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Pelicans vs. Thunder Primer (Preseason Game 2)

pelicansvs. okc logo

  • When: Friday, 06 October 2017 at 7:00 pm CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
  • TV: okcthunder.com or the OKC Thunder app (stream)
  • Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))

One preseason game down. Oklahoma City Thunder fans finally got to see what Paul George and Carmelo Anthony will look like in Thunder uniforms. It didn’t always flow smoothly, but the set-up for something bigger was there. The two of the Big 3 who played put their vast array of skills on display. George showed his overall ability (offense and defense) and Anthony showed his shot-making ability.

Were there hiccups? Of course. George and Anthony overpassed a little, leading to a couple turnovers. In addition, they seemed a little lost on how to use Steven Adams. The chemistry developed between Russell Westbrook and Adams took about two seasons to actually produce fruit. It would be foolish to think the new players on the team would have immediate chemistry with the old players on the team. Continue reading Pelicans vs. Thunder Primer (Preseason Game 2)

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Oklahoma City Thunder at Minnesota Timberwolves preview (Game 82 of 82)

westbrook thunder hamilton wiggins twolves

  • When: Wednesday, 15 April 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN

And it comes down to this. Eighty one games could not decide the future for the Oklahoma City Thunder and the New Orleans Pelicans. It all comes down to the 82nd and final game of the regular season. Considering everything that has happened to the Thunder this season, it is quite fitting that fans of Oklahoma City will be on pins and needles until about 9:30 PM CST tonight. It’s a position that is unfamiliar for Thunder fans. Even in their inaugural playoff season, the 8th-seeded Thunder finished 7 games ahead of the 9th-seeded Houston Rockets. There was never any late season drama other than their annual battle with the Spurs for the top two positions in the West. This season, though, the Thunder not only need to win their final game, but also have to depend on another team to extend their season. It almost feels like the Thunder are playing two road games tonight: their game against the Timberwolves in Minnesota and the Pelicans, at home, against the Spurs. Just like in real life, its kind of scary having to depend on other people.

This is the fourth and final meeting of the season between these two Northwest division rivals. The Thunder won the first three meetings by an average of 13.7 points.

The Opponent

NBA: Houston Rockets at Minnesota Timberwolves

The Minnesota Timberwolves currently finding themselves with a 16-65 record, good for the worst record in the NBA. They are riding an 11-game losing streak heading into this game and claim the best chance of getting the No. 1 pick in the next draft if they lose tonight. The Tiimberwolves have stuck to the tanking script for the past month, sitting veterans with nagging injuries and playing their young players the majority of the minutes. The Wolves are definitely playing for the future, and feature two rookies that could have a significant impact in years to come. Reigning slam dunk champ Zach LaVine has been manning the point in the last 5 games, averaging an impressive 23.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 6.4 assists in that quintet of games. His back court mate, Kevin Martin, is shooting 38.7% from 3-point territory and averaging nearly 20 points a game. Kevin Martin is questionable for tonight’s game. If he misses, look for Chase Budinger to start in his place. On the wing, Rookie of the Year candidate Andrew Wiggins is a developing franchise player in the Paul George/Tracy McGrady mold. Up front, rookie power forward Adreian Payne is just now starting to get significant minutes and Justin Hamilton is one of those “guys you sign to be a 3rd center off the bench” type guys. With so many guys out for this finale, the bench will feature Robbie Hummel, Lorenzo Brown, and Arinze Onuaku. Yeah, I don’t know too much about them either.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Minnesota Timberwolves

  • PG – Zach LaVine
  • SG – Kevin Martin
  • SF – Andrew Wiggins
  • PF – Adreian Payne
  • C – Justin Hamilton

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Dion Waiters
  • SF – Andre Roberson
  • PF – Enes Kanter
  • C – Steven Adams

Three Things

1. Front offices tank, not players – The Timberwolves’ front office has done a good job of positioning itself to continue in its rebuilding process. They’ll like get a top-3 draft pick in this next draft, and have given their young players ample time to develop this season. You know who doesn’t care about Minnesota’s position in the next draft? Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. I, mean, they care, because they are invested in the continued success of their organization. But tonight, they aren’t thinking about Jahlil Okafor or Karl Anthony Towns. Tonight, Wiggins is only thinking about dropping 35 on Andre Roberson. Tonight, LaVine is only worried about getting a triple double against Westbrook.

If the Thunder treat this game like the Timberwolves are the worst team in the league, they may find this to be a competitive game heading in to the 4th quarter. The last thing you want if you are the Thunder is to give the Wolves hope heading into the closing quarter of the game. Minnesota has played their last two opponents (New Orleans and Golden State) close, and will likely treat this game like it is their Game 7. This would be their ultimate “feather in the cap” if they are able to beat the Thunder and ruin their playoff chances.

