Tag Archives: Jeremy Lin

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (Game 71 of 82)

westbrook thunder

  • When: Tuesday, 24 March 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s M.O. for the last month has been to go up about 2 games in the race for the 8th and final playoff spot in the West, only to go on a losing streak (two in a row, three out of four, etc) that threatens that positioning. The time is running short for the Thunder to continue this up and down cycle of playoff positioning. At the same time, the Thunder also have aspirations of reaching the Dallas Mavericks for the 7th seed. The Mavs have an extremely rough patch coming up in the next two weeks, and could possibly lose some ground in the next 7 games. This season has been a Sisyphean task, but with 12 games left, the Thunder are in position to make the best of their early season misfortunes.

This is the third and final meeting of the season between these two opponents. The Thunder won the first two meetings, but against one of the worst teams in the league, the average margin of victory has been only 4 points. The Thunder were without Kevin Durant during the first meeting and needed an Andre Roberson defensive stand to prevent a Kobe Bryant game winner. In the 2nd meeting, the Thunder were without Durant and Russell Westbrook, but still kept the Lakers at bay behind good performances from DJ Augustin, Enes Kanter, and Jeremy Lamb.

The Opponent

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Atlanta Hawks

The Los Angeles Lakers currently find themselves with a record of 18-50, which is the 4th worst record in the league. It has been a tumultuous year for the storied franchise, but not that any of that was unexpected. Kobe Bryant’s return from injury was marred by another season-ending injury, this time his shoulder. Steve Nash’s season, and career, apparently, was ended by luggage (no, seriously, luggage) before the season even started. And the Lakers’ star rookie, Julius Randle, played in only 1 game before succumbing to a broken leg. The issue with the Lakers this season has been defense. They rank 28th in terms of opponent’s points per game (104.5) and defensive rating. The offense is led by rookie Jordan Clarkson, who is averaging 9.8 points and 2.7 assists per game. Joining him on the wings are veteran guard Wayne Ellington and veteran forward Wesley Johnson. The power forward spot will see a change in this game, as Ryan Kelly will replace Jordan Hill in the starting line-up. Why? Because, it’s the Lakers, I guess. And the center spot will be manned by former Houston Rocket Tarik Black. The bench for the Lakers is veteran-laden, led by Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer, Ed Davis, and Jordan Hill.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Los Angeles Lakers

  • PG – Jordan Clarkson
  • SG – Wayne Ellington
  • SF – Wesley Johnson
  • PF – Ryan Kelly
  • C – Tarik Black

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

Three Things

1. Establish the Interior – Enes Kanter has had a double-double in 6 of the last 7 games he  has played. Steven Adams has had a double-double in the 4 of the last 5 games. Ryan Kelly and Tarik Black are starting for the Lakers. If Adams and Kanter don’t each end up with a double-double at the end of the game, it will be highly disappointing.

adams kanter thunder II

2. Stop trying to block lay-ups from behind – In the last two games, we’ve lost two rotation players (Nick Collison and Andre Roberson) with sprained ankles on “from behind” block attempts. Let’s not make it a hat trick for this crazy statistic.

3. Bench – The bench for the Lakers worries me a bit because of their veteran presence. The Lakers are a bit weird in that their bench players would be starting if they weren’t needing to keep their pick. In case you didn’t know, the pick goes to the Philadelphia 76ers (via Phoenix) if it’s outside the first 5 picks of the draft.  Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill, and Ed Davis are all capable of having good to great games at any time. With the Thunder’s own depth being a bit depleted by injuries, the bench could become an issue in this game.

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Southwest Division

Southwest Divison

1. San Antonio Spurs

spurs championship 2014

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

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

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

  • Aron Baynes – Unsigned

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 59-23

2. Memphis Grizzlies

prince gasol allen conley randolph grizzlies

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

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

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

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

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 54-28

3. Dallas Mavericks

nowitzki ellis mavericks

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

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

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

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

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 53-29

4. Houston Rockets

harden howard rockets

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

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

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

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

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 47-35

5. New Orleans Pelicans

Jrue Holiday, Tony Wroten, Anthony Davis

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

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

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

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 42-40

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

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 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.

Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Series Preview

james-harden-rockets-thunder

It’s a funny thing about fate. You usually see the final product taking shape from a mile away, but when it happens, you’re completely surprised by the end result. All season long the Oklahoma City Thunder have hovered around the top two spots in the Western Conference and the Houston Rockets have hovered around the 6-8 spot. It shouldn’t have come to surprise anyone that these two teams might actually meet in the first round of the playoffs. But when it happened, after the final game of the final day of the season, there was a collective, “Wow, we’re playing James Harden in the first round” train of thought.

Everyone will want to turn this into James Harden vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder. I see that, but we all know, that in reality, this is going to be the Kevin Martin vs. the Houston Rockets series, right? (Crickets, crickets) Well, as fate would have it, these two teams will meet in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. The top seeded Thunder versus the 8th seeded Rockets. The young, rambunctious upstarts against the grizzled veteran team (how funny is it that the Thunder are a grizzled, veteran, playoff tested team?). It wasn’t long ago that the Thunder were the young upstarts wanting to gain some respect against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. Now, the Thunder are the defending Western Conference champs and everyone will be gunning for their crown.

martin harden

These two teams played 3 games during the regular season. The Thunder took the first two by an average margin of 26 points. In those two games, Harden struggled mightly, while the Thunder basically got anything they wanted on the offensive side of the ball. The third game was a different story. In that game, the Thunder were up by 14 points with less than 7 minutes left to play in the 4th quarter. And then, Harden (and Lin) happened. The Rockets proceeded to outscore the Thunder 29-12 from that point to garner a 3 point win. James Harden scored 14 of his career high 46 points in the final 6:30, and Jeremy Lin chipped in with 9 points in those final 6 minutes. But that game highlighted the reason why this will probably be a short series. 

Schedule

  • Game1 – Sunday, 21 April 2013 at 8:30 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Game 2 – Wednesday, 24 April 2013 at 6:00 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Game 3 – Saturday, 27 April 2013 at 8:30 PM CST (Toyota Center, Houston, TX)
  • Game 4 – Monday, 29 April 2013 TBD (Toyota Center, Houston, TX)
  • Game 5 – Wednesday, 01 May 2013 TBD (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)*
  • Game 6 – Friday, 03 May 2013 TBD (Toyota Center, Houston, TX)*
  • Game 7 – Sunday, 05 May 2013 TBD (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)*

* – If necessary

Probable Starters

Houston Rockets

  • PG – Jeremy Lin
  • SG – James Harden
  • SF – Chandler Parsons
  • PF – Greg Smith
  • C – Omer Asik

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Series

1. Pick and Roll Defense – This is the Rockets’ bread and butter. Lin and Harden are great at breaking the PnR defense down and either finding the open man or driving and drawing fouls. Thabo Sefolosha is great at going under the pick, but can sometimes get caught in the mess of a pick and roll, allowing the ball handler to get to the basket. On the other hand, Westbrook is known to go over screens, which allow the ball handler a sliver of daylight to get a shot off. But the key to the PnR defense will be Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. Chandler Parsons led the Rockets in 3-point % and will make Durant pay if he tries to help on defense. Ibaka is going to have to stay out of foul trouble if the ball handlers get past the initial line of defense. 

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets

2. Pace – These are the number 2 and 3 scoring teams in the league. But Houston likes a much faster pace than the Thunder. In their two wins against the Rockets, the Thunder kept the Rockets under 100 points. In their lone loss, the Rockets scored 122 points. Houston’s offense is predicated on transition baskets and pick and roll offense. If the Thunder are to win, they are going to have to slow the pace down and make the Rockets a half court team.

3. Russell Westbrook – The Rockets have no one on their roster that can come close to guarding Westbrook. Lin is too weak, Aaron Brooks and Patrick Beverly are too short, and Carlos Delfino is too slow. Westbrook should be able to get whatever he wants on the offensive end.

russ rockets

  • X-Factor: Thabo Sefolosha – His defense on James Harden will go a long way to determining how these games will go. If he gets into foul trouble early, look for Harden to be in attack mode for the entire game. Also, his shooting will be key to keeping the turnovers down. If Harden has to stay on Sefolosha, that will negate him from helping out and  jumping into passing lanes to get steals. 

