52-24 record, half a game up on the Memphis Grizzlies for not only the Southwest Division title, but also for the 2nd seed in the playoffs. Houston general manager Daryl Morey has transformed the Houston Rockets from a purely offensive team to one that is one of the more balanced outfits in the league. They rank in the top half of most major categories and are carried by their MVP candidate shooting guard James Harden. With starting point guard Patrick Beverly sidelined for the rest of the season with a torn wrist ligament, Harden will be asked to take on more of the ball handling duties for the team. Veteran Jason Terry takes over for Beverly in the starting line-up. On the wing, Trevor Ariza has been a great addition as one of the better 3 and D guys in the league. The returns of both Terrance Jones and Dwight Howard have bolstered the Rockets’ attack, even as they work their ways back from their injuries. Off the bench, the Rockets have one of the most diverse reserve corps in the league. Josh Smith and Joey Dorsey provide help up front, while Pablo Prigioni and Corey Brewer provide wing help.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Houston Rockets

  • PG – Jason Terry
  • SG – James Harden
  • SF – Trevor Ariza
  • PF – Terrance Jones
  • C – Dwight Howard

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Dion Waiters
  • SF – Kyle Singler
  • PF – Enes Kanter
  • C – Steven Adams

Three Things

1. Dion Waiters – When you talk to Thunder fans about Dion Waiters, you usually hear about 2 things: his streakiness shooting the ball and his on the ball defense. Well, both will be tested against the Rockets. This group of Thunder players is at its best when Waiters is being effectively aggressive. That is, he gets to the basket, but when he gets there, he actually makes the shot or gets fouled. On the flip-side, Waiters will have to stay in front of James Harden for the Thunder to have any chance of containing the Rockets. The Rockets’ attack is almost always initiated by Harden, so staying in front of him is the key to defending the Rockets.

2. Foul Trouble – Steven Adams has struggled in the last few games with staying out of foul trouble. With Dwight Howard and James Harden both on the floor, it will be extremely important for Adams, the only defensive big currently able to play, to stay on the floor. Also, the Thunder wings have to play defense without fouling. Waiters, Westbrook, Anthony Morrow, and DJ Augustin are going to have to do more shuffling and less reaching.

westbrook thunder harden rockets mvp

3. MVP dual – This game matches two of the top three candidates for MVP this season in Westbrook and Harden. While Westbrook has won the last two Western Conference Player of the Month award and is on the Thunder, my vote this season goes to Harden. He has taken a team that many thought would struggle to make it to the playoffs at the beginning of the season and turned them into a powerhouse that is battling for the 2nd seed in the toughest conference in basketball. Westbrook has been great and is extremely valuable to the Thunder, but Harden is just a little bit more valuable to the Rockets.

Happy Easter to all my readers. Thank you for tuning in. 

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Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets preview (Game 38 of 82)

rockets thunder

  • When: Thursday, 15 January 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX

The Oklahoma City Thunder just experienced the NBA’s equivalent of an NFL bye week. They were off for 5 full days, last playing on Friday at home. Rest during an NBA season is always welcome. Probably more important, though, is the ability to hold full practices. In the 5 day break, the Thunder likely held 2 or 3 full length practices to help incorporate newcomer Dion Waiters. Hell, even Mitch McGary, who has had an injury plagued rookie season, likely benefited from the increased practice time now that he is healthy. After being shaky the last 3 games, practice time is probably something the Thunder cherished during this “bye week”.

This is the 2nd of 3 meetings between these two teams. The Rockets beat the Thunder 69-65 on November 16th. Yeah, that was the score of an NBA game that ended after four quarters played. The defense in that game was stifling, as was the offense. Of course, the Thunder were without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook during that stretch. .

The Opponent

harden howard beverly rockets

The Houston Rockets come into this game with a 27-12 record, good for 4th in the Western Conference. The Rockets have been one of the more consistent teams in the league, sporting a top 5 defense with a top 10-15 offense. The Rockets used to be a strictly offensive-minded team, but that began to change when the Rockets started putting the point guard responsibilities in the hands of Patrick Beverly. The bulldog defender changed the demeanor of the Rockets and wrestled the starting spot from Jeremy Lin last season. While not necessarily an offensive weapon, Beverly is the heart of the team. On the wing, James Harden continues his excellent play as a scorer (26.9 points per game) and has shown improvements as a defender after being much maligned last season. His improvements on the defensive end have bolstered Harden into the MVP conversation this season. On the other wing, Trevor Ariza gives the Rockets the big wing defender they’ve coveted for a while. The power forward position is currently a back and forth between Donatas Montiejunas and Josh Smith. Both offer the ability to be a stretch 4, but Montiejunas has been a little bit more consistent since Smith’s arrival to the team. Up front, Dwight Howard continues to be one of the best defensive centers in the league (11.2 rebounds, 1.56 blocks), while also giving the Rockets 17 points per game. Outside of Smith, who can be inconsistent at times, and Corey Brewer, the bench is one of the weaker ones of the Western Conference elite.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Houston Rockets

