Tag Archives: Jodie Meeks

The Truth Hurts: Oklahoma City and Free Agency

OKC-skyline

Oklahoma City has taken a bit of a bashing recently as the NBA’s free agency period has progressed. The Thunder have never really been a big player in free agency, and apparently, that was by design. Going into their 7th season, the Thunder have been all about development from within. Draft well, create a culture that values development, and reward the players that can be a part of a successful core. It has worked extremely well for the Thunder. Almost too well if you factor in the James Harden trade.

But this was the offseason where the Thunder would compete a bit in free agency. Because of their salary cap situation, the Thunder were never going to be big players in free agency. They were over the salary cap, which limited the amount the Thunder can give to perspective free agents. When a team is over the salary cap, the only way they can sign free agents is through the mid-level exception ($5.3 million per year) and the bi-annual exception ($2.077 million per year). With the luxury tax line increasing by over $5 million dollars, the Thunder had enough room under the luxury tax line to sign someone up to the mid-level exception.  After years of acting like 6th grade boys at a school dance, the Thunder were now ready to get off the wall and go onto the dance floor.

But there’s a sort of awkwardness that happens whenever 6th grade boys first build up the courage to go out onto the dance floor. Their palms get sweaty, they start to stutter, and they begin to worry too much about how they look to other people. And sometimes, those fears are realized in the form of rejection and ridicule. With the draft out of the way, it became very apparent that the Thunder were in the market for a 3-point shooter. Luckily for the Thunder, there would be a crop of shooters from which the team could choose from. Players like Mike Miller, Anthony Morrow, and Jodie Meeks were all set to be unrestricted free agents.

pau gasol bulls

But then something funny happens. The pretty girl that you’d always admired from afar, who recently broke up with her boyfriend, is suddenly eyeing you as you stroll onto the dance floor. (Side note: I know the thought of imagining Pau Gasol as a pretty girl is appalling to most, but let’s just stick to the metaphorical script here.) Her now ex-boyfriend is a rich kid who is also one of the most popular kids in the school. As you approach her, she never breaks eye contact with you and actually smiles. You start talking to her, but her friends keep interrupting, saying things like, “Ohh, look at so-and-so. His dad owns a bull farm” or “Oh wow, so-and-so is looking at you. I think his dad works on Wall Street”. Eventually, your insecurities start to creep up, but you keep talking to her anyway. Maybe she’ll see you as something different, something unique. But then, as you start to build some confidence up, she drops the bomb on you. “You know, I like you and think you are cute, but I don’t think you can provide me with what I need.”

And just like that, it’s over. She makes her way to the other side of the room and starts dancing with the kid whose dad owns a bull farm. Eventually you get over it, and start dancing with other girls, but none as pretty as the first one. You begin to fear that you’ll never be able to dance with the real pretty girls.

There you have it. That’s the feeling of most Oklahomans when it comes to NBA free agency. We are learning that, while we aren’t exactly an ugly duckling, the reality is that we aren’t as rich or as big as most other markets. We are a young city that is just now starting to grow, so we don’t have the history or nightlife the bigger markets have. It’s a problem that many other teams face (namely those team not located on either of the coasts), but this was the first time it has affected us so directly. The reality is when you are stacked up against the LA’s, New York’s, and Miami’s of the world, a place like Oklahoma City isn’t really that appealing to young millionaire athletes, especially for time frame of 3-4 years.

butler fisher durant jackson thunder

 

For this reason, the Thunder’s free agency activity is more heightened in February than it is in July. While the Thunder haven’t been players in free agency recently, they have been successful in attracting recently released veterans to join the team for late season playoff runs. Players like Derek Fisher and Caron Butler have been integral parts in recent playoff runs. This is why the Thunder usually have an open roster spot heading into the season. That roster flexibility is not only important heading into the trading deadline, but also afterwards when disgruntled vets are released. Players are more apt to join OKC during this time for two reasons: 1. Older players tend to be married and have kids, which makes OKC a little bit more appealing as a family friendly environment and 2. Even if OKC isn’t on their list as prime destinations, it’s only for a 3-4 month period and could come with a championship attached.