2. Play through the jitters – Westbrook and Nick Collison have been here before. They’ve been in pressure-packed games that mean something. Enes Kanter, Dion Waiters, Kyle Singler, and Andre Roberson, on the other hand, haven’t. The team with all the pressure on them will be Oklahoma City. How will those players react if their first couple shots don’t fall? How will they react if Westbrook’s first couple shots don’t fall? Let’s just hope that doesn’t come into play.

westbrook waiters kanter thunder

3. Win – The only thing Oklahoma City can control is what it does in Minnesota. They can’t control what the Spurs do. They can’t control how the Pelicans will play. All you can do is win and hope for the best.

Thunder Up!

Sacramento Kings vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 79 of 82)

westbrook adams thunder evans kings

  • When: Friday, 10 April 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Four straight losses. And yet, the Oklahoma City Thunder still find themselves in the midst of being able to get the 8th and final playoff seed in the Western Conference. With the way this season has gone, it only seems apropos that it would come down to the final four games of the season for this team. The Thunder are currently tied in the standings with the New Orleans Pelicans, who hold the tie-breaker by virtue of winning the season series 3-1. With that said, the Thunder will need help from other teams to ensure that they do not finish with the same record as the Pelicans. The road ahead is a little bit tougher for the Pelicans, but that could also be a mirage as the two playoff teams they are facing in the next week may be resting their players. The Thunder on the other hand, play a Pacers team on the road that is trying to claw its way back into the Eastern Conference playoffs and division rival Portland, who may or may not be resting their starters in that game. For as much as the Thunder control their own destiny, they still need help. Here’s to being a Minnesota, Phoenix, Houston, and San Antonio fan in the next few days.

This is the 4th and final meeting of the season between these two teams. The Thunder lead the season series 2-1, with the victor of each game winning pretty convincingly. Injuries have played a role in each of the games, as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were absent for the first game, DeMarcus Cousins was injured for the second game, and Durant was out again for the third game.

The Opponent

mccallum mclemore miller kings

The Sacramento Kings come into the game with a 27-51 record. The Kings’ season started positively enough as they opened up the 2014-15 campaign 9-5. But injuries and in-fighting between the head coach and the front office quickly changed the course of the season in a negative way. In the end, head coach Mike Malone was fired in mid-December and the Kings never regained any of the momentum they had when they started the season. Since then, they’ve gone on to hire veteran coach George Karl to be their coach for the foreseeable future.  The coaching change hasn’t done much to stem the tide, as the Kings have gone 9-17 since Karl was hired. They score 100.9 points per game (good for 13th in the league), but give up 104.9 points per game (which is 28th worst in the league). The current starting back-court for the Kings is an inexperienced bunch made up of two 2nd year players (Ray McCallum and Ben McLemore). Both have been inefficient in their shot selection and decision making. On the wing, veteran Omri Casspi  has been the Kings’ best player in the last 3 games. There is a possibility that Rudy Gay may play in this game, but he has been dealing with the after effects of a concussion. With DeMarcus Cousins being out with foot injury, the Kings have been shuffling their glut of power forwards into and out of the starting front court (Jason Thompson, Reggie Evans, Derrick Williams, and Carl Landry). Off the bench, the non-starting power forwards, Ryan Hollins, and Andre Miller will provide much of the reserve playing time.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Sacramento Kings

  • PG – Ray McCallum
  • SG – Ben McLemore
  • SF – Rudy Gay
  • PF – Jason Thompson
  • C – Carl Landry

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Dion Waiters
  • SF – Andre Roberson
  • PF – Enes Kanter
  • C – Steven Adams

Three Things

1. Trap Game Potential – The Kings are not a very good team, but sometimes, the Thunder have a tendency to play down to their opponents. With so much on the line, I could definitely see a scenario where the Thunder start the game off cold and then try too hard to come back. A lot of the Thunder’s new players have never had to deal with this type of pressure, so a trap game scenario is definitely a possibility.

2. Rebounding – The Kings aren’t good at a lot of things. But they are pretty good at rebounding. And bad teams that can rebound tend to stay around in games they have no business being in contention for. Surprisingly, though, outside of Cousins, the Kings’ other big men aren’t necessarily great at rebounding. The Kings’ small forwards though, gobble up their fair share of boards, so everyone on the Thunder will have to be disciplined on the blocks for the rebounds.

kanter adams thunder

3. Twin Towers – The Thunder’s big men have a significant size advantage (outside of Sim Bhullar) over the rest of the Kings’ big men. This is another game in which both players could possibly get double-doubles against the Kings’ smaller front line.

