Tag Archives: Patrick Beverly

NTTB Podcast (Episode 31) – Paul George and the Butterfly Effect

IMG_4109On Episode 31 of the NTTB podcast, we discuss the following topics:

  • Week in Review – L vs. Golden State, W @ Houston
  • Instant Recap of the Rockets game
  • Paul George’s recent comments
  • Slumping Raymond Felton
  • Alex Abrines stepping up
  • Billy Donovan’s playoff rotation
  • Russell Westbrook and the media
  • Western Conference standings
  • NBA talk
  • Wrestlemania

Intro/Outro music provided by OSC Productions

Thank you for listening. We will be doing a podcast once a week. If you have any Thunder or NBA related questions, make sure you hit us up on Twitter (@alexroig_NTTB or @Montero_A13).

We are on ITunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Spotify, and Tune In under the NTTB Podcast. Make sure you leave us a 5-star review if you can. As always, Thunder Up!

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Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets preview (Game 38 of 82)

rockets thunder

  • When: Thursday, 15 January 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX

The Oklahoma City Thunder just experienced the NBA’s equivalent of an NFL bye week. They were off for 5 full days, last playing on Friday at home. Rest during an NBA season is always welcome. Probably more important, though, is the ability to hold full practices. In the 5 day break, the Thunder likely held 2 or 3 full length practices to help incorporate newcomer Dion Waiters. Hell, even Mitch McGary, who has had an injury plagued rookie season, likely benefited from the increased practice time now that he is healthy. After being shaky the last 3 games, practice time is probably something the Thunder cherished during this “bye week”.

This is the 2nd of 3 meetings between these two teams. The Rockets beat the Thunder 69-65 on November 16th. Yeah, that was the score of an NBA game that ended after four quarters played. The defense in that game was stifling, as was the offense. Of course, the Thunder were without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook during that stretch. .

The Opponent

harden howard beverly rockets

The Houston Rockets come into this game with a 27-12 record, good for 4th in the Western Conference. The Rockets have been one of the more consistent teams in the league, sporting a top 5 defense with a top 10-15 offense. The Rockets used to be a strictly offensive-minded team, but that began to change when the Rockets started putting the point guard responsibilities in the hands of Patrick Beverly. The bulldog defender changed the demeanor of the Rockets and wrestled the starting spot from Jeremy Lin last season. While not necessarily an offensive weapon, Beverly is the heart of the team. On the wing, James Harden continues his excellent play as a scorer (26.9 points per game) and has shown improvements as a defender after being much maligned last season. His improvements on the defensive end have bolstered Harden into the MVP conversation this season. On the other wing, Trevor Ariza gives the Rockets the big wing defender they’ve coveted for a while. The power forward position is currently a back and forth between Donatas Montiejunas and Josh Smith. Both offer the ability to be a stretch 4, but Montiejunas has been a little bit more consistent since Smith’s arrival to the team. Up front, Dwight Howard continues to be one of the best defensive centers in the league (11.2 rebounds, 1.56 blocks), while also giving the Rockets 17 points per game. Outside of Smith, who can be inconsistent at times, and Corey Brewer, the bench is one of the weaker ones of the Western Conference elite.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Houston Rockets

  • PG – Patrick Beverly
  • SG – James Harden
  • SF – Trevor Ariza
  • PF – Donatas Montiejunas
  • C – Dwight Howard

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Perimeter Defense – The Thunder have been having issues lately with defensive minded teams that can consistently shoot 3’s. They struggled with the Warriors a couple games ago, generally struggle with the Trailblazers, and always have a difficult time with the Spurs. With the Rockets’ new found love for defense, they now fall into this category. Where this comes into play is when the Thunder struggle from the field (especially from 3) and can’t stop the other team from consistently making 3’s. The Rockets have 4 rotation players (Harden, Ariza, Beverly, and Brewer) that shoot at least 33% from 3-point territory, with Montiejunas clocking in at 28% from deep.