  • PG – Patrick Beverly
  • SG – James Harden
  • SF – Trevor Ariza
  • PF – Donatas Montiejunas
  • C – Dwight Howard

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Perimeter Defense – The Thunder have been having issues lately with defensive minded teams that can consistently shoot 3’s. They struggled with the Warriors a couple games ago, generally struggle with the Trailblazers, and always have a difficult time with the Spurs. With the Rockets’ new found love for defense, they now fall into this category. Where this comes into play is when the Thunder struggle from the field (especially from 3) and can’t stop the other team from consistently making 3’s. The Rockets have 4 rotation players (Harden, Ariza, Beverly, and Brewer) that shoot at least 33% from 3-point territory, with Montiejunas clocking in at 28% from deep.

2. Bench play – Jason Terry and Terrance Jones will be out for tonight’s game, and Isaiah Canaan and Kostas Papanikolaou have fallen out of the rotation. The Rockets’ bench is weaker now than it was at the beginning of the season. And the Rockets will be playing in the 2nd game of a back to back after having to travel back from the East Coast. If the Thunder bench can win the battle of the reserves handily, the Thunder should be able to win this game going away.

westbrook beverly thunder rockets

3. Beverly vs. Westbrook – This match-up always sparks fireworks. Should be fun.

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Southwest Division

Southwest Divison

1. San Antonio Spurs

spurs championship 2014

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

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

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

  • Aron Baynes – Unsigned

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 59-23

2. Memphis Grizzlies

prince gasol allen conley randolph grizzlies

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

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

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

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

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 54-28

3. Dallas Mavericks

nowitzki ellis mavericks

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

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

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

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

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 53-29

4. Houston Rockets

harden howard rockets

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

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

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

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

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 47-35

5. New Orleans Pelicans

Jrue Holiday, Tony Wroten, Anthony Davis

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

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

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

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 42-40

Breaking Down the 2014-15 Thunder Schedule

nba schedule

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

October 29, 2014 – November 14, 2014

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

Possible Trap: Three back to backs.

  • Record through 10 games – 8-2

November 16, 2014 – December 7, 2014

westbrook thunder barnes warriors

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

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

  • Record through 20 games – 16-4

December 9, 2014 – December 23, 2014

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

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

  • Record through 29 games – 23-6

December 25, 2014 – February 11, 2015

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

durant thunder wall wizards

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

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

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

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

  • Record through 53 games – 40-13

February 19, 2015 – March 5, 2015

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

  • Record through 62 games – 46-16

March 8, 2015 – March 24, 2015

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

  • Record through 71 games – 53-18

March 25, 2015 – April 15, 2015

durant thunder duncan leonard spurs

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

  • Record through 82 games – 61-21

April 18, 2015 – mid June 2015

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

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

Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets preview (Game 75 of 82)

durant parsons thunder rockets

  • When: Friday, 04 April 2014 at 8:30 PM CST
  • Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX

If you are a guaranteed playoff team and are satisfied with your seeding, the last month of the season is more like a playoff preseason. The team wants to work out any kinks in order to be a well-oiled machine heading into the playoffs. But a team also wants to either rest it’s top players or get them healthy by the time the second season starts. The Thunder are firmly entrenched in the No. 2 slot of the Western Conference. Barring a collapse by the Spurs or an uprising (with a Thunder collapse) of the Clippers, this is where the Thunder will be when the playoffs begin.

The Thunder will be going for their 2nd 4-game regular season sweep of a Texas team when they travel to Houston to take on the Rockets. The Thunder have won the first three games of the season series by an average of 17 points.