Luckily, the Thunder haven’t had to depend on free agency to build their team. They have literally built their team up from the bottom using the draft and player development. The Thunder didn’t come away empty handed this summer. They signed their shooter (Morrow), and ironically, one of the reasons he chose Oklahoma City is because of its family friendly environment. Maybe, in the end, there’s still hope for that 6th grade boy.

Free Agency and the Oklahoma City Thunder

presti thunder

This is the first free agency period in a while where the Thunder, not only seem like bit players, but also seem willing to participate. For years, the mantra for the Thunder around this time of year has been about internal development. Their recent free agent grabs have been an aging vet (Derek Fisher) and a reclamation project (Hasheem Thabeet). Everyone currently on a guaranteed deal on the Thunder roster has either been drafted by the Thunder or has been traded for by them. Only Thabeet has been obtained via free agency, and his deal is contingent on the Thunder opting into it.

Before we get into the discussion of free agency, we have see what the Thunder have to offer. As discussed before, the NBA salary cap and luxury tax line will all move up this season. While the Thunder are over the salary cap, they do currently fall under the luxury tax line, which will be set at about $77 million next season. If you include the newly drafted first round rookies, the Thunder sit at 12 guaranteed contracts. Those 12 contracts equal to about $69.6 million dollars. The Thunder will be in the market for a shooter, so it only makes sense for them to lock into Grant Jerrett’s deal at $816,000, bringing the total to $70.4 million. I’m keeping Thabeet off the roster at the moment because the selection of McGary kind of negates what he brings to the table. With that said, the Thunder are about $6.58 under the luxury tax line with 2 roster spots available to them.

Any deal the Thunder do will be in the form of an exception. With the Thunder being over the salary cap, they’ll have access to the full mid-level exception, which is about $5.15 million dollar per year for 4 seasons. The Thunder can divide that among multiple players or use it all on one player. The Thunder also have a $6.6 million dollar Traded Player Exception (TPE) obtained from the sign and trade deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves involving Kevin Martin. That exception has an expiration date of July 11, 2014. The Thunder can use the TPE to facilitate a sign and trade for any free agent.

So what are the Thunder’s needs? The Thunder have 3 needs that can be addressed via free agency. The first need, as everyone knows, is perimeter shooting. We saw what a team full of shooters can do in the Finals. The 2nd need for the Thunder is an offensive post presence. And the third need for the Thunder is a veteran 3rd string point guard. Here are 10 options that can meet those needs.

1. CJ Miles – SG/SF / 6’6″ / 231 lbs /27 years old

  • Stats last season (w/Cle) – 9.9 pts /2.0 rebs /1.0 asts /0.3 blks /0.9 stls / 39.3% 3-point FG / 16.03 PER

cj miles

If you don’t succeed, try, try again. The Thunder tried to sign Miles in the summer of 2008, but the Utah Jazz matched their offer sheet. Back then, the Thunder were a team in transition, moving from Seattle to Oklahoma City, and coming off a 20 win season. This time around, the Thunder are a championship contender with a need at shooting guard. Last time, we signed Miles to a 4 yrs/$15 million dollar offer sheet. I’d say look for something similar this time around.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 3 yrs /$11 million

2. Mike Miller – SF /6’8″ / 218 lbs /34 years old

  • Stats last season (w/ Mem) – 7.1 pts /2.5 rebs /1.6 asts /0.1 blks /0.3 stls / 45.9% 3-point FG /12.50 PER

We were in contention last season for the Mike Miller sweepstakes after he was amnestied from the Miami Heat. Ultimately, though, he ended up choosing the Memphis Grizzlies, with whom he played for previously. Even though he has the stigma of having a bad back, he played all 89 games (82 + 7 playoffs) last season at 20 minutes per game. He would definitely supply the perimeter shooting the Thunder desperately need, but would not be a good candidate for the starting 2-guard position.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 2 yrs /$6 million (team option on 2nd year)

