Tag Archives: Omer Asik

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.

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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

Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets preview (Game 75 of 82)

durant parsons thunder rockets

  • When: Friday, 04 April 2014 at 8:30 PM CST
  • Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX

If you are a guaranteed playoff team and are satisfied with your seeding, the last month of the season is more like a playoff preseason. The team wants to work out any kinks in order to be a well-oiled machine heading into the playoffs. But a team also wants to either rest it’s top players or get them healthy by the time the second season starts. The Thunder are firmly entrenched in the No. 2 slot of the Western Conference. Barring a collapse by the Spurs or an uprising (with a Thunder collapse) of the Clippers, this is where the Thunder will be when the playoffs begin.

The Thunder will be going for their 2nd 4-game regular season sweep of a Texas team when they travel to Houston to take on the Rockets. The Thunder have won the first three games of the season series by an average of 17 points.

The Opponent

harden parsons lin asik delfino rockets

The Rockets are currently 49-25 and in the 4th spot in the Western Conference. They are trying to hold off the Portland Trailblazers who are 1 game behind them and charging fast. Injuries are starting to rear their ugly heads in Houston and have had a profound effect on the Rockets in the last 3 games. Defensive stalwarts Dwight Howard (ankle) and Patrick Beverly (knee) have missed the last 3 games, and the Rockets have given up an average of 110 points in that trio of games.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Houston Rockets

  • PG – Jeremy Lin
  • SG – James Harden
  • SF – Chandler Parsons
  • PF – Terrence Jones
  • C – Omer Asik

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Defense – Who ever plays defense in this game will win it. With defensive stalwarts like Howard, Beverly, Sefolosha, and Perkins out with various injuries, offense will be the law of the land. All things being equal offensively, the Thunder have a better defensive foundation and should be able to lock the Rockets down enough to pull out a victory.

2. Desperation – While the Rockets may not be “fighting for a playoff spot” desperate, they are fighting to, at least, maintain home court in the first round. The Rockets have lost 3 in a row, while their pursuers, the Trailblazers, have won 4 in a row. Luckily for the Rockets, they own the tiebreaker between the two teams.

durant garcia thunder rockets

3. The Streak – Kevin Durant’s scoring streak could possibly reach mythical proportions tonight as he goes for 40 straight games of 25+ points. You can bet that Francisco Garcia will try his hardest to prevent Durant from continuing his streak. If achieved, he will be in the company of greats. Names like Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, and Wilt Chamberlain will be associated with Durant. In fact, its almost a good place to start a Mt. Rushmore conversation….or not.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets preview (Game 39 of 82)

harden durant thunder rockets

  • When: Thursday, 16 January 2014 at 8:30 PM CST
  • Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX

Exes; sometimes it ends badly and sometimes it ends on good terms. But most people like to keep tabs on their exes mainly for comparative purposes. When the Oklahoma City Thunder traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets before the beginning of last season, he went from beloved Bearded One to an ex. It’s only natural for us to keep tabs on him. And honestly, for the most part, the split has worked out for both parties. Oklahoma City is still a contender and has more salary cap flexibility than before, and Houston is on the cusp of building a possible title contender also.

This will be the second meeting of the year between these two teams. Oklahoma City won the first meeting in OKC, 117-86, blitzing the Rockets from the outset and never letting their foot off the pedal. Since the Harden trade, OKC is 7-3 against the Rockets, to include the playoff series from last season.

The Opponent

parsons howard harden lin rockets

The Rockets currently sit at 26-14, good for 5th in the loaded Western Conference. The Rockets balance a great scoring attack (105.2 ppg) with a middle of the road defense, allowing 101.7 ppg. Their attack is spear-headed by former Thunder guard James Harden, whose attacking nature and ability to playmake lends itself beautifully to an offense with an athletic big (Dwight Howard) and a plethora of 3-point shooters. The Rockets’ bench has been plagued by injuries to Patrick Beverly and Omer Asik.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Houston Rockets

  • PG – Jeremy Lin
  • SG – James Harden
  • SF – Chandler Parsons
  • PF – Terrence Jones
  • C – Dwight Howard

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Defenders defending – In most games, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha are liabilities. Their inabilities to give anything to the team on the offensive end of the floor becomes a hindrance. But in games where the opponent’s best players are the center and the SG, their strengths are maximized. Earn your money gentlemen.

howard perkins thunder rockets

2. Attacking – The Rockets’ bench is thin due to injuries. If the Thunder can attack the basket and draw some early fouls against the Rockets’ major players, that will help the Thunder’s attack.

