Tag Archives: Golden State Warriors

Daily Thunder Rumblings – 11 Oct 2017

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Chris Mannix (The Vertical) on what pushes Paul George: “You need special talent to build championship teams,” George said. “It’s no secret. You feel more comfortable out there when you have guys who can play at the same level, who can play at a high level, play with high energy as well. I’m not going to be perfect every night. But to have a guy that can play at that same level that I can some nights, that I can benefit from, is a luxury. Look at Russ — the guy averaged a triple-double and had a hard time getting [in] the playoffs. It’s just hard to do in this day and age. That was one of the hardest things for me in Indy. I wanted to be there, I wanted to stay there so much. It just didn’t seem like we were going to get to that level, of having high-level talent to win a championship.”

Nick DePaula (ESPN) says Jordan is looking to discontinue Melo’s shoe line: “Jordan Brand is halting the Melo shoe series after 13 models, according to industry sources, making last season’s Melo M13 sneaker the final model of the line. Though he has continued wearing the M13 during Thunder preseason games, it’s expected that Anthony will wear a combination of shoes from the brand this upcoming year, such as the Air Jordan XXXII, custom editions of retro models, and possibly even a remixed version of his very first signature model.” Continue reading Daily Thunder Rumblings – 11 Oct 2017

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“I’m coming!” – The two words that galvanized a franchise.

westbrook durant

“I’m coming! I’m coming!” A simple exchange in what was basically a blowout in February, set the stage for what we’ve seen this offseason from the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder could not do anything when Kevin Durant left them on July 4th, 2016. By the time he made his decision, most of the top notch free agents were already off the board. Instead, the Thunder strategized from that point forward and hoped opportunities would arise from a turbulent NBA landscape. And arise they did.

The summer of 2016 basically set the stage for what happened in Oklahoma City this offseason. When every team was infused with an extra 20 million, moves were made that were almost immediately regretted once the ink dried on those contracts. Finding an extra $20 million in your team’s salary cap is like finding $1000 in between your couch cushions. Some people will make wise decisions with that extra money. But others will treat it like house money and YOLO the hell out of it. Many teams made bad decisions that summer that eventually led to their salary caps being tied up for the next 2-4 seasons. Continue reading “I’m coming!” – The two words that galvanized a franchise.

How the Warriors may force LeBron James to Oklahoma City.

lebron westbrook

I feel like I’m writing these types of articles at least once a week. Not that I’m complaining. There was once a time when the Oklahoma City Thunder weren’t even mentioned in the same breath when discussing names like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. But the Golden State Warriors have gone all Fresh Prince of Bel-Air on the NBA and flipped things upside down. In order to combat that, the big names of the game are figuring out, in order to compete against the Dubs, they will likely have to join forces together.

Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated is the premier basketball writer of his time. If there is a big story to tell, Jenkins is probably the one telling it. His stories are bits and pieces of not only the player, but also the people around said player. His articles are about as insider as they come; like a literal reality show. Don’t get him confused with Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Jenkins isn’t in the business to break news, he’s in it to the tell the story behind the breaking news.

When Jenkins speaks, it’s certainly not off the cuff. There is a lot of contexture behind his statements, especially when he says something that may be considered “breaking news”. He gets an insider’s view into a lot of the players’ lives, and with that, probably a lot of one on one time when the cameras aren’t on. Players tend to relax a little bit when the cameras aren’t focused on them. To say that Jenkins may “know” a player is probably understating it. Continue reading How the Warriors may force LeBron James to Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Golden State Warriors preview (Game 26 of 82)

perkins thunder

  • When: Thursday, 18 December 2014 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where: Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA

Most games in the regular season are not must-wins. Teams battling for the 8th spot in their respective conferences at the end of the season face must-win games. Teams on the brink of elimination in the playoffs face must-win games. But games in December can rarely be labeled must-win games. Even if the Thunder lose tonight, they are still well on pace to get into the playoffs comfortably. So while it isn’t a must-win game, it definitely is a “want to”-win game. After starting the season off in shambles due to injuries, it sure would be nice to send a message to the rest of the league that we are back.

This is the second of four meetings between the Thunder and Golden State Warriors. The under-manned Thunder played the Warriors valiantly in their first meeting, losing 91-86. That is the lowest point total the Warriors have been held to all season.