The Oklahoma City Thunder tank conundrum: The difference between 14 and 18

adams kanter westbrook roberson waiters morrow thunder

With Tuesday’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs (and New Orleans’ subsequent defeat of the Golden State Warriors), the Oklahoma City Thunder found themselves in a position they hadn’t been for the past month: outside the top 8 in the Western Conference. With only four games left and with New Orleans holding the tie-breaker between themselves and OKC, the likelihood of the Thunder missing the playoffs has become a very real possibility.

The 8th spot in the Western Conference is almost guaranteed to get the 18th pick in the draft, while the 9th spot in the Western Conference is slotted to be the 14th pick in the lottery, as they would hold the best record of all the non-playoff teams. The 14th worst team in the league has a 0.5% of getting the 1st pick, a 0.6% chance of getting the 2nd pick, and a 0.7% chance of getting the 3rd pick. The team that picks in the 14th spot has never won the draft lottery a.k.a the Number 1 pick. In 1993, the Orlando Magic won the draft lottery with a 1.52% chance of winning it. They had the best record of all the lottery teams and remain the team with the worst odds to ever garner the Number 1 pick. Since then, three more teams have been added to the NBA, so the odds are even lower now.

The possibility of Oklahoma City getting the top pick is damn near slim to none. Same goes for them getting the 2nd or 3rd pick. The question then becomes what’s more important for a championship contending team that has been saddled with bad luck: a higher draft pick or postseason experience for their playoff neophytes? More simply, is there a discernible difference between the 14th pick and the 18th pick?

leonard spurs antetokounmpo bucks

Looking back at the last five drafts, those five draft spots are extremely important for getting good role players, with the possibility of getting a lower tier superstar. The top three players that have been chosen in those spots in the past 5 yeas have been Kawhi Leonard, Eric Bledsoe, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Other players of high value include Nikola Vucevic, Dennis Schroder, Terrance Jones, Marcus Morris, and Jusuf Nurkic. Of all those players, only Marcus Morris was chosen with the 14th pick. Meanwhile, Terrance Jones and Eric Bledsoe were both chosen with the 18th pick.

From the numbers, there are no discernible differences between the 14th pick and the 18th pick. Without all the injuries, the Thunder are a championship contending team. If the team is able to keep Enes Kanter in the offseason, their needs will be peripheral at best. If the team is able to draft the mythical creature known as a 2-way shooting guard, then great. We’ve all seen grainy videos of two-way shooting guards that can shoot from the perimeter and defend their position well. According to lore, they still exist. Another need that could be addressed in the draft is another good shooter. Other than those two things, health is probably the only thing the Thunder need for next season.

Well, health and more playoff experience. Some of the remaining Thunder players that have survived the triage-apocalypse that has been this season, have never been featured players on playoff teams. Dion Waiters, Kyle Singler, and Mitch McGary have never been to the postseason, and Enes Kanter made it to the playoffs in his rookie season with the Utah Jazz, but didn’t play many meaningful minutes as the San Antonio Spurs swept the Jazz in what was a lopsided first round series. The experience earned, even at the hands of a sweep by the Golden State Warriors, will be irreplaceable come this time next season.

reggie jackson kendrick perkins thunder

Think back to when the Thunder first played the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the 2010 postseason. Oklahoma City lost the series in 6 games, but the experience earned in that series fueled their next four postseason runs. The Thunder have a new set of players that have replaced some seasoned vets the Thunder had in their previous postseason runs (Kendrick Perkins, Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher). Those new players need to experience what playoff basketball, at its highest, it like. I’d rather they earn that experience now, than have to earn it next season when the Thunder hopefully are chasing a title and the stakes are a lot higher.

The Thunder are in a position to get the best of both worlds: a solid first round pick and playoff experience. Is there risk for injury if the Thunder make the playoffs? Of course. But there’s a risk of injury any time any of these players gets on a basketball court, whether its in an NBA game or an offseason workout. Missing the playoffs on purpose makes no sense whatsoever, especially when there is only a 0.18% chance of obtaining a top-3 pick. Plus, there’s no way Russell Westbrook will ever stand by and allow the team to lose on purpose. The Thunder will try their hardest in these last four games, and will allow the chips to fall wherever they may fall.

Scoreboard Watching: The Last 10 Games

adams kanter westbrook thunder

In a season that started off with championship aspirations, the Oklahoma City Thunder still find themselves in a position to achieve that goal, albeit a lot lower in the standings than previously envisioned. If healthy, the Thunder would clearly be atop the Western Conference standings. But as is the case when the words, “if healthy,” are used, the Thunder this season have been anything but healthy. Of the players currently on the roster, the Thunder have lost about 164 games due to injury. That figure would likely rival the last 5 seasons combined. Regardless of all of this, though, the Thunder are still firmly entrenched in the 8th spot of the Western Conference with 10 games to play. Their magic number to clinch a playoff spot is 8.