3. We’ve won before – Every game without Westbrook has been a struggle, except for the Houston game. We’ve beat this team before without Agent 0. I think, mentally, that takes a lot of pressure off the team.

5 for 5: The Rivalries

harden sefolosha durant thunder rockets

5 for 5: The Longest Shortest Season  |  5 for 5: Tragedies, Courtrooms, and Beginnings  |  5 for 5: The Run  |  5 for 5: The Thunder’s Godfather

This past season, the Oklahoma City Thunder completed their 5th season in the state of Oklahoma. In a world dominated by round numbers, getting to the midway point is always a cause for celebration. In any relationship, you look back at key moments that made it possible to arrive at certain anniversary marks. In the next few weeks heading into training camp, I’ll be looking at 5 defining moments that made it possible for the Thunder to not only roar into the Plains, but also to do it in winning fashion.

For the third part in this series, I wanted to focus on the rivalries. Sports are only as good as the competition they incite. Playing driveway basketball against your kids when they are 5 years of age can quickly get boring (although palming misdirected shots in midair like you’re Serge Ibaka can be entertaining for at least an hour or so). But, try playing your kids when they are 18 years old and have had 12 years of playing experience. Then it becomes an entirely different ballgame.

When it comes to competition, I’ve always looked at the career of Floyd Mayweather Jr. with a sliver of disappointment. That he’s a great boxer with arguably the best defense in the history of boxing is without question. The issue that I’ve had with his career has been the level of competition of his opponents. Now, I’m not saying that falls squarely on Mayweather. The guys in his weight classes have not been particularly consistent in the past decade. He’s also “luckily” scheduled the right fights at the right times, choosing to fight boxers that were either on the downward slide of their career (Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosley) or fighters that were too inexperienced to compete with him at the time of their fight (Canelo Alvarez and Victor Ortiz). He’s never had that one opponent that defined him. Mike Tyson had Evander Holyfield. Arturo Gatti had Mickey Ward. Mayweather has…… (and therein lies the problem with his career).

mayweather alvarez boxing

If fans are the life blood of sports, then rivalries are the engines that keep them running.  You naturally root against your opponent because they are competing against you and you want to win. Pretty simple concept. But if you add something more to that competitive fire, it can act like an accelerant, creating an even bigger blaze. Rivalries, and the differing reasons for them, can be that spark. When it comes to the Thunder, I’ve categorized their rivals under 4 different categories.

1. Regional Foes

Geography and competition are probably the easiest ways to breed a rivalry. Whether it’s an intracity game between two high schools or a game between professional sports teams 200 miles apart, that desire to be superior to those closest to you is an innate characteristic of the human psyche. Even if the two teams aren’t on equal footing at the time of the game, the rivalry aspect of the game often lends it to be a close affair. Continue reading 5 for 5: The Rivalries

Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Series Preview

james-harden-rockets-thunder

It’s a funny thing about fate. You usually see the final product taking shape from a mile away, but when it happens, you’re completely surprised by the end result. All season long the Oklahoma City Thunder have hovered around the top two spots in the Western Conference and the Houston Rockets have hovered around the 6-8 spot. It shouldn’t have come to surprise anyone that these two teams might actually meet in the first round of the playoffs. But when it happened, after the final game of the final day of the season, there was a collective, “Wow, we’re playing James Harden in the first round” train of thought.