How this will play out: Thunder in 5

Full Circle: Harden trade revisited

james harden

There’s a reason why teams don’t like to trade core players within their own conference. The fact that you not only have to face them more times during the season, but also possibly in a playoff series, causes many teams to take lesser deals in order to trade a core player to another conference. That scenario now becomes a reality for the Oklahoma City Thunder. In their first round match-up with the 8th seeded Houston Rockets, the team will meet up with former 6th man extraordinaire James Harden. While the teams have already met three times before during the regular season, the stakes will undoubtedly be higher for these next 4-7 games.

The trade essentially comes full circle within the same season. When Harden was traded to the Rockets 4 days before the season started, many media pundits saw this as the first step back in a franchise that had progressed forward since it first stepped foot in the Great Plains in 2008.  Many wondered whether the team that many people had tabbed as the next great dynasty was finally beginning to succumb to the many ills that small market teams face. The new collective bargaining agreement, which was supposed to help small market teams with the concept of increased “player-sharing,” had actually robbed the model small market team of one of its superstars. Even the fans, those crazy, loyal, Oklahoma City fans, questioned whether the billionaire owners were crying cheap in the wake of a possible dynastic-like run.

durant jackson

In reality, the trade turned into a win-win situation for both parties involved. The Thunder front office and scouting team puts a premium on player development. It helps that they have drafted extremely well in the last 5 seasons. For every dud that’s ever gotten drafted by the Thunder, there are two studs in their place. For every Cole Aldrich the team drafts, there’s a Serge Ibaka or a Reggie Jackson. For every Byron Mullens, a Russell Westbrook or James Harden. The team not only looks at skill, but also character. They don’t just want players with specific skill sets; they want players that want to use those skill sets to reach their maximum potential, and then want get better from there. That’s what we’ve seen from the Thunder players when adversity hits. Many people wondered where the scoring would come from when the Thunder traded Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to the Boston Celtics for Kendrick Perkins in February 2010. They were trading two double figure scoring starters for a center that struggled to average 8 points a game and was coming off of major knee surgery. After the trade, the Thunder adapted and Kevin Durant and James Harden increased their scoring to offset any loss of scoring on the offensive end. At the same token, with Ibaka getting a lot more minutes, the defense improved. The team ended that season with a trip to the Western Conference Finals.

Many wondered whether that same type of internal improvement could happen after the Harden trade. Seriously, what more could Durant and Westbrook do to improve their games? They were already 2 of the top 10 players in the league. The fact that Durant and Westbrook improved their games this season came as no surprise. They knew that they would not only have to replace the scoring of Harden, but also the playmaking. While the superstar duo’s scoring remained consistent from the previous season, it’s their assist numbers that made the team better. Durant averaged a career high 4.6 assists (up from 3.5 the previous season), while Westbrook upped his assist mark by nearly 2 assists per game. Not only did the assist go up, but the turnovers between the two went down (even if slightly). In addition, the duo became very efficient with their scoring. Durant became the newest member of the 180 shooting club (50% FG, 40% 3pt FG, and 90% FT), and Westbrook chose his spots a bit more technically this season.

But what of the other Thunder players? Incremental improvements from Durant and Westbrook alone wouldn’t be enough to replace Harden’s production. Enter Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha. Ibaka’s scoring average jumped up over 4 points, but it’s in the matter in which he scored that assisted the team the most. Ibaka became one of the best mid-range shooting big men in the league. Where that helps the Thunder is in floor spacing for Westbrook and Durant. With opposing big men not being able to cheat off of Ibaka, the lanes opened up for the scoring duo. In addition to Ibaka, Sefolosha became a consistent 3-point threat and increased his scoring by nearly 3 points a game. For a team that performs optimally when the floor is spaced, the improvement of these two players has lessened the departure of Harden.

