Tag Archives: Philadelphia 76ers

NTTB Podcast (Episode 21) – Talking Thunder and Marvel

IMG_4109On Episode 21 of the NTTB podcast,we discuss the following topics:

  • Looking back at the 4 games from this past week: vs. Charlotte, @Indy, @Philly, @NY
  • Looking back at how the Thunder Big 4 did (Russ, PG, Melo, and Adams)
  • The Good, Bad, and Ugly from this past week
  • The Thunder’s City jerseys
  • NBA News
  • And a surprising 40 minute conversation on Disney/Marvel’s purchase of Fox

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 under the NTTB Podcast. Make sure you leave us a 5-star review if you can. As always, Thunder Up!

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Philadelphia 76ers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 61 of 82)

thunder sixers

  • When: Wednesday, 04 February 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

After a nice two day break that allowed some of the injured Thunder players to further collect their bearings, it’s back to the hardwood with one of those players back into the line-up. The Thunder start a home-heavy run that features 9 of their next 11 games in Oklahoma City. With the Thunder clinging to the 8th position by one game over New Orleans, this home-heavy schedule is exactly what the doctor ordered to combat the road heavy schedule that beat the team down in the beginning of the season.

This is the second meeting of the season between these two teams. The Thunder won the first meeting 103-91. That was the first victory of the year where both Westbrook and Durant played, and it happened in early December.

The Opponent

noel covington thompson sixers

The 76ers currently find themselves with a 13-47 record. They score the least amount of points per game in the league (90.3) and give up over 10 points more (100.8 ppg). They have a roster full of 2nd rounders and undrafted free agents. They traded away last season’s rookie of the year, and the two players they drafted in the first round in the last draft have yet to play a game for them this year (Joel Embiid and Dario Saric). They are the epitome of tanking and the bane of the commissioner to field a completely competitive league. With all that said, the players themselves, play extremely hard. The Sixers are guided by 2nd year point guard Isaiah Canaan, who was acquired from the Houston Rockets at the trade deadline. In the 6 games he’s played for the Sixers, he’s averaged 10.5 points and 2.8 assists. The SG position has been a mix of JaKarr Sampson and the veteran Jason Richardson of late. On the other wing, veteran Luc Mbah a Moute is their veteran perimeter stopper. Up front, Nerlens Noel and Henry Sims are an inexperienced pairing, but can change a game with their different skill sets. Noel is a good rim protector and Sims is crafty offensive player in the post. The Sixers are literally like an elementary school team in that nearly everyone on the team plays. Their highest usage players off the bench are Ish Smith, Jerami Grant, Furkan Aldemir, Thomas Robinson, and Hollis Thompson.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Philadelphia 76ers

  • PG – Isaiah Canaan
  • SG – JaKarr Sampson
  • SF – Luc Mbah a Moute
  • PF – Nerlens Noel
  • C – Henry Sims

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kyle Singler
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Enes Kanter

3 Keys to the Game

1. Effort – Sometimes, its hard to remove the stigma of a team’s record from the players on the floor. But the Sixers are a competitive team. Maybe not as skilled as most teams in the league, but it is not due to lack of effort. If the Thunder don’t come out with the right mindset, the game could be a little bit more competitive than they had hoped for.

2. Serge Ibaka – His ability to play on the perimeter will help in pulling Noel away from the rim. Noel is a lot Ibaka in that his biggest asset defensively is as a rim protector.

ibaka westbrook thunder

3. Russell Westbrook – Welcome back after a brief one game absence. But, really, just a plain clear mask? Boooooo!!!!!!

Oklahoma City Thunder at Philadelphia 76ers preview (Game 19 of 82)

westbrook thunder carter williams 76ers

  • When: Friday, 05 December 2014 at 6:00 PM CST
  • Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA

Expectations can be a horrible thing at times. We look at players as statistical numbers, thinking that once they are plugged back into the lineup, their numbers will be added to the bottom line. In emotional haste for satisfaction, we forget to consider the effects of an adjustment period. And that’s what we saw happen on Tuesday, when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook played for the first time together all season. We figured, “20 game win streak upcoming”. Instead, we got a team that seemed a bit too amped up (I’m looking at you Westbrook) and  a defense (or lack thereof) that had only reared its ugly head a couple times this season. Luckily, the Thunder are getting healthy at a time in the schedule where they can fit in some practices. Hopefully, the Thunder can adjust quickly enough and get their chemistry and timing down.