The Opponent

harden parsons lin asik delfino rockets

The Rockets are currently 49-25 and in the 4th spot in the Western Conference. They are trying to hold off the Portland Trailblazers who are 1 game behind them and charging fast. Injuries are starting to rear their ugly heads in Houston and have had a profound effect on the Rockets in the last 3 games. Defensive stalwarts Dwight Howard (ankle) and Patrick Beverly (knee) have missed the last 3 games, and the Rockets have given up an average of 110 points in that trio of games.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Houston Rockets

  • PG – Jeremy Lin
  • SG – James Harden
  • SF – Chandler Parsons
  • PF – Terrence Jones
  • C – Omer Asik

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Defense – Who ever plays defense in this game will win it. With defensive stalwarts like Howard, Beverly, Sefolosha, and Perkins out with various injuries, offense will be the law of the land. All things being equal offensively, the Thunder have a better defensive foundation and should be able to lock the Rockets down enough to pull out a victory.

2. Desperation – While the Rockets may not be “fighting for a playoff spot” desperate, they are fighting to, at least, maintain home court in the first round. The Rockets have lost 3 in a row, while their pursuers, the Trailblazers, have won 4 in a row. Luckily for the Rockets, they own the tiebreaker between the two teams.

durant garcia thunder rockets

3. The Streak – Kevin Durant’s scoring streak could possibly reach mythical proportions tonight as he goes for 40 straight games of 25+ points. You can bet that Francisco Garcia will try his hardest to prevent Durant from continuing his streak. If achieved, he will be in the company of greats. Names like Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, and Wilt Chamberlain will be associated with Durant. In fact, its almost a good place to start a Mt. Rushmore conversation….or not.

Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 64 of 82)

westbrook durant thunder rockets

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

There are so many narratives to this game, I’m just going to bullet point every one of them:

  • Russell Westbrook vs. Patrick Beverly – When Oklahoma City fans look at Beverly, we see the franchise’s mortality in the balance, at least for this core group of players (Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Perkins, Sefolosha, Collison). Everything was going great for the first 5 seasons in OKC (steady  progression, draft picks working out, player development, and, most importantly, health). But that all came crashing down on April 25, 2013, when Westbrook had to go under the knife for a meniscus tear suffered the night before. The tear, caused by Beverly’s reckless attempt at stealing the ball as Westbrook was calling for a routine ‘across the timeline’ timeout, caused the Thunder, who were considered to be title contenders, to flame out in the 2nd round of the playoffs.

westbrook thunder rockets

This will be the first meeting between Westbrook and Beverly since the knee injury in last season’s playoffs. I would not expect any retaliation from Westbrook, as he has stated time and time again that he has no issues with Beverly personally. But OKC fans remember, everytime they see Beverly, that this is the man that not only crashed into Westbrook’s knee, but also, possibly, crashed into the Thunder’s chance at winning a title in the future.

  • Perimeter defense – If the Thunder continue with the same issues they had with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns, then they might be in for a long night against the Rockets. While those other teams had great 3-point shooters and good dribble-penetrators, the Rockets add another wrinkle to that mix: Dwight Howard. None of those teams had the inside presence that the Rockets have. Add to that the fact that our “Dwight-stopper” is currently out with injury, and that could possibly compound the situation.

Remember, the Rockets did hang 73 on the Thunder in one half in their last game. In that half, they made 11 three-pointers (8 in the 2nd quarter). That 2nd quarter was very reminiscent to what happened to the Thunder in the last two 3rd quarters. In those 3 quarters, the Thunder gave up an average of 39 points, which can be a back breaker that can be very difficult to come back from. The good news from that last Rockets’ game was what happened in the 2nd half. The Thunder buckled down on defense and allowed the Rockets to score only 19 points for the entire 2nd half. They will need to find some sort of middle ground to balance themselves out.

  • Rumors of selfishness – If there is one that thing has never really surfaced in the first 5 1/2 seasons of Thunder basketball, it’s rumors of selfishness. Now, athletes are selfish in nature to begin with. But there has never been any rumblings of selfishness affecting the Thunder’s culture and their play on the court. That came to a head in recent days, with Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman writing:

This team is no longer playing for each other. Too many guys have different agendas. Too many are doing their own thing. Too many are playing for the wrong reasons. Kevin Durant is gunning for his first most valuable player award. Reggie Jackson is playing for a lucrative extension this summer.Russell Westbrook is working himself back into shape. It’s selfish basketball, the kind we’ve rarely seen take shape in OKC. It doesn’t define all 48 minutes. But it’s seen in stretches. Far too many of them.

In addition, interviews in the last couple of days with Nick Collison and Derek Fisher, two of the elder statesmen of the team, don’t exactly ooze with words of team chemistry and kumbaya. This could just simply be a bump in the road or it could be more. It will be very interesting to see how the team responds tonight as they play one of their chief rivals in the conference.