Anytime you are in the middle of a playoff race, you always have to look at the teams you are trying to gain ground on and the teams that are looking to gain ground on you. You watch out for, not only your team’s scores, but also the scores of those teams you are looking out for. Here’s a look at some of the teams who fortunes directly affect the future of the Thunder’s playoff hopes and beyond.

The Predators

Phoenix Suns

  • Current Record – 38-34
  • Position in the Conference/Position in relation to the Thunder – 9th in the conference, 3 games behind OKC
  • Remaining Schedule – vs. Portland, vs. OKC, @Portland, @Golden State, vs. Utah, @Atlanta, @Dallas, @New Orleans, @San Antonio, vs. Los Angeles Clippers
  • Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .630

After the trade deadline, Phoenix had to adjust after trading two of their top three guards (Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas). While they gained Brandon Knight, the adjustment period did cause the Suns to lose 7 of their first 11 games after the All-Star break. That spurt allowed the Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans to push ahead of the Suns in the battle for the 8th spot. The Sun have probably the toughest remaining schedule of the three teams looking for the 8th spot. Not only is the winning percentage of the teams remaining on their schedule .630, six of those ten games are on the road. The only solace the Suns can take is that some of those teams may be resting players in preparation for the playoffs.

green morris suns evans withey pelicans

New Orleans Pelicans

  • Current Record – 37-34
  • Position in the Conference/Position in relation to the Thunder – 10th in the conference, 3.5 games behind OKC
  • Remaining Schedule – vs. Sacramento, vs. Minnesota, @Los Angeles Lakers, @Sacramento, @Portland, vs. Golden State, @Memphis, vs. Phoenix, @Houston, @Minnesota, vs. San Antonio
  • Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .495

While the Pelicans have a much easier upcoming schedule, they are still dealing with injuries to two key players. Point guard Jrue Holiday remains without a timetable and Ryan Anderson is still about a week or so away from returning. The lack of depth in their guard rotation has started to rear its ugly head in the last few close games. Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon have had to log major minutes in the last two months, and seem to be tiring at the end of games. Anthony Davis is doing everything he can to help the Pelicans, but teams are starting to double him in the post. If the Pelicans are going to make any moves, it’ll be in the next four game, as their next four opponents have a winning percentage of .307.

The Prey

San Antonio Spurs

  • Current Record – 45-26
  • Position in the Conference/Position in relation to the Thunder – 6th in the conference, 4.5 games ahead of OKC
  • Remaining Schedule – vs. Dallas, vs. Memphis, @Miami, @Orlando, vs. Denver, vs. Golden State, @OKC, vs. Houston, @Houston, vs. Phoenix, @New Orleans
  • Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .568

The Thunder had a golden opportunity to make up ground on the Spurs last night, but watched that wilt away before halftime, as they fell behind by as much as 30 points in the 3rd quarter. The Spurs’ remaining schedule is not easy, but, luckily, they play the more difficult opponents at home. In year’s past, the Spurs would usually rest their players during this stretch of the year, but with the Mavs and the Thunder on their tails, the Spurs will likely not be doing that so much this season.

nowitzki mavericks duncan spurs

Dallas Mavericks

  • Current Record – 45-27
  • Position in the Conference/Position in relation to the Thunder – 7th in the conference, 4 games ahead of OKC
  • Remaining Schedule – @San Antonio, @Indiana, @OKC, vs. Houston, vs. Golden State, vs. Phoenix, @Denver, @Los Angeles Lakers, @Utah, vs. Portland
  • Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .538

The Mavs have been prone to inconsistencies of late (6-7 in their last 13 games) and may still be suffering from chemistry issues. Monta Ellis’ effectiveness hasn’t been the same since the Rajon Rondo trade and the Mavericks’ big man depth is questionable. They struggle a bit on the road and have two 3-game road trips coming up. The Thunder have one more game against the Mavericks and it comes at the back end of a tough 3 game road trip. If there is a team that may relinquish their positioning, it may be Dallas.