This is the first of two meetings this season between the Thunder and 76ers. The Thunder have won the last 10 meetings against the 76ers, dating back to their inaugural season in Oklahoma City.

The Opponent

Houston Rockets v Philadelphia 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers come into the game with a 1-17 record, and are riding the high of a 1-game winning streak. This team is the reason draft reform was even brought up earlier this season. The front office has purposely put together a team that is devoid of any establised talent and, outside of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, devoid of any veteran presence. The team is a mixture of burgeoning first round talent, 2nd round hopefuls, and D-League graduates. Michael Carter-Williams returned from shoulder surgery a couple games back and is looking to build on his Rookie of the Year campaign from last season. Though he is offensively inefficient (36.8% FG, 23.5% 3Pt FG), he is a triple double threat every time he walks on the court. Joining him in the backcourt is Tony Wroten, who leads the team in scoring (17.9), assists (6.3), and steals (1.9). Unfortunately, Wroten has been out for the past 3 games due to a sprained knee and will miss the game against the Thunder. Hollis Thompson, who was once a training camp invitee of the Thunder, will replace him in the starting line-up. Up front, Nerlens Noel and Henry Sims provide the Sixers with a front line that struggles at times offensively, but whose energy can affect the game in other ways (defense, rebounding, etc). Off the bench, rookie KJ McDaniels is one of the more versatile players in the league, and Robert Covington is a D-League legend that can fill it up “Nick Young-style” if you allow him to get going.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Philadelphia 76ers

  • PG – Michael Carter-Williams
  • SG – Hollis Thompson
  • SF – Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
  • PF – Nerlens Noel
  • C – Henry Sims

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Defense – This team is horrible offensively. They are last in points per game and offensive rating. They are an inefficient bunch that relies on transition opportunities and 2nd chance points to do most of their scoring. With that said, this is still an NBA team that has pushed some good teams to the brink of defeat this season. Also, Covington, McDaniels, and Thompson can light it up from 3-point territory if they are given the opportunity. The Thunder need to come into this game with a defensive mindset and not allow the Sixers any semblance of hope.

jackson thunder carter williams 76ers

2. Depth – The Thunder will finally have a full roster on Friday. All 13 players who will be active will be available for tonight’s game. I have to write that because it is the first time this season I can do that. The Sixers are missing a key piece in Wroten and are talent depleted as is. The Thunder need to take advantage of their depth and wear the Sixers away.

3. Just win – A win streak always starts at one (just ask the Sixers). If the Thunder are to start making up any ground, tonight would probably be the most opportune time to do that.

House of (Lottery) Cards – The Thunder and the NBA Draft Reform

frank underwood house of cards

On Wednesday, the NBA Board of Governors will be voting on whether to change the format of the NBA Draft Lottery process. In the reform, the 14 non-playoff teams will still vie for lottery positioning in a lottery style system. What does change are the percentages to vie for the top 3 picks. In the current system, the team with the worst record has the highest chance (25%) of getting the number 1 pick, while the lottery team with the best record has the lowest chance (0.5%) of getting the number 1 pick. The basic gist of the current system is, the worser your record, the better your chances of obtaining a top 3 pick. In the proposed new system, the 4 teams with the worst records each have a 12% chance of getting the first pick, with the 5th worst team garnering an 11.5% chance, and the 6th worst team garnering a 10% chance, and on down the line. Even worse, in the new system, teams aren’t as protected as they are in the current system from free falling to a lower spot in the draft. Under the current system, the team with the worst record can not fall lower than the 4th pick. In the new proposed system, the team with the worst record has the possibility of falling all the way down to the 7th pick.

Free agency is to big market teams as the draft is to small market teams. Big market teams are at an advantage because they can not only build during free agency, but also in the draft if they are lucky enough. Unfortunately, small market teams can usually only build through the draft. For as great as Oklahoma City, Salt Lake City, Charlotte, New Orleans, and Milwaukee are as metropolises, they pale in comparison to the global cultural centers that are New York, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles.

