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

westbrook thunder gordon pelicans

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

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

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

The Opponent

davis asik evans pelicans

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

Probable Starting Line-ups

New Orleans Pelicans

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

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

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

westbrook jackson adams ibaka thunder evans asik pelicans

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

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

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Washington Wizards vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 34 of 82)

durant thunder nene gortat wall wizards

  • When: Friday, 02 January 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

I feel like the Oklahoma City Thunder have been on the cusp of being .500 for about a month now. Every time the team gains a little momentum, something (usually an injury) gets in the way. Now, though, they are about as healthy as they have been all year with the possibility of finally reaching .500. After such a tumultuous path, the Thunder seem to be getting back on track at the right time.

This is the first meeting of the season between these two teams. The Thunder and Wizards have split their meetings the last two seasons. Washington DC has been a house of horrors for the Thunder the last 3 seasons, losing all their games in the Beltway.

The Opponent

wall beal wizards

The Washington Wizard currently find themselves with a 22-9 record, good for 3rd in the Eastern Conference. They are a defense-heavy team that can also score. The Wizards, along with the Chicago Bulls, are probably the two most balanced teams in the Eastern Conference. Leading the charge is point guard John Wall, who has turned into one of the better floor generals in the league. He leads the Wizards in scoring (17.4), assists (10.3), and steals (2.1). His backcourt mate, Bradley Beal, is developing into one of the better shooting guards in the game. On the wing, Paul Pierce provides shooting and a calming veteran presence. Up front, Nene and Marcin Gortat are the East’s version of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Nene is the bull strong power forward with a soft touch around the rim and Gortat is the skilled center with nimble feet. Off the bench, veteran Rasual Butler provides the Wizards with sharpshooter, while Kris Humphries is the energetic big man that can gobble up offensive boards.

Probable Starting Line-up

Washington Wizards

  • PG – John Wall
  • SG – Bradley Beal
  • SF – Paul Pierce
  • PF – Nene
  • C – Marcin Gortat

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 – John Wall does a great job of breaking down the first line of defense and getting into the paint to cause havoc. It will be up to Russell Westbrook to stay in front of Wall. Also, the Wizards have 5 players that shoot over 36.3% from 3-point territory.

2. Rebounding – Though not a huge part of their game, the Wizards are one of those teams that you don’t want getting 2nd chances. The amount of space their bigs take up help them in getting offensive rebounds.

nene perkins thunder wizards

3. Limit Turnovers – The Wizards aren’t knowing for getting up and down, but they do have one of the more athletic backcourts in the league. If you cough up live ball turnovers, the Wizards will get out and turn defense into offense quickly.

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.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Dallas Mavericks preview (Game 32 of 82)

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When: Sunday, 28 December 2014 at 6:30 PM CST

Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX

To a point guard, the Western Conference has to feel like a field littered with land mines. At the end of that field, is a championship trophy. But, at every step, you are bound to encounter a detonation. All the land mines come in different sizes with different modes of exploding. And if it wasn’t bad enough, the Dallas Mavericks, who had some of the dullest land mines on the field, went and added another shiny land mine to the field. If this was David Stern’s vision of a handcheck-less NBA, well then, mission accomplished.

This is the first of four meetings between these two teams. The Mavericks won the season series last year 2-1. The first two games weren’t very close, but the third was an overtime game that Dallas eventually won. Because of locale, these games carry a little more meaning than most NBA games around here. It’s almost like the Red River Rivalry of basketball.

The Opponent

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The Dallas Mavericks currently have a 21-10 record, good for 5th in the Western Conference. They sport the best scoring offense in the league at 109.4 points per game and the 2nd best offense in terms of offensive rating. Their current starting line-up is considered to be one of the best, if not the best, in the NBA. The defense, though, is in the bottom third of the league in terms of defensive rating and points allowed. They score a lot, but they also allowed a lot. Leading the Dallas attack is the newly acquired Rajon Rondo. After showing that he had recovered sufficiently enough from an ACL tear from two seasons ago and a hand injury at the beginning of this season, the Mavericks made the move to obtain Rondo from the Celtics. In his first 4 games with Dallas, Rondo is averaging 13.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 8.8 assists, and 1.8 steals, whiling helping the Mavericks to a 2-2 record in that span. At the other guard, Monta Ellis’ production has seemed to wane since the arrival of Ronda. Ellis was used to being a high-usage guard that could work with the ball in his hands. Now, he’s truly an off-guard playing off the ball. It’ll be interesting to see how that dynamics works itself out. At the forward spot, Chandler Parsons is giving the Mavericks basically the same thing he gave the Houston Rockets in his first 3 seasons there: good perimeter shooting and the ability to drive when covered closely on the perimeter. At the other forward spot, Dirk Nowitzki is a lot like another ageless power forward, Tim Duncan. You think they are going to eventually slow down, but they continue performing at the same level they have for the past 5 seasons, except more efficiently. In the middle, Tyson Chandler provides shot blocking and a great target for the pick and roll. While the Rondo trade may have strengthened the starting unit, it also weakened the bench. Gone are Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson, and Jae Crowder. The bench now consists mainly of veterans near the end of their careers: Charlie Villanueva, Devin Harris, and Richard Jefferson.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Dallas Mavericks

