Tag Archives: Phoenix Suns

Scoreboard Watching: The Last 10 Games

adams kanter westbrook thunder

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

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

The Predators

Phoenix Suns

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

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

green morris suns evans withey pelicans

New Orleans Pelicans

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

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

The Prey

San Antonio Spurs

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

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

nowitzki mavericks duncan spurs

Dallas Mavericks

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

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

The Future Commodities Stakeholder

Washington Wizards

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

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

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

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Oklahoma City Thunder at Phoenix Suns preview (Game 58 of 82)

bledsoe suns westbrook thunder

  • When: Thursday, 26 February 2015 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ

When you are in the hunt for a playoff spot, you always look in two direction: the teams ahead of you in the standings and the teams you are warding off. Now that the Oklahoma City Thunder are firmly in the 8th spot in the Western Conference playoff race, the most important task is staying ahead of New Orleans and Phoenix. Catching up to San Antonio and the Clippers would be nice, but with the main objective already met (getting to the 8th seed), it’s all about maintaining their current positioning from here on out.

This is the third meeting of the season between these two teams. The Thunder have won the previous two games. The first game was a blowout with Oklahoma City winning 112-88. The second game had a playoff feel to it and even had some extracurricular theatrics that ended with Russell Westbrook being ejected from the game right before halftime. Kevin Durant carried the team in the 2nd half and they eventually outlasted the Suns in overtime, 137-134.

The Opponent

Phoenix Suns v Philadelphia 76ers

The Phoenix Suns come into this game with a 30-28 record, good for 10th in the conference (2.5 games back of the Thunder). The trade deadline completely changed the look of the team, with Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, and Miles Plumlee being shipped out in separate deals that basically netted the Suns Brandon Knight and trade fodder. It should come as no surprise that the Suns have struggled, losing 8 of their last 10 games. While still a high scoring outfit (106.1 points per game – 3rd in NBA), they allow the 3rd most points per game (105 points per game) and are 18th in the league in rebounding. With the departure of Dragic, Bledsoe becomes the undisputed leader of the team. Joining Bledsoe in the backcourt is the aforementioned Knight. PJ Tucker takes on the position of 3 and D wing, and is one of the more underrated ones in the league. Up front, Markieff Morris and Alex Len give opponents a contrasting front court, with Morris being more perimeter oriented, and Len being more post-oriented. Off the bench, Marcus Morris, Gerald Green, and Brandan Wright give the Suns an explosive reserve unit that can be a problem if they get hot.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Phoenix Suns

  • PG – Eric Bledsoe
  • SG – Brandon Knight
  • SF – PJ Tucker
  • PF – Markieff Morris
  • C – Alex Len

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Perimeter Defense – Outside of Alex Len and Brandan Wright, everyone else on the Suns is perimeter-oriented. Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe do a good job of serving as facilitators, while everybody else waits on the perimeter for an open shot. It starts with keeping the two guards in front of the defense. If Westbrook, Roberson, DJ Augustin, and Dion Waiters are up to task, this should mute the effectiveness of the Suns’ attack.

morris suns ibaka thunder

2. Rebounding – Being such a perimeter-oriented team keeps a lot of the Suns players outside the paint. Hence their No. 18 ranking in rebounds per game. The Thunder on the other hand, usually have at least 3-4 players crashing the boards on the defensive end, while the Thunder bigs are known for crashing the offensive glass. Keeping the Suns to one and done on the defensive end of the court, while grabbing a couple offensive boards on the other end of the floor will go a long to securing the victory in this game.

3. Russell Westbrook – He’s reaching the point where Durant was last season when he was bestowed the name Slim Reaper. The point where it is must see TV to see what crazy stat-line Westbrook will put up. Everyone keeps saying his play of late is not sustainable, but he’s not doing anything different than he’s done throughout his career.

Phoenix Suns vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 33 of 82)

durant westbrook adams thunder

  • When: Wednesday, 31 December 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

It’s the last game of the calendar year and it finally feels like the Oklahoma City Thunder are starting to shed some of the bad luck that has hounded them these last few months. Everyone is healthy as Kevin Durant returns from a “mild” sprained ankle that kept him out for 6 games. When healthy, the Thunder are one of the best teams in the league, boasting a top 5 rated defense and a starting lineup that is pumping out some pluses on the offensive/defensive rating. It’s the staying healthy part of the equation that has been difficult. Hopefully, with the change in the year, maybe that part of the year will be behind us.