The Thunder experienced this with Pau Gasol this offseason. While not necessarily a top 10 player, Gasol would have instantly made the Thunder the favorites to win the title in 2014-15. But when push came to shove, Gasol, having just completed a 7-year run with the Los Angeles Lakers, decided to go with the Chicago Bulls. One of the factors in his decision was the lack of cultural diversity in OKC. Whatever that is, when you compare OKC to Chicago, you kind of see what he is talking about. I don’t know when was the last time a small market team signed a marquee free agent (and by marquee, I mean a Top-20 player at the time of his free agency). The last one was probably when Peja Stojakovic signed with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets in the 2006 offseason. At the time, Stojakovic was a fringe top 20-30 player in the league, but was beginning to show the signs of being injury-prone. The Hornets, of course, overpaid, and injuries were a major theme of Stojakovic’s term with the Hornets.

With this new draft reform, the NBA is essentially decreasing the life blood of talent to small market teams. The cycle of success to rebuild and back to success occurs a lot more regularly for small market teams than it does for big market teams. Small market teams have to rebuild when times get rough, and hope that they don’t make a big mistake. Big market teams can simply reload when the well runs dry. Is it always successful? No. But if the same mismanagement of funds that occurred with the New York Knicks from 2005-2012 would’ve happened to occur in Milwaukee, you can rest assured that Milwaukee would either be under new ownership or would be playing in a different city. The draft is the harbinger of hope for small market teams. And this new draft reform would lessen the opportunity for small market teams to nab a franchise talent like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, or Anthony Davis.

mcgary presti thunder

The ironic part of all this is that the team at the center of this change is a big market team. The visual tank job that has been the Philadelphia 76ers in the past season and a half is at the root of all the draft reform discussion. In the past 18 months, the 76ers have sent away any veteran asset they had for draft picks and cap space. And in the last two drafts, the Sixers have taken 3 players in the lottery that were either injured (Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid) or not intending to come to the NBA for at least two season (Dario Saric). Strategic tanking has always been a part of the rebuilding process. A rebuilding team wants to shed salary and obtain assets, while at the same time putting a “competitive” product on the floor. But Philadelphia has completely eschewed the competitive part of the equation, and has blatantly put a subpar product on the floor in order to build for the future. It is no different than other tank jobs, with the exception of the blatantness of it all.

With all this on the table, it would almost seem to be a given that at least 8 teams would be against this draft reform. Philadelphia, for sure, would be at the forefront. But stepping up to the podium has been Thunder GM Sam Presti. Surprisingly, Presti, of the championship contending Thunder, has been leading the charge against draft reform. You see, Presti knows what’s at stake. Under the current system, a couple seasons of drought can lead to gold if you draft well and spend your money wisely. But under the proposed system, those couple of seasons of drought can lead to gold or they can lead to iron pyrite. And while draft position is never an exact science, a lot more superstars are drafted in the top 5 picks than anywhere else in the draft. Presti is always looking ahead and knows that there will come a time when Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka will no longer be donning Thunder uniforms. It could be in the next 2-3 seasons, just like it could be in the next 10 seasons. But when that day comes, the Thunder will likely look to the draft to rebuild.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!Sports, Presti is struggling to come up with the six extra votes to block the 3/4 majority needed to pass the draft reform. Which is absolutely asinine to me. If those small market teams would realize how much more difficult it will be for them to land franchise talent with this change, it would seem like an easy decision for them to make. If anything, this is an opportunity for small market teams to flex a little muscle. Like Frank Underwood of House of Cards says, “There is no solace above or below. Only us – small, solitary, striving, battling one another. I pray to myself, for myself.” I can definitely see Presti working the back channels tonight like Underwood in trying to get those necessary 6 votes. And after he gets the votes, I can see Presti going to his hotel, opening up his balcony window, and cooly smoking one lonely cigarette while staring into the night.

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Atlantic Division

Atlantic Division Preview

1. Toronto Raptors 

raptors ross valanciunas lowry derozan

Last season: 48-34 (1st in the Atlantic Division, 3rd in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Game 7, 1st round of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets

Key additions:

  • Bruno Caboclo – Draft (No. 20 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Jordan Hamilton – Free agent signing
  • James Johnson – Free agent signing
  • Lucas Nogueira – Obtained in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks
  • Lou Williams –  Obtained in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks

Key departures:

  • John Salmons – Traded to the Atlanta Hawks
  • Steve Novak – Traded to the Utah Jazz