Everyone will want to turn this into James Harden vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder. I see that, but we all know, that in reality, this is going to be the Kevin Martin vs. the Houston Rockets series, right? (Crickets, crickets) Well, as fate would have it, these two teams will meet in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. The top seeded Thunder versus the 8th seeded Rockets. The young, rambunctious upstarts against the grizzled veteran team (how funny is it that the Thunder are a grizzled, veteran, playoff tested team?). It wasn’t long ago that the Thunder were the young upstarts wanting to gain some respect against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. Now, the Thunder are the defending Western Conference champs and everyone will be gunning for their crown.

martin harden

These two teams played 3 games during the regular season. The Thunder took the first two by an average margin of 26 points. In those two games, Harden struggled mightly, while the Thunder basically got anything they wanted on the offensive side of the ball. The third game was a different story. In that game, the Thunder were up by 14 points with less than 7 minutes left to play in the 4th quarter. And then, Harden (and Lin) happened. The Rockets proceeded to outscore the Thunder 29-12 from that point to garner a 3 point win. James Harden scored 14 of his career high 46 points in the final 6:30, and Jeremy Lin chipped in with 9 points in those final 6 minutes. But that game highlighted the reason why this will probably be a short series. 

Schedule

  • Game1 – Sunday, 21 April 2013 at 8:30 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Game 2 – Wednesday, 24 April 2013 at 6:00 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Game 3 – Saturday, 27 April 2013 at 8:30 PM CST (Toyota Center, Houston, TX)
  • Game 4 – Monday, 29 April 2013 TBD (Toyota Center, Houston, TX)
  • Game 5 – Wednesday, 01 May 2013 TBD (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)*
  • Game 6 – Friday, 03 May 2013 TBD (Toyota Center, Houston, TX)*
  • Game 7 – Sunday, 05 May 2013 TBD (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)*

* – If necessary

Probable Starters

Houston Rockets

  • PG – Jeremy Lin
  • SG – James Harden
  • SF – Chandler Parsons
  • PF – Greg Smith
  • C – Omer Asik

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Series

1. Pick and Roll Defense – This is the Rockets’ bread and butter. Lin and Harden are great at breaking the PnR defense down and either finding the open man or driving and drawing fouls. Thabo Sefolosha is great at going under the pick, but can sometimes get caught in the mess of a pick and roll, allowing the ball handler to get to the basket. On the other hand, Westbrook is known to go over screens, which allow the ball handler a sliver of daylight to get a shot off. But the key to the PnR defense will be Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. Chandler Parsons led the Rockets in 3-point % and will make Durant pay if he tries to help on defense. Ibaka is going to have to stay out of foul trouble if the ball handlers get past the initial line of defense. 

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets

2. Pace – These are the number 2 and 3 scoring teams in the league. But Houston likes a much faster pace than the Thunder. In their two wins against the Rockets, the Thunder kept the Rockets under 100 points. In their lone loss, the Rockets scored 122 points. Houston’s offense is predicated on transition baskets and pick and roll offense. If the Thunder are to win, they are going to have to slow the pace down and make the Rockets a half court team.

3. Russell Westbrook – The Rockets have no one on their roster that can come close to guarding Westbrook. Lin is too weak, Aaron Brooks and Patrick Beverly are too short, and Carlos Delfino is too slow. Westbrook should be able to get whatever he wants on the offensive end.

russ rockets

  • X-Factor: Thabo Sefolosha – His defense on James Harden will go a long way to determining how these games will go. If he gets into foul trouble early, look for Harden to be in attack mode for the entire game. Also, his shooting will be key to keeping the turnovers down. If Harden has to stay on Sefolosha, that will negate him from helping out and  jumping into passing lanes to get steals. 

How this will play out: Thunder in 5

Full Circle: Harden trade revisited

james harden

There’s a reason why teams don’t like to trade core players within their own conference. The fact that you not only have to face them more times during the season, but also possibly in a playoff series, causes many teams to take lesser deals in order to trade a core player to another conference. That scenario now becomes a reality for the Oklahoma City Thunder. In their first round match-up with the 8th seeded Houston Rockets, the team will meet up with former 6th man extraordinaire James Harden. While the teams have already met three times before during the regular season, the stakes will undoubtedly be higher for these next 4-7 games.

The trade essentially comes full circle within the same season. When Harden was traded to the Rockets 4 days before the season started, many media pundits saw this as the first step back in a franchise that had progressed forward since it first stepped foot in the Great Plains in 2008.  Many wondered whether the team that many people had tabbed as the next great dynasty was finally beginning to succumb to the many ills that small market teams face. The new collective bargaining agreement, which was supposed to help small market teams with the concept of increased “player-sharing,” had actually robbed the model small market team of one of its superstars. Even the fans, those crazy, loyal, Oklahoma City fans, questioned whether the billionaire owners were crying cheap in the wake of a possible dynastic-like run.