  • James Harden – He’s coming to town once again. Nuff said.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Houston Rockets

  • PG – Patrick Beverly
  • SG – James Harden
  • SF – Chandler Parsons
  • PF – Terrence Jones
  • C – Dwight Howard

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Perry Jones III
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

Turnovers – Houston is a team that feasts on turnovers. They have an extremely athletic team that can turn and run on a dime. They usually have 3 capable ball handlers on the floor at all times. If the Thunder can limit the turnovers, then it’ll limit the opportunities the Rockets have on the offensive end of the floor.

harden ibaka thunder rockets

Defending the paint – In the last 2 games, the Thunder have given up 92 points in the paint! Also, the Suns and Lakers combined to take 69 free throws. Add those two things up and what does it equal??? Crappy defense. The perimeter players are playing the vaunted Ole’ defense, while the post players are either too slow on their rotations or hacking the drivers to send them to the line.

Stopping Runs – The Thunder’s defense the last two games hasn’t necessarily been horrible for the full 48 minutes. Where they’ve suffered has been in stopping runs, especially when a team/player gets hot from the perimeter. Houston has a handful of players that can get scorching hot from the perimeter.

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.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets preview (Game 39 of 82)

harden durant thunder rockets

  • When: Thursday, 16 January 2014 at 8:30 PM CST
  • Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX

Exes; sometimes it ends badly and sometimes it ends on good terms. But most people like to keep tabs on their exes mainly for comparative purposes. When the Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets before the beginning of last season, he went from beloved Bearded One to an ex. It’s only natural for us to keep tabs on him. And honestly, for the most part, the split has worked out for both parties. Oklahoma City is still a contender and has more salary cap flexibility than before, and Houston is on the cusp of building a possible title contender also.

This will be the second meeting of the year between these two teams. Oklahoma City won the first meeting in OKC, 117-86, blitzing the Rockets from the outset and never letting their foot off the pedal. Since the Harden trade, OKC is 7-3 against the Rockets, to include the playoff series from last season.

The Opponent

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The Rockets currently sit at 26-14, good for 5th in the loaded Western Conference. The Rockets balance a great scoring attack (105.2 ppg) with a middle of the road defense, allowing 101.7 ppg. Their attack is spear-headed by former Thunder guard James Harden, whose attacking nature and ability to playmake lends itself beautifully to an offense with an athletic big (Dwight Howard) and a plethora of 3-point shooters. The Rockets’ bench has been plagued by injuries to Patrick Beverly and Omer Asik.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Houston Rockets

  • PG – Jeremy Lin
  • SG – James Harden
  • SF – Chandler Parsons
  • PF – Terrence Jones
  • C – Dwight Howard

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Defenders defending – In most games, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha are liabilities. Their inabilities to give anything to the team on the offensive end of the floor becomes a hindrance. But in games where the opponent’s best players are the center and the SG, their strengths are maximized. Earn your money gentlemen.

howard perkins thunder rockets

2. Attacking – The Rockets’ bench is thin due to injuries. If the Thunder can attack the basket and draw some early fouls against the Rockets’ major players, that will help the Thunder’s attack.

3. We’ve won before – Every game without Westbrook has been a struggle, except for the Houston game. We’ve beat this team before without Agent 0. I think, mentally, that takes a lot of pressure off the team.

Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 30 of 82)

durant harden thunder rockets

  • When: Sunday, 29 December 2013 at 6:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

We’ve seen this script before. The Oklahoma City Thunder facing the Houston Rockets in a game without Russell Westbrook. This is the second game for the Thunder without Russell Westbrook after his 2nd arthroscopic knee surgery in less than 3 months. They eeked out a win on the road against the Charlotte Bobcats, 89-85, in their last game. In the game, Kevin Durant had 34 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists, while Thabo Sefolosha had possibly his best offensive game of the season with 12 points on 3/5 shooting from the 3-point line.

The Thunder won the season series against the Rockets 2-1 last season and then met them in the first round of the playoffs. The Thunder ended up winning the series 4-2, but lost Russell Westbrook after Game 2 to a torn meniscus that required surgery.

