Tag Archives: Mike Miller

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 22 of 82)

westbrook durant irving thompson cavs thunder

  • When: Thursday, 11 December 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The first real test of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s new season. The Thunder have quietly won 5 of their last 6 games and seem to be hitting their stride. Russell Westbrook has been MVP-worthy in the games that he has played. Kevin Durant appears to be getting back into game shape. And the Thunder, as a whole, are getting used to playing as a full collective. In the last game, against the Milwaukee Bucks, Oklahoma City trotted out multiple small ball lineups to combat what Milwaukee was doing. And they worked for the most part. As much as the young Thunder have grown in that trying first month, Scott Brooks appears to have grown as much. Brooks is like a kid in a candy store with all the line-up possibilities. Once known for his stubbornness in adapting to the opponent’s personnel, Brooks now appears confident enough in his rotation to trot out various line-ups to combat whatever the opponent is throwing out there.

This is the first meeting of the season between the Thunder and the Cleveland Cavaliers. They split their two meetings last season, but these are not your 1 year old son’s Cleveland Cavaliers. Past history will likely have little bearing on these future meetings.

The Opponent

lebron james kevin love kyrie irving cavs

The Cavaliers come into tonight’s game with a 13-7 record, riding an 8-game win streak. After a rough start that saw them start the season 5-7, the Cavs seem to have finally righted the ship. LeBron James is once again LeBroning (no, not that LeBroning), and the other “big 2”, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, are getting used to their new roles. The Cavs are top-1o in most major categories except for defensive rating (14th – 106.1) and rebounding (24th – 41.2 per game). Leading the charge is 4th year point guard Kyrie Irving, who has slowly adjusted to his new role as a facilitator/attacker from just solely being an attacker. Irving’s ability to pick and choose the right spots where he is needed to take over has been a big factor in the Cavs’ recent resurgence. On the wing, LeBron James has recovered from his early season swoon, and is back to being his MVP-caliber self, averaging 24.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per game. On the other wing, Cavs coach Dave Blatt inserted veteran SF Shawn Marion into the starting line-up early in the season to help provide some perimeter defense. Up front, Kevin Love has probably had to make the biggest adjustment of the the 3 All-Stars. To go from alpha male to 3rd option can be a difficult change. But Love has done his best Chris Bosh impersonation and is learning how to make the most of his opportunities when they are presented. The veteran Anderson Varejao mans the middle providing his usual energy and defensive presence. Off the bench, Dion Waiter, Tristan Thompson, and Matthew Dellavedova will get most of the reserve minutes.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Cleveland Cavaliers

  • PG – Kyrie Irving
  • SG – LeBron James
  • SF – Shawn Marion
  • PF – Kevin Love
  • C – Anderson Varejao

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

Key Match-Ups

1. LeBron James vs. Andre Roberson/Perry Jones – Yes, Kevin Durant will guard James at times. But a lot of the success of the Thunder will be dependent on Durant being on the floor and not getting into foul trouble. This is where Roberson and Jones come into play. Jones’ career, before his 3-game scoring binge at the beginning of this season, has been defined by the job he did on James in the 2nd half of the Thunder game against the Heat in Miami last season. While he didn’t necessarily shut him down, he did make James work for whatever he got in that game. And most importantly, he kept Durant off of James.

NBA: Miami Heat at Oklahoma City Thunder

2. Serge Ibaka vs. Kevin Love – Love has always been a match-up nightmare for Ibaka. Love can grab rebounds with the best of them, but can also take you outside on the perimeter. That inside/outside game can cause Ibaka to get lost in the shuffle. Look for the Thunder to play smaller, and for Ibaka to be more on Thompson or Varejao than Love.

3. Russell Westbrook vs. Kyrie Irving – Whoever plays the smarter game will likely lead their team to victory. But one of these two, if not both, will likely look to one up the other at some point in the game.

3 Keys to the Game

1. Rebounding – A lot like LeBron’s Miami teams, rebounding is a weakness of this Cavalier team. Even with Kevin Love, who is averaging his lowest rebounds per game average since his rookie season, the Cavs still struggle on the boards. On the offensive end, Love finds himself on the perimeter many times, negating offensive rebounding opportunities. Defensively, Cleveland’s penchant for forcing teams to shoot jumpers, causes long rebound opportunities to land in the lap of the offense. The Thunder will definitely need more than 1 rebound in a half from Steven Adams in this game.

ibaka jackson morrow thunder

2. Bench – The Thunder’s bench unit is becoming one of the better ones in the league. The Cavs bench is one that can be extremely streaky, especially Waiters. As long as Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, and Anthony Morrow play their games, the Thunder bench should be a net positive against the Cavs.