2. Bench play – Jason Terry and Terrance Jones will be out for tonight’s game, and Isaiah Canaan and Kostas Papanikolaou have fallen out of the rotation. The Rockets’ bench is weaker now than it was at the beginning of the season. And the Rockets will be playing in the 2nd game of a back to back after having to travel back from the East Coast. If the Thunder bench can win the battle of the reserves handily, the Thunder should be able to win this game going away.

westbrook beverly thunder rockets

3. Beverly vs. Westbrook – This match-up always sparks fireworks. Should be fun.

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder series preview

NBA: Playoffs-Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder

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

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

Regular season series

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

westbrook conley thunder grizzlies

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

Schedule

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

* If necessary

Probable Starting Line-ups

Memphis Grizzlies

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

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Series

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

perkins ibaka randolph gasol thunder grizzlies

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

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

X-factors

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

miller thabeet thunder grizzlies

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

Prediction

Thunder in 5.

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

Oklahoma City Thunder at 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.

Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 64 of 82)

westbrook durant thunder rockets

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

There are so many narratives to this game, I’m just going to bullet point every one of them:

  • Russell Westbrook vs. Patrick Beverly – When Oklahoma City fans look at Beverly, we see the franchise’s mortality in the balance, at least for this core group of players (Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Perkins, Sefolosha, Collison). Everything was going great for the first 5 seasons in OKC (steady  progression, draft picks working out, player development, and, most importantly, health). But that all came crashing down on April 25, 2013, when Westbrook had to go under the knife for a meniscus tear suffered the night before. The tear, caused by Beverly’s reckless attempt at stealing the ball as Westbrook was calling for a routine ‘across the timeline’ timeout, caused the Thunder, who were considered to be title contenders, to flame out in the 2nd round of the playoffs.

westbrook thunder rockets

This will be the first meeting between Westbrook and Beverly since the knee injury in last season’s playoffs. I would not expect any retaliation from Westbrook, as he has stated time and time again that he has no issues with Beverly personally. But OKC fans remember, everytime they see Beverly, that this is the man that not only crashed into Westbrook’s knee, but also, possibly, crashed into the Thunder’s chance at winning a title in the future.

  • Perimeter defense – If the Thunder continue with the same issues they had with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns, then they might be in for a long night against the Rockets. While those other teams had great 3-point shooters and good dribble-penetrators, the Rockets add another wrinkle to that mix: Dwight Howard. None of those teams had the inside presence that the Rockets have. Add to that the fact that our “Dwight-stopper” is currently out with injury, and that could possibly compound the situation.

Remember, the Rockets did hang 73 on the Thunder in one half in their last game. In that half, they made 11 three-pointers (8 in the 2nd quarter). That 2nd quarter was very reminiscent to what happened to the Thunder in the last two 3rd quarters. In those 3 quarters, the Thunder gave up an average of 39 points, which can be a back breaker that can be very difficult to come back from. The good news from that last Rockets’ game was what happened in the 2nd half. The Thunder buckled down on defense and allowed the Rockets to score only 19 points for the entire 2nd half. They will need to find some sort of middle ground to balance themselves out.

  • Rumors of selfishness – If there is one that thing has never really surfaced in the first 5 1/2 seasons of Thunder basketball, it’s rumors of selfishness. Now, athletes are selfish in nature to begin with. But there has never been any rumblings of selfishness affecting the Thunder’s culture and their play on the court. That came to a head in recent days, with Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman writing:

This team is no longer playing for each other. Too many guys have different agendas. Too many are doing their own thing. Too many are playing for the wrong reasons. Kevin Durant is gunning for his first most valuable player award. Reggie Jackson is playing for a lucrative extension this summer.Russell Westbrook is working himself back into shape. It’s selfish basketball, the kind we’ve rarely seen take shape in OKC. It doesn’t define all 48 minutes. But it’s seen in stretches. Far too many of them.

In addition, interviews in the last couple of days with Nick Collison and Derek Fisher, two of the elder statesmen of the team, don’t exactly ooze with words of team chemistry and kumbaya. This could just simply be a bump in the road or it could be more. It will be very interesting to see how the team responds tonight as they play one of their chief rivals in the conference.

