Tag Archives: Spurs

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

durant parsons thunder rockets

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

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

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

The Opponent

harden parsons lin asik delfino rockets

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

Probable Starting Line-ups

Houston Rockets

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

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

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

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

durant garcia thunder rockets

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

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Toronto Raptors vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 27 of 82)

adams draft thunder

  • When: Sunday, 22 December 2013 at 6:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

There was once a time when Oklahoma City Thunder fans really cared about the Toronto Raptors’ record. Not only would we scour the box scores for our games, but we’d also look at the Raptors’ games. Reason being, of course, because we owned the Raptors’ pick in the 2013 draft as part of the James Harden trade. The restriction was that the pick had to be between selections 4-14. Luckily the Raptors missed the playoffs and with that pick, the Thunder selected Steven Adams. Fast forward to this season, and we could really care less about Toronto’s record. The Thunder have beat the Raptors 3 straight times spanning the last two seasons.

The Opponent

valanciunas derozan raptors

The Raptors are team that you could term, “in flux”. The hired Masai Ujiri as general manager to take this middle of the road franchise, blow it up, and quickly rebuild it, like he did with the Denver Nuggets. His latest big move was to trade Rudy Gay and his $17.9 million dollar price tag (and possibly $19.3 million dollar next season if he opts in) to the Sacramento Kings for bit parts, most of whom are expiring after this season. That clearing of cap space will come in handy next season and beyond. But in the now, the Raptors are a bad team. Their back court is led by PG Kyle Lowry and wings Terrence Ross and Demar Derozan. All three players are talented, but are inefficient and need a high volume of shots to get to their averages. The front court is one of more promising ones this side of Detroit in the Eastern Conference. Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson are threats for a double double every time they step on the court. The bench play is a lot like the team itself, which is to say, not very good.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Toronto Raptors

  • PG – Kyle Lowry
  • SG – Terrence Ross
  • SF – DeMar DeRozan
  • PF – Amir Johnson
  • C – Jonas Valanciunas

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Rebounding – Toronto is a terribly inefficient team from the perimeter. Their wing players who average at least 10 minutes per game combine to shoot 39.9% from the field. Lots of misses means lots of rebounds. Valanciunas and Johnson are adept at grabbing rebounds, especially offensive rebounds (grabbing 5.3 offensive rebounds per game between them).

westbrook perkins derozan johnson raptors thunder

2. Bench play – Toronto’s bench is veteran laden, but really lacking when it comes to anything offensive. This may be a time to take over the game as the Thunder’s bench has been humming lately.

3. Complacency/Trap Game – This game has all the makings of a trap game. Playing at home, against an inferior opponent, having just played the rival Spurs, and not playing again until the prime time tilt against the Knicks on Christmas. All a bad team needs is hope. It’s Christmas season, but let’s not be in a giving mood tonight.

….The More They Remain The Same

Any time something catastrophic happens, people always measure time from that point forward. In the show “Revolution”, everything is measured from the blackout, which is the catastrophic event in the show. Similarly, anytime something shocking happens to a sports team (i.e. trade, injury, retirement, suspension, etc), everything is measured from that time for the immediate future. No matter what they tell you, Clevelanders are still thinking about Lebron and The Decision. It’ll take a nice playoff run or two from Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, and the young Cavs to start to erase the time clock from their collective memory. Chicagoans have become quite adept at handling these differentiating time clocks for the past 20 years. They’ve had Michael Jordan’s first retirement, his comeback, his second retirement, and, finally, Derrick Rose’s knee injury. They are just chomping at the bit to start the Derrick Rose comeback timeclock.

The Oklahoma City Thunder experienced something very similar a month ago. On October 27, 2012, the Thunder traded James Harden, Daequan Cook, Lazar Hayward, and Cole Aldrich to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, 2 future first round picks, and a 2013 2nd round pick. The Thunder were just coming off a trip to the Finals with their young core just coming into its own. They had their world-class scorer in Kevin Durant, their hyper-competitive floor general in Russell Westbrook, their pogo-stick blocking machine in Serge Ibaka, and their “jack of all trades” in James Harden. All under 24 years of age at the time. THIS team was supposed to grow together and contend for the next decade. Instead, after not being able to come to terms on a long term extension, Thunder GM Sam Presti decided to pull the trigger on the trade,  and send Harden to Houston. 