3. Mike Miller – I don’t care if Miller has missed the last 3 games with a concussion. He should be available for this game, and he torches Oklahoma City nearly every time he plays against us. I fully expect him to go 4/5 on 3-point shots.

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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.

Thunder sign Sebastian Telfair

sebastian telfair thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder signed PG Sebastian Telfair to a non-guaranteed veteran minimum contract. Telfair played last season for the Tianjin Ronggang Gold Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association, where he averaged 26.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 2.0 steals on 36.9% shooting from 3-point range in 35 games. Prior to that, Telfair played for seven teams in nine seasons in the NBA, averaging 7.4 points and 3.5 assists.

Telfair will earn $1.3 million if he stays on the roster the entire season, but will count only $915,000 towards the cap. Telfair will slide into the veteran, 3rd point guard role previously held by Kevin Ollie and Royal Ivey.

While not as sexy a name as Pau Gasol or Mike Miller, this is a good team-building move. Telfair is a veteran that has seen the ups and downs the NBA has to offer and will, hopefully, be a good locker room presence. He’s a good creator and floor general and will be a great asset to have on the bench.

On Second Thought

durant westbrook adams thunder

When the free agency period first began, I thought it was finally time for the Thunder to open up their wallets a little and spend on some quality free agents. Maybe CJ Miles, maybe Vince Carter. Hell, maybe even Pau Gasol. But after seeing some of the contracts being dished out, I’m starting to have second thoughts. Not necessarily about the players I want, but about the amounts needed to bring them in. Just look at the numbers after Day 1 of free agency: Stan Van Gundy and the Detroit Pistons went a bit crazy on Day 1, bringing back visions of Joe Dumars. Jodie Meeks got 3 years and $19 million and Isaiah Thomas got 3 years and $24 million from them. Shaun Livingston got 3 years and $16 million from Golden State. Day 2, so far, has seen CJ Miles receive a 4 year, $18 million contract from Indiana.

Could the Thunder have offered something similar to these players? Yes. But here are three reasons why they aren’t.

Patience is a virtue

You see this all the time around tax time. People get their tax returns and immediately blow them on big screen TV’s, furniture purchases, or down payments for their new cars. While some of the purchases are necessary, most are done because people have some extra disposable income. And when people have disposable income, they feel obligated to spend it.

Well, apparently, NBA teams are no different than people. When the NBA announced there would be an increase in the salary cap and luxury tax line, you could already see the writing on the wall. Teams that had money were going to spend it at the first moment they could. Detroit, with Stan Van Gundy at the helm, is attempting to transform the Pistons into the Orlando Magic team that made it all the way to the NBA Finals with Dwight Howard in the middle. The Pistons have already doled out  $44 million on 3 players. The Pacers, coming off a strange trip to the Eastern Conference Finals that saw them go from being the best team in the league in December to being on the brink of disaster in April, shelled out $18 million for a player that will either be their starting SG or their 6th man off the bench.

sam presti

With every day that passes, more teams will continue to blow the money they have available on players that, in all honesty, probably aren’t worth it. It’s the well run teams that wait patiently until all the noise has run its course and pick up the pieces left behind by the poorly run teams. Miami knows they are basically competing against themselves for the services of the Big 3. It’s up to them to make the smart choices on who to put around James, Wade, and Bosh. San Antonio knows that the injury to Patty Mills probably puts them in the driver’s seat to keep his services.

Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti is more of a waiter than an attacker. While teams are pillaging the free agent market, Presti is content with just sitting back and watching as teams pile on mistake after mistake onto their rosters. He knows there really aren’t that many needs on a team that finished with the 2nd best record in the NBA in a tumultuous, injury-plagued season. The cupboards are loaded with superstars and young, cheap talent. Having that in mind, he knows that he doesn’t need a homerun to completely solidify this team as a championship contender. Sometimes, even when it comes to team building, you get as much out of a single, as you do out of a homerun.

Remember last season when the Nets (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirelenko, and Jason Terry), Clippers (JJ Redick, Jared Dudley, and Darren Collison) and Rockets (Dwight Howard) all won the offseason. Well, neither of those teams made it past the 2nd round of the playoffs. Remember that as we move forward in this offseason.

