Tag Archives: Leandro Barbosa

Oklahoma City Thunder at Phoenix Suns preview (Game 62 of 82)

westbrook tucker durant bledsoe thunder suns

  • When: Thursday, 06 March 2014 at 8:00 PM CST
  • Where: US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ

With their recent 6 game home stand behind them, the Thunder hit the road for the first time since February 13th. With 21 games left, the final quarter of the regular season is about positioning and health. With two starters down because of injury, it’s the Thunder’s depth (and their two superstars) that has been their saving grace. Having the ability to spring a player like Perry Jones III or Andre Roberson off the bench to be a starter is a luxury most teams do not have. Bringing a player that has only logged 44 minutes the entire season, only to have him play 53 quality minutes over the next 3 games like Hasheem Thabeet has, is a testament to the Thunder’s “next man up” philosophy.

This is the second meeting of the season between these two teams. The Thunder, and the Phoenix Suns for that matter, have come a long way from that early November game. In that game, which the Thunder won 103-96, Russell Westbrook made his regular season debut after missing the last 9 games of the playoffs the previous season and the first two games of this season.

The Opponent

frye dragic morris green suns

The Thunder’s last opponent, the Philadelphia 76ers, were what the Phoenix Suns were supposed to be this season. Heading into this season, many thought the Suns would be one of the main contenders for the Number 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. The Suns even appeared to be playing the part of a tanking team before the season started by trading starting C Marcin Gortat, PG Kendall Marshall, and SG Shannon Brown to the Washington Wizards for Emeka Okafor, who was probably going to be out for the season with a neck injury, and the Wizards’ 2014 1st round pick (that was top 12 protected). Then the season started, and something weird happened. First year coach Jeff Hornacek allowed the team to play to its strengths, instead of trying to integrate his system. The Suns won 5 of their first 7  games with a run and gun style that is very reminiscent of the “7 Seconds or Less” Suns of a couple seasons back that featured Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire. Instead of Steve Nash, the Suns have the two-headed combo guard duo of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. And instead of Amare Stoudemire, they have Miles Plumlee and Channing Frye. They’ve kept on winning, and currently find themselves with a record of 35-25, good for 7th in a tough Western Conference. They are a rag-tag bunch of good athletic players that were mostly cast-offs from their previous teams. Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker are perennial journeymen who have seen their NBA dreams take them to different leagues in different countries, the Morris twins have been reunited, and Leandro Barbosa has found the fountain of youth in Phoenix (actually, its probably just Phoenix’s medical staff working their old man shaman magic).

Probable Starting Line-ups

Phoenix Suns

  • PG – Goran Dragic
  • SG – Gerald Green
  • SF – P.J. Tucker
  • PF – Channing Frye
  • C – Alex Len

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. Battle of Rookie Big Men – This past draft was touted to be one of the better ones to find a quality big man. Alex Len, Steven Adams, Kelly Olynyk, Mason Plumlee, and Gorgui Dieng are all playing rotational minutes for NBA teams. Nerlens Noel would be playing if it wasn’t for his recovery from an ACL tear. This is the first regular season match-up between the two rookie centers. They met in the preseason and Len was a DNP-CD in their first meeting of the season.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Phoenix Suns

2. Perimeter Defense – Phoenix is not afraid to jack up the 3’s. They are top 3 in 3-point field goals made and in the top 10 in 3-point FG%. They have a bevy of shooters (Frye, Green, Marcus Morris, Tucker) and a great paint attacker in Dragic. This is where the Thunder can lose this game.

3. Bench – Phoenix has been decimated recently by injury. Miles Plumlee, Leandro Barbosa, and Eric Bledsoe will all miss the game due to injury. While the Thunder have their own injury issues to deal with, they have better depth and should be able to take advantage of this. For the second straight game, the Thunder welcome another player, as recently signed D-Leaguer Reggie Williams will be active for tonight’s game.

Advertisements

The Ghost of Ron Artest

By now, most people have seen and/or heard about the “elbow heard ‘round the world.” A lot of the focus has been placed on the two people involved in the incident, and rightfully so. While that type of violence may be seen in some of the more violent sports such as MMA, hockey, or football, it is rarely, if ever, seen on the basketball court. A game full of finesse and grace has little room for that kind of brutality and unhinged force. The actions by Metta World Peace not only had an immediate impact on James Harden’s sidebeard, but also may have had a reverberating effect 2000 miles away.

Even 7½ years later, the wounds from The Brawl are still very fresh. When I was down in Indianapolis a month ago, I attended a Pacers game and was completely surprised by the lack of fan support. This is a team that is young and near the front of the pack in the Eastern Conference. If there’s a team in the league that is replicating the Oklahoma City Thunder model, it has to be the Pacers. A positive team culture and a young budding core surrounded by good, upstanding veterans.

Even with the attributes of a team on the rise, I still could not find a Pacers shirt at the downtown mall. I asked some locals why they thought support for the Indiana Pacers was waning, while the support for the 2-14 football team was at an all-time high. The most resounding answer was that, to this day, they were still turned off by the Brawl. The next most popular answer was that the team wasn’t even that good. When I told them the team was in 3rd position in the Eastern Conference and a darkhorse contender, the usual response was, “Really? I didn’t even know.”

In a moment of panic, the body sets off its “all hands on deck” response called the fight or flight instinct. In that moment, the body either gears all of its energy towards escapism or violence. In that instant, a couple Pacers players chose fight over flight. It’s amazing how a moment of instinctual insanity completely shattered the view a city had of its basketball team. Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson were always known as questionable characters. Loyal to a fault, but ticking time-bombs, nonetheless. Players who escaped their rough upbringings, but whose rough upbringings never escaped them.

The team, itself, was on its way to a probable championship run. It featured Jermaine O’Neal, Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, and Jamaal Tinsley in their young primes, Reggie Miller as the veteran seeking his first championship, and a cast of good supporting players. What was a 7-2 start to begin the 2004-05 season, ended in a 44-38 struggle to remain in the playoff picture. While many Pacers fans were initially supportive of their players for sticking up for themselves, many changed their tunes as soon as the suspensions were levied. Many fans wondered whether the selfish actions of Artest and Jackson had cost the team a title.

After The Brawl, things soured between Artest and the Pacers, and he was eventually traded the next season. Adding fuel to the fire, Stephen Jackson was involved in a shooting at an Indianapolis night club that further strained the relationship between the Pacers and their fans. The Pacers had no choice but to go the route of the Portland Trailblazers during their Jailblazers clean-up, and blow the team up. When that happens, though, you can bet on at least 2-3 season of rebuilding, if not more. Horrible teams tend to have a negative impact on fan support, further straining the relationship between the Pacers and the people of Indianapolis.

The Pacers finally made it back to the postseason last year, but with a sub-.500 record. While they were good enough to make the playoffs, they really weren’t THAT good. But this season, with the acquisitions of David West, George Hill, and Leandro Barbosa, and the continued development of Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger, and Paul George, the Pacers have solidified themselves as the 3rd best team in the Eastern Conference. And attendance and fan support seems to be coming along for the Pacers.

But with all these good vibes, a sad reminder happened on Sunday. A reminder of how one person’s actions can still hold so much weight on the psyche of a fan base. While this probably doesn’t affect most of the fan base, it’s that important final 10-15% that the team needs to be profitable. Those are usually the fair weather fans or the returning disenfranchised fans. With Artest’s actions though, those fans will probably think it is business as usual around the league, and will choose to stay home. Which is a shame, because the Pacers are team on the rise that needs a fan base that is also on the rise.