The Opponent

curry thompson green warriors

The Golden State Warriors currently sit perched atop of the rest of the league with a 21-3 record. After winning 16 in a row, the Warriors lost their last game to the Memphis Grizzlies in Memphis. First year head coach Steve Kerr has jumped out to the best 24 game start to begin a coach career in league history. The Warriors rank in the top 10 in most major statistical categories. Their defense is predicated on blowing up pick and rolls and forcing you to take mid-range shots early in the shot clock. On offense, the shooting of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson (or the fear of them shooting) creates a ton of space for them to do their work and for others to get open. The Splash Brothers are currently averaging 45.2 points, 8.9 rebounds, 10.9 assists, and 3.2 steals per game on 46.6/41.0/89.5% shooting splits combined. This backcourt is highly efficient and each player is capable of exploding for 35+ points on any given night. Because of David Lee’s injury and Andre Iguadola’s move to the bench, Kerr has been going with Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green at the forward spots. Barnes plays more of the small forward role, while Green has been a  terror as an undersized stretch-4. Both players are shooting over 35% from deep this season. Up front, Festus Ezeli mans the middle in place of the injured Andrew Bogut. Off the bench, the aforementioned Iguadola, Marreese Speights, and Shaun Livingston give the Warriors a veteran reserve bunch that will not lose them many games.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Golden State Warriors

  • PG – Steph Curry
  • SG – Klay Thompson
  • SF – Harrison Barnes
  • PF – Draymond Green
  • C – Festus Ezeli

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Transition Defense – There’s a reason why the Warriors are No. 1 in the league in pace: their fast breaks don’t have to go all the way to the rim. The Warriors are just as happy shooting up 30 footers while the defense is getting set back up as they are gliding in for lay-ups. It’ll be extremely important for the Thunder to get back on defense as quickly as possible to contest anything from Curry and Thompson.

2. Match-up Landmines – The first match-up problem I see is Ibaka vs. Green. It would almost be better for the Thunder to go small from the beginning with Ibaka as the 5 and Perry Jones getting minutes at forward. Another match-up nightmare is Kendrick Perkins vs. Speights. This manifested itself the last time these two teams played, as Speights went off for 28 points off the bench on an array of mid-range jumpers against the slower Perkins. Another match-up problem could be Reggie Jackson vs. Livingston. Livingston has made a career of taking small pg’s down on the block due to his height advantage.

westbrook thunder ezeli warriors

3. Sit back and enjoy – If you are a fan of basketball, these last two nights have been great. The Warriors/Grizzlies match-up on Tuesday was good and the triple-overtime thriller between the Grizzlies and Spurs last night was even better. But if you remember back to the first two games the Thunder and Warriors played last season, then you already have a blueprint as to how tonight might play out.

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Pacific Division

Pacific Division

1. Los Angeles Clippers

paul griffin jordan clippers

Last season: 57-25 (1st in the Pacific Division, 3rd in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 6 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder

Key Additions:

  • Chris Douglas-Roberts – Free agent signing
  • Jordan Farmar – Free agent signing
  • Spencer Hawes – Free agent signing
  • Ekpe Udoh – Free agent signing
  • C.J. Wilcox – Draft (No. 28 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Joe Ingles – Australian free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Jared Dudley – Traded to the Milwaukee Bucks
  • Danny Granger – Signed with the Miami Heat
  • Ryan Hollins – Signed with the Sacramento Kings
  • Willie Green – Claimed off waivers by the Orlando Magic
  • Darren Collison – Signed with the Sacramento Kings

Season preview – While one team gets embroiled in a controversy related to race (Atlanta), another team is getting out of their racial controversy relatively unscathed. With the Donald Sterling fiasco behind them, and with new ownership, the Clippers look to build on the success from last season. The highest scoring team in the league (107.9 ppg) brings back its main core, while also adding the perimeter shooting of Spencer Hawes and Chris Douglas-Roberts to the mix. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are legit MVP contenders and the Clippers should be in the thick of things when it comes to championship contenders.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Clippers make it to the Finals