The Opponent

lin howard harden rockets

The Houston Rockets come into the game with a 21-11 record and a 3 game win streak. They are the 3rd highest scoring team in the NBA at 106.3 points per game, but are only 20th in opponent ppg, giving up an average of 101.8 points per game. Offensively, the Rockets are a full throttle attacking team, led by former Thunder player James Harden. The 3-wing lineup of Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons, and Harden all have the ability to either penetrate into the lane, draw fouls, and make 3’s. Inside, free agent acquisition Dwight Howard is starting to look like the Howard of the Orlando days and not the oft-injured Howard of last season. He’s a walking double double machine, and provides them with semblance of defense. The bench is veteran-laden and scrappy, with players like Francisco Garcia, Aaron Brooks, and Omri Casspi getting minutes for them.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Houston Rockets

  • PG – Jeremy Lin
  • SG – James Harden
  • SF – Chandler Parsons
  • PF – Terrence Jones
  • C – Dwight Howard

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Defenders earning their money – This is the reason why Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha have a place in our starting line-up. For games like this. Dwight Howard is the type of center that Perkins is made to handle. He isn’t overly adept at offensive and stays in the post. Steven Adams will also be important in defending Howard, especially if foul trouble comes into play. Sefolosha had a lot of success in the first two meetings between these teams last season holding Harden to 9-33 FG shooting. Then Harden erupted for a career high 46 points in the 3rd game. Harden is the type of player that can get hot quickly, but can also be a chucker that’ll keep shooting to get back his rhythm.

harden sefolosha ibaka thunder rockets

2. Perimeter defense – If Perkins and Adams can handle Howard on the inside, there should be no reason why the perimeter defenders need to stray from the shooters. Houston has almost cloned what Orlando had 3 seasons ago, with Howard in the middle and a bunch of shooters around him. Also, keeping Lin and Harden out of the lane will be extremely important to handling Howard and the shooters.

3. Dribble penetration – While Howard may be known for his defense, the wing players for Houston are definitely not known for their defense. Reggie Jackson, Kevin Durant, and Jeremy Lamb should be able to get through the first line of defense and cause havoc in the paint for the Thunder.

5 for 5: The Rivalries

harden sefolosha durant thunder rockets

5 for 5: The Longest Shortest Season  |  5 for 5: Tragedies, Courtrooms, and Beginnings  |  5 for 5: The Run  |  5 for 5: The Thunder’s Godfather

This past season, the Oklahoma City Thunder completed their 5th season in the state of Oklahoma. In a world dominated by round numbers, getting to the midway point is always a cause for celebration. In any relationship, you look back at key moments that made it possible to arrive at certain anniversary marks. In the next few weeks heading into training camp, I’ll be looking at 5 defining moments that made it possible for the Thunder to not only roar into the Plains, but also to do it in winning fashion.

For the third part in this series, I wanted to focus on the rivalries. Sports are only as good as the competition they incite. Playing driveway basketball against your kids when they are 5 years of age can quickly get boring (although palming misdirected shots in midair like you’re Serge Ibaka can be entertaining for at least an hour or so). But, try playing your kids when they are 18 years old and have had 12 years of playing experience. Then it becomes an entirely different ballgame.

When it comes to competition, I’ve always looked at the career of Floyd Mayweather Jr. with a sliver of disappointment. That he’s a great boxer with arguably the best defense in the history of boxing is without question. The issue that I’ve had with his career has been the level of competition of his opponents. Now, I’m not saying that falls squarely on Mayweather. The guys in his weight classes have not been particularly consistent in the past decade. He’s also “luckily” scheduled the right fights at the right times, choosing to fight boxers that were either on the downward slide of their career (Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosley) or fighters that were too inexperienced to compete with him at the time of their fight (Canelo Alvarez and Victor Ortiz). He’s never had that one opponent that defined him. Mike Tyson had Evander Holyfield. Arturo Gatti had Mickey Ward. Mayweather has…… (and therein lies the problem with his career).

mayweather alvarez boxing

If fans are the life blood of sports, then rivalries are the engines that keep them running.  You naturally root against your opponent because they are competing against you and you want to win. Pretty simple concept. But if you add something more to that competitive fire, it can act like an accelerant, creating an even bigger blaze. Rivalries, and the differing reasons for them, can be that spark. When it comes to the Thunder, I’ve categorized their rivals under 4 different categories.

1. Regional Foes

Geography and competition are probably the easiest ways to breed a rivalry. Whether it’s an intracity game between two high schools or a game between professional sports teams 200 miles apart, that desire to be superior to those closest to you is an innate characteristic of the human psyche. Even if the two teams aren’t on equal footing at the time of the game, the rivalry aspect of the game often lends it to be a close affair. Continue reading 5 for 5: The Rivalries