The Future Commodities Stakeholder

Washington Wizards

  • Current Record – 40-32
  • Position in relation to the Thunder – 1 game worse than OKC
  • Remaining Schedule – vs. Charlotte, vs. Houston, vs. Philadelphia, vs. New York, @Memphis, @Philadelphia, @Brooklyn, vs. Atlanta, @Indiana, @Cleveland
  • Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .476

While the Wizards’ fortunes hold no bearing for the Thunder’s playoff implications, they do hold significance for the Thunder’s first round draft pick. The Thunder currently have a better record than the Wizards which would give them the 19th pick in the upcoming draft. The trade that garnered Dion Waiters for the Thunder came at a cost of the Thunder’s first round pick. That pick had a restriction of Top 18, meaning that if the pick was in positions 1-18, the Thunder would keep the pick. If the Thunder were to pick in the 19-30 spot, that pick would be conveyed to the Philadelphia 76ers (via Denver from Cleveland). If the Thunder and Wizards finish with the same record, the position of the pick will be decided by a coin flip, with the winner of the flip getting the 18th pick.

The Thunder are firmly in the 8th spot in the West. Their playoff destiny could be decided in the next 6 games. They have a tough 2 game road trip remaining (@Phoenix and @Utah) and then play the Texas triangle and Memphis after that. Come out of that gauntlet with a winning record, and you control your playoff destiny. Finish less then .500 in these next 6 games, and things could get very harry. This is my favorite time of year to not only watch the games involving the Thunder, but also watch the games of the teams that can affect the Thunder’s future. Here’s to the last 3 weeks of the season.

Sifting through the rubble: A Thunder trading deadline postscript

jackson perkins thunder

From the time I woke up on February 19th to about 1:30 PM CST, I was almost certain that a certain Brooklyn Nets 7-footer would be a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Speculation was abound that the Thunder and Nets had rekindled talks revolving around Brook Lopez, Kendrick Perkins, and Reggie Jackson. All the information leading up to about 12:30 PM CST was that it was basically a done deal and that the Nets were awaiting Oklahoma City’s approval. Then the chatter stopped.

Trades usually come at you one of two ways. The first way is like the trade in which the Thunder acquired Dion Waiters. It comes at you in an instant and you barely have time to react. The second way is like the Brook Lopez (non)trade. You hear the rumors and speculation leading up to the trade, and usually it gets done after that. But sometimes, the chatter stops prompting one of two thoughts: either the teams are working on the specifics of the deal or the deal has completely fallen through. In the case of Brook Lopez, it was the latter.

The rumors started that the Thunder were doing their due diligence and were looking at all their options. Around 1:45 PM CST, Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that Reggie Jackson had been traded to the Detroit Pistons. Apparently the Jackson move was the linchpin that was holding everything back in the league. Once Jackson was dealt, all hell broke loose. About 30 players were traded in a 10 minute span leading to the trading deadline. The trade deadline literally napalmed the entire league. And these weren’t end of the bench players. These were former All-Stars, talented players on rookie deals, a former Rookie of the Year, and game-changers. This trade deadline was definitely worth it.

When all the dust settled, four new players were slated to be in Thunder uniforms, while four others became former Thunder players. Here’s an overview of the two deals the Thunder made at the deadline.

Deal 1:

  • Oklahoma City received Enes Kanter and Steve Novak from Utah and DJ Augustin, Kyle Singer, and a 2019 2nd round pick from Detroit.
  • Utah received Kendrick Perkins, Grant Jerrett, the draft rights to Tibor Pleiss, and a 2017 lottery protected 1st round pick from Oklahoma City and a 2017 2nd round pick from Detroit.
  • Detroit received Reggie Jackson

The Jackson deal was actually a 3 team deal that also involved Kendrick Perkins and little used rookie forward Grant Jerrett. Jackson let his intentions be known at the end of last season and at training camp this season, that his main goal was to be a starter in the league. With Russell Westbrook in tow and Oklahoma City’s penchant for starting defensive minded, normal sized SG’s, the Thunder were never in a position to acquiesce to Jackson’s demands. As the trading deadline drew closer, Jackson’s agent, Aaron Mintz, asked the team to trade his client. From all the accounts, the locker room chemistry between Jackson and his teammates (specifically Kevin Durant and Westbrook) was reaching a boiling point of which there would be no returning from. The Thunder had to get a deal done and Detroit (and Utah) offered them the best deal in terms of known commodities.

dj augustin kyle singler pistons

I will say this. It was kind of hard to see Perkins go. On a team full of hares, Perkins was the tortoise. I know he was the bane of a lot of Thunder fans’ existences, but his effects on the team will be felt for years to come. He was the big brother on the team and he relished that role. When the younger players (to include Durant and Westbrook) had a bad day, they would usually turn to Perkins for advice. He was the protector of the inner sanctum. Only team members and a select few were allowed in their locker room (I’m looking at you, Joakim Noah). He made the team better defensively (don’t argue, just look up the stats), and toughened them up. Did he have his flaws? Of course. But he also personified the qualities that you and I take into our 9 to 5’s, and I for one, appreciated it.