This is the 2nd of 4 meetings between these two teams. The Thunder completely dominated the Suns 112-88 in their first meeting. Of note, the Suns were without Goran Dragic in that game. The Suns are the current 8th seed in the Western Conference and sit 2.5 games ahead of the 10th-seeded Thunder.

The Opponent

dragic tucker green suns

The Suns currently have an 18-15 record, and have been the model of consistent inconsistency. Their last 30 games have gone as follows: W1, L2, W2, L2, W4, L1, W1, L2, W2, L6, W6, L1. Lately though, they seem to have found a formula that works. The 3 guard line-up of Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, and Isaiah Thomas has been decimating opponents to close out games. To begin games, the Suns switched out Mason Plumlee for Alex Len, and the move has paid dividends not only in the development of Len, but in boosting the bench with Plumlee, who is more suited as an energy guy off the bench. Markieff Morris and PJ Tucker provide defense and perimeter shooting for the starting line-up. Off the bench, the aforementioned Thomas and Plumlee, along with Gerald Green and Marcus Morris, keep the pressure on defenses and can heat up at any time in the game.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Phoenix Suns

  • PG – Goran Dragic
  • SG – Eric Bledsoe
  • SF – PJ Tucker
  • PF – Markieff Morris
  • C – Alex Len

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Small Line-up – Much like the Dallas Mavericks without Tyson Chandler, the Phoenix Suns will likely try to force a mismatch with their small ball line-up of Dragic, Bledsoe, Thomas, and two bigs (usually Morris and Len). And if they really want to get fancy, they may throw Green or Tucker out there for an extremely small line-up. The Thunder have the appropriate counters defensively (Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, Roberson, and even Ish Smith, if necessary), but some of those defensive counters are offensive liabilities for the Thunder. If it becomes a back and forth affair, the Thunder could be in trouble.

2. Alex Len vs. Steven Adams – Finally! We get to see the match-up from the 2013 NBA Draft that everyone has been waiting for. I may be exaggerating a bit, but with how these two have been developing this season, it is not outside the realm of possibility that this may be a premier center match-up in a season or two.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Oklahoma City Thunder

3. Kevin Durant – Welcome back Kevin. The last time we saw him in action, he was lighting the Golden State Warriors up for 30 points in 18 minutes in one half. Don’t get hurt anymore.

Phoenix Suns vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 24 of 82)

westbrook thunder dragic suns

  • When: Sunday, 14 December 2014 at 6:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

While positions 1 through 7 are well represented and accounted for in the Western Conference playoff picture, the 8th spot is looking like if Kim Kardashian announced she was newly single at the BET Source Awards. Six games currently separate the 8th seed from the final seed in the conference. With a quarter of the season already played, there is still plenty of time for teams to make their moves to get into that final spot. One of the best things for a team to do in this position is to assert themselves by beating the teams around them in the standings. For the Thunder, those teams would realistically be the Suns, Pelicans, Kings, Nuggets, and Lakers. The Jazz and Timberwolves have little shot of moving up in the standings due to their inexperience and general direction of their team currently (rebuilding, player developing, etc.).

This is the first of four meetings this season between the Thunder and Phoenix Suns. The Suns’ run and gun style gave the Thunder issues last season as the Suns won 2 of 3 games in the season series and averaged 115.3 points per game in those three meetings.

The Opponent

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Atlanta Hawks

The Phoenix Suns come into this game with a 12-12 record, barely clinging on to the 8th seed in the Western Conference. After starting the season 9-5, they’ve gone on to drop 7 of their next 10. While the offense is still there (105.4 points per game, good for 5th in the league), the Suns have slipped defensively. They allowed 103.9 point per game (26th in the league) and grab only 41.8 boards per game, which is 19th in the league. As high-octane as their offense is, a lot of it is predicated on one on one play and perimeter shot making, which can make it inefficient at times. Leading the charge is the two-headed point guard duo of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. Bledsoe is the havoc creator, while Dragic is the more efficient player. Between the two, they are averaging nearly 32 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 10 assists per game. On the wing, PJ Tucker provides the perimeter defense for the Suns. Up front, Markieff Morris leads the team in rebounding at 6.5 per game, but spends much of his time on the perimeter in the mid-range. After having a breakout season, Miles Plumlee has regressed quite a bit, which has hurt the Suns’ interior play. The Suns feature one of the more offensively dangerous benches in the league, as Gerald Green, Isaiah Thomas, and Marcus Morris can all go off for 20 points in a game, easily.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Phoenix Suns

