Tag Archives: Kobe Bryant

Thunder At A Glance – 23 August 2018

img_4063Charlotte Edmonds (The Observer) with a piece on Russell Westbrook that will have many of us nodding our heads in agreement: “I’m not trying to suggest that Westbrook is a great player by virtue of his commitment to one team. By that logic, Udonis Haslem would’ve been inducted to the Hall of Fame by now. Rather, I’m arguing that players like Westbrook represent one of the things that are still great about sports — standing by a community instead of trading in a “sacred legacy for cheap jewelry,” in the words of Reggie Miller.”

Micah Adams and Scott Rafferty (NBA.com) look at Kobe Bryant’s top 40 rivals as he turns 40 years of age: “Some of the biggest names in today’s NBA see shades of Kobe when they watch Westbrook. Even Kobe sees it. According to Lakers Nation, Kobe said Westbrook is the player who reminds him the most of himself. “When I turn on the TV and I watch players play, the player that plays with the same kind of emotion and grit and competitive intensity is Russell.” Continue reading Thunder At A Glance – 23 August 2018

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Daily Thunder Rumblings: 06 Oct 2017

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Matt Moore (CBS Sports) says that in order for the team to succeed, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony have to believe in a dream: “The Thunder have to know who they are. Sharing the ball is awesome but not necessarily essential. For years, OKC has been built on elite defense, under the radar. That gets harder with its current roster, which has a young bench and two questionable defenders (Anthony and Westbrook) in the starting unit. But the offensive talent will take care of itself, at least to a degree. Maximizing it will be a trick, but maintaining the defensive toughness and consistency is more important.”

Brett Dawson (NewsOK) says Russell Westbrook practiced Thursday and may play in Friday’s game: “There’s a possibility he could (play),” Donovan said. “There’s a chance he couldn’t. I think a lot’s gonna depend on, if he does go, how many minutes he would be able to play. Or it may be a situation where he says, ‘I maybe need a little bit more time to rest.’ So it’s kind of, let him absorb what happened today and then get together tomorrow.” Continue reading Daily Thunder Rumblings: 06 Oct 2017

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.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Lakers preview (Game 27 of 82)

westbrook thunder bryant lakers

  • When: Friday, 19 December 2014 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

That’s the thing about streaks; eventually, they come to an end. It felt good for the Oklahoma City Thunder to finally run off a couple wins. Seven straight wins put the train back on the tracks. The Thunder suffered a tough break with Kevin Durant’s sprained ankle before the half, as he was probably having the best first half of his career. Thirty points in 18 minutes of play was quite memorable. The Thunder hung around, but the Golden State Warriors proved to be too much for them in the end. The only solace is that the end of one streak usually signifies the beginning of another. The question is whether it will be a winning streak or a losing streak.

This will be the first of three meetings between the Thunder and Lakers. The Thunder won the season series 3-1 last season, winning two of those games by at least 25 points.

The Opponent

young bryant lin lakers

These are definitely not your father’s Lakers. They currently have an 8-17 record, but have won 3 of their last 4 games. Their recent hot streak has coincided with the return of Nick Young. The addition of another scorer/ball handler has taken some of the pressure off of Kobe Bryant and allowed the Lakers’ offense to open up a bit. The issue with the Lakers though, has been their defense. They are allowing the most points per game in the league at 109.5 points, and have the league’s worst defensive rating (113.7). After failing miserably in free agency, the Lakers had to cobble together a roster and this is the result. At point guard, the Lakers used Jeremy Lin to begin the season, but have gone with Ronnie Price lately. Price is the better defensive player, but can’t provide the threat offensively that Lin can give you on some nights. On the wing, Kobe Bryant can still fill it up. Though injuries have sapped some of his athleticism, Bryant still has the intelligence and moxie to do what he needs to do on the court. Wesley Johnson gives the Lakers a 3 and D guy that can run the floor in transition. A lot like the point guard position, the Lakers started the season with Carlos Boozer at the 4, but have since gone with the more athletic (and younger) Ed Davis. This appears to be a offense to defense move in that Davis is better on the boards and defensively. Up front, Jordan Hill is a near double double threat on most nights. Off the bench, the aforementioned Young will start the game off the bench, but usually finishes the game out with Bryant. The demotion of Boozer and Lin actually bolster the bench and gives the Lakers more options in their closing line-ups.

