Tag Archives: Steph Curry

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.

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

Kevin Durant and Under Armour – Power Moves

Kevin Durant shoes nike

The saying goes, “Never judge a man until you’ve walk a mile in his shoes.”. The person who initially said that statement probably never met a superstar athlete with a shoe contract. All NBA fans (or wearers of athletic sneakers, for the matter) have walked around in a “man’s” shoes sometime in their lifetime. Be they Jordans, Kobes, LeBrons, KDs, D.Roses, Melos, etc, etc. Most of these shoes have one of 4 insignia on them: the Jordan Jumpman, the Nike swoosh, the Adidas 3-Lines, or the Reebok vector.

With Kevin Durant rumored to be signing a 10 year/$325 million dollar contact with UnderArmour, a new insignia might be forcing it’s way into our collective basketball minds. Under Armour got its start as a football-centric company, with their moisture-wicking clothing and testerone-induced advertising (“We Must Protect This House!”). Within the last 5 years though, UnderArmour  has been making a big push onto the hardwood. Their first big basketball move was signing recently graduated high school star Brandon Jennings, who eschewed the NCAA in favor of playing professionally overseas. Without the constraints of the NCAA, UnderArmour signed Jennings to a multi-year deal to promote their brand overseas. Although he has forged a good career, Jennings never quite became the star he was touted to be coming out of high school.

In September 2013, UnderArmour snagged their current flag bearer for the company’s basketball division. Steph Curry switched from Nike to UnderArmour, bringing clout to the company’s desire to ascend into the conscious (and bank accounts) of basketball fans everywhere. They had an okay stable of players on their roster, but Curry gave them a recognizable star to hang their hat on. But like the great teams in the league, one superstar is good, but two superstars are better.

steph curry shoes

Durant would push UnderArmour into a different stratosphere. The reigning MVP is fast becoming one of the most recognizable figures in the sport, not only nationally, but worldwide. His dominance in international play and constant presence in the later rounds of the playoffs have thrown Durant into the conversation for best player in the world. For UnderArmour’s name to be associated with Kevin Durant’s shoes would be a coup for the upstart company.

There would also be a hometown connection at play with UnderArmour. Their HQ’s are located in Baltimore, MD, which is relatively close to where Durant grew up. It can be speculated that Durant and UnderArmour CEO Kevin Plank have crossed paths numerous times in the DC/Maryland area. While Nike is the “it” brand in the NBA, Durant has let it be known that he is his own man. And if there is anyone that would be willing to take a chance on a hometown product, it would definitely be Durant.

A small side note on Durant: If he signs this deal, he will be on tap to have earned over $500 million for his career in salary and endorsements.

  • 2007 – Nike – $60 million
  • 2007 – Rookie contract – $16 million
  • 2010 – Contract Extension – $85 million
  • 2014 – Rumored Under Amour deal – $325 million
  • ________________________
  • Total – $486 million
  • Sprint, BBVA, Panini, 2K Sports, Skull Candy, Kind snacks, etc = Has to be over $14 million.

Related note: He’s only 25 years old. He’s halfway to earning a billion dollars with at least 10 years of earning potential left. Unless he “Tiger Woods” his life or is visited by the Injury Reaper, the basketball player from Oklahoma City may be well on his way to being one of only a few billionaire athletes. Kind of kills the whole “you need to be in a big market to increase your earning potential” talk.

Enjoying the Storm: Westbrook and Reality

westbrook injury

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

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

thunder starters

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

reggie jax

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

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

DeAndre Liggins, Omer Asik

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

durant

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