Tag Archives: Steve Blake

Oklahoma City Thunder at Portland Trailblazers preview (Game 1 of 82)

westbrook lillard thunder trailblazers

  • When: Wednesday, 29 October 2014 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where: Moda Center, Portland, OR

If there was ever a time for the entire world to go into hibernation for, ohh, I don’t know, maybe 6 weeks, this would be the time. The Oklahoma City Thunder will be strolling into Portland on Wednesday to open the season with 9 healthy players. The Thunder usually have a 10-player rotation in the regular season. They have 9 capable bodies, currently. The injury bug has hit the Thunder hard this preseason with Kevin Durant and Mitch McGary each suffering a broken foot, Anthony Morrow suffering a sprained MCL, Grant Jerrett still recovering from offseason ankle surgery, and Reggie Jackson (ankle) and Jeremy Lamb (back) each suffering injuries in the practice before the road trip. The only saving grace is that none of the injuries appear to be too serious.

The Thunder and Portland Trailblazers split the season series last year 2-2. The Northwest division rivals played four close games, with all of them being decided in the fourth quarter and by single digits. The average margin of victory in each of the contests was 5.5 points.

The Opponent

trailblazers lopez matthews lillard aldridge

The Trailblazer start  their season at home with visions of improving upon the season they had last year. Portland finished 54-28, good for 5th in their West. They defeated the Houston Rockets in 6 games in the first round and lost to the eventual champs in the second round in 5 games. Their entire core is back, and they picked up some veteran free agents for the bench. The only player missing who logged significant minutes last season is Mo Williams, who signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves in the offseason. With such comfort and continuity, look for Portland to once again be one of the top offenses in the league. Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews are one of the top two-way backcourts in the league. Lillard and power forward LaMarcus Aldridge are quickly becoming one of the best duos in the league. On the perimeter, small forward Nic Batum is their best defender and someone capable of knocking down open jumpers. In the middle, Robin Lopez does a great job of keeping possessions alive with his energy. The bench, which was a weakness last season, has been shored up by veteran free agents Steve Blake and Chris Kaman. CJ McCollum and Thomas Robinson will also play a big role off the bench.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Portland Trailblazers

  • PG – Damian Lillard
  • SG – Wesley Matthews
  • SF – Nic Batum
  • PF – LaMarcus Aldridge
  • C – Robin Lopez

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Foul Trouble – With only four warm bodies to come off the bench, the Thunder need to be very wary of their fouls. Steven Adams and Kendrick Perkins both have a propensity for picking up quick fouls, and that would be disastrous against a team with skilled bigs like Portland. On the perimeter, the depth is even worse. Sebastian Telfair is the only guard available for the Thunder off the bench.

collison adams aldridge trailblazers thunder

2. Outside shooting – Oklahoma City’s top 3 perimeter shooters (Durant, Morrow, and Jackson) are out. The Trailblazers will be packing the paint, so making outside shots consistently will be necessary to win the game. All eyes will be on Russell Westbrook, which will leave Roberson, Jones, and Ibaka open from the perimeter. They have to knock down shots for the Thunder to even be in contention to win this game.

3. Westbrook – The great unknown. The fun unknown. We’ve always wondered what a team that solely featured Russell Westbrook would look like. Well, the Westbrook experience is taking off and we bought the Fast Pass. Let’s go!

Advertisements

Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Lakers preview (Game 55 of 82)

durant young thunder lakers

  • When: Thursday, 13 February 2014 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

There was once a time when the Thunder looked up at the Los Angeles Lakers. A time when mostly everyone knew that they would have to go through Kobe Bryant and the Lakers if they wanted to seek NBA supremacy. That time, seems but a distant memory now. What once was a match-up you circled on the calendar is now just another game.

This is the 2nd of four meetings between these two clubs. The Thunder have dominated the series in the past 3 seasons, going 10-3 in the last 13 games between these two teams, to include the playoffs. It’s a clear case of one team’s window opening at the same time of another team’s window closing.