  • James Harden – He’s coming to town once again. Nuff said.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Houston Rockets

  • PG – Patrick Beverly
  • SG – James Harden
  • SF – Chandler Parsons
  • PF – Terrence Jones
  • C – Dwight Howard

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Perry Jones III
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

Turnovers – Houston is a team that feasts on turnovers. They have an extremely athletic team that can turn and run on a dime. They usually have 3 capable ball handlers on the floor at all times. If the Thunder can limit the turnovers, then it’ll limit the opportunities the Rockets have on the offensive end of the floor.

harden ibaka thunder rockets

Defending the paint – In the last 2 games, the Thunder have given up 92 points in the paint! Also, the Suns and Lakers combined to take 69 free throws. Add those two things up and what does it equal??? Crappy defense. The perimeter players are playing the vaunted Ole’ defense, while the post players are either too slow on their rotations or hacking the drivers to send them to the line.

Stopping Runs – The Thunder’s defense the last two games hasn’t necessarily been horrible for the full 48 minutes. Where they’ve suffered has been in stopping runs, especially when a team/player gets hot from the perimeter. Houston has a handful of players that can get scorching hot from the perimeter.

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.

Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 30 of 82)

durant harden thunder rockets

  • When: Sunday, 29 December 2013 at 6:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

We’ve seen this script before. The Oklahoma City Thunder facing the Houston Rockets in a game without Russell Westbrook. This is the second game for the Thunder without Russell Westbrook after his 2nd arthroscopic knee surgery in less than 3 months. They eeked out a win on the road against the Charlotte Bobcats, 89-85, in their last game. In the game, Kevin Durant had 34 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists, while Thabo Sefolosha had possibly his best offensive game of the season with 12 points on 3/5 shooting from the 3-point line.

The Thunder won the season series against the Rockets 2-1 last season and then met them in the first round of the playoffs. The Thunder ended up winning the series 4-2, but lost Russell Westbrook after Game 2 to a torn meniscus that required surgery.

The Opponent

lin howard harden rockets

The Houston Rockets come into the game with a 21-11 record and a 3 game win streak. They are the 3rd highest scoring team in the NBA at 106.3 points per game, but are only 20th in opponent ppg, giving up an average of 101.8 points per game. Offensively, the Rockets are a full throttle attacking team, led by former Thunder player James Harden. The 3-wing lineup of Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons, and Harden all have the ability to either penetrate into the lane, draw fouls, and make 3’s. Inside, free agent acquisition Dwight Howard is starting to look like the Howard of the Orlando days and not the oft-injured Howard of last season. He’s a walking double double machine, and provides them with semblance of defense. The bench is veteran-laden and scrappy, with players like Francisco Garcia, Aaron Brooks, and Omri Casspi getting minutes for them.

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 earning their money – This is the reason why Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha have a place in our starting line-up. For games like this. Dwight Howard is the type of center that Perkins is made to handle. He isn’t overly adept at offensive and stays in the post. Steven Adams will also be important in defending Howard, especially if foul trouble comes into play. Sefolosha had a lot of success in the first two meetings between these teams last season holding Harden to 9-33 FG shooting. Then Harden erupted for a career high 46 points in the 3rd game. Harden is the type of player that can get hot quickly, but can also be a chucker that’ll keep shooting to get back his rhythm.

harden sefolosha ibaka thunder rockets

2. Perimeter defense – If Perkins and Adams can handle Howard on the inside, there should be no reason why the perimeter defenders need to stray from the shooters. Houston has almost cloned what Orlando had 3 seasons ago, with Howard in the middle and a bunch of shooters around him. Also, keeping Lin and Harden out of the lane will be extremely important to handling Howard and the shooters.

3. Dribble penetration – While Howard may be known for his defense, the wing players for Houston are definitely not known for their defense. Reggie Jackson, Kevin Durant, and Jeremy Lamb should be able to get through the first line of defense and cause havoc in the paint for the Thunder.

Spinning the Westbrook Setback

russell westbrook chandler parsons thunder rockets

Everything was a go. There may have been a missed game here or there to begin the season, but everything was set for Russell Westbrook to return from his torn meniscus. According to anyone from the Thunder organization who dared to speak, Westbrook was on schedule with his rehab and was starting to mix in some practice time with the team.