Young players need opportunities

With Thabo Sefolosha likely not getting extended by the Thunder, one of the needs the Thunder faced going into this offseason was a starting SG. Luckily, the Thunder got a taste of what life without Sefolosha would be like, as he missed 21 games in the regular season and was benched for several games throughout the playoffs. In his place, the Thunder started an array of young players throughout the season. Those players, Andre Roberson, Perry Jones, and Reggie Jackson, along with Jeremy Lamb and Josh Huestis, will all be vying for the starting SG position in training camp.

durant jones lamb thunder

Now the safe move would have been to sign a veteran SG like Miles or Meeks. But with 7 rookie contracts on the roster, the time to determine who is a part of the team’s future is now. If you sign a long term veteran to the SG position, that retards the growth of a couple young players. And on a team that values cap flexibility and sustainability, finding young, inexpensive players that can fill a role is of extreme importance.

Future Extensions

Don’t look now, but the Thunder’s top 5 players are all coming up for an extension within the next 3 seasons. First on the list is Reggie Jackson, who can sign an extension with the Thunder this offseason or go into restricted free agency next offseason. From the sounds of it, the Thunder are really trying to get Jackson extended this offseason in order to avoid having him go through restricted free agency where a team may be able to offer him a deal that would be too expensive for the Thunder to match.

In July 2016, Kevin Durant can be extended and Steven Adams can have his rookie contract extended, similar to what is happening to Jackson now. The year after that, both Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka are up for extensions. The success of the team relies heavily on these players. Keeping salary cap flexibility is tantamount to keeping the core of the roster together.

Add all that up, and the idea of giving a player like Miles or Meeks a 3 to 4 year deal seems almost asinine when you are pressing up against the tax. This team is all about sustainability and internal development. Splurging, even when money is available, goes against the way the Thunder is run. But what do I know? With the rumors that Pau Gasol and Mike Miller are seriously considering the Thunder, this article could be a moot point by next week.

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.

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Game 7 Preview

gasol ibaka thunder grizzlies

  • When: Saturday, 03 May 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Game 7. Those are the only 2 words you need to know about this game. Win or go home for both teams. Thankfully we have home court advantage. Game 6 was more what I expected to see from this team throughout this first round match-up. If Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook would have played 10% better in Games 2-5, this would’ve been a 5 game series. Instead, they struggled and allowed the Grizzlies to win three of four games that went to overtime.

Then the headline happened.

Durant doesn’t need motivation. There are some players that are self-motivated. Motivated by success. Motivated by legacy. Motivated by the hate to lose. That’s Durant. He’s been that way since day one. But sometimes, stupid headlines can piss you off to the point where it appears like motivation. If having your back against the wall wasn’t motivation enough, then this headline probably served as a accelerant, not only for Durant, but also for the entire team (coaches included).

Game 6 is more the pace that I expected to see from the team. Russell Westbrook playing a smart game, Serge Ibaka controlling the paint, Reggie Jackson giving what was needed when he was in the game, and Durant being his MVP self. More importantly, though, nothing came easy for the Grizzlies. The Thunder completely iced any pick and roll and the Grizzlies were not up to the task from the perimeter.

3 Keys to the Game

1. Adjustments – Oklahoma City made them in Game 6. The Grizzlies are being forced to make them in Game 7. The Zach Randolph suspension not only throws a wrench in the Grizzlies’ plans, but also in the Thunder’s plans. What do the Grizzlies plan to do? Will they start small with James Johnson or Mike Miller or will they remain big with either Kosta Koufos or Ed Davis? If the Grizzlies go small, expect to see Perkins’ minutes go down extensively. If the Grizzlies go big, business as usual.

2. Injured Bears – Randolph and Nick Calathes suspended. Mike Conley has a strained hamstring that he says would have kept him on the sidelines if this was a regular season game. Tony Allen is questionable because of migraines associated with an injured eye suffered in Game 6. To all of this, I say, poppycock. To me, all this information is lip service. Conley and Allen will play and will leave it all on the floor.

allen jackson westbrook ibaka thunder grizzlies

3. Pace – The biggest difference in Game 6 from Games 2-5, was pace. The Thunder pushed the ball and had the Grizzlies on skates all night. We’ll probably see a lot more small ball from the Grizzlies in this gam due to the Randolph suspension. But, it won’t be new to the Grizzlies. The dirty secret about the Randolph suspension is that the Grizzlies rarely played with Z-Bo in the 4th quarters of games. Gasol is a better big to have in small ball line-ups and it showed many times late in games in this series.