  • PG – Eric Bledsoe
  • SG – Goran Dragic
  • SF – PJ Tucker
  • PF – Markieff Morris
  • C – Miles Plumlee

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Guard Play – So much of the Suns’ identity is dependent on guard play. Their recent struggles coincided with the 8-game absence from Isaiah Thomas due to a bruised ankle. The Suns’ strongest line-ups usually involve the trio of Bledsoe, Dragic, and Thomas. Luckily, the Thunder have options that can defend such a line-up. Don’t be surprise if Ish Smith gets some minutes in this game to counter the Suns’ guard play.

bledsoe suns durant collison thunder

2. The Interior – The Suns’ biggest weakness is their lack of an interior presence. In the last two weeks, the Suns have allowed Tyson Chandler to grab 18 boards, and Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan to grab 14 board each. While the Thunder don’t necessarily have a rebound-inhaler like those 3 guys, their big man can rack up the rebounding numbers if the opposing team is weak on the interior.

3. Playoff Intensity – It’s early, but the Thunder have to come out and assert themselves. They’ve been fortunate to have all the pieces come together during a stretch where they’ve played some of the worst teams in the league. This “mini training camp” has been instrumental in developing chemistry. But now, it’s time to put all that practice to work.

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Pacific Division

Pacific Division

1. Los Angeles Clippers

paul griffin jordan clippers

Last season: 57-25 (1st in the Pacific Division, 3rd in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 6 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder

Key Additions:

  • Chris Douglas-Roberts – Free agent signing
  • Jordan Farmar – Free agent signing
  • Spencer Hawes – Free agent signing
  • Ekpe Udoh – Free agent signing
  • C.J. Wilcox – Draft (No. 28 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Joe Ingles – Australian free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Jared Dudley – Traded to the Milwaukee Bucks
  • Danny Granger – Signed with the Miami Heat
  • Ryan Hollins – Signed with the Sacramento Kings
  • Willie Green – Claimed off waivers by the Orlando Magic
  • Darren Collison – Signed with the Sacramento Kings

Season preview – While one team gets embroiled in a controversy related to race (Atlanta), another team is getting out of their racial controversy relatively unscathed. With the Donald Sterling fiasco behind them, and with new ownership, the Clippers look to build on the success from last season. The highest scoring team in the league (107.9 ppg) brings back its main core, while also adding the perimeter shooting of Spencer Hawes and Chris Douglas-Roberts to the mix. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are legit MVP contenders and the Clippers should be in the thick of things when it comes to championship contenders.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Clippers make it to the Finals

Projected 2014-15 Record: 59-23

2. Golden State Warriors

curry thompson splash bros warriors

Last season: 51-31 (2nd in the Pacific Division, 6th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 7 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers

Key Additions:

  • Leandro Barbosa – Free agent signing
  • Shaun Livingston – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Steve Blake – Signed with the Portland Trailblazers
  • Jordan Crawford – Unsigned
  • Jermaine O’Neal – Unsigned

Season Preview – Golden State is one of those teams that seems to be on the cusp of becoming an elite team, but is missing that extra “oomph” to get them there. Unfortunately, whatever that oomph is was obtained in the offseason. The Warriors basically bring back the same team from last season. While Curry and Thompson may continue to get better, the rest of the team, for the most part, has already plateaued in terms of skill improvement/refinement. I see the Warriors still being good, but also, still not being good enough.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Warriors reach the 2nd round of the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 50-32

3. Phoenix Suns

dragic bledsoe suns

Last season: 48-34 (3rd in the Pacific Division, 9th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Tyler Ennis – Draft (No. 18 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Isaiah Thomas – Signed and traded from the Sacramento Kings
  • TJ Warren – Draft (No. 14 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Anthony Tolliver – Free agent signing

Key Departures

  • Channing Frye – Signed with the Orlando Magic

Season Preview – The Eric Bledsoe contract situation has the ability to cast a huge shadow on this season for the Suns. After the feel good story that was last season, the Suns appear headed for a fork in the road with this Bledsoe situation. If he signs his 1-year qualifying offer, that could play out any number of ways, with some of those options blowing up in the Suns’ face. The Suns may be forced to trade Bledsoe, in order to keep Goran Dragic, who is an unrestricted free agent in 2015. All in all, I see this Bledsoe situation being too much of a distraction throughout the season for them to continue with what they started last season. Add to that the fact the Suns will no longer be able to sneak up on teams, and you are looking at a team-wide “sophomore slump”. This team will score a ton of points, and will be fun to watch, but will they be able to stop elite team on the other side of the court?