PG – Rajon Rondo
SG – Monta Ellis
SF – Chandler Parsons
PF – Dirk Nowitzki
C – Tyson Chandler

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Perimeter Defense – The dribble drive ability of Rondo and Ellis will open up opportunities for Chandler off of pick and rolls and for the bevy of shooters on the perimeter. It will be extremely important for Westbrook, Roberson, and Reggie Jackson to stay in front of their man and prevent any penetration.

2. Transition Opportunities – With the long ball comes long rebounds and transition opportunities. Dallas isn’t necessarily a quick team with stellar athletes, so this may be a phase of the game where the Thunder can take advantage.

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3. Bench – The Thunder bench has taken a bit of a hit lately due to its inconsistent play. With Dallas’ weakened bench, look for the Thunder reserves to assert themselves early in this game.

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

adams lamb thunder davis asik pelicans

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

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

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

The Opponent

davis asik evans pelicans

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

Probable Starting Line-ups

New Orleans Pelicans

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

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

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

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

COTN: oboy – here for #COTN

3 Keys to the Game

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

Tyreke Evans, Omer Asik, Kendrick Perkins, Steven Adams

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

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

Oklahoma City Thunder at Golden State Warriors preview (Game 26 of 82)

perkins thunder

  • When: Thursday, 18 December 2014 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where: Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA

Most games in the regular season are not must-wins. Teams battling for the 8th spot in their respective conferences at the end of the season face must-win games. Teams on the brink of elimination in the playoffs face must-win games. But games in December can rarely be labeled must-win games. Even if the Thunder lose tonight, they are still well on pace to get into the playoffs comfortably. So while it isn’t a must-win game, it definitely is a “want to”-win game. After starting the season off in shambles due to injuries, it sure would be nice to send a message to the rest of the league that we are back.

This is the second of four meetings between the Thunder and Golden State Warriors. The under-manned Thunder played the Warriors valiantly in their first meeting, losing 91-86. That is the lowest point total the Warriors have been held to all season.

The Opponent

curry thompson green warriors

The Golden State Warriors currently sit perched atop of the rest of the league with a 21-3 record. After winning 16 in a row, the Warriors lost their last game to the Memphis Grizzlies in Memphis. First year head coach Steve Kerr has jumped out to the best 24 game start to begin a coach career in league history. The Warriors rank in the top 10 in most major statistical categories. Their defense is predicated on blowing up pick and rolls and forcing you to take mid-range shots early in the shot clock. On offense, the shooting of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson (or the fear of them shooting) creates a ton of space for them to do their work and for others to get open. The Splash Brothers are currently averaging 45.2 points, 8.9 rebounds, 10.9 assists, and 3.2 steals per game on 46.6/41.0/89.5% shooting splits combined. This backcourt is highly efficient and each player is capable of exploding for 35+ points on any given night. Because of David Lee’s injury and Andre Iguadola’s move to the bench, Kerr has been going with Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green at the forward spots. Barnes plays more of the small forward role, while Green has been a  terror as an undersized stretch-4. Both players are shooting over 35% from deep this season. Up front, Festus Ezeli mans the middle in place of the injured Andrew Bogut. Off the bench, the aforementioned Iguadola, Marreese Speights, and Shaun Livingston give the Warriors a veteran reserve bunch that will not lose them many games.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Golden State Warriors

  • PG – Steph Curry
  • SG – Klay Thompson
  • SF – Harrison Barnes
  • PF – Draymond Green
  • C – Festus Ezeli

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Transition Defense – There’s a reason why the Warriors are No. 1 in the league in pace: their fast breaks don’t have to go all the way to the rim. The Warriors are just as happy shooting up 30 footers while the defense is getting set back up as they are gliding in for lay-ups. It’ll be extremely important for the Thunder to get back on defense as quickly as possible to contest anything from Curry and Thompson.