Probable Starting Line-up

Los Angeles Lakers

  • PG – Ronnie Price
  • SG – Kobe Bryant
  • SF – Wesley Johnson
  • PF – Ed Davis
  • C – Jordan Hill

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Perry Jones
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

* – Kevin Durant will miss this game with an ankle sprain and is day to day

3 Keys to the Game

1. Run, Russell, Run – This team allows the most points in the NBA. Opposing guards usually get past the first line of defense and into the paint quite easily against the Lakers, which puts the rest of the defense at a disadvantage. Russell Westbrook is one of the best guards at breaking down the defense at the point of attack, and should have his pick of the litter in this game. Also, the older nature of the Lakers makes them susceptible in transition. And Westbrook is a one-man fast break on his own. Also, I think we see good Reggie Jackson in this game.

roberson thunder bryant lakers

2. Roberson – It’s been a joy seeing this young guy blossom into one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. Now he gets to defend the “badge of honor” of perimeter players. Even in his old age, defenders still look forward to locking down Kobe to see where they stand. Hell, Roberson may need to slide over onto Young if he starts to get hot from the perimeter.

3. Start a new win streak – The rest of this season will be about winning blocks of games. It will be about looking at the rest of the schedule in 5-8 game increments and needing to win at least 60% of those games. The Thunder need to win the games that they are supposed to win, and this is one of those games.

Uncharted Waters: The Thunder and the Kevin Durant injury

durant thunder injury

In life, things have a way of working out oppositely to what we expected. The job promotion you thought would make you happy, actually makes you miserable working under the megalomaniac you call your new boss. The breakup with that significant other you thought would sink you into a depression, actually allowed you to find THE ONE. Life has a strange way of finding its own equilibrium. And that’s exactly how I’m approaching this injury to Kevin Durant. There are negatives and positives to any situation, even this one.

Bad News First: The Negatives:

1. Risk of Reinjury – We saw last season how nagging surgical interventions can be. The battle is not won when the surgeon proclaims, “This surgery was a success.” On a side note, I’ve always wondered what that meant. How do you know it was successful if you haven’t even tested the fix yet? I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘the surgery was a success’ is doctor speak for ‘we operated on the correct leg and the patient is still alive’. Russell Westbrook’s initial meniscus surgery was labeled a success. But complications do occur and that’s what the Thunder faced when Westbrook’s knee began to swell during training camp. Scans were run, and it was determined that a loose internal stitch had caused the swelling. Westbrook had a second, probably minor, arthroscopic surgery to fix that issue. The second surgery kept Westbrook out all preseason and two games into the regular season. Westbrook returned on the third game of the season and played like nothing had ever happened to him. That is, until his knee began to swell again around the Christmas game. The team performed another scope of the knee, which kept Westbrook out until after the All-Star break. In all, Westbrook missed 36 games last season.

The area where Durant suffered the break is notorious for being a difficult heal spot. The blood flow to that area of the bone is much less then at the ends of the bone. There have been plenty of players who have suffered this break and have had this surgery and have come back to the game just fine. But there have been others, like Brook Lopez of the Brooklyn Nets and CJ McCollum of the Portland Trailblazers, who have suffered reinjury of the same bone, usually within a year or two of the initial surgery.  I bring up those two names because they span the spectrum of player body types. Lopez is a 7-footer who weighs over 250 pounds and plays in the post. McCollum is a 6’3 combo guard that can take it to the rim and shoot the outside shot. Durant is like the best of both worlds: a 6’11 forward who moves like a guard. Luckily, he doesn’t pack the same mass as Lopez. Will Durant lack of size actually benefit him in his recovery from this injury or will his style of play (guard-like) be a deterrent in his recovery?

brook lopez injury

2. Falling behind in the Western Conference – A lot changed this offseason in the NBA. One thing that remained the same: the Western Conference is still brutal. Most every team in the conference either improved or stayed the course, with the exception, possibly, of Houston and Minnesota. Over the past 5 seasons, the wins average to get into the playoffs in the West has been 47 games. Prior to Durant’s injury, this team was slated to win between 58 and 62 games and be in contention for the number one seed, not only in the Western Conference, but also, throughout the playoffs. That wins estimate will probably need to be curtailed back a bit depending on when Durant gets back, and how he looks when he does get back.