Season Preview – The Toronto Raptors are in prime position to build off the most successful season in franchise history. The young nucleus of Kyle Lowry, DeMar Derozan, Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, and Terrence Ross is intact and a year older, with Derozan and Valanciunas having just participated in the FIBA World Cup. The Raptors acquired Lou Williams from the Hawks to serve as their offensive firepower off the bench. And they are also developing two Brazilian big men (Caboclo and Nogueria) who may pay dividends in 2015-16.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Raptors make it to the 2nd round of the Eastern Conference playoffs and have at least 2 All-Stars.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 52-30

2. New York Knicks

knicks shumpert anthony bargnani hardaway

Last season: 37-45 (3rd in the Atlantic Division, 9th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key additions:

  • Quincy Acy – Obtained in a trade with the Sacramento Kings
  • Jose Calderon – Obtained in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Samuel Dalembert – Obtained in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Cleanthony Early – Draft (No. 34 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Shane Larkin – Obtained in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Jason Smith – Free agent signing

Key departures:

  • Tyson Chandler – Traded to the Dallas Mavericks
  • Raymond Felton – Traded to the Dallas Mavericks

Season Preview – Two of the biggest additions for the team have been Phil Jackson (president of basketball operations) and Derek Fisher (head coach). With Carmelo Anthony in the fold for the next 4 seasons guaranteed and plenty of cap space coming up in 2015-16, the Knicks are starting to look like they have a plan. Fisher will likely implement the triangle offense, which will play off the scoring abilities of Anthony and JR Smith to maximize the effect of role players like Calderon, Amare Stoudemire, and Tim Hardaway Jr. It will be a bit of a transition year, but in the weak Eastern Conference, the Knicks will have the ability to make the playoffs.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Knicks make the playoffs.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 43-39

3. Brooklyn Nets

nets williams lopez

Last season: 44-38 (2nd in the Atlantic Division, 6th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Miami Heat

Key Additions:

  • Bojan Bogdanovic – Signed Eurostash
  • Markel Brown – Draft (No. 44 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Jarrett Jack – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Sergey Karasev – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers

Key departures:

  • Paul Pierce – Signed with the Washington Wizards
  • Andray Blatche – Unsigned
  • Shaun Livingston – Signed with the Golden State Warriors
  • Marcus Thornton –  Traded to the Boston Celtics

Season Preview – The Brooklyn Nets seem to be on the cusp of a rebuild (reload?). Their “all in” move from last offseason (acquiring Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry from the Celtics) did not pan out and the Nets now find themselves with only one of the those 3 still on the roster. Brook Lopez (foot) and Deron Williams (both ankles) are once again coming into the season recovering from surgeries, and Garnett seems to know the end of his career is near. The Nets have some good young role players in Mason Plumlee, Bogdanovic, Karasev, and Teague, but their star players are either at the end of their run or are injury-prone.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Nets make the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 40-42

4. Boston Celtics

celtics smart young

Last season: 25-57 (4th in the Atlantic Division, 12th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Marcus Smart – Draft (No. 6 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Marcus Thornton – Obtained in a trade with the Brooklyn Nets
  • Evan Turner – Free agent signing
  • James Young – Draft (No. 17 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Tyler Zeller – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers

Key Departures:

  • Kris Humphries – Signed with the Washington Wizards
  • Jerryd Bayless – Signed with the Milwaukee Bucks

Season Preview – The Celtics are in the beginnings of a rebuild and would like nothing more than to use this season to get their young core (Smart, Young, Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, and Avery Bradley) plenty of development and playing time together. Along with that, the team has two valuable expiring contracts in Rajon Rondo and Brandon Bass to help out in their rebuilding process.

2014-15 will be successful if: The young players show progression and the Celtics end up with a Top 7 pick.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 23-59

5. Philadelphia 76ers

76ers carter williams noel

Last season: 19-63 (5th in the Atlantic Division, 14th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Joel Embiid – Draft (No. 3 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Dario Saric – Draft (No. 12 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Jerami Grant – Draft (No. 39 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Luc Richard Mbah a Moute – Obtained in a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves
  • KJ McDaniels – Draft (No. 32 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Alexy Shved – Obtained in a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves

Key Departures:

  • Thaddeus Young – Traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves

Season Preview – I’ve never seen a more obvious tank job in my life. The entire being of the 76ers at this point is to collect draft picks and young players at whatever cost. That’s not necessarily a bad plan, but everyone else who has done has at least attempted to look like they were trying. They drafted 2 players in the first round in the last draft that likely will not play for the organization this season (Embiid and Saric). This will be Nerlens Noel’s rookie season and last season’s Rookie of the Year, Michael Carter-Williams, is coming off off-season shoulder surgery. The team traded its best veteran in Thad Young and heads into the season as one of the youngest teams in the league.