Projected 2014-15 Record: 59-23

2. Golden State Warriors

curry thompson splash bros warriors

Last season: 51-31 (2nd in the Pacific Division, 6th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 7 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers

Key Additions:

  • Leandro Barbosa – Free agent signing
  • Shaun Livingston – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Steve Blake – Signed with the Portland Trailblazers
  • Jordan Crawford – Unsigned
  • Jermaine O’Neal – Unsigned

Season Preview – Golden State is one of those teams that seems to be on the cusp of becoming an elite team, but is missing that extra “oomph” to get them there. Unfortunately, whatever that oomph is was obtained in the offseason. The Warriors basically bring back the same team from last season. While Curry and Thompson may continue to get better, the rest of the team, for the most part, has already plateaued in terms of skill improvement/refinement. I see the Warriors still being good, but also, still not being good enough.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Warriors reach the 2nd round of the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 50-32

3. Phoenix Suns

dragic bledsoe suns

Last season: 48-34 (3rd in the Pacific Division, 9th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Tyler Ennis – Draft (No. 18 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Isaiah Thomas – Signed and traded from the Sacramento Kings
  • TJ Warren – Draft (No. 14 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Anthony Tolliver – Free agent signing

Key Departures

  • Channing Frye – Signed with the Orlando Magic

Season Preview – The Eric Bledsoe contract situation has the ability to cast a huge shadow on this season for the Suns. After the feel good story that was last season, the Suns appear headed for a fork in the road with this Bledsoe situation. If he signs his 1-year qualifying offer, that could play out any number of ways, with some of those options blowing up in the Suns’ face. The Suns may be forced to trade Bledsoe, in order to keep Goran Dragic, who is an unrestricted free agent in 2015. All in all, I see this Bledsoe situation being too much of a distraction throughout the season for them to continue with what they started last season. Add to that the fact the Suns will no longer be able to sneak up on teams, and you are looking at a team-wide “sophomore slump”. This team will score a ton of points, and will be fun to watch, but will they be able to stop elite team on the other side of the court?

2014-15 will be successful if: The Suns make the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 45-37

4. Sacramento Kings

demarcus cousins kings

Last season: 28-54 (4th in the Pacific Division, 13th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Omri Casspi – Free agent signing
  • Darren Collison – Free agent signing
  • Ryan Hollins – Free agent signing
  • Nik Stauskas – Draft (No. 8 in the 2014 NBA Draft)

Key Departures:

  • Jason Terry – Traded to the Houston Rockets
  • Aaron Gray – Signed with the Detroit Pistons
  • Isaiah Thomas – Signed and traded to the Phoenix Suns

Season Preview – The Kings seem to finally be on the upswing. They are starting to assemble a team around DeMarcus Cousins, with shooters on the outside (Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas) and rugged enforcers/rebounders on the inside (Reggie Evans and Jason Thompson). Rudy Gay will provide further perimeter scoring and Darren Collison will attempt to quarterback the whole thing. They will continue to fall short due to the weakness of the point guard position, but the maturation of Cousins will start to point the ship in the right direction. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Kings make a play for Rajon Rondo sometime this season.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Kings surpass 35 wins.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 37-45

5. Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant

Last season: 27-55 (5th in the Pacific Division, 14th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Carlos Boozer – Claimed off amnesty waivers from the Chicago Bulls
  • Ed Davis – Free agent signing
  • Jeremy Lin – Obtained in a trade from the Houston Rockets
  • Julius Randle – Draft (No. 7 in the 2014 NBA Draft)

Key Departures:

  • Pau Gasol – Signed with the Chicago Bulls
  • Chris Kaman – Signed with the Portland Trailblazers
  • Jodie Meeks – Signed with the Detroit Pistons
  • Kendall Marshall – Waived; Claimed off waivers by the Milwaukee Bucks
  • Kent Bazemore – Signed with the Atlanta Hawks
  • Jordan Farmar – Signed with the Los Angeles Clippers

Season Preview – As someone who respects Kobe Bryant, this is not how I envisioned his final years. The Lakers are going to struggle, and struggle bad. Kobe may have a couple Kobe games left in him, but Father Time remains unbeaten (unless your name is Timothy Theodore Duncan). The Lakers are loading up on short contracts to coincide with the end of Kobe’s contract. Then, the Lakers will look to do what the Lakers usually do: lure top talent with the auspices of Hollywood glitz. But until then, it will be a lot like Lolo Jones’ performance on Dancing With the Star, which is to say cringe-worthy.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Lakers keep their 2015 first round pick (Top 5 protected; if it’s outside of that range, it goes to Phoenix)

Projected 2014-15 Record: 29-53

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.