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 45-37

4. Sacramento Kings

demarcus cousins kings

Last season: 28-54 (4th in the Pacific Division, 13th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Omri Casspi – Free agent signing
  • Darren Collison – Free agent signing
  • Ryan Hollins – Free agent signing
  • Nik Stauskas – Draft (No. 8 in the 2014 NBA Draft)

Key Departures:

  • Jason Terry – Traded to the Houston Rockets
  • Aaron Gray – Signed with the Detroit Pistons
  • Isaiah Thomas – Signed and traded to the Phoenix Suns

Season Preview – The Kings seem to finally be on the upswing. They are starting to assemble a team around DeMarcus Cousins, with shooters on the outside (Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas) and rugged enforcers/rebounders on the inside (Reggie Evans and Jason Thompson). Rudy Gay will provide further perimeter scoring and Darren Collison will attempt to quarterback the whole thing. They will continue to fall short due to the weakness of the point guard position, but the maturation of Cousins will start to point the ship in the right direction. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Kings make a play for Rajon Rondo sometime this season.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Kings surpass 35 wins.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 37-45

5. Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant

Last season: 27-55 (5th in the Pacific Division, 14th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Carlos Boozer – Claimed off amnesty waivers from the Chicago Bulls
  • Ed Davis – Free agent signing
  • Jeremy Lin – Obtained in a trade from the Houston Rockets
  • Julius Randle – Draft (No. 7 in the 2014 NBA Draft)

Key Departures:

  • Pau Gasol – Signed with the Chicago Bulls
  • Chris Kaman – Signed with the Portland Trailblazers
  • Jodie Meeks – Signed with the Detroit Pistons
  • Kendall Marshall – Waived; Claimed off waivers by the Milwaukee Bucks
  • Kent Bazemore – Signed with the Atlanta Hawks
  • Jordan Farmar – Signed with the Los Angeles Clippers

Season Preview – As someone who respects Kobe Bryant, this is not how I envisioned his final years. The Lakers are going to struggle, and struggle bad. Kobe may have a couple Kobe games left in him, but Father Time remains unbeaten (unless your name is Timothy Theodore Duncan). The Lakers are loading up on short contracts to coincide with the end of Kobe’s contract. Then, the Lakers will look to do what the Lakers usually do: lure top talent with the auspices of Hollywood glitz. But until then, it will be a lot like Lolo Jones’ performance on Dancing With the Star, which is to say cringe-worthy.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Lakers keep their 2015 first round pick (Top 5 protected; if it’s outside of that range, it goes to Phoenix)

Projected 2014-15 Record: 29-53

Summertime Blues: What’s Left To Do?

sam presti

This is always the most boring part of the year for me. Summer league is over with, most of the free agents have signed, the FIBA World Cup is still a month away, and football training camps just started. I like baseball, but not enough to pay attention to it day in and day out. In addition, the stability of the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise makes time seem to drag even more. Don’t get me wrong, though. I enjoy the stability of the team. Our superstars and role players are all signed and the roster, for the most part, is already set.

But the work of an NBA GM is never done. It is during these quiet times that GM’s get most of their leg work done for future moves. Thunder GM Sam Presti has done a great job of creating a stable environment, but there is still work to be done before the season starts. Here are 3 issues the team still wants to take of before the season starts.

1. What to do with Semaj Christon?

Much like Grant Jerrett from last season, the Thunder see a lot of potential in their 2nd round pick-up from this draft. Christon is the prototypical Thunder point guard: long, athletic, and able to get into the lane. What he lacks is consistent perimeter shooting and experience as a floor general. The Thunder saw a little of what Christon is able to produce during Summer League. He averaged 11.3 points, 2.3 rebouds, and 2.8 assists on 48.5% shooting from the field. He played in 4 games and averaged 26.3 minutes per game. He showed a penchant for being a good on the ball defender and averaged 1.3 steals per game. This is a prime example of what the Thunder look for in a point guard.

semaj christon thunder summer league

With Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson, and Sebastian Telfair already on the roster, the point guard quota for the Thunder is filled for this season. The question is how do the Thunder hold on to Christon without having a roster spot to offer him? Barring a late offseason trade, the Thunder already have the 15 players they will be going into the season with.