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In reality, the trade turned into a win-win situation for both parties involved. The Thunder front office and scouting team puts a premium on player development. It helps that they have drafted extremely well in the last 5 seasons. For every dud that’s ever gotten drafted by the Thunder, there are two studs in their place. For every Cole Aldrich the team drafts, there’s a Serge Ibaka or a Reggie Jackson. For every Byron Mullens, a Russell Westbrook or James Harden. The team not only looks at skill, but also character. They don’t just want players with specific skill sets; they want players that want to use those skill sets to reach their maximum potential, and then want get better from there. That’s what we’ve seen from the Thunder players when adversity hits. Many people wondered where the scoring would come from when the Thunder traded Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to the Boston Celtics for Kendrick Perkins in February 2010. They were trading two double figure scoring starters for a center that struggled to average 8 points a game and was coming off of major knee surgery. After the trade, the Thunder adapted and Kevin Durant and James Harden increased their scoring to offset any loss of scoring on the offensive end. At the same token, with Ibaka getting a lot more minutes, the defense improved. The team ended that season with a trip to the Western Conference Finals.

Many wondered whether that same type of internal improvement could happen after the Harden trade. Seriously, what more could Durant and Westbrook do to improve their games? They were already 2 of the top 10 players in the league. The fact that Durant and Westbrook improved their games this season came as no surprise. They knew that they would not only have to replace the scoring of Harden, but also the playmaking. While the superstar duo’s scoring remained consistent from the previous season, it’s their assist numbers that made the team better. Durant averaged a career high 4.6 assists (up from 3.5 the previous season), while Westbrook upped his assist mark by nearly 2 assists per game. Not only did the assist go up, but the turnovers between the two went down (even if slightly). In addition, the duo became very efficient with their scoring. Durant became the newest member of the 180 shooting club (50% FG, 40% 3pt FG, and 90% FT), and Westbrook chose his spots a bit more technically this season.

But what of the other Thunder players? Incremental improvements from Durant and Westbrook alone wouldn’t be enough to replace Harden’s production. Enter Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha. Ibaka’s scoring average jumped up over 4 points, but it’s in the matter in which he scored that assisted the team the most. Ibaka became one of the best mid-range shooting big men in the league. Where that helps the Thunder is in floor spacing for Westbrook and Durant. With opposing big men not being able to cheat off of Ibaka, the lanes opened up for the scoring duo. In addition to Ibaka, Sefolosha became a consistent 3-point threat and increased his scoring by nearly 3 points a game. For a team that performs optimally when the floor is spaced, the improvement of these two players has lessened the departure of Harden.

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In addition, the Thunder got a comparable player in Kevin Martin. While the season has, at times, been a bit rough for Martin and his transition as a 6th man, he has filled the role seamlessly enough to lessen the blow of the trade. The bench role transition was made more difficult by the fact that the Thunder not only traded Harden, but also 3 other members of the Thunder’s bench. The Thunder were, in essence, bringing in an entirely new bench unit. On a team that finds comfort in continuity, this was a shock to the system. It took about 65 games, but the coaching staff finally found a rotation off the bench that works for the team. What once seemed like a weakness after the trade, has, once again, turned into a strength for the team.

As mentioned above, the trade was a win-win for both organizations. The Rockets finally got the superstar player that they had been trying to acquire for the past few seasons. In an attempt to acquire a superstar player, that Rockets had been loading up on assets and freeing up cap space. When they failed to acquire Dwight Howard in the offseason, the team shifted its sights onto Harden, who was in a contract squabble with the Thunder. With their combination of Martin (expiring contract/comparable player), Jeremy Lamb (lottery talent), and draft picks, the Rockets finally acquired what they hope is the first piece of their successful puzzle. Not only do the Rockets now have a good young core in Harden, Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons, and Thomas Robinson, but they also have the cap space to go after another premium free agent this offseason.