The Opposition

1418690_SP_0428_lakers_WJS

Injuries. Injuries. Injuries. That’s all you have to say about the Lakers’ season. It started with Kobe Bryant rehabbing from a torn Achilles at the beginning of the season. It has since trickled down to 6 players being on the injured list (to include Bryant, again), and led to one of the rarer moments in sports, when an NBA team only had 4 players available after their 5th active player fouled out and 2 other players got injured. The Lakers are currently 18-34 and are probably reaching the point where they start to become sellers in the market. Their injury list includes 3 future Hall of Famers (Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Steve Nash) and 3 good perimeter players (Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, and Jodie Meeks). The survivors include Steve Blake and Chris Kaman, probably the only players on the team capable of generating any offense on their own. Kendall Marshall has shown to be a capable game manager, but still lacks as far as offensive production. Up front, Jordan Hill has shown flashes, but is still a bit too inconsistent. The bench…LOL, what bench?.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Los Angeles Lakers

  • PG – Kendall Marshall
  • SG – Steve Blake
  • SF – Wesley Johnson
  • PF – Shawne Williams
  • C – Chris Kaman

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

1. Trap Game Potential – An emotional win in Portland and the All Star break coming up. This game has all the markings of a trap game. Even though Los Angeles is currently a wounded animal, they still have players that can score if given the chance.

2. Durant and Thabeet – I’m hoping Durant gives one more virtuoso performance before the All Star break. And I hope that performance includes him sitting much of the 4th quarter. And I hope Hasheem Thabeet get double digit minutes.

thabeet kelly thunder lakers

3. Great 1st half – This turned out to be a great first half of basketball for the Thunder. Hopefully everyone rests up and prepares for the second half of the season.

Round 2: Lakers vs. Thunder

Redemption road. First it was the defending champions Dallas Mavericks. Now it’s the Los Angeles Lakers. The two teams that have knocked the Oklahoma City Thunder from the playoffs the last two postseasons. The two teams that have gone on to win the championship after they dispatched the Thunder. Oklahoma City did what they had to do in the first round, sweeping the Mavericks in a hard fought first round battle. Now, after a week of rest, they await the Lakers who defeated the Denver Nuggets in a surprising 7 game first round series.

If you want to know what this series will be like, go to your local city gym and observe the basketball court for about 3 hours. You’ll usually find at least one game pitting teenagers (ages 16-22) versus middle aged men (ages 35+). You’ll see the teenagers try to use their athleticism, but the middle aged guys will usually counter with smart basketball and mid-range jumpers. The game usually ends up being close and competitive. The Lakers, of course, are the middle aged guys and the Thunder are the teenagers.

The Thunder won the season series 2-1 in what has turned out to be one of the most contested matchups during the regular season. In the first matchup, in Oklahoma City, the Thunder turned a tight game in the first half into a blowout in the second half, taking the game 100-85. Kevin Durant had one of his better all-around games scoring 33 points on 12/22 shooting, grabbing 4 boards, and dishing out 6 assists. In the second meeting, in Los Angeles, the Lakers held a big lead in the first quarter, but got outscored 84-63 the rest of the way, losing 102-93. Russell Westbrook led the way this time around with 36 points and 5 assists. The 3rd game, also in Los Angeles, was known more for a body part than for a game. Aside from the whole ‘Metta World Peace’s elbow to the side of James Harden’s head’ incident, this was actually a really close game and the Lakers needed overtime to defeat the Thunder 114-106. The real story in this game was the Thunder’s inability to get going offensively in the second half once Harden was sidelined with the concussion.