Will they maneuver another Jerrett-like move to hold onto Christon’s draft rights through their D-League affiliate? One thing that may be in the Thunder’s favor is the loyalty they showed to Jerrett last season. Jerrett went along with the move the Thunder made to rescind his rights before training camp, but draft him in the D-League draft. At the end of the D-League season, the Thunder brought Jerrett in for the last week of the season and for the remainder of the playoffs. Christon may see this and give the Thunder a chance to develop him in the D-League with the thought that he might be brought in at the end of this season or next season. The Thunder have been including Christon in a lot of their community related activities this offseason, so it’s obvious they see him as a part of their future.

2. The Hasheem Thabeet / Tibor Pleiss Conundrum

Since 2010, one of the questions asked every offseason for the Thunder is whether Tibor Pleiss would finally come over. The Thunder drafted the German big man with the 31st pick in the 2010 NBA draft and expected him to stay in Europe for a couple seasons to further his development. But with Pleiss turning 25 this year, it’s getting to the point where the Thunder either bring him over and see what type of player they have, or they move on and Pleiss becomes one of those names that gets included in a trade as filler. With the calendar nearing August, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Pleiss would stay in Europe this season.

tibor pleiss

The Thunder, on the other hand, aren’t necessarily in need of a big man. They already have Kendrick Perkins and Steven Adams in tow, and have a team option for Hasheem Thabeet. Next offseason is a different story. Perkins will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, as will Thabeet if the Thunder pick up his option. The Thunder have until September 1st to make a decision on Thabeet. If they don’t waive him before that date, his salary becomes fully guaranteed.

Everything was expected to go as planned. The Thunder would head into this season with their three centers, and Pleiss would stay in Europe for at least one more year of seasoning. Then, on July 27th, international sports website Sportando quoted German national coach Emir Mutapcic as saying, “His agent told us that Pleiss is close to signing in the NBA.” It seems like every offseason there are conflicting reports whether Pleiss would come over or not, but this one felt different. Maybe it’s the fact that Pleiss hasn’t officially signed with a Euroleague team or the fact that no one in the Thunder organization has flat out said, “No, Pleiss is not coming over this season.”

It would make sense for the Thunder to bring Pleiss over this season in order to get him acclimated to playing in the NBA. If he’s going to be the primary back-up next season, he’ll need the experience. Plus, the Thunder have to see what they actually have in Pleiss. The only drawback will be the departure of Thabeet, whom the team loves as a locker room/chemistry guy. From a basketball perspective, though, it would be the best move to bring Pleiss over.

Reggie Jackson’s extension

Other than signing a 3-point shooter, no other move would complete this offseason like signing Reggie Jackson to an extension. Jackson just completed his third season in the league, which makes him eligible for an extension with his current team. If the Thunder fail to sign Jackson to an extension this offseason, then they risk him going into restricted free agency next offseason. This is a scary thought because if a team with cap space offers Jackson a lucrative contract, then the Thunder may have to turn it down and allow Jackson to walk away with nothing to show for it.

The question becomes, “What is Jackson worth?” He’s a 6th Man of the Year candidate with the skills (and chops) to be a starter in the league. In the past year, Jackson has filled in admirably in Westbrook’s absence due to injury, and has been part of the Thunder’s finishing line-up when Westbrook has been healthy. The Thunder, and Jackson, for that matter, are probably paying close attention to what happens in the Eric Bledsoe/Phoenix Suns contract negotiations. Jackson’s situation is very similar to Bledsoe’s, who was a 6th Man of the Year candidate for the Los Angeles Clippers, playing behind Chris Paul, before getting traded to the Suns where he became a full time starter. The Suns recently offered Bledsoe a 4 year/$48 million dollar contract, which Bledsoe rejected.

San Antonio Spurs v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Three

To the Thunder, Jackson is not worth $12 million a year. With max level contracts for Durant and Westbrook already in the books, and Ibaka receiving $12.3 million per season, the Thunder can’t really give out another max or near-max level contract. With Perkins and his $9.4 million dollar contract coming off the books after this season, the Thunder could hypothetically offer Jackson a 4 year, $30 million dollar contract. Anything more than that, and the Thunder are compromising their ability to sign Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka to future extensions.