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And what about our old friend, James Harden? I’ve always thought that sometimes, in life, you have to get pushed out of your comfort zone to achieve your utmost potential. The reality is that Harden was too talented to be a third option on any team, regardless of who the first two options were. He was a highly efficient scorer that got to the line in droves and was a top notch playmaker, to boot. He had shown that he could perform in high pressure situations and was beginning to be one of the most noticeable faces in the NBA (and its most noticeable beard). He was ready to be a superstar, and was ready to get paid like a superstar. The Thunder offered what they thought was a respectable offer, but also knew that Harden (and his agent) may be looking for something more. The market dictates what a player is worth. If a player begins to hear that he is worth the max, he’ll be looking for that type of money. The Thunder knew this and made a decision: either Harden sacrifices by taking a lesser than market value offer to stay on the team or the Thunder had to pounce on the best deal available. The rest is history. Harden was traded, got a super max extension, and became a superstar. End of story, right?

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Wrong. Much like the Thunder versus the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2010 playoffs, the Rockets are now the hungry, young upstarts trying to take the crown from the defending Western Conference champion Thunder. In a way, the CBA’s concept of player-sharing actually worked out this time. The reality is that when you draft enough talent, you’ll eventually run out of money to pay them all. It’s not a bad dilemma to deal with if you have the right brain trust guiding the team. In the end, after coming full circle, one team got better in this trade and the other team improved. I’ll let you decide which is which.

The Eric Maynor Sweepstake

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With Eric Maynor’s DNP-CD on Wednesday night, in a blowout of the Denver Nuggets, it was quite apparent that his run with the Oklahoma City Thunder is over. Ten months after suffering a torn right ACL, Maynor’s athleticism and confidence seemed to be wavering to the point that 2nd year guard Reggie Jackson took over sole possession of the back-up point guard duties on the team 25 games into the season. While Maynor’s numbers were never that impressive, his command of the 2nd unit (and sometimes, the 1st unit) showed he had the potential to run his own team.

Back about two years ago, Maynor was being hailed at the best back-up point guard in the league. He led one of the best benches in the league, along with James Harden and Nick Collison. In hindsight, though, it seems that a lot of Maynor’s success was due in large part to James Harden. The former Thunder guard is now the 4th leading scorer in the NBA, with a 26.3 points per game average. The skills that he is currently exhibiting now as a Houston Rocket, were on full display during his first 3 seasons in the league, the last of which culminated with the NBA’s 6th Man of the Year award.

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Maynor’s game was never dependent on athleticism. He was a prober that constantly tried to find the open man or an open lane, and rarely turned the ball over. After the knee injury, though, what little athleticism Maynor did have was sapped, as was his confidence. Maynor began to drive less and shoot more, leading to career lows in FG% (30%) and assists per game (2.1). Though he was never touted for his defense, that part of Maynor’s game suffered greatly after the injury. He was constantly getting beat off the dribble, which led to either leads dwindling or deficits increasing. After 24 games, the Thunder decided to try Reggie Jackson as their primary back-up point guard. Though not the floor general that Maynor is, Jackson’s athleticism and physical tools lend him to be a better defender and more of a driving threat on offense.

Reggie Jackson, Markeiff Morris

Being that Maynor is a free agent after this season, the Thunder would still like to get some value for him before the trading deadline. Maynor can still play the game, and maybe a change of scenery will help get his confidence back. Maynor’s value may not be that high, but the Thunder can package him with any number of assets to get a necessary piece to their championship puzzle. The Thunder are loaded with picks (Toronto’s top 3 protected, Dallas’s top 20 protected, and Charlotte’s 2013 2nd rounder) and young talent (Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, DeAndre Liggins, and Daniel Orton) that would be very attractive in a deal. I, for one, am not in favor of dealing Lamb, Jones, or Liggins. With the current cost of the top half of the roster, the Thunder will need good, cheap talent to stay in championship contention.

That would leave Maynor and Orton, plus the picks, as the only tradable assets I see on the roster. Being that the only feasible need I see for the Thunder is another bench scorer, hopefully a 3/4 tweener, I’ve decided to become armchair GM for the day, and see what moves I can come up with. Move over Sam Presti, my shine is too bright for the both of us.

Disclaimer: All moves have been approved on ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine. Any move involving Daniel Orton would need to get done after January 31st.

Deal 1

  •  Houston get Eric Maynor and the Thunder’s 2014 2nd rounder.
  • Oklahoma City gets Royce White and the rights to either Sergio Llull or Furkan Aldemir.