 

3.  Pau Gasol – PF/C / 7’0″ /250 lbs /34 years old as of July 6th

  • Stats last season (w/LAL) – 17.4 pts /9.7 rebs /3.4 asts /1.5 blks /0.5 stls /19.34 PER

pau gasol

There has been talk that Gasol would be meeting with Oklahoma City once he is able to. It would be interesting to see what the team is willing to give Gasol, who is probably still worth at least $8 million a season. They can only offer the Mid-Level Exception ($5.15 million) or the Traded Player Exception ($6.6 million). Would Gasol be willing to give the Thunder a discount in order to contend for a title? If so, Serge Ibaka better start recruiting el Señor Gasol.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 3 yrs / $19 million

4. Jameer Nelson – PG /6’0″ /190 lbs /32 years old

  • Stats last season (w/Orl) – 12.1 pts /3.4 rebs /7.0 asts /0.1 blks /0.8 stls /34.8% 3-point FG /13.89 PER

When the New York Knicks hired Derek Fisher to be their head coach, a position opened up within the Thunder organization. It’s the position of veteran point guard with leadership characteristics that can knockdown a 3-point shot from time to time. Nelson would be perfect for that position, but the question becomes does Nelson still see himself as a starting quality point guard, or is he ready to become a bench point guard?

Possible deal from the Thunder: 2 yrs / $7 million (team option on 2nd year)

5. Vince Carter – SG /6’6″ /220 lbs /37 years old

  • Stats last season (w/ Dal) – 11.9 pts /3.5 rebs /2.6 asts /0.4 blks /0.8 stls /39.4% 3-point FG /15.97 PER

Vince Carter

With the Thunder trying to develop their young wing talent in Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, and Andre Roberson, you would think that bringing in someone like Carter may have an adverse effect on their development, similar to what Caron Butler’s addition did to the psyche of Lamb and Jones last season. But, if the Thunder are able to convince Carter to sign for about $3 million for 2 years to be a scorer/shooter off the bench, I think they would go for it. But it would have to be once other players have turned the Thunder down.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 2 yrs/$7.6 million

6. Anthony Morrow – SG /6’5″ /210 lbs /28 years old

  • Stats last season (w/NO) – 8.4 pts /1.8 rebs /0.8 asts /0.2 blks /0.5 stls /45.1% 3-point FG /13.96 PER

If the Thunder a looking specifically for a shooter off the bench, in the Daequan Cook mode, then Morrow is your man. Morrow is a good shooter, but can’t do much else. He’s a sieve defensively and averages about the same amount of turnovers as assists. But if you want someone to just sit in the corner and receive passes from a driving Russell Westbrook, then Morrow has to definitely be an option.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 2 yrs/$3.5 million

7. Ed Davis – PF /6’10” /225 lbs /25 years old

  • Stats last season (w/Mem) – 5.7 pts /4.1 rebs /0.4 asts /0.7 blks /0.3 stls /15.99 PER

The Grizzlies decided to let Davis become an unrestricted free agent after deciding not to pick up his qualifying offer. With the selection of McGary, signing Davis would be a bit of overkill. But as a young big and as an asset, Davis may be worth talking to. He’s shown some flashes throughout his 5 year career, but has also been inconsistent. The glut of big men on the Thunder roster may prevent this from coming to fruition.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 3 yrs/$12 million (team option on 3rd year)

8. Jodie Meeks – PG/SG /6’4″ /208 lbs /26 years old

  • Stats last season (w/LAL) – 15.7 pts /2.5 rebs /1.8 asts /0.1 blks /1.4 stls /40.1% 3-point FG /14.75 PER