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In addition, the Thunder got a comparable player in Kevin Martin. While the season has, at times, been a bit rough for Martin and his transition as a 6th man, he has filled the role seamlessly enough to lessen the blow of the trade. The bench role transition was made more difficult by the fact that the Thunder not only traded Harden, but also 3 other members of the Thunder’s bench. The Thunder were, in essence, bringing in an entirely new bench unit. On a team that finds comfort in continuity, this was a shock to the system. It took about 65 games, but the coaching staff finally found a rotation off the bench that works for the team. What once seemed like a weakness after the trade, has, once again, turned into a strength for the team.

As mentioned above, the trade was a win-win for both organizations. The Rockets finally got the superstar player that they had been trying to acquire for the past few seasons. In an attempt to acquire a superstar player, that Rockets had been loading up on assets and freeing up cap space. When they failed to acquire Dwight Howard in the offseason, the team shifted its sights onto Harden, who was in a contract squabble with the Thunder. With their combination of Martin (expiring contract/comparable player), Jeremy Lamb (lottery talent), and draft picks, the Rockets finally acquired what they hope is the first piece of their successful puzzle. Not only do the Rockets now have a good young core in Harden, Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons, and Thomas Robinson, but they also have the cap space to go after another premium free agent this offseason.

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And what about our old friend, James Harden? I’ve always thought that sometimes, in life, you have to get pushed out of your comfort zone to achieve your utmost potential. The reality is that Harden was too talented to be a third option on any team, regardless of who the first two options were. He was a highly efficient scorer that got to the line in droves and was a top notch playmaker, to boot. He had shown that he could perform in high pressure situations and was beginning to be one of the most noticeable faces in the NBA (and its most noticeable beard). He was ready to be a superstar, and was ready to get paid like a superstar. The Thunder offered what they thought was a respectable offer, but also knew that Harden (and his agent) may be looking for something more. The market dictates what a player is worth. If a player begins to hear that he is worth the max, he’ll be looking for that type of money. The Thunder knew this and made a decision: either Harden sacrifices by taking a lesser than market value offer to stay on the team or the Thunder had to pounce on the best deal available. The rest is history. Harden was traded, got a super max extension, and became a superstar. End of story, right?

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Wrong. Much like the Thunder versus the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2010 playoffs, the Rockets are now the hungry, young upstarts trying to take the crown from the defending Western Conference champion Thunder. In a way, the CBA’s concept of player-sharing actually worked out this time. The reality is that when you draft enough talent, you’ll eventually run out of money to pay them all. It’s not a bad dilemma to deal with if you have the right brain trust guiding the team. In the end, after coming full circle, one team got better in this trade and the other team improved. I’ll let you decide which is which.

The Eric Maynor Sweepstake

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With Eric Maynor’s DNP-CD on Wednesday night, in a blowout of the Denver Nuggets, it was quite apparent that his run with the Oklahoma City Thunder is over. Ten months after suffering a torn right ACL, Maynor’s athleticism and confidence seemed to be wavering to the point that 2nd year guard Reggie Jackson took over sole possession of the back-up point guard duties on the team 25 games into the season. While Maynor’s numbers were never that impressive, his command of the 2nd unit (and sometimes, the 1st unit) showed he had the potential to run his own team.

Back about two years ago, Maynor was being hailed at the best back-up point guard in the league. He led one of the best benches in the league, along with James Harden and Nick Collison. In hindsight, though, it seems that a lot of Maynor’s success was due in large part to James Harden. The former Thunder guard is now the 4th leading scorer in the NBA, with a 26.3 points per game average. The skills that he is currently exhibiting now as a Houston Rocket, were on full display during his first 3 seasons in the league, the last of which culminated with the NBA’s 6th Man of the Year award.

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Maynor’s game was never dependent on athleticism. He was a prober that constantly tried to find the open man or an open lane, and rarely turned the ball over. After the knee injury, though, what little athleticism Maynor did have was sapped, as was his confidence. Maynor began to drive less and shoot more, leading to career lows in FG% (30%) and assists per game (2.1). Though he was never touted for his defense, that part of Maynor’s game suffered greatly after the injury. He was constantly getting beat off the dribble, which led to either leads dwindling or deficits increasing. After 24 games, the Thunder decided to try Reggie Jackson as their primary back-up point guard. Though not the floor general that Maynor is, Jackson’s athleticism and physical tools lend him to be a better defender and more of a driving threat on offense.