Besides the money, another sticking point may be Jackson’s desire to be a full-time starter in the league. In his exit interview, Jackson made that desire known to the public. The Thunder like to start a traditionally sized, defensive minded shooting guard in the Thabo Sefolosha mold and probably would not commit to starting a duel combo guard starting line-up. In Jackson’s mind, if he’s able to get the money and the starting job, he may be willing to wait out this year and go to restricted free agency next season. If that’s the case, the Thunder may just have themselves another James Harden situation.

The Race for 8th and the Thunder

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I have really enjoyed this first season of ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’. Many critics have panned it, but I think it has melded well with the Marvel movie universe, and has enough gumption to stand on its own. This season has focused on their hunt for The Clairvoyant, a villain who always seems to be one step ahead the agents. So much so, that the agents start to think the villain is in their head.

Well, I would like to let the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D know that I have found The Clairvoyant. His name is  Matthew Winick, and he’s the mastermind behind the NBA schedule. He has to be The Clairvoyant. Who else would’ve scheduled the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, and Memphis Grizzlies to play each in round robin fashion in the final week of the season for the 8th seed in the Western Conference.

randolph nowitzki grizzlies mavericks

We rarely see “win and you’re in” scenarios in basketball, but this season we could possibly have 3 games which impact where those teams end up on the final day of the season. First off, the tie breakers are as follows:

  • Dallas owns the tie breaker versus Memphis (3-0)and is tied with Phoenix (1-1).
  • Phoenix is tied with Dallas (1-1).
  • Memphis owns the tie breaker versus Phoenix (3-0)

With Dallas holding a 1/2 game lead over the Suns and a 1.5 game lead over the Grizzlies, they are firmly in the driver’s seat. But the teams they face in their final 3 games have a winning percentage of .654. It doesn’t get any easier for Phoenix, whose four remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of .577. The easiest trek may be Memphis’, which currently sits in the 9th position in the West. They play the 76ers and the Lakers before beginning their round robin games against the Suns and Mavs. They are in a much better position than Phoenix to control their destiny.

calderon dragic suns mavericks

 

As a basketball fan, you live for this time of year. The first two days of the playoffs have always been my favorite days of the season. Two days, two quadruple-headers. That is sweet nectar from the basketball gods. Luckily, basketball fans will get a 3 game play-in tournament before the playoffs even begin. Those games are:

  • April 12th – Phoenix @ Dallas
  • April 14th – Memphis @ Phoenix
  • April 16th – Dallas @ Memphis

With the Oklahoma City Thunder firmly in control of the No. 2 seed in the West after last night’s victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, my focus can be redirected towards the West’s 8th seed. Those three teams will be battling for the 7th and 8th seed. Other than who might finish with the 7th seed, how does this affect the Thunder?

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder

The answer to that lies in San Antonio. There’s still a sliver of hope the Thunder can get the No.1 seed in the conference, and in the league. That hope lies in the fact that the Spurs will face the Mavericks and Suns on back to back nights. Two desperate teams against a team that is known to rest its starters as the season winds down. Tony Parker will be out for tonight’s game against the Mavericks. After they face the “duo of desperation”, the Spurs then travel to Houston to face the Rockets, who may be needing to win in order to stay ahead of the Portland Trailblazers for the 4th spot (and final home court position) in the West.

All told, if the Spurs finish 1-3 in their final 4 games, and the Thunder win out, Oklahoma City will head into the playoffs with the No. 1 seed. A lot of things will have to fall in OKC’s favor, but it’s not an impossible scenario. With the Spurs playing 2, or possibly, 3 desperate teams, the onus may be on them to hold on to the top seed in the West.

Thunder sign Grant Jerrett for rest of the season

adams roberson jerrett thunder

Rewind back to last June when the Thunder had 3 of the first 32 picks of the 2013 NBA Draft. I thought there was no way that the Thunder would draft 3 players that would suit up for the Thunder this season. And I was right. Of the three players picked, only Steven Adams and Andre Roberson are on the Thunder roster. Alex Abrines, selected with the 2nd pick in the 2nd round, was kept in Europe for more development. But, apparently, I was also wrong. The Thunder, in addition to the 3 players mentioned above, also bought the rights to the No. 40 pick from the Portland Trailblazers. That pick turned out to be a stretch 4 from Arizona named Grant Jerrett. Jerrett’s game has been compared to Channing Frye’s of the Phoenix Suns.