A Westbrook-Ibaka-Jackson core could easily lead the Thunder to 45 wins, which may be good for an 8th seed in the West. And although the Thunder have won road playoff games before, they would much rather play in the friendly confines of the ‘Peake come playoff time. With that said, one of the biggest lessons this team has learned in the past 3 seasons is that home court advantage probably counts more in the early rounds of the playoffs than in the later rounds. Veteran teams like San Antonio and Dallas, who have routinely been to the later rounds of the playoffs, don’t really care where they play. They usually perform the same whether they are at home or on the road. Maybe the Thunder are becoming veteran enough to realize that sacrificing a couple victories in the regular season for rest, may come back to help them in the playoffs, whether its at home or on the road.

3. Derailment of Durant’s repeat MVP campaign – Is it possible that Durant could repeat as MVP this season, even while missing up to a quarter of the season? It’s plausible, but highly unlikely. First of all, the season’s narratives are all working against Durant this season. LeBron James is back in Cleveland in the homecoming of all homecomings. Derrick Rose is back after being sidelined for nearly two years due to various knee ailments. Kobe Bryant is back from injury and looking like the Bryant of old. And Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are ready to take the next step in their development after a tumultuous final year of ownership under Donald Sterling. Narrative and time on the court are both working against Durant. Hopefully, Durant is more worried about the Finals MVP, since he already has a regular season one under his belt.

Good News: The Positives

1. We’ve been here before – We’ve been through this already with Westbrook. When he was scheduled to miss the first month of the season recovering from his second knee surgery in 4 months, many Thunder fans thought the team would struggle mightily out the gates. Instead, Westbrook returned in the third game of the season, and the Thunder played like a fully healthy Thunder team would play. Then, in late December when Westbrook was slated to be out for another two months, everybody fretted about the upcoming schedule. Instead, Durant went supernova on the league (Slim Reaper) and the Thunder made it out of that run relatively unscathed. Will this be the same situation? Probably not.

The Thunder had a good replacement player for Westbrook in Reggie Jackson. While Jackson is no Westbrook, he does a lot of the same things that Westbrook does, which allows the Thunder to play their style of basketball. Unfortunately, there is no one on the roster that can mirror what Durant does for the Thunder. Perry Jones is a candidate, but doesn’t have that extra gear to be a factor on the floor. Anthony Morrow is a possibility, but, while he’s a great shooter, he struggles in creating his own shot.

So how will the Thunder survive? The same way they survived when Westbrook went down. Rely on Westbrook to provide a lot of the offense, and have other players step up their games offensively and defensively. Ibaka, Jackson, and Jeremy Lamb can each do their parts offensively. The team will probably have to start Steven Adams as he is much more offensively adept as compared to Kendrick Perkins. And coach Scott Brooks will probably have to trust his young guys a lot more. Will it be easy? Probably not. Will it be frustrating at times? Yes. Will it be exhilarating at times? Hell yeah.

jackson ibaka jones thunder

2. Young guys get to step up – A lot like last season, the Thunder young core (Adams, Lamb, Jones, and Andre Roberson) has to step up if the team is to stay afloat and succeed. If anything, this season is a big one for Lamb and Jones, as they are eligible for their first extensions after this season. If that isn’t motivation to step up your game, I don’t know what is. It’s put up or shut up time for these two players. The organization seemingly likes these two guys, but with them coming up on extensions in the next two seasons, it’s time to see if they can really be core members of the team or if they are trade bait for future assets.

Last season, when Westbrook went down, Lamb provided some of the fire power off the bench that was missing when Jackson was tasked to start. In the first half of the season, Lamb almost averaged double figures. His scoring average and playing time went down when he started slumping after the All-Star break and after the Thunder acquired veteran forward Caron Butler. Jones was used as a utility man, playing any position not named point guard or center. He showed flashes, but continues to be a mystery because his physical attributes would suggest he would dominate on the court.