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder series preview

NBA: Playoffs-Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder

So it’s set. First up on Oklahoma City’s platter is the team that knocked them out of last season’s playoffs, the Memphis Grizzlies. It took a bit longer than expected for the playoff seeding to be decided, but in the end, it was almost manifest destiny for these two teams to meet in the playoffs once more. It’s like fate didn’t really like how the series played out last season (you know, no Russell Westbrook and all), so she decided to initiate a do-over.

Fate has a habit of matching the Thunder against opponents they have a history with. Last season it was James Harden-led Houston Rockets in the first round (and the subsequent Patrick Beverly fallout). Two seasons ago, it was the Dallas Mavericks, who had beaten the Thunder the previous season in the Western Conference Finals and the Los Angeles Lakers, in a metaphorical passing of the torch.

Regular season series

Wins in the regular season don’t always paint a clear picture as to how a series will play out. Many variables exist during the season that do not exist during the playoffs. Scheduling, fatigue, and sample size are all factors that come into play during the regular season, but have little to no bearing during the playoffs. But there are always factors within a season series that are highly applicable to the playoff series.

westbrook conley thunder grizzlies

The Thunder won the season series against the Grizzlies 3-1. Injuries played a major role in the outcome of a couple of the games. In the first game, a 116-100 OKC victory, the Grizzlies were without Marc Gasol, who was out with a knee injury. In the second game, a 90-87 Memphis victory, the Thunder were without Russell Westbrook, while the Grizzlies had their full complement of players.  In the 3rd game, both team were without their starting point guards, but the Thunder prevailed 86-77. The fourth game, a 113-107 OKC victory, saw both teams basically at full strength (even though Kendrick Perkins was out and Thabo Sefolosha only played 4 minutes) and is probably more indicative as to how the series will go.

Schedule

  • Game 1 – Saturday, 19 April 2014 at 8:30 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Game 2 – Monday, 21 April 2014 at 7:00 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Game 3 – Thursday, 24 April 2014 at 7:00 PM CST (FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN)
  • Game 4 – Tuesday, 26 April 2014 at 8:30 PM CST (FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN)
  • Game 5 – Tuesday, 29 April 2014 TBD (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)*
  • Game 6 – Thursday, 01 May 2014 TBD (FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN)*
  • Game 7 – Saturday, 03 May 2014 TBD (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)*

* If necessary

Probable Starting Line-ups

Memphis Grizzlies

  • PG – Mike Conley
  • SG – Courtney Lee
  • SF – Tayshaun Prince
  • PF – Zach Randolph
  • C – Marc Gasol
  • Bench depth – Tony Allen, Mike Miller, Kosta Koufos, Ed Davis, Beno Udrih

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins
  • Bench depth – Reggie Jackson, Nick Collison, Derek Fisher, Caron Butler, Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Series

Post defense – Strength on strength. The Grizzlies’ offensive strong suit is the Thunder’s defensive strong suit. The Thunder have no problem packing the paint and retreating back on shooters. In fact, it’s what they do best (not the retreating back on shooters part, though). The Thunder have 4 players capable of defending Gasol, Randolph, and Kosta Koufos. What will be interesting is who starts off on who. Positionally, it should be Ibaka on Randolph and Perkins on Gasol. But, style-wise, Randolph’s bruising style is more suited for Perkins and Ibaka should be able to stay on Gasol, who likes to operate from 15 feet in.

perkins ibaka randolph gasol thunder grizzlies

Pace – Memphis tries to muddy up the game and keep it in the 90’s. If they are able to run their offense (half court-oriented, using a lot of the clock), and are able to dictate how you run your offense, that keeps them in their comfort zone. But if you force turnovers, score in transition, and don’t allow them to settle in defensively, it becomes very difficult for the Grizzlies to keep up in the scoring department.

Point guards – Probably the biggest factors in the series. Last season, the Thunder were without Russell Westbrook for the entire series. This season, the Grizzlies come into the series with a point guard that may have a nagging hamstring injury (Conley) and no back-up, due to Nick Calathes being suspended for 20 games due to a failed drug test. The Grizzlies come into the series with a slightly injured starting point guard and Beno Udrih. The Thunder on the other hand, come into the series with both their point guards in tow.