But then the news dropped on October 1st, that Westbrook would be needing arthroscopic knee surgery and would be out another 8-10 weeks (a.k.a. the first 4-6 weeks of the season). He had recently been suffering swelling in the knee and the team decided to find the source of the inflammation. It turns out that the meniscus had healed properly, but one of the stitches that was holding the meniscus in place had gotten loose and was bothering the joint to the point of inflammation. If that is truly the case, then that is a bit of good news shrouded in the midst of bad news.

As the saying goes, “when life gives you lemons, attack Patrick Beverly.” What? That’s NOT how the saying goes? Oh, okay. Oh, yeah, I remember now. When life gives you lemons, make some lemonade. Would you rather have Westbrook in uniform or on the bench in street clothes? Of course you’d want him on the floor. But considering the circumstances, this may be a blessing in disguise. Here are a few ways, as hard as it may be to imagine them now, that this latest setback could be beneficial for the Thunder come playoff time.

1. It’s October, not April.

From all accounts, Westbrook’s meniscus healed properly and he was on schedule to return before the inflammation occurred. But, there was still the possibility that he would miss some time in the beginning of the season. It’s better that this occurred now, and not in the middle of the season. I would rather the team treat the first half of the season as an extended training camp (assimilating Russell, acclimating the rookies and the young guys, and setting up a consistent rotation) than to have a hiccup happen in February that completely throws the chemistry of the team off heading into the playoffs.

2. More starting and crunch-time experience for Reggie Jackson.

Jackson showed last season what he is capable of. When Westbrook went out with his initial injury in the playoffs, Jackson plugged into the starting lineup almost seamlessly. If he was learning on the fly, he was, indeed, an apt student. In the 9 games that he started in the playoffs, Jackson posted per game averages of 15.3 points, 3.7 assists, 5.3 rebounds, and only 2 turnovers on 47.2% FG shooting and 89.7% FT shooting. And most of it was done against the Memphis Grizzlies, the best defensive team in the league.

reggie jackson playoffs

Another component that became apparent was that Jackson was not scared of the moment. On several occasions he had to either ice a game or aid in a comeback from the free throw line. He was nearly perfect from the line in those situations. The stat line Jackson put up is very comparable to the stats Westbrook put up in his first 2 seasons. Jackson’s assists should increase with more familiarity and his shot selection should get better. Continue reading Spinning the Westbrook Setback

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

Enjoying the Storm: Westbrook and Reality

westbrook injury

There’s a saying for any situation in life. Believe me, I know. My mother has spouted off at least 85% of those sayings to me, all in Spanish. When the news came down that Russell Westbrook would be having surgery to repair a lateral meniscus tear, I went through the 5 stages of grief pretty quickly:

  • Denial – I thought it was a joke. I mean, the man played on the injury the entire 2nd half of game 2 and racked up 29 points. One time I ripped a hang nail from my finger and was out of commission for 3 days. You’re telling me this man tore a shock absorber in his knee and was able to play 24 more minutes of playoff basketball successfully? There’s no way he would be needing surgery.
  • Anger – Damn you Patrick Beverly. Yes, the “play on the ball before a timeout” play is one that a lot of players, Westbrook included, make to the tune of a 0.00000001% success rate. But injuries very rarely happen on those plays, especially surgery-requiring injuries. The fact that he completely launched his  body into a defenseless Westbrook was reckless and inexcusable. So, again, damn you Patrick Beverly.
  • Bargaining – After realizing that this upcoming surgery was not a joke, I started bargaining on Westbrook’s knee. I figured since he played on the injury, it must not be that bad. So, if it wasn’t that serious, maybe he’ll have surgery and come back in 12 days, like Crazy Uncle Ron Ron (Metta World Peace). I figured, at worst, he’d be out for 2-4 weeks. My logic was that if we could somehow push our 2nd round opponent to more than Game 5 or actually make it to the Western Conference Finals, then maybe there was a chance that Westbrook may come back to play for the Thunder this postseason. As you can tell, there was a lot of maybe’s in my bargaining session.
  • Depression – When the news came out after the surgery that Westbrook would be out for the entire playoffs, this was when “basketball fan” depression set in. The Thunder had battled all season long, not only to garner the Number 1 seed in the West, but also to exorcise the demons that remained from the James Harden trade. And now, against Harden and the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs, to have it all disintegrate on a reckless, stupid play, was completely and utterly disheartening.
  • Acceptance – Almost immediately after hearing that Westbrook would be out for the remainder of the playoffs, and after the depression wore off, I accepted that Russell Westbrook would not be walking through those doors in a jersey this season. It was after I accepted this fact that my mindset on this team changed. It was no longer championship or bust. Now it was about getting better and hardening our will for future success. Would I love to see a historic championship run this season? Of course, but the basketball analyst/realist in me knows, that without Westbrook, the mountains that are the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat just got a lot higher to overcome.