The real key will be Adams and Roberson. If they are both tasked with starting, their rapid development will be tantamount to how the Thunder react to their time without Durant. If Adams is able to stay on the floor, that make Perkins and his $9 million dollar expiring contract extremely movable. If Roberson is able to get some semblance of offense, his perimeter defense will take some of the pressure off Westbrook, so he can focus on offense. The young’ins have stepped up before. They’ll be expected to do it again.

3. Kickstart to Westbrook’s MVP campaign – This is probably the most exciting part of Durant sitting out the first month of the season. I mean, the Durant sitting part isn’t exciting. But if you’re going to find a silver lining, it’s the fact that we finally get to see what a Westbrook-led Thunder team can do. And no, I do not subscribe to the train of thought that Westbrook will go all Iverson on us and jack up 25-30 shots per game. Instead, I think Westbrook will beautifully manage games, attacking when needed and distributing whenever available.

westbrook mvp

In last season’s playoffs, Westbrook was probably the 2nd best individual player in the playoffs. In 19 games, Westbrook averaged 26.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.1 assists, and 2.2 steals, while outplaying the likes of Mike Conley, Chris Paul, and Tony Parker. The MVP talk for Westbrook for the upcoming season hit an uptick during those playoffs. But the reality was that Westbrook would probably never win an MVP with Durant in tow. But now, with Durant out of the picture for a stretch, Westbrook could toss his name into the MVP discussion. Other than LeBron’s homecoming, there’s no better narrative than Westbrook doing for the Thunder this season, what Durant did for them last season. Which is, carry them for long stretches and come up with game winning plays. I’m prepared to see games where Westbrook forces the issues and shoots 3-21 with 5 turnovers and the Thunder get blown out by 25. But I’m also prepared to see games like Game 4 of last season’s Western Conference Finals (40 points/ 10 assists/ 5 rebounds/ 5 steals) or Game 4 of the 2012 NBA Finals (43 points/5 assists/ 7 rebounds). The Westbrook Experience is just beginning.

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

Scott Brooks: It Might Be Time For A Change

scott brooks durant thunder

If you look at the recent history of the game, every great player who has won a championship needed a championship level coach to push him to the promise land. And by great player, I mean the transcendent players of their generation. In recent memory, those players have been Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James. Each of these players needed to go, not only through adversity, but also through a coaching change before they led a team to the championship. Tim Duncan should also be included in the list, but he has played for the same coach his entire career while racking up 4 titles in the process.

Kevin Durant, of the Oklahoma City Thunder, is paving his path towards being a transcendent player. He is on his way to winning his 1st MVP, has won 4 scoring titles before the age of 26, and leads a team that has been a championship contender for the past three season. He has a top 10 player by his side in Russell Westbrook, a versatile big man that can block shots and hit mid range jumpers in Serge Ibaka, and a great 6th man in Reggie Jackson. With all this at Durant’s disposal, why is it that the Thunder are struggling with their first round opponents, the Memphis Grizzlies?

The answers to that question are like pieces of a puzzle. When you analyze everything, you’ll see that many factors are contributing to the Thunder’s struggles in the first round. First off, Memphis is not your run of the mill 7th seed. The Grizzlies struggled out the gate due to Marc Gasol’s knee injury, but finished the season on a 33-13 tear that brought them up to the 7th seed. Without Gasol’s injury, this team probably finishes in the top 5 in the Western Conference. The next factor is that Memphis is built for the playoffs. They are a half-court oriented offense with one of the best defenses the league has to offer. And, their core is playoff-tested and has been together for at least 4 seasons. But these factors are more a microcosm of who the Grizzlies are.

It’s what the Thunder are doing (or not doing) that is affecting them in this series. Oklahoma City is a team that can play a variety of ways, but they’re at their best when they are running in transition and causing havoc in the paint through penetration. But those things tend to get muddled in the playoffs. Teams protect the ball more and defenses make it  a point to protect the paint. Less turnovers means less transition opportunities. More defenders in the paint means less avenues to get to the basket. Unfortunately for the Thunder, the Grizzlies are great at two things: protecting the ball and defending the paint.

scott brooks westbrook thunder

But with players as dynamic as Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and Jackson, the Thunder should not be struggling as bad as they are in this series. Part of that could be attributed to bad luck as both Durant and Westbrook seem to be in shooting funks. Part of that could be the Grizzlies’ defense, which packs the paint and dares you to beat them with perimeter shots, of which the Thunder aren’t making. But a lot of the Thunder’s problem has to do with scheming (or lack thereof), and that falls squarely on Scott Brooks.