Reggie Jackson, Markeiff Morris

Being that Maynor is a free agent after this season, the Thunder would still like to get some value for him before the trading deadline. Maynor can still play the game, and maybe a change of scenery will help get his confidence back. Maynor’s value may not be that high, but the Thunder can package him with any number of assets to get a necessary piece to their championship puzzle. The Thunder are loaded with picks (Toronto’s top 3 protected, Dallas’s top 20 protected, and Charlotte’s 2013 2nd rounder) and young talent (Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, DeAndre Liggins, and Daniel Orton) that would be very attractive in a deal. I, for one, am not in favor of dealing Lamb, Jones, or Liggins. With the current cost of the top half of the roster, the Thunder will need good, cheap talent to stay in championship contention.

That would leave Maynor and Orton, plus the picks, as the only tradable assets I see on the roster. Being that the only feasible need I see for the Thunder is another bench scorer, hopefully a 3/4 tweener, I’ve decided to become armchair GM for the day, and see what moves I can come up with. Move over Sam Presti, my shine is too bright for the both of us.

Disclaimer: All moves have been approved on ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine. Any move involving Daniel Orton would need to get done after January 31st.

Deal 1

  •  Houston get Eric Maynor and the Thunder’s 2014 2nd rounder.
  • Oklahoma City gets Royce White and the rights to either Sergio Llull or Furkan Aldemir.

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Why Houston makes the deal – Houston is loaded with PnR-reliant guards in Jeremy Lin, James Harden, and Toney Douglas. If a defense knows how to defend the PnR effectively, it cuts off the Rocket’s first plan of attack. Having a traditional point guard would be a change of pace for the Rockets and will allow them to exploit other facets of their offense, such as Omer Asik’s post game and Chandler Parson’s 3 point shooting. Also, Houston gets rid of a headache in White. The verbal/social media sparring that has gone on between White and the Rockets is well documented concerning his mental health.

Why Oklahoma City makes the deal – While this eschews the notion of obtaining a bench scorer now, having the rights to either Llull or Aldemir would be a steal. Llull is the premier combo guard in Euroleague and would fit immediately into the Thunder’s rotation. Aldemir is great on the boards and would really help the Thunder in the post. Presti would probably tell White to stay at home and would negotiate a buy-out with his agent.

Deal 2

  • Milwaukee gets Eric Maynor, Daniel Orton, and the Mavericks top 20 protected pick.
  • Oklahoma City gets Mike Dunleavy

Why Milwaukee makes the deal – Milwaukee will be in a state of flux after the season. Their top two point guards, Brandon Jennings and Beno Udrih, are both free agents, though Jennings is restricted. The Bucks have been on record as saying they will retain Brandon Jennings, no matter what. A large enough extension would make retaining Udrih, currently making $7.8 million, nearly impossible. A cheap replacement like Maynor, who would sign for far less, would be more feasible. They could test drive Orton for half a season as all of their true centers are also free agents at the end of the season. The draft pick is just a sweetner.

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Why Oklahoma City makes the deal – Mike Dunleavy would immediately have an impact on the 2nd team as a scorer and shooter. The dribble and drive ability of Jackson would open up even more with Dunleavy and Kevin Martin on the floor together.

Deal 3

  • New Orleans gets Eric Maynor and the Thunder 2013 draft pick
  • Oklahoma City gets Al-Farouq Aminu

Why New Orleans makes the deal – With Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis, and Robin Lopez on the front line, Aminu becomes the odd man out. His inconsistent play has been a source of ire from the Hornet’s fan base. A veteran point guard would help this young roster out and an extra first rounder will help in the Hornet’s rebuilding process.

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Why Oklahoma City makes the deal – Aminu is exactly the type of player that the Thunder covet. A 3/4 tweener with possible upside and a long wingspan (7’3!!). In the right system, he could be a valuable contributor off the bench.