Thunder sign Reggie Williams to a 10-day contract

Iowa Energy v Tulsa 66ers

The Oklahoma City Thunder have signed Reggie Williams of the Tulsa 66ers to a 10-day contract. In 20 games played for Tulsa, Williams is averaging 20.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.9 assists on 38.7% shooting from the 3-point line.

Williams, 27, played 4 seasons in the NBA from 2010-2013. He played for the Golden State Warriors and Charlotte Bobcats during that time and averaged 8.6 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.6 assists on 37.1% shooting from the 3-point line. His best seasons were his first two in Golden State,  where he was primarily used as the main scorer off the bench.

Williams brings 3-point shooting and perimeter defense to the Thunder. With Thabo Sefolosha injured, Williams may see some time at the SG/SF position. The Thunder’s roster now sits at the max allowable 15 players.

San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 13 of 82)

Perkins duncan diaw leonard spurs thunder

  • When: Wednesday, 27 November 2013 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The San Antonio Spurs have been the Oklahoma City Thunder’s chief rivals for the Western Conference crown for the past 2 seasons and that does not appear to be changing any time soon. After battling it out in a great 6-game series in the 2012 Western Conference Finals, and going toe to toe for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference last season, these two teams seem to be on the same collision course this season. Yes, there are a couple other teams, like the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, and Golden State Warrior, that are trying to throw their hats into the fray. But the teams they are trying to catch are still the Spurs and the Thunder.

This is the first of four meeting this season between these two rivals. The team split the season series 2-2 last season, as the Thunder won the last game between them to eventually get the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference heading into the playoffs. The Spurs come into the game having won 11 in a row, while the Thunder have reeled off 4 straight. Each of these games are usually highly competitive affairs that almost always come down to a couple of possessions at the end of the game.

The Opponent

Los Angeles Clippers v San Antonio Spurs - Game One

Every year we keep wondering when the Spurs will finally act their age (old) and every year we are met with defiance from Gregg Popovich’s team. While the Indiana Pacers are running away with the media-driven “best record in the NBA” talk, the Spurs, as usual, find themselves tied with the Pacers (13-1), but with much less fanfare. The Spurs are 10th in the league in scoring at 102.1 points per game, but only give up 90.1 points per game on defense (good for 2nd in the league). They are a lot like the Thunder in that they have a consistent core of players and then have specialists around that core. The Spurs’ attack, which consists of a lot of penetration and 3-point shooting, is spear-headed by point guard Tony Parker. The Spurs have 7 players that average at least 10 minutes per game and shoot over 35.7% from 3-point land. Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard man the wings and are 2 of the 7 players who are very adept at shooting the 3. Even though his numbers are down across the board, Tim Duncan still commands a modicum of respect, while Tiago Splitter is grabbing rebounds at a career high clip of 7.2 a game. The Spurs aren’t afraid to use anyone and everyone off of their bench, but the mainstays are Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Marco Belinelli, and Patty Mills. Continue reading San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 13 of 82)

5-on-5: Analyzing the Thunder’s first 10 games

oklahoma city thunder huddle

The Oklahoma City Thunder have had a whirlwind first ten games of the season, but still find themselves with a record of 7-3. A collection of Thunder bloggers and podcasters have stopped by to discuss the beginning of the season for the Thunder.

1. What has been the biggest surprise of the season for the Thunder?

Alex Roig, Now That’s Thunder Basketball: The biggest surprise of the season for me was the quick return of Russell Westbrook. After the news broke that he had the arthroscopic procedure and would be out for the first 4 to 6 weeks of the season, I mentally prepared myself for a month of low scoring, frustratingly inefficient games. And this was before the Minnesota game. But alas, Westbrook returned in the 3rd game like a knight coming back from a victorious battle, and all was normalized in the land of the Thunder.