2014-15 will be successful if: The 76ers end up with a Top 3 pick and their young players continue to develop.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 12-70

Thunder trade Hasheem Thabeet to the Philadelphia 76ers

Hasheem Thabeet, Maalik Wayns

The Oklahoma City Thunder traded center Hasheem Thabeet (along with cash considerations) to the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday. In return, the Thunder received a protected 2nd round pick (likely highly protected) and a $1.4 million dollar Traded Player Exception as the 76ers are severely under the cap and didn’t need to send the Thunder a player back. The 76ers will likely to waive Thabeet.

The Thunder like to go into the season with at least one roster spot available. This allows them more flexibility for possible trades or to sign a disgruntled veteran for a late season playoff run after the trade deadline. The Thunder had until the 1st of September to do something with Thabeet, as his salary would have become fully guaranteed after that date.

I don’t usually care too much about third string players, but Thabeet was a great locker room presence and the ultimate team guy. His positive attitude rubbed off on anyone he met and he performed well enough on the court whenever he was called upon. I will always the remember the ejection that was rescinded 5 minutes later in James Harden’s first game back in Oklahoma City as a member of the Houston Rockets. Best wishes on your future endeavors Hash.

Oklahoma City Thunder at New Orleans Pelicans preview (Game 81 of 82)

rivers perkins westbrook thunder perkins

  • When: Monday, 14 April 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans, LA

The magic number for the Thunder to clinch the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference is 1. The remaining schedule for the Los Angeles Clippers is a lot more difficult than the remaining schedule for the Thunder. With that said though, it would probably be in the Thunder’s best interest to win tonight and cease any drama relating to the “race for No.2”.

This will be the 4th and final meeting of the season between these two teams. The Thunder defeated the Pelicans last Friday, 116-94, for the 10 consecutive time dating back 3 seasons.

The Opponent

holiday anderson pelicans

The Pelicans come into the game having lost their last 8 games. Injuries have completely decimated their season, as their top 6 players are likely to be out for the rest of the season (if Tyreke Evans sits out the rest of the year). Unfortunately, their ineptitude in the wins department probably will not yield them a lottery pick due to a draft day deal from last June that netted them Jrue Holiday from the Philadelphia 76ers. With all those injuries, the best players the Pelicans have left are role players, at best.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

New Orleans Pelicans

  • PG – Austin Rivers
  • SG – Anthony Morrow
  • SF – Darius Miller
  • PF – Jeff Withey
  • C – Greg Stiemsma

Edit: Apparently, Greg Stiemsma was waived today. So, obviously, he will not be starting at the 5. More than likely, Withey will be the 5 and Al-Farouq Aminu or Luke Babbitt will play the 4. 

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Derek Fisher
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

1. Point Guard – With the Thunder playing yesterday, this is a scheduled rest day for Russell Westbrook. Also in that game, Reggie Jackson suffered an apparent neck/back injury when he got sandwiched in a pick and roll. This may be first time since December 2008 that Westbrook or Jackson doesn’t start a game at point guard for the Thunder. With the importance of having everyone as healthy as possible for the playoffs, look for the Thunder to exercise caution and sit Westbrook and Jackson.

fisher durant sefolosha perkins thunder

2. Bench play – Without an emergency 4th point guard, look for the Thunder to use Jeremy Lamb more as a play-maker. Also, with Nick Collison’s body looking like it was used as a stunt double for Russell Crowe in Gladiator, look for Perry Jones to get some run at one of the forward spots.

3. Get it done – Win tonight, and the next game only matters to the rookies and 2nd year players on the roster. This team is primed for the playoffs and is just frothing at the mouth to get it started.

Scoreboard Watching (2014 edition)

durant westbrook thunder

If you are a fan of a team, you’re always aware of your team’s games. But, sometimes, if you are wholly invested in one team, you tend to miss what out on what is going on around the rest of the league. Last season, I wrote a similar article concerning the other teams Thunder fans should be looking out for as that season closed (namely the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors). In a vacuum, a fan should only be worried about their team. But, in reality, with playoff positioning and/or draft positioning at stake, watching how other teams perform at the end of the season can add some drama to a point in the season where drama is sometimes lacking. This season, there are 5 teams Thunder fans needs to be paying attention to than can affect their near future.