The first thought amongst Thunder fans was how Martin would compare to Harden. The players, while similar in some facets, were completely different in other facets. Both were great shooters who were very adept at drawing fouls when driving to the basket. The major difference between the two players was that Harden was more of a playmaker, while Martin was more of a scorer. That major difference was of chief concern to Thunder fans because Harden was usually the go-between when Durant and Westbrook were on the floor together in the 4th quarter. When Durant and Westbrook were out there on the floor together, teams had an idea on how to guard the duo. But add Harden to that mix, and the floor spaced out like the Red Sea of Moses.  

Basketball skills aside, the primary concern was how this trade would affect the Thunder’s chemistry. This Thunder team was one that had been hardened by its experiences. The struggles of learning how to win followed by the lessons of winning when favored. It was a 180 degree turn that many teams never experience. Many teams have trotted out young talented rosters that have either failed to pan out or were destroyed from within when it was time for contract extensions. The best comparison I have for the Durant-Westbrook-Harden-Ibaka Thunder was the late 90’s Dallas Cowboys of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin. Eliminate one of the Triplets from that mix, and the Cowboys aren’t winning 3 Super Bowls in four seasons. This is the current dilemma facing the Thunder.

One month in, and the transition has been about as smooth as it can be when changing out key parts. There have been some transitional growing pains, but that is to be expected when a core shattering trade is made 4 days before the start of the regular season. What is important is the Martin seems to be integrating quite nicely into his role as the team’s 6th man. Luckily, the team’s schedule has been home-heavy in this early going with the opponent’s collective win percentage being under .500. On the other hand, against teams with strong playoff pedigrees, such as the Spurs, Grizzlies, Clippers, and Celtics, the team has struggled and is 1-3 against those teams. The surprising revelation is that compared to James Harden’s stat line from last season’s first 15 games, you would almost not even notice a difference.

  • Stat                                       Harden (11-12)      I       Martin (12-13)
  • Minutes per game                     30.0                              30.7
  • Points per game                       16.3                              15.9
  • Turnovers per game                  1.8                                 1.8
  • Steals per game                         0.8                                1.3
  • Blocks per game                        0.2                                 0.1
  • Assists per game                       3.1                                 1.8
  • Rebounds per game                  3.9                                 2.7
  • FT Attempts per game               6.5                                 4.6
  • FT Made per game                     5.7                                 4.4
  • FT %                                             86.7%                           94%
  • 3pt FG attempts per game          4.6                                4.9
  • 3pt FG made per game               1.7                                 2.4
  • 3pt FG %                                       36.2%                           50%
  • FG attempts per game                 9.9                                9.9
  • FG made per game                      4.5                                4.6
  • FG %                                              43%                              46%
  • TS %                                               66%                             66.5%
  • eFG %                                            58.2%                          58.3%
  • Thunder Record                            12 – 3                            11 – 4

Other than the difference in assists per game, Harden and Martin have virtually the same offensive stats. Eventually, even the assists may be a wash, as Martin has shown a willingness to become more of a playmaker. People tend to forget that Martin has been the main offensive option on most of the teams that he’s played on and has been given the green light to shoot at will. But, with teammates like Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka on the floor, Martin has shown that he can find the open man for an easy bucket or two. 

Defensively, Martin has been a liability, but Harden wasn’t necessarily on his way to being named to any of the All-Defensive Teams. This first half of the season will be one lesson after another for the Thunder. Durant and Westbrook have been learning on the fly how to incorporate Martin into their crunch time offense. And Martin has been learning how to be more aggressive as a bench player. Overall, the transition has gone a lot smoother than many Thunder fans had feared. With Harden coming to town on Wednesday with his new team, the cycle seems to have come full circle. The more things change…….

A BIG Thank You

Throughout my lifetime as an NBA fan, I’ve never anticipated an NBA season more than I did this one. I, honestly, don’t know the reason why, though. Maybe it was the fact that the team I am civically connected to was a title contender. Maybe it was an appreciation of an NBA season almost lost. Maybe it was the fact that I was more intimately involved in the game this season than any other season. Or it maybe it was a combination of all of those things. Whatever the reason, the anticipation of the season was well conceived as it turned out to be the greatest season I have ever witnessed personally. 

Now, when I say personally, I specifically mean me. You may have a differing opinion on the greatness of this season, especially if you are a fan of the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, or San Antonio Spurs. Conversely, the fans of the Miami Heat probably loved this season, also. To each their own, I guess. But the one theme that made this season stick out more than any other was FAMILY. Not just my immediate family, but also the families I became a part of throughout the season. 