X-factors

For Memphis – Their X-factor is Mike Miller. The one way to combat a defense that focuses on the paint is to punish it with perimeter shooting. Mike Miller has the ability to punish teams from the outside, and it’s one of the reasons the Thunder pursued so aggressively in the offseason.

miller thabeet thunder grizzlies

For Oklahoma City – Their X-factor is Reggie Jackson. With Calathes being suspended for the series, Jackson should run roughshod when he’s in the game against the bench.

Prediction

Thunder in 5.

Two things: First thing, not only is Russell Westbrook back and healthy for the Thunder, but the point guard depth for the Grizzlies took a hit with Calathes’ suspension. Secondly, Kevin Durant has taken last season’s disappointment and learned from it. He’s more adept at finding the open man and willing to punish teams with the pass, instead of firing up an ill-advised jumper with two or three defenders draped on him.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies preview (Game 38 of 82)

durant ibaka perkins fisher thunder grizzlies randolph conley

  • When: Tuesday, 14 January 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN

The Oklahoma City Thunder have been, what I like to call, consistently inconsistent. In their last 10 games, the Thunder have won 3, then lost 2, then won 2, then lost 2, and won their last game. It’s your basic microcosm of life without Russell Westbrook. Strings of good games, followed by ‘scratch your head’ losses. It’s a case where you say, “the team could be doing better, but, honestly, it could also be doing worse.”

The Thunder, in their current situation, should find some familiarity with tonight’s foe, the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies were the team that finally finished off the Thunder last season after Westbrook went down. After winning the first game of the series, the Thunder went on to lose the next 4 in frustrating fashion. They had shots to win all four games, but with the Grizzlies corralling Kevin Durant and him tiring near the end of games, it became too much for the Thunder in that series. This is the second meeting of the season between these two teams with the Thunder winning the first game, 116-100.

The Opponent

randolph conley grizzlies

The Grizzlies currently find themselves at 17-19, trying to claw back into the playoff race in the Western Conference. A season removed from being a participant in the Western Conference Finals, the Grizz have had their share of injuries and inner turmoil. Dave Joerger replaced popular head coach Lionel Hollins in the offseason and Marc Gasol suffered a sprained MCL in November and has gone on to miss two months. The team has trouble scoring (96.6 ppg – 21st in the league), but keep things close by boasting a good defense. The offense is keyed by point guard Mike Conley, who leads the team in scoring and assists. Recent pick-up Courtney Lee will play beside Conley and provide some perimeter scoring. Up front, Zach Randolph is a double-double machine and Kosta Koufos is a big mobile body. Off the bench, Mike Miller can still go off at any point in a game.

Probable Starting Line-Up

Memphis Grizzlies

  • PG – Mike Conley
  • SG – Courtney Lee
  • SF – Tayshaun Prince
  • PF – Zach Randolph
  • C -Kosta Koufos

Late note: Marc Gasol is active for tonight’s game and will be starting.

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Transition – Memphis loves to slow the game to a crawl and create from their half court offense. If the Thunder can force turnovers and make it more of a transition game, that will be to their benefit.

2. Conley – The key to stopping the Grizzlies from the Thunder’s perspective is to stay in front of Conley. The Thunder have plenty of players that can defend Randolph well (Collison, Ibaka, Perkins). But they need to stay with Conley to limit everything else the Grizzlies can do.

jackson conley thunder grizzlies

3. Durant’s wrist – I thought this would have been a good game for Durant to sit out, but, alas, the basketball player likes to play basketball. Keep that wrist wrapped up and let’s hope for no big falls.

Mike Miller and the Thunder: Monkey Business

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As newly minted free agent Mike Miller continues to ponder which team he’ll play for in the future, the decision, itself, may not have anything to do with basketball. The rumors are that Miller is looking for guaranteed years, a little bit more money, and playing time for a contender. But the answer to the decision of which team Miller plays for may actually lie in something more universal to all people: the ability to own a pet. More specifically, a pet of one’s choosing.

One of the quirks of Miller is that he used to own a Java Macque, which is a type of monkey. Sonny, as the monkey was called, was basically Miller’s first child. He had his own room, wore diapers, and was involved in child-like shenanigans. In a hilarious story, Miller describes how Sonny escaped the house and created a bit of a ruckus in the neighborhood,

“You would always put him in his room, and then we’d lock the door, and then we’d put the dogs out, and then we’d lock the front door. Well, he found out how to unlock doors, unlocked his door, went downstairs, let the dogs in the house and opened the front door. About an hour later we got a call from our neighbors, saying, ‘Your monkey is riding your dogs around the neighborhood.’…I said, ‘C’mon y’all, y’all got to get in the house.”