2. Match-up Landmines – The first match-up problem I see is Ibaka vs. Green. It would almost be better for the Thunder to go small from the beginning with Ibaka as the 5 and Perry Jones getting minutes at forward. Another match-up nightmare is Kendrick Perkins vs. Speights. This manifested itself the last time these two teams played, as Speights went off for 28 points off the bench on an array of mid-range jumpers against the slower Perkins. Another match-up problem could be Reggie Jackson vs. Livingston. Livingston has made a career of taking small pg’s down on the block due to his height advantage.

westbrook thunder ezeli warriors

3. Sit back and enjoy – If you are a fan of basketball, these last two nights have been great. The Warriors/Grizzlies match-up on Tuesday was good and the triple-overtime thriller between the Grizzlies and Spurs last night was even better. But if you remember back to the first two games the Thunder and Warriors played last season, then you already have a blueprint as to how tonight might play out.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Sacramento Kings preview (Game 25 of 82)

durant thunder thompson kings

  • When: Tuesday, 16 December 2014 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where: Sleep Train Arena, Sacramento, CA

The Oklahoma City Thunder are slowly climbing that playoff ladder. With their win against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday and the Suns’ last second loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday, the Thunder found themselves half a game from the 8th spot, behind the New Orleans Pelicans. While injuries tripped up the Thunder at the beginning of the season, injuries seem to be tripping up some of the teams the Thunder are currently look to climb over. Goran Dragic missed the Suns’ last two games with a back injury. Anthony Davis missed the last game for the Pelicans with a bruised chest. And Demarcus Cousins has missed the last 9 games for the Kings with viral meningitis. The breaks other teams were catching when the Thunder were injured, are the same breaks the Thunder are now catching against other teams. Such is the beast known at the NBA regular season.

This is the second of four meeting between the Thunder and Kings. The Thunder won the first meeting 101-93 in Oklahoma City. In that game, Reggie Jackson scored 11 of his 22 points in the 4th quarter to help the Thunder hold off the Kings who made a furious charge in the 2nd half after being down by 13 at halftime.

The Opponent

gay mclemore collison kings

The Sacramento Kings currently sit at 11-13, which is the same record as the Thunder. After starting the season off 9-5, the Kings have gone on to drop 8 of their last 10, culminating in the firing of head coach Michael Malone. From all reports, the Kings front office and the coach disagreed on a number of player personnel issues and the losing streak was just a means to an end for the front office. The recent slide can be directly linked to star center DeMarcus Cousins being sidelined with viral meningitis. Without a presence in the middle, defenses have been able to defend the Kings’ perimeter players one on one and not allow them to get open shots. Leading the Kings’ attack is Darren Collison, who is averaging 16 points and 6.3 assists per game. While never one to be mistaken with the league’s elite point guards, Collison can hold his own with his quickness and ability to get into the lane. On the perimeter, Ben McLemore and Rudy Gay may not be the most efficient bunch, but if they get going, they can take over games from the perimeter. Up front, the loss of  Cousins exposes the lack of depth the Kings have on the interior. Which is surprising considering half their roster is power forwards. Off the bench, Ray McCallum, Ramon Sessions, Carl Landry, Reggie Evans, and Nik Stauskas provide the Kings with some depth, especially in the back court. Omri Casspi and the aforementioned Cousins will be out tonight.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Sacramento Kings

  • PG – Darren Collison
  • SG – Ben McLemore
  • SF – Rudy Gay
  • PF – Jason Thompson
  • C – Ryan Hollins

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Trap-Game Potential – Having just played the No. 8 team (at the time) in the Western Conference standings and possibly looking ahead to a prime-time match-up with the Golden State Warriors, this game has high trap game potential. Add to that the fact the Kings are slumping, missing their best player, playing for a new head coach, and playing at home on national TV, and you have the perfect formula for a let down on the Thunder’s part.

2. Rebounding – There has been a lot of correlation lately between the Thunder out-rebounding their opponents and winning games comfortably. The Kings have a stable of power forwards that can grab rebounds by the bunches. If a Thunder allow them to get too comfortable on the interior, then the Kings will eventually take advantage of their 2nd chance opportunities.

perkins collison thunder thompson kings

3. Rudy Gay/Kendrick Perkins – There are a couple givens in life: Death, taxes, and the “Kendrick Perkins offensive foul due to a hard screen on Rudy Gay” play. It’s coming. Bank on it.

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.