It’s a funny thing about families. Sometimes we are born into them, sometimes we marry into them, and sometimes we are accepted into them. But families are the people that make things that much more enjoyable. I could have enjoyed this NBA season just fine all by myself. The addition of family, though, made it exponentially better. So as a reminder of this great season, I would like to give thanks to all the people that made this season so enjoyable for me. 

First off, to my wife and kids. Thank you for allowing me to enjoy this season and not judging the craziness of my fandom. Thank for understanding that, even though I work two jobs, I do need something to de-stress myself. Some guys throw themselves into booze; some into cars. My vice is basketball, specifically Thunder basketball. Thanks to Wifey for picking my brain about basketball to either show that she “really” is interested or to gather knowledge, even if she isn’t that big of a sports fan. Regardless, I love her for it. Thank you to my oldest for being my protégé; for learning the names and numbers of the players, and wondering why one of the white guys (Cole Aldrich) doesn’t play that much. To my middle child, for being honest and showing me that not everyone has to like sports. Thank you for showing me that Despicable Me is sometimes better than a game. And to my little one. Thank you for belting out, “Let’s Thunder Up,” every time I said, “Its game time/ Its game time.” It’s been awesome for you guys to be a part of this season. 

Thank you to my parents and sister. To my mom, the lady that introduced me to being a fan of the game. To the woman that would talk about the game with me when we would take our 3-mile treks during my childhood. There’s nothing better than watching a game with the original fan, especially when she pays for the food at the arena (a HUGE plus). There’s nothing more that I would’ve wanted than for you to be there when we won the Western Conference Championship. Maybe next year, you’ll be in town, and the tickets won’t be so difficult to obtain. Thanks to my sister, aka Westbrook’s stalker, aka Meme Queen for becoming a super fan this season. Way to Thunder Up! And to my father, thank you for not being a sports fan, but rocking the free playoff t-shirts when it comes to mowing the lawn and washing the car. You Thunder Up in your own manner, old man. 

Thanks to my partner in crime; my brother that I split my season tickets with. That 90 mile trek to the game would not be as fun without you. Every victory is that much more awesome and every loss is that much more manageable. We are the super fans in Section 315 and will continue to lead the charge. Let’s take this thing all the way to the ‘ship.  And, maybe one day, we’ll call into the post game radio show and finally get the answer as to why Etan Thomas still hasn’t gotten any playing time (inside joke). 

Now that’s blood family. But in the progression of life, we also became parts of other families, where blood is not involved. This season, I decided to toss my hat in the blogosphere of basketball. Now mind you, I’ve never been a serious writer for anything. I hated English class and despised writing essays. But I started noticing that I loved writing about basketball on my favorite OKC basketball site, http://www.thunderfans.com . I started building up my writing confidence with posts about the Hornets, Sonics, and Thunder, and eventually asked to become the front page blog writer for the site. The owner of the site gave me the opportunity and I’ve been bitten by the blog bug ever since. So, for that, I need to say thank you to my favorite forum site for the establishment of my blogging roots. 

The next step in this story was starting my own blog. This was a process in, and, of itself. I’m pretty computer saavy, but not very internet saavy. So I started my blog site, http://www.nowthatsthunderbasketball.wordpress.com , and it sat dormant for about a month. After figuring out how to log on and how to use the Word Press format, I finally started blogging. My initial thought was that I would put some of my articles on the blog site and then let some of the people on the forum site know about it. And that’s how it started. But then I located the “link to Twitter” option, and I found a better avenue to get my work out to a more diverse crowd. 

From there, I became a Twitter junkie. I’ve never been a huge fan of Facebook, but the format of Twitter really appealed to me. I started following every basketball head I could think of and started to link my blog to them. Some responded back, but most didn’t. But the purpose of Twitter started to run its course. I was beginning to get feedback from people outside of the Oklahoma City market. And that’s where I met some of the people that would become my basketball media family. 

First, I met Audley Stephenson of http://thebreakdownshow.com who was planning to start up a blogging network that featured bloggers for all 30 teams. He pitched me the idea about becoming the blogger for the Thunder for http://www.hoopstalknation.com , and I jumped at the opportunity. I don’t even think 30 seconds went by before I responded back to his direct message with a resounding YES! Honestly, I don’t know if my articles have increased any of their page views or whether any one reads my work. But what I do know is that Audley and Dave Mendonca showed enough faith in this blogging neophyte to hand me the keys to my own team and let me operate and learn on my own. For that, I will always be thankful for them. 