Deal 4

  • Phoenix gets Eric Maynor, Daniel Orton, the right to swap either of their lottery picks (theirs or the Lakers’) lottery picks if it benefits the Suns, and the Thunder’s 2013 pick.
  • Oklahoma City gets Jared Dudley

Why Phoenix makes the deal – Let’s face it. Phoenix is rebuilding and is not interested in long-term role player contracts. Dudley still has 2 years at $4.25 million guaranteed after this season, plus a player option for the same amount. Phoenix could flip Dudley for a young center, a possible better lottery pick, and a late first rounder.

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Why Oklahoma City makes the deal – The Thunder get a great role player with a good contract for the next 2-3 seasons. Plus, a player like Dudley has value and can possibly be flipped for other assets.

Deal 5

  • Cleveland gets Eric Maynor and Dallas top 20 protected pick.
  • Oklahoma City gets CJ Miles

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Why Cleveland makes the deal – It isn’t the Anderson Varejao deal, but Cleveland still gets a future first rounder for a role player that’s a free agent after this season. Plus, Maynor could dispense some veteran wisdom onto Kyrie Irving.

Why Oklahoma City makes the deal – The Thunder get a good role player that can shoot and stretch the floor. Plus, they don’t give up much.

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As a fan, I would hate to see Maynor go. He’s grown with this team and was a big part of its development. But, as we’ve seen with the Jeff Green and Harden trades, it is also a business in which every team is trying their hardest to get better. If a move can be made, and it is advantageous to the team, then it’s a deal that must be made. When the inevitable happens, I wish Maynor nothing but the best. He’s been a consummate professional and has a long career ahead of him.

Cause and Its Effect: A Jeremy Lin Comparison

Ever since Linsanity gripped the nation about a week and a half ago, people have been trying to find a similar situation to compare the phenomenon to. Its human nature to take something new and try to relate to something that has already occurred. Prior knowledge is one of our most important tools, but it can be clouded by our insistence on recency.

So when Jeremy Lin started dropping 25 points per game and leading the New York Knicks on a 5 game winning streak, people were hard-pressed to find a comparable variable. So, naturally, people looked in the direction of the last phenomenon, which was Tebow-mania. Which is a little strange, because the two phenomenon could not be anymore different. The only thing connecting them is the hype.

For a comparison to work, the basic elements of the hype have to be similar. And that’s where the similarities stopped with Timothy Tebow. He didn’t come out of nowhere. He was hyped coming out of high school and hyped coming out of college. Which is the complete opposite of the hype associated with Lin. A more apt comparison for the Lin-fueled hype is Kurt Warner.

There are two basic elements that make the Warner and Lin story very similar. First, it’s what I like to call ‘The Struggle’. We all know Warner’s story. Undrafted out of Northern Iowa, he signs with the Green Bay Packers who cut him, but advise him he has potential. Warner goes back home to stock shelves at his local Hy-Vee grocery story while working as a graduate assistant for Northern Iowa. He gets his opportunity to play football in the Arena Football League with the Iowa Barnstormers and goes on to have two of the best statistical seasons of any quarterback in league history while leading his team to two straight Arena Bowl appearances (they lost both Bowl games by the way). He finally gets an opportunity to try out for an NFL team with the Chicago Bears, but isn’t able to go because of a spider bite on his throwing elbow sustained during his honeymoon. He goes back to the Arena league and has his best statistical season of his Arena League career. In 1998, he finally gets an opportunity to try out for an NFL team, and eventually gets signed by the St. Louis Rams as their 3rd string quarterback. Warner barely plays in that first season and the team arranges for him to get some reps in NFL Europe with the Amsterdam Admirals. In his second season with the Rams, he’s promoted to 2nd string quarterback and watches as starting quarterback Trent Green tears his ACL in a preseason game. Warner finally gets his opportunity and goes on to have one of the greatest seasons for an NFL quarterback ever. The hype machine starts humming, churning out names like “The Greatest Show on Turf” to describe the Ram’s offense and labeling Warner the greatest quarterback ever to play. It was Warner-mania.