Unfortunately, this has always been the knock on Brooks. The lack of an offensive system rarely rears it’s head for the Thunder, except when the transition faucet is turned off, the paint is packed, and the shots aren’t falling. It’s understandable that you would have an iso-oriented system when your two best players thrive in isolation situations. But it’s also important to have a system in place when the defense keys in on those two players. And that’s what is severely lacking for the Thunder in this series.

It’s almost asinine that Brooks, with the weapons he has at his disposal and the amount of time he’s had those weapons, would never have created a fail-safe offensive system that would play, not only to the strengths of his stars, but also to the strength of the role players around them. Brian Windhorst of ESPN tweeted during Game 3, “Grizzlies know all of OKC’s plays. When the 1st option is taken away the Thunder often just shut down their offense.” If anything, last season should have been a sign that the team needs an offensive system outside of superstar iso-plays. When Westbrook went down, it should have signaled to Brooks that a change was needed in order to prevent what happened in last season’s playoffs. Instead, with Durant and Westbrook both in tow, it seems as if Brooks has defaulted even deeper into superstar isolation mode.

It’s either that, or those two superstars aren’t trusting their teammates, which leads them to take it upon themselves to try and save the day. Whether Brooks is heeding both players to look for teammates more or not, this still goes back to Brooks. If isolation ball isn’t working, get onto your superstars and tell them to run the offense. Oh yeah, I forgot. There is no offense. Ibaka, one of the best release valves in the league and probably the best target for a pick and roll outside of Durant and Westbrook is getting completely frozen out of the offense in the fourth quarter and overtime. Jackson, who up until Game 4, was struggling mightily, was basically benched for games 2 and 3. Brooks could have and should have incorporated those two into the offense even more, especially in Games 2 and 3. Instead, the Grizzlies defenders keyed in on the superstar duo and made it extremely difficult for them to get into their sets, let alone get off a good shot.

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The other transcendent players I talked about in the opening had to endure coaching changes that brought about success. Michael Jordan went from Doug Collins to Phil Jackson. Kobe Bryant went from Kurt Rambis to Phil Jackson for his first three championships and from Rudy Tomjanovich to Phil Jackson for his next two championships. LeBron James went from Mike Brown to Erik Spoelstra for his two championships. The one constant between these two coaches is that they had an offensive system to fall back on. They had great players, but also a system that helped them out offensively if the opponent was exclusively targeting the star player. Jackson had the triangle offense and Spoelstra has a system that spaces the floor for James, Wade, and Bosh to operate.

It’s especially frustrating when you compare Brooks to Spoelstra. Both are young coaches in their first head coaching gigs who were basically gift-wrapped super-teams. Spoelstra found a way to develop a system that played to the strengths of all his players. Meanwhile, Brooks is still relying on the greatness of a couple players to get him out of jams. Westbrook and Durant are good enough to win you enough games to stay employed.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Brooks is a bad coach. He’s done a great job in developing the talent OKC was loaded with over the years. He’s done a great job managing egos and developing the culture the Thunder are now known for. But as an X’s and O’s coach, I think Brooks has hit his ceiling. Just like players eventually reach a point where they no longer improve, I think Brooks has gotten to that point with this team. I’ve always said that Brooks is a great coach to lead us to the mountain and maybe even to get us halfway up the mountain, but it will take another coach to get us over the mountain. If Durant and Westbrook are ever to get over the hump, they may have to do it with another coach at the helm. I hope I’m wrong, but I’ve experienced too much of Brooks to think otherwise.

Enjoy the Moment: Durant and the MVP

durant thunder

Since the NBA’s first season in 1955-56, there have been 58 MVP’s. Those MVP’s have been won by 29 different players in 19 different cities (four of which currently don’t have NBA franchises). Of the 30 teams in the current NBA, 15 of those cities have never experienced an MVP season by one of their players. So when the inevitable happens and Kevin Durant is named the 2013-14 NBA MVP, Oklahoma City will join an exclusive fraternity of cities that have experienced a magical individual season by one of their players.