Thank you to my brothers and sisters on the Hoops Talk Nation blogging network. I don’t know any of you personally, but it’s been a blast talking to you guys throughout the season about the one thing that binds us all….our love for basketball. The passion for each of our respective teams is only trumped by our passions for the sport. Let’s keep this thing moving forward and achieve greater things next season. 

While it’s exciting to be involved in an international blogging network, (remember, Toronto is in the Canada, so technically, we are international) it’s always nice to be involved with a group that’s closer to home. So for that, I have to thank Josh Hastings and Mike Erwin from http://www.visitorssection.com . These two gentlemen have given me the opportunity to expand myself as a podcaster, asking me to be their Thunder correspondent while the team went on their playoff run. Again, I don’t know if my inclusion in the podcast helps them out, but I do know the opportunity and experience I have gained have been priceless. 

The final thank you goes to the Oklahoma City Thunder. In a sports world where cynicism and skepticism are the words of the day, it is heart-warming to see a team that actually embraces the nuances of the community they play in, and ties their themes to the core values of the populance. Whether it’s genuine or not, shouldn’t even matter, as the leaders of the team have tapped into the soul of the city and made a product that understands “us”. Themes like “Team Is One”, “One Thunder”, and “Team is 18,203” remind us, the fans, that we are just as important to the equation as the players. And the players, surprisingly, seemed to have become awestruck and humbled by the outpouring of support from the fans. 

It’s a delicate balance that can go awry in a very short span of time. An injury here or a difficult contract negotiation there, and the empire that was being built can crumble in an instant. The goodwill can quickly change to apathy and disgust. But I will always look back at this season with a huge smile on my face. And that huge smile is largely due to all the relationships I have built or been a part of over the course of the season. Thank you!

On the Road Again

I’m a child of the late 80’s / early 90’s. It was during that time that I was in elementary school learning, as most of the world was, about computers. And, of course, the best way to learn is to interactively play games that also teach you about the subject matter. My favorite games to play on those old floppy-disc induced Apple computers was Oregon Trail. If you, either, don’t remember, or were too young to know what a floppy disc was, it was a story-based game of a journey through the Oregon Trail. You are the wagon leader of a party of settlers going from Independence, Missouri to Oregon’s Willamette Valley over the Oregon Trail in an oxen-drawn wagon. Along the trail, you have to make decisions concerning food and directions to survive the trail. You and your fellow settlers can die from a range of maladies from drowning to snake bites to dysentery. Needless to say, it is a game about the difficulties of being on the road.

 

Many teams in this young strike shortened season are probably looking at their road records and wondering whether the entire team is suffering from a bout of cholera. Of the 30 teams in the NBA, only 6 have a winning record on the road. While most teams struggle on the road in any given season, shortened or not, the upper echelon teams usually buck that trend and win wherever they play. Such has not been the case this season. 

  • The Southwest-leading San Antonio Spurs have an 8-4 record overall, but are an awful 0-4 on the road.
  •  The Pacific-leading Los Angeles Lakers are also 8-4 overall, but carry a 1-3 road record. 
  • The veteran Boston Celtics, a team that is supposed to know how to play on the road, is 1-3 in its games away from Massachusetts.

 Winning on the road usually involves a balanced combination of veteran leadership, youthful legs, good defense, and good bench play. It should come as no surprise that the 6 teams with winning road records have some semblance of each of those 4 characteristics needed to be a good road team.Oklahoma City (5-1), Chicago (7-2),  Miami(5-2), Orlando(4-2), and Indianapolis and Atlanta(both at 4-3) are all defensive minded teams with a nice mix of vets and youth, and good to great benches.

  •  5 of the 6 winning road teams are in the top 10 for point differential. 
  • 4 of the 6 winning road teams are in the top 10 for opponent’s PPG. 
  • 5 of the 6 winning road teams are in the top 10 for opponent’s FG%. 
  • Oklahoma City and Chicago have 2 of the best benches in the league.

 

 While it is still early in the season, trends like these don’t tend to change too much throughout the course of the season. We are already at least 1/6th of the way through the season (unless you are the Los Angeles Clippers). At this point, most teams are Denny Green (“They are who we thought they were!”). In the playoffs, you have to know how to win on the road. So take a good look at the 6 teams with winning road records. More than likely 2 of those teams will end up playing in the Finals.