1. San Antonio Spurs

  • Why it matters: The No. 1 seed in the Western Conference (and in the league) is at stake.
  • Team’s outlook: Currently 59-16 (1st in West), with 4 road games and 3 home games remaining.

Serge Ibaka

This is very reminiscent to what happened last season. This time though, it seems like the Spurs are far enough ahead to not have to worry about the Thunder chasing down the No. 1 seed from behind. The Spurs are currently on a roll, coming into the Thunder game having won 19 in a row, and hold a 4 game lead over the Thunder. With their penchant to rest starters late in the season, the Thunder still have a slight chance to catch the Spurs. But it seems like a foregone conclusion that the Spurs will head into the playoffs with the No. 1 seed in the West. One thing to remember is that if San Antonio does stumble, the Thunder own the tie-breaker over them.

2. Dallas Mavericks

  • Why it matters: The Thunder own the Mavericks’ first round pick if it is outside the Top 20.
  • Team’s outlook: Currently 44-31, (7th in the West) with 5 road games and 2 home games remaining

The Thunder got this draft pick in the Harden deal from Houston. There are two factions when it comes to this pick. Those that want the pick this season (slotted to be in the 21-23 range) and those that want the pick to go all the way until 2018, when it becomes unprotected. It will all depend on if Dallas make the playoffs or not. If they make the playoffs, they’ll be one of the top 10 teams in the league, thus garnering a pick in the 21-30 range, which transfers over to the Thunder. If they don’t make the playoffs, the Mavericks will pick in the lottery and will keep the pick.

The Mavericks are battling with the Memphis Grizzlies and the Phoenix Suns for the last two seeds in the Western Conference playoff race. Of the remaining games between the 3 teams, the Mavericks face the harder road with their opponents having a .525 winning percentage combined. But the road will not be easy for either one of the 3 teams because, NEWSFLASH!, they all play in the Western Conference. That being said, the Mavericks had their opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the other two teams, but flubbed an 8 game home stand to the tune of going 4-4. Luckily, all three teams play each other in the final week of the season.

I’m torn as to what I want to do with this pick. Part of me thinks that Thunder GM Sam Presti, with two draft picks late in the first round, could package those to move up a couple slots and get a shooter like Nik Stauskas of Michigan. But part of me also wants to see what happens if this pick actually reaches 2018 unprotected. Unless Dirk Nowitzki goes on Tim Duncan’s offseason training program, I see his effectiveness, and that of the Mavs, steadily going down in these next couple of seasons. And hopefully, they completely bottom out in the 2017-18 season.

3 and 4. Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat

  • Why it matters: The only teams that matter in the Eastern Conference
  • Teams’ Outlooks – With a virtual tie for the Eastern Conference top spot, these two teams meet one last time on April 11th. Indiana currently leads the season series 2-1.

heat pacers

With a 2.5 game lead over these two teams in the league standings, the Thunder are in control to maintain home court advantage against any of the East’s top teams if they meet in the NBA Finals. The major issue here is whether the Pacers will give Miami a run for their money and make the Eastern Conference Finals somewhat competitive. While Miami has been surging in the last 10 games, going 7-3, the Pacers have been doing the exact opposite, going 7-10 in their last 17 games.

The jump from being a good team to becoming an elite team is the hardest jump to make in the NBA. Not only do you have to start positioning your role players correctly, but your star players have to start taking that next step. For Indiana, a combination of questionable in-season moves and lack of player progression has slightly slowed that progression from good team to elite team. The mid-season trade that sent Danny Granger to the Philadelphia 76ers for Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen has yet to bear fruit. And the mid-season signing of Andrew Bynum can probably be deemed a failure due to a reoccurrence of knee issues for the center. In addition, Paul George and Roy Hibbert have failed to significantly improve from where they were in the beginning of the season. With this recent slide, rumors of infighting and selfishness have begun to sneak into the vernacular that describes the Pacers. The mental aspect of making the jump from a good team to an elite team is the hardest thing for a young team to grasp, and its currently showing with these Pacers.