thunder starters

Once I had gone through my stages of grief, I started thinking about some of those sayings and how they apply to this current team. The first one that comes to mind is, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” I’ve always wondered how this team would react to a serious injury to either Kevin Durant or Westbrook. The Thunder have been beyond blessed when it has come to the health of their players, especially the starters. Since March 14th 2011, to include the regular season, the postseason, and the first 2 games of this postseason, the starters for the Thunder have played in 96.8% of those games together. That’s unheard of in the NBA. And none of the injuries have ever been serious. Now, the team is having to regroup on the fly due to an injury to their Iron Man.

reggie jax

From a player development standpoint, though, this is not a bad thing. What better way to cut your teeth than in the NBA playoffs? Reggie Jackson has steadily progressed in the last two seasons from a wide eyed rookie using his off arm to protect his dribble in traffic to leader of the bench unit on a championship caliber team. The time he is getting as a starter will have the same effect on his confidence as when Durant, Westbrook, and Harden all played in the Olympics. The “knowing that you belong” aspect of professional sports is often overlooked, but is very important in a young player’s maturation process.

Moving Jackson over to starting point guard also opens up a spot in the rotation for another bench player. Playing against a team that relies heavily on small ball lineups, pick-n-rolls, and 3-point shooting, DeAndre Liggins has done his job extremely well in his allotted minutes. Used mainly as a perimeter defender, Liggins has averaged 10 minutes per game and is a +11 combined in the two games since Westbrook’s injury. He’s disrupted the Rockets’ rhythm on PnR’s, has jumped out on the shooters, and has been surprisingly good on the defensive boards. This real time experience in the playoffs can do wonders for a player’s confidence moving forward. As the team (hopefully) moves ahead in these playoffs, it will be interesting to see whether any of the other young, seldom used bench players (Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Daniel Orton) will contribute any meaningful minutes. The “next man up” motto holds very true for the Thunder in these playoffs.

DeAndre Liggins, Omer Asik

As the Thunder continue battling in the playoffs, another saying comes to mind: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Just because one of your best players goes down, doesn’t mean that you stop playing. Look at the Golden State Warriors. David Lee goes down with a torn hip flexor in game 1 of their series against the Denver Nuggets and the team (especially Steph Curry and Jarrett Jack) responds to give them a commanding 3-1 series lead. Kevin Durant knows what’s ahead of him. He knows that from now on he will be Option A, B, and sometimes C for the Thunder. He knows that defenses will key on him with not only their best perimeter defender, but also with a 2nd and, possibly, 3rd defender. He knows this, and he’s ready. Players like Durant train for this moment their entire lives.  There was a time, six years ago, when Durant couldn’t even bench press 185 pounds. Now, he’s ready to carry, not just a team, but an entire city on his back.

durant

The last quote that comes to mind when I think of this Westbrook situation is, “after the storm, comes the calm.” The storm was the Westbrook injury and the chaos that ensued. But from this experience, I believe the team will be stronger, smarter, and hungrier. Players know that championship windows can close as quickly as they open. A snap of a ligament here, a tweak of a back there, or the stupidity of an over-zealous bench player, and your franchise could be set back a decade. The Thunder now know this. They won’t forget the fragility of championship opportunities. Though the expectations have been lessened, the excitement has not. It’s a new world out there just waiting to be explored.