 

Thunder Rumblings – Week In Review (Jan 2 – 8)

Oklahoma CityThunder: Week in Review (Jan 2nd – Jan 8th

Record for the week – 3-2

Overall record – 8-2 

Games played: 

Jan 2nd (@ Dallas)

After starting the season winning their first 5 games, the Thunder were looking to stay on pace with the Miami Heat to remain the only unbeatens in the league. This was the 4th meeting between these two teams within a 2 week period, and started to take on the feel of a playoff series. With the Mavs looking to get their season on track, the Thunder came out flat and ultimately lost the game 100 – 87. The Mavs bench dominated the Thunder’s, outscoring them 47-25. The only good news of the night came with the fact thatMiami also lost their first game, and lost it, chronologically speaking, before the Thunder game was over.

 Jan 3rd (vs.Portland)

Looking to get back on track after their first loss of the season, the Thunder went back home to face division rival Portland. With starting SG Thabo Sefolosha out with an injured foot and flu-like symptoms, 6th man of the year candidate James Harden was inserted into the starting lineup. The teams played pretty evenly in the first half, with the Thunder taking a 2 point lead into halftime. Behind the great play of Lamarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant’s shooting struggles,Portland took over in the second half and won the game 103 – 93. With Harden starting, the bench scored an anemic 14 points and could not muster much when they were in the game.

 Jan 6th (vs.Houston)

Looking to get back on the winning track, the Thunder took on the Houston Rockets, who were 0-4 on their previous road games. With Thabo Sefolosha returning to the lineup, the rotation normalized and the Thunder jumped out of the gate to finish the 1st quarter up by 10 and never looked back, eventually winning 109 – 94. The starters rested in the 4th quarter, and every player that was active played.

 Jan 7th (@ Houston)

If games were played purely on paper, then this game wasn’t worth playing. The Thunder had beat the team by 15 on the previous night. The only difference was the locale. Well, the Rockets came out and gave the Thunder a good game, matching them bucket for bucket for much of it until late in the 4th quarter. The Thunder got a couple timely stops late in the game and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook worked the two man game in the 4th to perfection with Durant scoring the Thunder’s last 13 points. The Thunder escaped with a 3 point victory 98 – 95. The only blemish in the game was the loss of back up PG Eric Maynor to a torn ACL in the 4th quarter.

 Jan 8th (vs.San Antonio)

The dreaded 3rd game in as many nights. The strange thing is that every team that has played a back to back to back, has won the 3rd game. So why should the Thunder be any different? While the first half stayed pretty close, the 3rd quarter belonged to the Thunder who blew the lid off the game, outscoring the Spurs 37-21 in the quarter. The Thunder had a 22 point lead heading into the 4th quarter and the starters sat for the entire period. Rookie Reggie Jackson saw his first extended action of the season, replacing the injured Eric Maynor as the Thunder’s backup PG, and scored 11 points on 4-9 shooting with 4 assists. 

My Takes: 

  • The loss of Eric Maynor could prove to be big. If you’re are looking at it, strictly, from a statistical point of view, then Maynor’s 4 points and 2 assists per game may seem inconsequential. But from a game manager point of view, his loss could have major ramifications on the Thunder’s bench play. Maynor set the tone on the 2nd unit, and provided a change of pace to the starters whenever necessary. There will be games where this aspect of what he brought to the table will be sorely missed. Here’s to sending a get well wish to Eric Maynor.
  • Its amazing how the return of a defensive minded SG could have such a positive effect on the offense. In the two losses, the offense seemed out of sync with the loss of Sefolosha. The players, especially Durant and Westbrook, seemed unsure of themselves and the bench suffered with Harden’s insertion into the starting line-up. Here’s to Scott Brooks not messing with the lineup unless he has to.
  • Durant seems to be efficiently scoring again and Westbrook seems to be returning back to form after starting the season in a bit of a funk. Here’s to realizing that this is a weird season, and players (even superstars) will probably have more ups and downs than an oscillating wave. 

Player of the Week: 

While Durant and Westbrook both struggled a bit in the beginning of the week, James Harden remained consistent throughout the week, averaging 19.5 points on 51% shooting from the field and 43% shooting from 3 point land, while contributing 3.8 boards, 3.8 assists, and 1.3 steals. If the Bearded One continues this, I don’t just see a 6th Man of the Year award in his future, but also an All Star nomiation.