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Why Houston makes the deal – Houston is loaded with PnR-reliant guards in Jeremy Lin, James Harden, and Toney Douglas. If a defense knows how to defend the PnR effectively, it cuts off the Rocket’s first plan of attack. Having a traditional point guard would be a change of pace for the Rockets and will allow them to exploit other facets of their offense, such as Omer Asik’s post game and Chandler Parson’s 3 point shooting. Also, Houston gets rid of a headache in White. The verbal/social media sparring that has gone on between White and the Rockets is well documented concerning his mental health.

Why Oklahoma City makes the deal – While this eschews the notion of obtaining a bench scorer now, having the rights to either Llull or Aldemir would be a steal. Llull is the premier combo guard in Euroleague and would fit immediately into the Thunder’s rotation. Aldemir is great on the boards and would really help the Thunder in the post. Presti would probably tell White to stay at home and would negotiate a buy-out with his agent.

Deal 2

  • Milwaukee gets Eric Maynor, Daniel Orton, and the Mavericks top 20 protected pick.
  • Oklahoma City gets Mike Dunleavy

Why Milwaukee makes the deal – Milwaukee will be in a state of flux after the season. Their top two point guards, Brandon Jennings and Beno Udrih, are both free agents, though Jennings is restricted. The Bucks have been on record as saying they will retain Brandon Jennings, no matter what. A large enough extension would make retaining Udrih, currently making $7.8 million, nearly impossible. A cheap replacement like Maynor, who would sign for far less, would be more feasible. They could test drive Orton for half a season as all of their true centers are also free agents at the end of the season. The draft pick is just a sweetner.

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Why Oklahoma City makes the deal – Mike Dunleavy would immediately have an impact on the 2nd team as a scorer and shooter. The dribble and drive ability of Jackson would open up even more with Dunleavy and Kevin Martin on the floor together.

Deal 3

  • New Orleans gets Eric Maynor and the Thunder 2013 draft pick
  • Oklahoma City gets Al-Farouq Aminu

Why New Orleans makes the deal – With Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis, and Robin Lopez on the front line, Aminu becomes the odd man out. His inconsistent play has been a source of ire from the Hornet’s fan base. A veteran point guard would help this young roster out and an extra first rounder will help in the Hornet’s rebuilding process.

aminu

Why Oklahoma City makes the deal – Aminu is exactly the type of player that the Thunder covet. A 3/4 tweener with possible upside and a long wingspan (7’3!!). In the right system, he could be a valuable contributor off the bench.

Deal 4

  • Phoenix gets Eric Maynor, Daniel Orton, the right to swap either of their lottery picks (theirs or the Lakers’) lottery picks if it benefits the Suns, and the Thunder’s 2013 pick.
  • Oklahoma City gets Jared Dudley

Why Phoenix makes the deal – Let’s face it. Phoenix is rebuilding and is not interested in long-term role player contracts. Dudley still has 2 years at $4.25 million guaranteed after this season, plus a player option for the same amount. Phoenix could flip Dudley for a young center, a possible better lottery pick, and a late first rounder.

dudley

Why Oklahoma City makes the deal – The Thunder get a great role player with a good contract for the next 2-3 seasons. Plus, a player like Dudley has value and can possibly be flipped for other assets.

Deal 5

  • Cleveland gets Eric Maynor and Dallas top 20 protected pick.
  • Oklahoma City gets CJ Miles

cj miles

Why Cleveland makes the deal – It isn’t the Anderson Varejao deal, but Cleveland still gets a future first rounder for a role player that’s a free agent after this season. Plus, Maynor could dispense some veteran wisdom onto Kyrie Irving.

Why Oklahoma City makes the deal – The Thunder get a good role player that can shoot and stretch the floor. Plus, they don’t give up much.

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As a fan, I would hate to see Maynor go. He’s grown with this team and was a big part of its development. But, as we’ve seen with the Jeff Green and Harden trades, it is also a business in which every team is trying their hardest to get better. If a move can be made, and it is advantageous to the team, then it’s a deal that must be made. When the inevitable happens, I wish Maynor nothing but the best. He’s been a consummate professional and has a long career ahead of him.