The ‘Struggle’ for Lin started when he was in high school. He led his high school to the state championship beating famed powerhouse Mater Dei and was named Northern California Division II Player of the Year. After not receiving any scholarship offers from any Division I schools, Lin decided to play for Harvard, who showed interest but could not offer a scholarships due to never traditionally offering athletic scholarships. Lin played four seasons for Harvard and left school as one of the greatest modern day Ivy League players. Many had him tabbed as a possible 2nd round pick as draft day rolled around, but he ended up being undrafted. His underdog status and play in college gave Lin a bit of a cult following, which only increased when he was signed by his hometown Golden State Warriors. The cult following continued to gain steam because of the Bay Area’s large Asian population.

Lin had an up and down rookie season, as he showed flashes of potentially being a good player, while being shuffled back and forth between the Warriors and their D-League affiliate, the Reno Bighorns. After the lockout ended, Lin was cut in a cost cutting move in an attempt to sign budding big man DeAndre Jordan. Lin was picked up by the Houston Rockets two weeks before the season started, but succumbed to the same fate a day before the start of the season as the Rockets cut him in a cost-cutting measure in order to sign big man Samuel Dalembert. The New York Knicks claimed Lin two days after the season started, and had him on the bench for most of the first month and a half. But injuries and lackluster guard play led to Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni taking a chance and putting Lin in the starting lineup. And what has happened since then, has been nothing short of remarkable. It’s a feat that has never been seen in modern basketball history. In Lin’s first 4 starts, he scored the most points ever by someone starting for the first time. Ever! We are talking about greats like Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Lebron James, Kevin Durant, etc. None of them scored as much in their first 4 starts as Lin. And of course, the hype machine took off after that, naming the phenomenon ‘Linsanity’ and causing New Yorkers to freak out and try to buy into any and everything Lin.

In both cases, the Struggle made each of their successes fascinating stories. People love stories that make them feel good. Stories about underdogs who continue to believe in their dreams and eventually succeed on a grand scale, critics be damned. It’s the American dream, encapsulated in leather, and shown on either a hardwood floor or a grassy field. But what makes these stories even grander is ‘The Cause’ behind each stories that gives it that extra push.

In Warner’s case, the ‘Cause’ was his openness about his religious beliefs and his “ahh shucks” persona. He wasn’t your typical braggadocio superstar that we were used to seeing. Instead, he was humble hard worker who caught his break and succeeded like the public never thought he would. He usually thanked God and his wife during interviews. We hear athletes thank God all the time during interviews, but very seldom do we hear them thank their wives. Warner was Tebow before Tebow was ever heard of.

People like to attach their values to their athletics, and religion, whether you believe in it or not, is usually at the core of their values. So when an athlete not only performs great on the field, but also praises the same deity you worship openly, you tend to cheer for that guy a little harder. It’s an attachment that goes beyond the playing field. The ‘Cause’ fuels the hype machine to an extent that the ‘Struggle’ never could by itself. We all love underdog stories, but if that underdog represents a cause that you live for, then you not only cheer for the athlete, but also for the cause, which usually wields a much stronger influence on your psyche.

The funny thing about the ‘Cause’ is that the person championing it (i.e. the athlete) usually doesn’t intentionally choose to represent that cause. In Jeremy Lin’s case, his cause is as a representative for the worldwide Asian community, but more importantly, for Asian American. There have been Asian superstars, but they have always been from the Motherlands (i.e. China or Japan). There has never been an Asian American superstar that the public can invest in and support. That’s what Lin represents. And to do it all in New York, at MSG, makes it even more magical.

We know how the Kurt Warner story played out. His play oscillated from injury plagued bad to redemption good, which led to him becoming a polarizing figure amongst fans. But, for the most part, he still remained a well-liked figure because he never wavered from his ‘Cause’. We are just now witnessing the beginning of the Jeremy Lin story. I have no idea how it will play out. I’ve constantly thought that the next game would be the one where he finally returns back to Earth, but it hasn’t happened yet. Along the way, I’ve gone from apathetic observer to curious seeker to all-out fanatic. While I’m not Asian, I am a minority, and do understand the pride that builds up when “one of your own” succeeds on the highest level. Last night, in the game against Toronto, in Toronto, the cheers for the opposing player weren’t just for his stellar play. The cheers were mostly for what he represents….and that’s the Cause.