Always beware of players that have had career years on bad teams. The green light that these players receive on bad teams can skew their statistics. Fortunately, the Thunder wouldn’t need Meeks to be alpha male No. 1. We’d need him to be a scorer and shooter off the bench. Meeks’ seaon last year may make him too expensive for the Thunder, though.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 3 yrs /$11 million

9. Ray Allen – SG /6’5″ /205 lbs /39 years old as of July 20th

  • Stats last season (w/Mia) – 9.6 pts /2.8 rebs /2.0 asts /0.1 blks /0.7 blks /37.5% 3-point FG /12.83 PER

ray allen

Allen has seen it and done it. A lot like Fisher, he’s hit big shots in big moments and won multiple championships. I could definitely see the Thunder make a run at Allen as a shooter off the bench. He’s slowed a bit, but that didn’t stop the Thunder from signing Fisher 3 seasons in a row.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 2 yrs /$5.5 million

10. Shawn Marion – SF /6’7″ /228 lbs /36 years old

  • Stats last season (w/Dal) – 10.4 pts /6.5 rebs /1.6 asts /0.5 blks /1.2 stls /35.8% 3-point FG /13.78 PER

Marion’s best work is behind him, but he would still be a valuable commodity off the bench. His versatility allows him to play and defend multiple positions. And even though his shot mechanics make newborn babies cry, he still sinks his 3’s at a pretty good rate. Marion would be a great mid-season addition and not necessarily a great off-season addition based on the what the Thunder need.

Possible deal from the Thunder: 2 yrs /$7 million

The Thunder have a little bit more money under the tax line this offseason, but nothing to necessarily write home about. Something to look out for though: The Thunder may go over the tax line during this free agency period if they have a plan in place to trade Perkins or Collison at the trade deadline. Remember, a team has be under the tax line by June 30th. With the Thunder’s penchant for looking for bargain, look for them to sign Miles (as a starting SG) and sign a veteran shooter (either Allen or Carter). Also, as much as I would love it, the Gasol signing is a pipe dream. Unless Ibaka says something great in Spanish and convinces Gasol to sign with the Thunder for under market value, we will go into the season with Ibaka and Perkins as our starting front court. As I mentioned in the draft postscript, the Thunder have a lot of what they need already on the roster. They could possibly just sign a veteran shooter and go with Jackson, Jones, Roberson, or Lamb as the starting SG.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 65 of 82)

Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Lakers

  • When: Thursday, 13 March 2014 at 8:30 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Never, in recent memory, has this team been what I like to call “consistently inconsistent”. But that’s what the Thunder have been in the past 9 games. The results of their last 9 games have gone as followed: Lose 3, Win 3, Lose 2, Win 1. The win against the Houston Rockets in their last game may have quieted some of the rumblings concerning team unity, but consistent play may be the only way completely silence those concerns.

This will be the 4th and final meeting of the season between these two teams. The Thunder lead the season series 2-1. The season series has been a clash of styles, especially for the Lakers. In the first game, the Lakers were still getting acclimated to life with Kobe Bryant and lost 122-97. The second and third games of the series have been a different story. Both games have been decided by 4 points, with the Thunder winning one and the Lakers winning the latest one.

The Opponent

gasol meeks marshall lakers

With the news that Kobe Bryant will officially be out for the season, the Lakers can fully immerse themselves in the D’Antoni ball experience. Even though he only played 6 games for them, the Lakers were a different team with Bryant. The offensive pace slowed and the ball stuck in Bryant’s hands more. With him out, the Lakers are highly dependent on transition opportunities and 3-point shooting. That lends itself to a frenetic, fast paced style of basketball that leans on points and not defense. The wing heavy line-up of Jodie Meeks, Wesley Johnson, Jordan Farmar, and Kent Bazemore spreads the floor out with their 3-point shooting. Kendall Marshall does a good job of setting up his teammates, while Pau Gasol does his thing from the post. The bench is inconsistent, but can be effective at times due to the Lakers’ style of play.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Los Angeles Lakers

  • PG – Kendall Marshall
  • SG – Jodie Meeks
  • SF – Wesley Johnson
  • PF – Ryan Kelly
  • C – Pau Gasol

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Perimeter defense – The Thunder focus a lot of their defense on the interior and hope that their length disrupts opposing shooters into missing shots. And that works most of the time, especially when legs begin to tire in the 4th quarter. But if a team catches fire, similar to what the Lakers did in the 2nd half of their previous meeting with the Thunder, then the Thunder can find themselves in a hole, quickly.