Royce Young, Daily ThunderGotta be Russell Westbrook’s return, right? Coming back a solid four weeks earlier than expected and completely changing the perception and feeling around this Thunder season.

Eli J. Friedman, Thunderous Intentions: The play of Serge Ibaka. When the Thunder lost Kevin Martin, people started to question how Oklahoma City would replace him with a third-option scorer. Many eyes looked to Jeremy Lamb or Reggie Jackson. So far, Ibaka has been that third option. He is averaging a double-double with 14.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks a game. Those are all-star type numbers right there. I didn’t see this type of play coming from Ibaka.

Zebulun Benbrook, Welcome To Loud City: The Thunder’s late-game resilience. They’ve had four games so far (Phoenix, Washington, Golden State, and Denver) where they’ve successfully re-gained the lead after trailing for the majority of the fourth quarter and much of the game. You might say that this is the bench unit’s fault, but I prefer to think on the positive side. Scott Brooks’ new flexibility regarding late-game rotations has paid huge dividends. Basically, he lets the starters and bench get equal time as complete units in the first 38-40 minutes of the game. Then when the game hangs in the balance, he throws in the Big 3 of Ibaka, Durant, and Westbrook along with the two other highest performing players, whomever they might be. This allows the team to have the optimal lineup at exactly the right time, and makes for some really exciting finishes.

Jay Smith and Andrew Schlecht, Down To Dunk Podcast: Without a doubt, the biggest surprise of the season was the quickness in which Russ returned to the Thunder. After two lackluster games, Russ returned 3-6 weeks ahead of schedule and immediately changed the team.

2. What has been the biggest disappointment so far for the Thunder?

Roig: The biggest disappointment has been the play of Thabo Sefolosha. Honestly, you could flip flop between Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, but Perkins’ play (or lack thereof) isn’t anything new. We’ve witnessed the gradual decline in Perk’s game, and almost come to expect it. But, Sefolosha’s bread and butter has always been perimeter defense, and, to the eye, he seems to be getting torched a lot more in this small sample of games than he did in years past. To compound that, his offense has been virtually non-existent this season. And by offense, of course, I mean 3-point shooting. In the Thunder’s offense, they need Thabo to act as a perimeter decoy/floor spacer when he doesn’t have the ball, and to knock down threes when he does receive the ball. He didn’t do that in the first 7 games of the season, shooting 3-21 (14%) from 3-point land, which has led to the early season struggles of the starting 5 on offense. He’s gone 4-6 from 3-point land in the last 2 games he’s played, so hopefully he has turned the corner. Continue reading 5-on-5: Analyzing the Thunder’s first 10 games

Enjoying the Storm: Westbrook and Reality

westbrook injury

There’s a saying for any situation in life. Believe me, I know. My mother has spouted off at least 85% of those sayings to me, all in Spanish. When the news came down that Russell Westbrook would be having surgery to repair a lateral meniscus tear, I went through the 5 stages of grief pretty quickly:

  • Denial – I thought it was a joke. I mean, the man played on the injury the entire 2nd half of game 2 and racked up 29 points. One time I ripped a hang nail from my finger and was out of commission for 3 days. You’re telling me this man tore a shock absorber in his knee and was able to play 24 more minutes of playoff basketball successfully? There’s no way he would be needing surgery.
  • Anger – Damn you Patrick Beverly. Yes, the “play on the ball before a timeout” play is one that a lot of players, Westbrook included, make to the tune of a 0.00000001% success rate. But injuries very rarely happen on those plays, especially surgery-requiring injuries. The fact that he completely launched his  body into a defenseless Westbrook was reckless and inexcusable. So, again, damn you Patrick Beverly.
  • Bargaining – After realizing that this upcoming surgery was not a joke, I started bargaining on Westbrook’s knee. I figured since he played on the injury, it must not be that bad. So, if it wasn’t that serious, maybe he’ll have surgery and come back in 12 days, like Crazy Uncle Ron Ron (Metta World Peace). I figured, at worst, he’d be out for 2-4 weeks. My logic was that if we could somehow push our 2nd round opponent to more than Game 5 or actually make it to the Western Conference Finals, then maybe there was a chance that Westbrook may come back to play for the Thunder this postseason. As you can tell, there was a lot of maybe’s in my bargaining session.
  • Depression – When the news came out after the surgery that Westbrook would be out for the entire playoffs, this was when “basketball fan” depression set in. The Thunder had battled all season long, not only to garner the Number 1 seed in the West, but also to exorcise the demons that remained from the James Harden trade. And now, against Harden and the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs, to have it all disintegrate on a reckless, stupid play, was completely and utterly disheartening.
  • Acceptance – Almost immediately after hearing that Westbrook would be out for the remainder of the playoffs, and after the depression wore off, I accepted that Russell Westbrook would not be walking through those doors in a jersey this season. It was after I accepted this fact that my mindset on this team changed. It was no longer championship or bust. Now it was about getting better and hardening our will for future success. Would I love to see a historic championship run this season? Of course, but the basketball analyst/realist in me knows, that without Westbrook, the mountains that are the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat just got a lot higher to overcome.