Deal 2:

  • Oklahoma City received a protected 2016 2nd round pick from New Orleans.
  • New Orleans received Ish Smith, the draft rights to Latavious Williams, a 2015 protected 2nd round pick from Oklahoma City, and cash considerations.

The Thunder made this move to clear a roster spot for the incoming new players. The Thunder could have waived Smith, but his salary would have counted towards their final salary number of the team. With the team already being over the luxury tax, they didn’t want to add to the total amount they would have to pay to the league. Instead, New Orleans stepped in and took on Smith, who was subsequently waived.

When I look at the players the Thunder acquired, one word resonates in my mind: balance. This is the most balanced team the Thunder has ever yielded. You could argue that the 2011-12 team that made it to the NBA Finals was more balanced, but this team is more experienced. In the end, the Thunder lost a good player in Jackson and a team leader in Perkins, but got back so much more in depth and balance. The Thunder got back a true back-up point guard that can shoot, two sharp-shooters, and an offensively adept center that is only 22 years of age. In short, the Thunder got better.

Oklahoma City Thunder at New Orleans Pelicans preview (game 49 of 82)

westbrook thunder gordon pelicans

  • When: Wednesday, 04 February 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA

I believe this season comes down to the 12 games in February. Do anything less than 9-3, and it becomes harder and harder for the Thunder to catch up to the Pelicans and Suns. Here’s the catch, though. Those 3 losses cannot come against the Pelicans and Suns (2 games against New Orleans and 1 game against Phoenix this month). If the Thunder lose any of the two remaining games against the Pelicans, they lose the season series and essentially fall a game behind New Orleans if both teams finish with the same record. Conversely, they’ve won both games against the Suns and need one more victory to clinch the season series (and catch up to them in the standings). It’s go time. The excuse that the Thunder have plenty of time to catch up is quickly evaporating with every game.

This is the third of four games between these two teams. New Orleans has won the first two games of the series. In the first game, the Thunder’s rhythm was thrown off by the return of Kevin Durant to the line-up and they lost 104-112. In the second game, with Durant out with an ankle injury, the Thunder battled hard until late in the 4th quarter. But critical miscues by Russell Westbrook in that final quarter led to the team losing 99-101. Kevin Durant will be out for this one with a sprained left big toe.

The Opponent

davis asik evans pelicans

The Pelicans come into the game with a 26-22 record, currently good for 9th in the Western Conference. In their last game, the Pelicans defeated the Atlanta Hawks to bring the Hawk’s 19-game win streak to an end. New Orleans features a balanced team with interior scoring and perimeter shooters. They are middle of the pack in most statistical categories, but find ways to win close games, as evidenced by their small margin of victory (+1.4). They usually led by Jrue Holiday, but he has been out for the past 2 weeks with a stress reaction in his ankle. In his stead, New Orleans has used a combination of Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon in the backcourt. Gordon has remained relatively healthy since coming back from a shoulder injury that caused him to miss 21 games. Dante Cunningham has slid into the starting SF position and has put up 5.9 points and 4.2 rebounds in his last 10 games. Up front, Anthony Davis continues to play at an MVP-like pace and Omer Asik is still big. The bench features 6th Man of the Year candidate Ryan Anderson, sharpshooter Quincy Pondexter, and big man Alexis Ajinca.

Probable Starting Line-ups

New Orleans Pelicans

  • PG – Tyreke Evans
  • SG – Eric Gordon
  • SF – Dante Cunningham
  • PF – Anthony Davis
  • C – Omer Asik

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Dion Waiters
  • SF – Andre Roberson
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Anthony Davis and Tyreke Evans – In two games this season, Davis has absolutely dominated Serge Ibaka. He’s averaged 31.5 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 3.5 blocks, and 3 steals per game in those two meetings. Davis has gone the Brow equivalent of Slim Reaper on the Thunder this season. For the team to have a chance with Durant, they are going to have to limit Davis somehow. Whether that’s by double teaming (something the Thunder never do) or by Ibaka just playing better man to man defense, something has to be done to prevent Davis from getting video game stat lines against us. Conversely, Evans has shredded the Thunder defense by getting into the paint at will. Whether its Westbrook, Roberson, or Waiters defending, they’ll have to do a better job of staying in front of Evans.

westbrook jackson adams ibaka thunder evans asik pelicans

2. Rebounding – The Pelicans are the fourth best offensive rebounding team in the league at 12.2 a game. Where they are most dangerous is when those extra opportunities lead to 3-point shots from Anderson, Gordon, or Pondexter while the defense is left scrambling. And it’s not just Davis and Asik. Tyreke Evans does a good job rebounding from the wing and Anderson and Ajinca do a good job of offensive rebounding off the bench. It’ll be very important for Ibaka, Adams, and Perkins to box out and not allow the Pelicans any more opportunities than necessary.