The reason this matters to the Thunder is because the Western Conference playoffs are going to be a gauntlet. The first round match-ups will be formidable and the series will only get tougher from there. If Miami is able to skip through the East playoffs easily, and get some rest in the process, that could spell trouble for the team that comes out of the West, regardless of who it is.

5. New York Knicks

  • Why it matters: The Denver Nuggets own the Knicks’ pick for this draft
  • Team’s Outlook – Currently 33-43 (8th in the East), with 3 road and 3 home games remaining.

Looking towards the future at division rivals, the team that has the best chance of getting better quickly is the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets suffered a myriad of injuries this season that prevented them from ever making a run at the playoffs. But with many of those players coming back next season and a potential lottery pick, the Nuggets are in position to get back to their winning ways. If the Knicks make the playoffs, their pick moves down to the No. 15 slot. But if the Knicks miss the playoffs, Denver will be slotted to pick in the 7-9 range, while also having the potential of getting a top 3 pick.

Seeding doesn’t seem to affect the Thunder that much. They know they can beat the Spurs in San Antonio, if necessary. Their main goals to finish this season are to stay ahead of the LA Clippers, Miami Heat, and Indiana Pacers, and to get/remain healthy. As the season rolls to a close, it’ll be interesting to keep a vested interest in these 5 teams, as their outcomes all have the potential of affecting the Thunder in the near future.

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

westbrook tucker durant bledsoe thunder suns

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

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

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

The Opponent

frye dragic morris green suns

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

Probable Starting Line-ups

Phoenix Suns

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

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

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

Oklahoma City Thunder v Phoenix Suns

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

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

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 61 of 82)

jackson carter williams thunder 76ers

  • When: Tuesday, 04 March 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The Oklahoma City Thunder have started to look like themselves once again. After starting the 2nd half of the season 0-3, and looking lost with Russell Westbrook back at the point guard helm, the Thunder have strung together two straight victories over quality opponents (the Grizzlies and the Bobcats). Injuries are still playing a factor as starters Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha are possibly out for the rest of the regular season. But the Thunder have weathered these storms this season and will continue to adapt.

This is the 2nd meeting of the season between these two clubs. The Thunder won the first meeting 103-91 in Philadelphia. In that game, Kevin Durant messed around and got a triple double (32 points, 14 rebounds, and 10 assists), while Serge Ibaka had double/double with 25 points and 11 rebounds.

The Opponent

wroten carter williams 76ers

Philadelphia is turning rebuilding (“TANKING!”) into an art form this season. In the beginning of the season, the Sixers’ three best players were Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, and Thaddeus Young. Only Young still remains and all Philadelphia has to show for Hawes and Turner is 3 second round picks and some guy named Henry Sims.  Their record currently stands at 15-45 and they are riding a 14 game losing streak. During their current losing streak, they’ve lost their games by an average of 18.9 points. Leading the team is rookie pg Michael Carter-Williams, whose play has been one of the few bright spots in this season. He’s second on the team in points and leads the team in assists. On the wing, Tony Wroten can be a menace defensively and Thaddeus Young leads the team in scoring at 17.7 points per game. Their bench is a lot like their team, in general: a few developing players, but plenty of weaknesses.

Probable Starting Line-Up

Philadelphia 76ers

  • PG – Michael Carter-Williams
  • SG – James Anderson
  • SF – Hollis Thompson
  • PF – Thaddeus Young
  • C – Henry Sims

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Don’t look at the record – The Thunder have this bad habit of allowing bad teams to stay in games until the 4th quarter. Even though the team is bad, they are all still paid professionals with some modicum of pride. With that said, I will be highly disappointed if this game is not decided by the beginning of the 4th quarter.

2. Kevin Durant – Everyone will be wanting Durant to respond to the 61 point performance put on by Lebron James on Monday against the Charlotte Bobcats. A couple things to note: Lebron played the entire 4th quarter when his team had a 19 point lead to begin the quarter and Charlotte was on the 2nd night of a back to back that had them traveling from Oklahoma City to Miami. With that said, I fully expect Durant to have more of a triple double-type game than a scoring explosion.

caron butler thunder

3. Welcome, Caron Butler – Scott Brooks will have a new toy to play with off the bench. I say toy, because Butler is a veteran and he can shoot the 3-pointer. Nothing makes Brooks happier than a veteran that can shoot the 3-ball.