thunder starters

Once I had gone through my stages of grief, I started thinking about some of those sayings and how they apply to this current team. The first one that comes to mind is, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” I’ve always wondered how this team would react to a serious injury to either Kevin Durant or Westbrook. The Thunder have been beyond blessed when it has come to the health of their players, especially the starters. Since March 14th 2011, to include the regular season, the postseason, and the first 2 games of this postseason, the starters for the Thunder have played in 96.8% of those games together. That’s unheard of in the NBA. And none of the injuries have ever been serious. Now, the team is having to regroup on the fly due to an injury to their Iron Man.

reggie jax

From a player development standpoint, though, this is not a bad thing. What better way to cut your teeth than in the NBA playoffs? Reggie Jackson has steadily progressed in the last two seasons from a wide eyed rookie using his off arm to protect his dribble in traffic to leader of the bench unit on a championship caliber team. The time he is getting as a starter will have the same effect on his confidence as when Durant, Westbrook, and Harden all played in the Olympics. The “knowing that you belong” aspect of professional sports is often overlooked, but is very important in a young player’s maturation process.

Moving Jackson over to starting point guard also opens up a spot in the rotation for another bench player. Playing against a team that relies heavily on small ball lineups, pick-n-rolls, and 3-point shooting, DeAndre Liggins has done his job extremely well in his allotted minutes. Used mainly as a perimeter defender, Liggins has averaged 10 minutes per game and is a +11 combined in the two games since Westbrook’s injury. He’s disrupted the Rockets’ rhythm on PnR’s, has jumped out on the shooters, and has been surprisingly good on the defensive boards. This real time experience in the playoffs can do wonders for a player’s confidence moving forward. As the team (hopefully) moves ahead in these playoffs, it will be interesting to see whether any of the other young, seldom used bench players (Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Daniel Orton) will contribute any meaningful minutes. The “next man up” motto holds very true for the Thunder in these playoffs.

DeAndre Liggins, Omer Asik

As the Thunder continue battling in the playoffs, another saying comes to mind: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Just because one of your best players goes down, doesn’t mean that you stop playing. Look at the Golden State Warriors. David Lee goes down with a torn hip flexor in game 1 of their series against the Denver Nuggets and the team (especially Steph Curry and Jarrett Jack) responds to give them a commanding 3-1 series lead. Kevin Durant knows what’s ahead of him. He knows that from now on he will be Option A, B, and sometimes C for the Thunder. He knows that defenses will key on him with not only their best perimeter defender, but also with a 2nd and, possibly, 3rd defender. He knows this, and he’s ready. Players like Durant train for this moment their entire lives.  There was a time, six years ago, when Durant couldn’t even bench press 185 pounds. Now, he’s ready to carry, not just a team, but an entire city on his back.

durant

The last quote that comes to mind when I think of this Westbrook situation is, “after the storm, comes the calm.” The storm was the Westbrook injury and the chaos that ensued. But from this experience, I believe the team will be stronger, smarter, and hungrier. Players know that championship windows can close as quickly as they open. A snap of a ligament here, a tweak of a back there, or the stupidity of an over-zealous bench player, and your franchise could be set back a decade. The Thunder now know this. They won’t forget the fragility of championship opportunities. Though the expectations have been lessened, the excitement has not. It’s a new world out there just waiting to be explored.