3. Dion Waiters – The “Dion Waiters as a starter” experiment got off to a rousing start in the last game. He scored 24 on 9-15 shooting and had a big part in Westbrook’s triple double in that game. He added a dimension to the starting line-up that is usually only seen when both Westbrook and Durant are healthy. He’ll likely have to have a similar game tonight for the Thunder to win.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. New Orleans Pelicans preview (Game 28 of 82)

adams lamb thunder davis asik pelicans

  • When: Sunday, 21 December 2014 at 6:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The Oklahoma City Thunder stand on the precipice of reaching the summit of the mountain that looked a lot more daunting at the beginning of the month than it does now. Staring at a 5-12 record on December 1st, and looking up in the standings, the Thunder found themselves in an unfamiliar position. After finally getting healthy, the Thunder have gone on to win 8 of their first 10 games in December, to push themselves within a half game of the 8th position in the Western Conference. This would be the first step in them climbing themselves out of the hole the injuries in the beginning of the season created.

This is the 2nd of 4 meetings between the Thunder and Pelicans. The Pelican won the first meeting of the year 112-104. That game was the first one to feature both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the same line-up. A horrible 2nd quarter doomed the Thunder in that game and they could never fully recover.

The Opponent

davis asik evans pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans are the classic “team growing into itself” team. They do great against lesser competition, but don’t have the experience yet to win the close games against the better teams. That’s the main reason for their 13-13 record. The teams they have victories against have a combined winning percentage of .390. In their losses, the victors are boasting a combined winning percentage of .706. Looking at that, it’s easy to say that the Pelicans are improving, but nowhere close to being elite yet. They have a top 5 offense according to offensive rating, but have the 25th ranked defense in terms of defensive rating. One step forward, one step back equals a .500 record. They are led by point guard Jrue Holiday, who is having a good season averaging nearly 16 points and 7 assists per game. Tyreke Evans and Luke Babbitt fill the wings and give defenders a contrasting look. While Evans is more of the slasher, Babbitt has made a career of being a good 3-point shooter (49.1% on 2.6 attempts per game). Up front, Anthony Davis has regressed a bit from supernova earlier this season down to superstar, but he is still a match-up nightmare on both ends of the court for the Thunder. Omer Asik has increased his rebounding and is currently grabbing 10.7 boards per game (3.8 of those offensive rebounds). Off the bench, Austin Rivers has been playing some of the most consistent basketball of his career, Ryan Anderson is shooting 34.7% from deep on 6.8 attempts per game and Dante Cunningham has been providing a spark since he joined the team 10 games ago.

Probable Starting Line-ups

New Orleans Pelicans

  • PG – Jrue Holiday
  • SG – Tyreke Evans*
  • SF – Luke Babbitt
  • PF – Anthony Davis
  • C – Omer Asik

* – Tyreke Evans is dealing with a knee bruise and is on the 2nd game of a back to back. May be a candidate to sit out.

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

* – Kevin Durant will be a game-time decision with a sprained ankle.

COTN: oboy – here for #COTN

3 Keys to the Game

1. Rebounding – Anthony Davis and Omer Asik are averaging 21 rebounds per game between them and can turn a game with their offensive rebounding (6.6 per game). Even their wing players, Evans and Anderson average 5.3 boards per game each. Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, and Nick Collison need to do their best to box out the Pelican big men and not give them extra opportunities.

Tyreke Evans, Omer Asik, Kendrick Perkins, Steven Adams

2. Perimeter Defense – While the Pelicans aren’t necessarily known as a great 3-point shooting team, they have certain players (Anderson, Babbitt, Holiday) that can get hot and turn a game. In the last game, the score was tied at 43 midway through the 2nd quarter, before Luke Babbitt opened the flood gates with 2 consecutive 3-pointers. The Pelicans caught fire the rest of the first half and didn’t look back from there.

3. Team you need to beat – If injuries (hopefully small) are going to resurface throughout the season, then the Thunder may be in play for positions 6-10 in Western Conference. If this is the case, the Thunder need to beat those teams that they are battling against for those spots. Tie-breakers can be extremely important when you are battling for positioning at the end of the season. The Pelicans are already one up on the Thunder and would love nothing more than to force a split against them for the season series.