Unfortunately, Miller had to give Sonny up to a primate sanctuary when he started having his own children. Animals can be very protective/jealous and can pose a risk to small children. But with Miller’s children getting older, he may be thinking about getting a monkey (or any other exotic pet, for that matter) in the future. That may possibly factor into his decision for his future team.

Charlotte Bobcats v Miami Heat

Every state has different laws when it comes to owning primates. Some states out right ban keeping primates as pets. With that in mind, here’s a look at the primate possession laws of the four states whose teams are bidding for Miller’s services. Continue reading Mike Miller and the Thunder: Monkey Business

Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Preview (Game 53 of 82)

okc miami

  • When: Thursday, 14 February 2013 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

This game brings to it a sense of deja vu. The last time the Oklahoma City Thunder played the Miami Heat, the Thunder were coming off a loss. The Thunder ended up losing that game to the Heat on Christmas day for their only consecutive game losing streak of the season. This time the Thunder are coming off a loss to the Utah Jazz, and would love nothing more than to get a victory against last season’s Finals opponent before heading into the All-Star break. Remember, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook has to swallow the bitter pill of playing with Lebron James in the Olympics after their NBA Finals loss. The last thing they want is to lose to Lebron and the Heat again, when they’ll probably have to link up for NBA-related activities during the All-Star break.

In their last meeting, the Thunder and Heat played in a game that met expectation. While the Heat held the lead for most of the 4th quarter, the game was tight with Durant and Westbrook both having chances to tie the game in the closing seconds. The main characters performed well, with Durant and Westbrook leading the Thunder with 33 and 21 points, respectively, and James and Dwayne Wade leading the Heat with 29 and 21 points, respectively. The main difference were the role players, where Kevin Martin and Serge Ibaka each had 15 points for the Thunder, while Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers had 21 and 20, respectively, for the Heat.

The Opponent

miami heat starting 5

The Miami Heat come into the game with a 35-14 record, good for 1st in the Eastern Conference. They are currently riding a 6-game winning streak. Their offense is top-5 in the league (103.1 ppg, 5th in the league) and their scoring defense is in the top half of the league (96.7 ppg allowed, 12th in the league). The Heat are led by all-world forward Lebron James, who is having one of the best seasons the league has ever seen. He is leading the Heat in 4 statistical categories (scoring, rebounds, assists, and steals), while leading the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating (PER). The backcourt consists of Mario Chalmers and All-Star Dwayne Wade, who is also having a great season, averaging 21 points, nearly 5 rebound, and nearly 5 assists per game.  The front court consists of rugged PF Udonis Haslem and All-Star Chris Bosh. The bench is full of 3-point shooters (Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Norris Cole, Mike Miller) and the recently signed Chris Andersen.

Probable Starters

Miami Heat

  • PG – Mario Chalmers
  • SG – Dwayne Wade
  • SF – Lebron James
  • PF – Udonis Haslem
  • C – Chris Bosh

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

  • Perimeter Defense – Its the rock and the hard place that defenses face when they play the Miami Heat. Do you allow James and Wade to penetrate into the lane, but stay home on the shooters? Or do you collapse the defense to protect the paint, while exposing yourself on the perimeter? The Thunder always seem to get burned a one of the Heat’s role players (Battier in the Finals, Miller in Game 5, Chalmers in the Christmas game) on the perimeter. rebound
  • Rebounding – The Heat are last in the league in rebounding at 38.7 rebounds per game, which is completely unheard of for a championship contender. The Thunder bigs need to control the paint and not allow the Heat to get extra opportunities on offense. Kevin Durant needs to slide down and help out on the glass, especially when he is playing the 4, which I feel will be often in this game. brooks2
  • Scott Brooks and match-ups – This is probably one of the biggest subplots in the game. The Heat don’t play a tradition center (big, always in the paint, post presence). This negates the effectiveness of Kendrick Perkins, but Brooks always seems to have Perkins out on the floor when the Heat are playing small (usually in the 4th quarter). Will Brooks switch it up this time, or will he stay with the same defensive line-up when the Heat go small? Also, who guards Lebron James? Do you put KD on Lebron and risk Durant being in foul trouble? Or do you go with Sefolosha or Liggins? Whatever the decision is, it will probably a case of picking your poison.