Jerrett played on the Thunder’s summer league, and showed his potential. He scored in a variety of ways and was one of the Thunder’s top players on the team. But, he also showed that he had a lot of work to do in terms of defense and consistency. With a loaded roster, the Thunder pulled off a shrewd move and allowed Jerrett’s rights to expire when they didn’t sign him to a training camp roster. Instead of letting him go for nothing, the team worked out a deal where their minor league affiliate, the Tulsa 66ers, would obtain the 1st pick in the D-League draft and would choose Jerrett. That way, Jerrett’s right would stay within the Thunder organization as long as they didn’t sign him to a contract during the D-League regular season.

grant jerrett thunder 66ers

With the 66ers season done, the Thunder signed Grant Jerrett for the rest of the season and into the playoffs. It took nearly the entire season, but the Thunder somehow ended up with three rookies on their roster. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed and it is unknown if the deal holds any future contractual obligations.

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 vs. Dallas Mavericks preview (Game 71 of 82)

durant nowitzki thunder mavs

  • When: Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX

There’s a couple different ways to look at this game:

1. The Thunder will be out for revenge. In their previous meeting, the Mavericks humbled the Thunder, in Oklahoma City, to the tune of a 23 point drubbing, 109-86. That was the beginning of the Russell Westbrook Rest Experiment (RWRE). The Thunder came out a little flat and never recovered from a bad start. The Thunder were down three starters and the 3’s kept falling for the Mavericks (13-24 3pt FG, 54.2%). Needless to say, it was one of the worst losses at home since the team became a playoff contender 4 seasons ago. This time around, though, they have Russell Westbrook in tow and a little momentum gained from a 4 game winning streak.

2. The Mavericks are fighting for their playoff lives. The Mavs were given one of the greatest gifts afforded to a team looking to secure one of the final spots in the playoffs: an 8-game home stand. They are 2-2 through the first 4 games and have slipped down to the 9th spot by virtue of a tie-breaker with Phoenix. If the Thunder come out flat-flooted, they may just run into a desperate animal needing to win as many games as possible to secure a playoff seed.

3. The Thunder are fighting for their own playoff seeding. A lot like last season the Thunder find themselves behind the Spurs with about 12 games to play. They have one more meeting with the Spurs in early April at home. If the Thunder could position themselves to be a game behind the Spurs when the meet on April 3rd, then they could take over first place, not only in the Western Conference, but also for the entire playoff run if they make it to the Finals. OKC already owns the tie-breaker by virtue of winning the first 2 games against the Spurs this season and San Antonio has a tendency to rest its players the final month of the season.

The Opponent

calderon marion nowitzki ellis mavericks

The Mavericks currently find themselves outside of the playoff race in the Western Conference with the same record as the 8th seeded Phoenix Suns, at 42-29. Phoenix owns the tie-breaker by virtue of having the better conference record. The Mavs are a good offensive team, scoring 104.6 points a game, but rank near the bottom third of the league in terms of opponent’s points per game, allowing 102.3. In their current home stand, the Mavs are 2-2, with defense being the main culprit. In the 2 wins, they only allow 97.5 points per game, while in the 2 losses, they’ve allowed 115 points per game. Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis do the heavy lifting on the offense, but Jose Calderon is the one who sets it in motion. Calderon, who took a hit to the face that limited him to one minute in their last game, will play in this game. The Mavs boast a veteran-laden bench that can give teams fits with players like Devin Harris, Vince Carter, and Brandan Wright.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Dallas Mavericks

  • PG – Jose Calderon
  • SG – Monta Ellis
  • SF – Shawn Marion
  • PF – Dirk Nowitzki
  • C – Samuel Dalembert

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 – Anytime the Thunder made a push in the last game, the Mavs usually answered with a 3-pointer to keep the Thunder at bay. The Thunder allowed the Mavs to shoot over 50% from 3-point territory in the last game, which would make it difficult for any team to win.

2. Bench help – While the Thunder bench was a bit muted in the last game by injuries, there should be no reason why the Mavs’ bench outscored the Thunder bench by 16 (38-22). The Thunder will face more of the same tonight, with Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins still out. Having Reggie Jackson back in his familiar 6th man role should help the bench unit out.

lamb jackson lillard thunder trailblazers

3. Russ’ knee – The MRI performed on Saturday revealed no further damage to Westbrook’s right knee. That’s the good news. But we are kind heading into unchartered territory as a fan base where we grimace every time Russell takes a tumble or grimaces in pain. Here’s to hoping he suffers no further scares the rest of the season (regular and post).