Oklahoma City Thunder at New Orleans Pelicans preview (Game 18 of 82)

durant collison thunder rivers pelicans

  • When: Tuesday, 02 December 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA

Now, the rest of the season begins. I used to make fun of teams that had high expectations at the beginning of the season, only to see their season crumple under a calamity of issues. The most recent example I can think of is the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers. That was the first year of the Kobe Bryant-Steve Nash-Dwight Howard triumvirate that was supposed to bring a title back to LA. Of course, as we know, injuries and chemistry issues completely derailed that season. What was comical though, was every time the Lakers put a win streak together, the general theme in the postgame interviews was, “the season starts now.” Well, the Thunder are in that same boat now. Is it still early in the season? Yes. But in the extremely competitive Western Conference, you can’t fall too far behind, no matter when in the season it is.

The Thunder have a collection of teams that they need to target in order to get into the playoff race. The Grizzlies, Spurs, Rockets, Trailblazers, and Warriors are probably too far ahead of the Thunder for them to worry about them at this point. It’s the team in the 6th – 11th positions, the Kings, Nuggets, Pelicans, Suns, Clippers, and Mavericks, that the Thunder need to chase. Every game against those teams from here on out is basically a must-win game.

This is the first of 4 meetings between the Thunder and the Pelicans this season. The Thunder won 2 of 3 meetings last season, with each team winning by at least 10 points.

The Opponent

NBA: Preseason-Oklahoma City Thunder at New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans currently find themselves at 7-8, riding a three game losing streak coming into this game. The got off to a 7-5 start, but feasted mainly on bottom tier teams. Their record against teams with a record of .500 or above is 2-8. They are middle of the road in most categories and are just now starting to find out who they really are. They have a bonafide superstar and MVP candidate in Anthony Davis and are starting to tailor a team around his strengths. Leading that charge is point guard Jrue Holiday, who is coming off an injury-plagued first season in New Orleans. He has bounced back well, averaging 15.5 points, 6.2 assists, and 1.2 steals per game this season. The wing positions have always been a source of trouble for these Pelicans. Eric Gordon is always hurt, Austin Rivers is not that good, and Tyreke Evans has bouts of inconsistency. Up front, the Pelicans have one of the more dynamic front courts in the league. In Davis, they have a 5-tool player who is top-10 in five of the six major statistical categories (points, rebounds, FG%, blocks, and steals) and leads the league in PER (33.4). Omer Asik’s biggest contribution to the team may be the fact that he allows Davis to play most of his minutes at PF, where he is most comfortable playing. Asik does a good job of being a big body and grabbing offensive rebounds. Off the bench, the Pelicans are a bit thin, even with Ryan Anderson being a 6th Man of the Year candidate.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

New Orleans Pelicans

  • PG – Jrue Holiday
  • SG – Austin Rivers
  • SF – Tyreke Evans
  • PF – Anthony Davis
  • C – Omer Asik

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

5 Keys to the Game

1. Kevin Durant – Scott Brooks said Durant will start and will play about 30 minutes. As I said in the previous preview with Westbrook’s return: Welcome back. Now let’s napalm the league, sir.

2. Pack the Paint – If the Thunder have to pick their poison with this team, the best bet is to pack the paint. New Orleans doesn’t have any reliable 3-point shooters, outside of Ryan Anderson. Most of the offense is generated through Davis inside, Anderson shooting, and on Holiday and Evans dribble drives. While Evans, Holiday, and Rivers are capable shooters (all above 30% from 3-point territory), they are nowhere near as reliable as Anderson. Luckily, the Thunder’s specialty is defending the paint…..and unfortunately, leaving 3-point shooters open.

westbrook thunder rivers ajinca pelicans

3. Protect the ball – The Pelicans are the best ball protectors in the league. They only average 10.7 turnovers per game. In their wins, the difference in turnover has been a +5.6, in favor of the Pelicans. In their losses, the turnover difference has been in the Pelicans favor by only +1.8. New Orleans is going to take care of the ball. What you can’t do is allow them extra possessions because of your miscues.

4. The Returns of Lance Thomas and Anthony Morrow to New Orleans – Morrow and Thomas return back to the site where they played last season. One of the things that Durant’s return negates is Thomas’s “look at me now, New Orleans” moment as he is introduced in the opposing team’s starting line-up. Oh, what could’ve been. Enjoy the gumbo and beignets, gentlemen.

5. Never forget – Ahhh, look at Morrow being a good teammate.

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Southwest Division

Southwest Divison

1. San Antonio Spurs

spurs championship 2014

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

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

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

  • Aron Baynes – Unsigned

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 59-23

2. Memphis Grizzlies

prince gasol allen conley randolph grizzlies

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

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

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

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

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 54-28

3. Dallas Mavericks

nowitzki ellis mavericks

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

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

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

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

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 53-29

4. Houston Rockets

harden howard rockets

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

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

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

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

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 47-35

5. New Orleans Pelicans

Jrue Holiday, Tony Wroten, Anthony Davis

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

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

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

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 42-40