2. Andre Roberson – While I like Perry Jones in the starting line-up against most teams, the Lakers don’t have a traditional line-up. Putting Jones on a player like Meeks does not make use of Jones’ strengths. A player like Roberson is more apt to better defend a shorter, quicker player like Meeks on the perimeter.

roberson ibaka gasol thunder lakers

3. Keep your foot on the pedal – The Thunder don’t have a problem building leads. They’ve led by double digits in each of the past 3 games. But their problem is complacency once they build the lead. They get careless on offense and porous on defense. The Thunder did  a much better job of staying focused in the Rockets game. They held the Rockets at bay most of the second half and held on to win the game.

(Bonus) 4. Reggie Williams – This is the final game in his 10-day contract. Can we please get this man some playing time???

Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Lakers preview (Game 55 of 82)

durant young thunder lakers

  • When: Thursday, 13 February 2014 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

There was once a time when the Thunder looked up at the Los Angeles Lakers. A time when mostly everyone knew that they would have to go through Kobe Bryant and the Lakers if they wanted to seek NBA supremacy. That time, seems but a distant memory now. What once was a match-up you circled on the calendar is now just another game.

This is the 2nd of four meetings between these two clubs. The Thunder have dominated the series in the past 3 seasons, going 10-3 in the last 13 games between these two teams, to include the playoffs. It’s a clear case of one team’s window opening at the same time of another team’s window closing.

The Opposition

1418690_SP_0428_lakers_WJS

Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. That’s all you have to say about the Lakers’ season. It started with Kobe Bryant rehabbing from a torn Achilles at the beginning of the season. It has since trickled down to 6 players being on the injured list (to include Bryant, again), and led to one of the rarer moments in sports, when an NBA team only had 4 players available after their 5th active player fouled out and 2 other players got injured. The Lakers are currently 18-34 and are probably reaching the point where they start to become sellers in the market. Their injury list includes 3 future Hall of Famers (Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash) and 3 good perimeter players (Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, and Jodie Meeks). The survivors include Steve Blake and Chris Kaman, probably the only players on the team capable of generating any offense on their own. Kendall Marshall has shown to be a capable game manager, but still lacks as far as offensive production. Up front, Jordan Hill has shown flashes, but is still a bit too inconsistent. The bench…LOL, what bench?.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Los Angeles Lakers

  • PG – Kendall Marshall
  • SG – Steve Blake
  • SF – Wesley Johnson
  • PF – Shawne Williams
  • C – Chris Kaman

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Trap Game Potential – An emotional win in Portland and the All Star break coming up. This game has all the markings of a trap game. Even though Los Angeles is currently a wounded animal, they still have players that can score if given the chance.

2. Durant and Thabeet – I’m hoping Durant gives one more virtuoso performance before the All Star break. And I hope that performance includes him sitting much of the 4th quarter. And I hope Hasheem Thabeet get double digit minutes.

thabeet kelly thunder lakers

3. Great 1st half – This turned out to be a great first half of basketball for the Thunder. Hopefully everyone rests up and prepares for the second half of the season.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 22 of 82)

Russell Westbrook, Dwight Howard, Antawn Jamison

  • When: Friday, 13 December 2013 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The Los Angeles Lakers are down this season. Kobe Bryant has looked meh in his first two games back from the torn Achilles injury that he suffered late last season. The Lakers’ bench looks better than its starters. The Lakers have too many injuries.