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 22 of 82)

westbrook durant irving thompson cavs thunder

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

The first real test of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s new season. The Thunder have quietly won 5 of their last 6 games and seem to be hitting their stride. Russell Westbrook has been MVP-worthy in the games that he has played. Kevin Durant appears to be getting back into game shape. And the Thunder, as a whole, are getting used to playing as a full collective. In the last game, against the Milwaukee Bucks, Oklahoma City trotted out multiple small ball lineups to combat what Milwaukee was doing. And they worked for the most part. As much as the young Thunder have grown in that trying first month, Scott Brooks appears to have grown as much. Brooks is like a kid in a candy store with all the line-up possibilities. Once known for his stubbornness in adapting to the opponent’s personnel, Brooks now appears confident enough in his rotation to trot out various line-ups to combat whatever the opponent is throwing out there.

This is the first meeting of the season between the Thunder and the Cleveland Cavaliers. They split their two meetings last season, but these are not your 1 year old son’s Cleveland Cavaliers. Past history will likely have little bearing on these future meetings.

The Opponent

lebron james kevin love kyrie irving cavs

The Cavaliers come into tonight’s game with a 13-7 record, riding an 8-game win streak. After a rough start that saw them start the season 5-7, the Cavs seem to have finally righted the ship. LeBron James is once again LeBroning (no, not that LeBroning), and the other “big 2”, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, are getting used to their new roles. The Cavs are top-1o in most major categories except for defensive rating (14th – 106.1) and rebounding (24th – 41.2 per game). Leading the charge is 4th year point guard Kyrie Irving, who has slowly adjusted to his new role as a facilitator/attacker from just solely being an attacker. Irving’s ability to pick and choose the right spots where he is needed to take over has been a big factor in the Cavs’ recent resurgence. On the wing, LeBron James has recovered from his early season swoon, and is back to being his MVP-caliber self, averaging 24.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per game. On the other wing, Cavs coach Dave Blatt inserted veteran SF Shawn Marion into the starting line-up early in the season to help provide some perimeter defense. Up front, Kevin Love has probably had to make the biggest adjustment of the the 3 All-Stars. To go from alpha male to 3rd option can be a difficult change. But Love has done his best Chris Bosh impersonation and is learning how to make the most of his opportunities when they are presented. The veteran Anderson Varejao mans the middle providing his usual energy and defensive presence. Off the bench, Dion Waiter, Tristan Thompson, and Matthew Dellavedova will get most of the reserve minutes.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Cleveland Cavaliers

  • PG – Kyrie Irving
  • SG – LeBron James
  • SF – Shawn Marion
  • PF – Kevin Love
  • C – Anderson Varejao

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

Key Match-Ups

1. LeBron James vs. Andre Roberson/Perry Jones – Yes, Kevin Durant will guard James at times. But a lot of the success of the Thunder will be dependent on Durant being on the floor and not getting into foul trouble. This is where Roberson and Jones come into play. Jones’ career, before his 3-game scoring binge at the beginning of this season, has been defined by the job he did on James in the 2nd half of the Thunder game against the Heat in Miami last season. While he didn’t necessarily shut him down, he did make James work for whatever he got in that game. And most importantly, he kept Durant off of James.

NBA: Miami Heat at Oklahoma City Thunder

2. Serge Ibaka vs. Kevin Love – Love has always been a match-up nightmare for Ibaka. Love can grab rebounds with the best of them, but can also take you outside on the perimeter. That inside/outside game can cause Ibaka to get lost in the shuffle. Look for the Thunder to play smaller, and for Ibaka to be more on Thompson or Varejao than Love.

3. Russell Westbrook vs. Kyrie Irving – Whoever plays the smarter game will likely lead their team to victory. But one of these two, if not both, will likely look to one up the other at some point in the game.

3 Keys to the Game

1. Rebounding – A lot like LeBron’s Miami teams, rebounding is a weakness of this Cavalier team. Even with Kevin Love, who is averaging his lowest rebounds per game average since his rookie season, the Cavs still struggle on the boards. On the offensive end, Love finds himself on the perimeter many times, negating offensive rebounding opportunities. Defensively, Cleveland’s penchant for forcing teams to shoot jumpers, causes long rebound opportunities to land in the lap of the offense. The Thunder will definitely need more than 1 rebound in a half from Steven Adams in this game.

ibaka jackson morrow thunder

2. Bench – The Thunder’s bench unit is becoming one of the better ones in the league. The Cavs bench is one that can be extremely streaky, especially Waiters. As long as Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, and Anthony Morrow play their games, the Thunder bench should be a net positive against the Cavs.