The Opponent

The Los Angeles Lakers come into the game having won a hard fought 7 game series against the up-start Denver Nuggets. Six of the seven games were played without Metta World Peace, who was serving his 7 game suspension following the elbowing incident against the Thunder. Everyone knows the engine that still pushes the Lakers is Kobe Bryant, who averaged 29 points per game in their 1st round series. Most importantly though, Bryant called out his teammates for their lackadaisical effort following their performance in Game 6. The two teammates he was probably referring to the most after Game 6 were Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, who both were very inconsistent in the Denver series, interspersing great games with horrible games. Ramon Sessions had an average series in his first tryst into the playoffs, perhaps showing the signs of someone who hasn’t consistently started in the league. The bench, which  has been shortened to three players, is probably the weakest one left in the playoffs. Matt Barnes, Steve Blake, and Jordan Hill all have the ability to provide good minutes, but due to the short bench, can be overused and therefore rendered less effective.

Keys to the series:

1)      How healthy is Kendrick Perkins? The Thunder have said all the right things regarding Perkins’ condition. But sometimes, with a muscle like those around the hips, its takes longer for them to heal completely. It’s one of those muscles that you don’t think about at all unless it gets hurt. With the amount of lateral movement involved in basketball, one can only hope that the hip strain is completely healed and doesn’t rear its ugly head anymore in the playoffs. Look for plenty of pick and rolls involving Andrew Bynum early in Game 1.

2)      Who guards Russell Westbrook? The Lakers got their Kevin Durant defender back in Metta World Peace. But their biggest issue has always been defending Russell Westbrook. Put a slower guard on Westbrook, and he blows right by them and does his damage in the paint. Put a smaller guard on him, and he’ll post them up. Look for Ramon Sessions to start the game guarding Westbrook. But as was seen in the Denver series, quick guards can get by Sessions pretty consistently. Look for the Lakers to regularly deploy hedge defenders towards Westbrook, especially the player guarding Sefolosha. Or look for Bryant to take on the task of guarding Westbrook himself.

3)      Remember that Metta World Peace is the Lakers’ 4th best player, at best. A lot will be made about World Peace’s first game in OKC since “The Elbow”. But the focus of the game needn’t not be on the man formally known as Ron Artest. World Peace will be on his “best” behavior and will not do anything to jeopardize the Lakers’ chances. Will he push, grab, annoy, and attempt to intimidate? Does the sun rise in the East? Of course he will do all that. But the Thunder need not involve themselves in revenge plots and try to take cheap shots at World Peace. What MWP is doing in the media is classic instigation techniques. Hopefully the Thunder players don’t take the bait.

4)      How will the extended rest affect the Thunder? In the 9 days since the Thunder last played, France elected a new president, another underwear bombing plot was foiled, Portugal got rid of four holidays due to cost cutting measures, new data leads scientists to believe that the Maya really didn’t think the world would end in 2012, and President Barack Obama supported gay marriage. That’s a very long time to not be playing any type of competitive basketball. You can practice all you want, but you’ll never be able to replicate the intensity of a real game against a real opponent. The Thunder had a 3 day rest between the first and second round last year, and looked completely flat in the first game of their second round matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies. A rest this long is completely new territory for the young Thunder and may be a factor early in the series.

5)      Which Lakers team shows up? The Lakers will be all-in in this series. It’s Kobe’s nature to be completely tuned-in to every game he plays, whether it’s a pre-season game against the Washington Wizards or a Finals game against the Boston Celtics. It’s Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol that can sometimes suffer from bouts of Adult OnSet Attention Deficit Disorder (AOADD). Against the Nuggets, both these players shut it down in Games 5 and 6, thinking that the will of the Nuggets would wilt and they would have an easy road to the second round. But in this series, both these players know what’s at stake and will be fully focused. Metta World Peace won’t be the MWP of earlier this season. He’ll be playing like Ron Artest from Queensbridge. And that could be a game-changer. The wild card for the Lakers may be Ramon Sessions. If for any reason he shrinks in the pressure of the playoffs, the Lakers may be in trouble.

Conclusion:

This series will be a hard fought battle in which home court advantage will win out. Thunder in 7.