The narrative could go on and on about how the Lakers have looked this season. And yet, they are still the Lakers, and that player wearing No. 24 is still Kobe Bryant. So there will always be intrigue when it comes to this match-up. Back in 2008, the Lakers were the team the Thunder wanted to knock off the perch. They gave us our first taste of playoff basketball in 2010 and Kobe Bryant has served as something of a big brother to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

The roles have now reversed, with the Thunder being one of the top teams in the West and the Lakers clawing to stay in playoff contention. This is the first of four meetings between the two clubs. The Thunder won the season series last season 3-1, winning by an average of almost 13 points in those three victories.

The Opponent

kobe meeks henry lakers

The Lakers currently find themselves at 10-11, in 13th place in the Western Conference. They are a Mike D’Antoni-coached team, but without the weapons to make that sort of team succeed. When Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, and Shawn Marion were running D’Antoni’s system, it was run almost to perfection. But with Kobe coming back from injury and the roster in salary strapped shambles, the results are a team that is 14th in points per game at 101.3, but next to last in points allowed, at 103.5. With Kobe back, and all 3 of their point guards out with injury, D’Antoni is depending on Bryant to run the offense for him. An offense, that this Kobe is probably not familiar enough to successfully run. Joining Kobe in the back court will be Jodie Meeks. Up front, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill will run the high low and may prove to be a difficult match-up at times. The bench was one of the strengths of the team, but injuries and the return of Kobe have negated that weapon. Continue reading Los Angeles Lakers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 22 of 82)

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Lakers Preview (Game 36 of 82)

russ 4

  • When: Friday, 11 January 2013 at 9:30 CST
  • Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

So the Los Angeles Lakers stand at 15-20, losers of five in a row, and in 11th place in the Western Conference. Even at their lowest, a game against the Lakers still includes bright lights and heightened exposure. Lakers fans and the NBA, as a whole, seems to have gone all “Chicken Little” with the Lakers’ current state, and yet, there remains an aura of hope that they will begin to click and reel off wins. So far, though, the Mike D’Antoni era Lakers have performed well below expectations.

 The Oklahoma City Thunder come into the game with a 27-8 record, having defeated the injury-depleted Minnesota Timberwolves, 106-84, in their last game. Since losing to the Lakers in the 2010 playoffs, the Thunder are 8-4 against them to include a 4-1 series drubbing in the second round of last season’s postseason. The Thunder defeated the Lakers in their first meeting of this season 114-108. Russell Westbrook set the tone in that game, going for 27 of his 33 points in the 1st half. Durant punctuated the 2nd half of that game with 18 of his 36 points. Kobe Bryant scored 35 points for the Lakers, who were without Pau Gasol.

 The Opponent

lakers2012-2013

 The Lakers are currently a team in disarray due to various reasons. First off, injuries have depleted the front line, with Dwight Howard (shoulder/back), Jordan Hill (hip), and Pau Gasol (concussion/knees) missing time recently. Secondly, the coaching change from Mike Brown to D’Antoni changed the entire system that was being run by the Lakers in the first month of the season. Thirdly, the chemistry is still under construction with the influx of new players, new coaches, and new systems. Fourth, the defense has been terrible, allowing 101.7 points per game, good for 26th in the NBA.

 The back court is an array of All-Stars, former MVP’s, and future Hall of Famers. Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash may be just a tad bit slower, but are still great at what they do. Kobe is leading the league in scoring at 30.1 ppg and Nash is still dishing out almost 9 assists per game. While still a physical defender, Metta World Peace’s dwindling athleticism has begun to affect what he is primarily on the court for. With Howard out, look for either Gasol or Robert Sacre to man the middle. The bench has been another issue for the Lakers, as the player they have do not match the system they want to run.