3. Mike Miller – I don’t care if Miller has missed the last 3 games with a concussion. He should be available for this game, and he torches Oklahoma City nearly every time he plays against us. I fully expect him to go 4/5 on 3-point shots.

Milwaukee Bucks vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 21 of 82)

perkins morrow thunder mayo bucks

  • When: Tuesday, 09 December 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

It’s been 4 out of 5 games. Against some of the worst teams in the league. But they have been victories, and they have been needed. The Thunder can’t be picky from here on out about how or against whom they get their wins. They just have to get them…and by the bunches, if possible. Their past game and this game are bit of a redemption tour for the Thunder. And that’s basically what the rest of this season is going to be. The necessity of making up for the lost first month of the season will be the theme of the season. Fortunately, for the first time all season, the Thunder have been healthy for some games now, and appear to be hitting their stride.

This is the 2nd meeting of the season between these two teams. In the first game, the Bucks used a strong second quarter to wrestle the game from the Thunder, and kept them at bay in the 2nd half to win 85-78.

The Opponent

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Minnesota Timberwolves

The Bucks come into this game with a surprising 11-11 record, but have lost 4 out of their last 5 games. They have feasted on the weak teams in the league, to include Oklahoma City when they were the walking wounded. Against teams with a record of .500 or higher, Milwaukee is only 1-8 this season. They are middle of the road in most statistical categories, and are just now learning how to compete in the league. Point guard Brandon Knight seems to be coming into his own, after struggling to find his way in Detroit and in his first season with Milwaukee last year. He leads the team in points (17.6), assists (5.8), and steals (1.5), and has been surprisingly efficient. On the wings, OJ Mayo and Giannis Antetokounmpo provide a contrast of styles that can make them difficult to defend. Mayo is the perimeter player who can be streaky at times, while Antetokounmpo is the genetic freak that is just now learning how to use his physical tools. Rookie Jabari Parker has seen his averages steadily improve as the season has progressed. Up front, Larry Sanders has kept himself out of trouble and is giving the Bucks what they expected of him, which is defense and rebounding. The Bucks have one of the more deeper benches in the league, and it is not uncommon for them to regularly go 11 or 12 deep in a game. It features a mix of young and old, with veterans like Jerryd Bayless, Jared Dudley, Ersan Ilyasova, and Zaza Pachulia, and young players like Khris Middleton and Kendall Marshall all getting significant playing time.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Milwaukee Bucks

  • PG – Brandon Knight
  • SG – OJ Mayo
  • SF – Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • PF – Jabari Parker
  • C – Larry Sanders

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

Match-ups To Watch

1. Kevin Durant vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo – Freak vs. Freak. If you were to go into some Cold War-aged, unethical, secluded laboratory located somewhere in a bunker east of the Balkans that allowed experimentation on humans and were told to create the perfect basketball player, you’d probably create something along the lines of Durant and Antetokounmpo (but with a little bit more muscle mass, of course). Two 6’10-ish guys that can move gracefully and handle the ball well enough to be considered guards.

durant thunder antetokounmpo bucks

2. Serge Ibaka vs. Jabari Parker – Parker is currently undersized for the position, but he is probably versatile enough to give Ibaka problems on the perimeter. While Ibaka may have the edge in the rebounding department, Parker’s ability to float around the perimeter will likely negate Ibaka’s best strength, which is as a rim protector.

3. Kendrick Perkins vs. Zaza Pachulia – Silver back vs. Gümüs geri (silver back in Georgian). Perkins has been pretty successful in his transition to the bench. We’ll see how he handles the king of the back-up bigs in Pachulia.

3 Keys to the Game

1. Rebounding – The Bucks are 3rd in the league in terms of offensive boards (11.5/game), while at the same time, giving up about the same amount of offensive boards away (11.4/game). Which ever team puts their stamp on the board, will likely win this game.

pachulia bucks adams thunder

2. Bench – When the Bucks and Thunder first met, Milwaukee sported one of the best scoring benches in the league. And it showed as the Bucks bench outscored the Thunder bench 53-22 in the first meeting. Since then, though, Mayo and Antetokounmpo have moved into the starting line-up and Ilyasova and John Henson are both out with injuries. Conversely, the Thunder now sport a fully healthy team. That, combined with Jeremy Lamb’s recent resurgence, likely means the Thunder will take advantage of their off the bench.

3. Durant and Westbrook – This is their first game in Oklahoma City as a healthy duo. Hopefully, a little home cooking will be the catalyst the team needs to get into the right groove.