Oklahoma City has been lucky enough, in its short time as an NBA franchise, to experience a Coach of  the Year (Brooks, 2010), a Sixth Man of the Year (Harden, 2012), and a Rookie of the Year (Paul, 2006 with the New Orleans/OKC Hornets). The ultimate goal as a sports franchise is to win a championship. But what are teams but a collection of individuals. And if your team, if your city, houses the best individual player in that sport, that is like winning a championship in and of itself.

When an MVP season plays out, you see it coming. Of the 450-500 players that cycle through the league in a given season, only about 2-3 players are deserving of even being considered for the top individual prize in the NBA. And if you, as a fan of that team, are lucky enough to enjoy that experience, then you need to savor it. Because for as much as we like to think that MVP’s and championships will beget more MVP’s and championship, the future is never a definite when it comes to sports. The Russell Westbrook injury last season taught us that. A twist of the knee here, a tweak of the back there, an argument with the front office, and that player could be gone in an instant. Prime example is the last man to win an MVP not named LeBron James. Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose won the MVP in his third season in the league. He looked well on his way to contending for (and possibly winning) multiple MVP’s. But you know the rest of the story. Injuries and re-injuries have completely derailed his career to the point where we wonder whether he’ll ever get back to the MVP form he had pre-injury.

It’s not everyday you get to witness greatness. There are plenty of good players in the league. In any given game, you may see a 20-point scorer, a double digit rounder, or a defensive maven. Most nights the names change. But for MVP candidates, that dominance is seen on a night in/night out basis, over the course of an entire season. That degree of excellence goes from late October usually into late May/early June. That consistency is probably the biggest factor in determining who is MVP-worthy and who isn’t. It’s easy to get up for a game against Miami on a prime time Thursday TNT telecast. It’s that much harder to get up for a Tuesday night game in January against the Milwaukee Bucks. But those select few do it every night.

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Eat it up Oklahoma City. Our story is a weird one in which we were basically gift wrapped a once in a generation player. Most cities, when they first get a team, have to toil around in the dredges of the league before they finally find those couple of players that actually make them competitive. But OKC was like “insta-rice”. We got the team, popped in the microwave for one minute (season) and, Voila!, playoff contender. It happened so quickly, that media decided to call it the OKC model of team rebuilding. This model, though, only works if you get a player like Durant in your clutches. It will be very interesting to see where teams like Orlando, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and New Orleans stand in about 3 years when their rebuilds should start bearing fruit.

I always wonder how the OKC fan base will be react when this current run ends. Whether its in two years (a.k.a Durant’s free agency) or in 15 years, Thunder fans have been spoiled beyond belief. But this is the NBA, and success is very cyclical, especially for small market teams. Most Oklahoma fans suffer from what is locally called, the “Sooner mentality”. In three words, the Sooner mentality means “Championship, or bust!”. And we are starting to see that with Thunder fans. Lose a game in a series, and there is a section of fans that is clamoring for Scott Brooks’ head on a platter, and another section clamoring for Thunder GM Sam Presti to sign every available free agent, luxury tax and careful budgeting be damned. Those are the fans I wish I could grab by the shoulders, shake them a bit, look into their eyes, and say, “Stop worrying and enjoy this moment! It may repeat itself next season, but it also may be a once in a lifetime event”.

As we enjoy this moment, look back on the season that made Durant an MVP. Don’t focus on the numbers though. Even though the numbers improved, they don’t tell the entire story. Focus on the maturation of the man. Many players hit their head on ceilings they create because they get satisfied with what they’ve accomplished. Like the theme in the poem Ozymandias, they stand there relishing their accomplishments without realizing their satisfaction will eventually be their downfall. Durant could have been one of those players, and he still would have been considered great. But, instead, he took the hard lessons from the previous season and focused on how he could get better. It is a rare trait in a player to never find satisfaction in their successes. Instead of basking in the glow of their brilliance, they instead survey the field and know that others will be coming after what they have. LeBron James made that transition three seasons ago. Kobe Bryant before him. And Michael Jordan before him. This is the road the Durant is on, and luckily, for us, like Route 66 and I-44, that road runs straight through Oklahoma City. Congratulations Kevin. We are all proud of you.

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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.