 Probable Starters

 Los Angeles Lakers

  •  PG – Steve Nash
  • PG – Darius Morris
  • SG – Kobe Bryant
  • SF – Metta World Peace
  • C – Pau Gasol

 Oklahoma City Thunder

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

 3 Keys To Victory

Ibaka-Perkins

  1. Weather the Storm – I have a feeling the Lakers are going to come out guns-a-blazing to start off the game. Kobe let World Peace do much of the scoring early in their previous game and that partially led to them being down 9 by halftime. Kobe will come out gunning, Nash will come out assisting, and you know some bench/unknown player (Earl Clark, Jodie Meeks) will erupt from 3 point land against us. If they get past the initial onslaught and stay defensively disciplined, the Thunder should be okay.
  2. Control the glass – With Howard definitely out and Gasol and Hill questionable, there should be no reason why the Thunder don’t win the battle of the boards by at least 8. One of the worst things to give an injured, struggling team is extra possessions.
  3. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook – I don’t know what it is about these two when they play against the Lakers, but they seem to relish destroying this team. This game has Westbrook written all over it. I would think that the Lakers would start the game off with Kobe on Westbrook, but if they dare put Nash on him, watch out. Nash has lost a step or two this season, and Westbrook is one of the fastest athletes in the league.

Game Preview – Oklahoma City Thunder @ Philadelphia 76ers (Game 35 of 66)

The Oklahoma City Thunder start the second half of the season on the road, facing a 3 game East Coast swing. The trip starts in Philadelphia where they face the surprising Atlantic division leading Philadelphia76ers. This is the first, and only, meeting between these two teams for this season. The Thunder won both meetings last season, but each game was close, with one going into overtime.

The Opposition

The 76ers come into the game with a 21-14 record, good for 1st in the Atlantic division and 4th in the Eastern Conference. They trounced the Detroit Pistons in their previous game, but had lost their previous 5 games before the All Star break. The Sixers are very similar to the Denver Nuggets in that they don’t have an established superstar, but have good players and have a deep rotation. They have 10 players that average at least 17 minutes per game. They are the best defensive team in the league, in terms of points allowed, giving up only 87 points per game. They have 6 players who average double figures, led by their backcourt trio of Lou Williams (15.6 ppg), Jrue Holiday (13.5 ppg), and Andre Iguodala (12.3). The front court is led by veteran Elton Brand (10.1 ppg and 6.6 rpg) and Thad Young (12.9 ppg and 4.7 rbg). Starting center Spencer Hawes is out with an Achilles injury. Due to their versatility, the bench is one of the more stronger ones in the league, led by guards Evan Turner and Lou Williams, forward Thad Young, and rookie center Nikola Vucevic.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Philadelphia

  • PG – Jrue Holiday
  • SG – Jodie Meeks
  • SF – Andre Iguodala
  • PF – Lavoy Allen
  • C – Elton Brand 

Oklahoma City

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Daequan Cook
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

Match-up to Watch Out For

Russell Westbrook vs. Jrue Holiday

When Russell Westbrook was an unheralded sophomore, Jrue Holiday was the highly recruited freshman point guard that everyone was talking about. Needless to say, things have changed a bit since then. WhileHolidayhas begun to carve out his own niche in the league, Westbrook has taken the league by storm and become one of its top point guards. WhileHolidayis a better shooter, Westbrook is a better at getting into the paint due to his strength and height advantage.

3 In The Paint

  1. Like Denver, this is a team that constantly bombards you with fresh players. With 10 players that average over 17 minutes, this is the perfect team for this compacted schedule. The key for the Thunder will be to constantly drive the ball inside and try to get a few of the key players in foul trouble.
  2. Don’t expect to see Kendrick Perkins a lot in this game. The Sixers are very guard-oriented and their bigs are perimeter-oriented, except for Brand.  You’ll see a lot of small ball lineups with KD playing the 4 and Ibaka/Collison playing the 5.
  3. It will be key to limit the turnovers and guard the 3 point line. The Sixers have 5 rotation players that shoot over 38% from the 3-point line. The Sixers are No.1 in the league in turnover differential. They protect the ball, while forcing you to give it up.