Tag Archives: Westbrook

2014 Western Conference Finals Game 6 preview

durant duncan leonard thunder spurs

We’ve been here before. Game 6 of the Memphis series (and the subsequent Game 7). The only thing different in this series is the team who holds the home court advantage. The Thunder will be playing Game 6 in the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. And if this series holds true to form, then we’ll see a Game 7 on Monday. The home team has won by resounding fashion in each of the first 5 games of the series. There is no clear cut way to tell who has the advantage other than to say the Spurs have played much better in San Antonio than the Thunder have in Oklahoma City, but not by much.

This what you want, though. An elimination game played on your home floor. You would like that elimination game to be Game 7, but no matter when you face the elimination game, you want it to be on your home court. This won’t be a repeat of 2012. The Spurs made sure of that in Game 5. Now, the onus will be on the Thunder to protect their home court.  This will be the 2nd elimination game for the Thunder at home this postseason. They only had one home elimination game in the 3 seasons prior to this season (Game 7 of the 2nd round series against the Grizzlies in the 2011 playoffs).

Keys to the Game:

1. Stop over-helping – The Spurs killed the Thunder in Game 5 by making the extra pass and pump-faking their way into the paint. Every time the ball swung, a Thunder defender would go flying back to the Spurs player on the perimeter. The Spurs player would then simply pump fake to get the Thunder defender in the air and then drive into the paint to cause more havoc. Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, and, yes, even Kendrick Perkins, did a great job of defending the paint in Games 3 and 4. But in Game 5, with Ibaka out of the paint having to defend the likes of Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw, the Spurs’ players found it easier to get into the paint and suck the Thunder defense in. With the defense sucked in, the Spurs punished the Thunder with 13 threes in Game 5 (their most in a game this postseason).

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder

2. The Others – The Thunder players, not named Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, need to step up and help their superstar duo out. Other than Reggie Jackson’s 11 points (all in the 1st quarter), no other player on the Thunder roster came within 4 points of reaching double figures. The Thunder are at their best when “the others” are also scoring as it opens up the floor for their play makers (Durant, Westbrook, and Jackson).

3. Pick and Roll involving the PF when Duncan is the center – The Thunder have to take advantage of the pick and roll when the PF in the game is not Tim Duncan. Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw cannot keep up laterally with any of our guards and Ibaka and Nick Collison can hit the mid-range jumper. The Thunder took advantage of this in the first quarter (especially Reggie Jackson), but quit going back to it throughout the game.

durant thunder

4. Kevin Durant – Last time we questioned him, it was in the form of a headline. This time, I’m wondering whether he has anymore left in his tank. Durant is always talking about that extra level that he can reach, but so far, in these playoffs, its been Westbrook that has been the Thunder’s best player. For the Thunder to reach the next round, Durant will need to go more Slim Reaper or Junkyard Dog instead of settling for KD.

Dallas Mavericks vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 66 of 82)

westbrook ellis thunder mavericks

  • When: Sunday, 16 March 2014 at 6:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

This will be the first real test to see if this team has relocated its mojo. It was easy to get up for the Houston game because the Thunder had just lost its previous two games in embarrassing (by their standards) fashion and because of the team’s recent history with the Rockets. And the Lakers game was easy to mark down as a revenge game. But with the lack of recent histrionics with the Mavericks, this will be a good test to see if this team needs emotional juice to get itself pumped up for these last 16 games of the season.

This will be the 2nd meeting of the year between these two teams. The Thunder won the first game 107-93. In that game, Serge Ibaka had a double double with 17 points, 13 rebounds, and 3 blocks.

The Opponent

nowitzki ellis marion calderon mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks come into the game with a 39-27 record. They are the 7th seed in the Western Conference, 1 game ahead of the Phoenix Suns. The Mavs have the 8th best offense in terms of team scoring, at 104.2 ppg. They did a bit of an overhaul in the offseason, bringing in Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, and Samuel Dalembert. They’ve become more of a potent offensive team, but have suffered in terms of defense, giving up an average of 102.3 ppg. The offensive responsibility is now being shared by Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki. Calderon does a good job of managing the team and Dalembert is average in the middle. The bench is veteran-laden, with former All-Stars Vince Carter and Devin Harris being major contributors.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Dallas Mavericks

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

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Perimeter Defense – With hardly any inside presence, the Mavericks rely on the isolations skills of Nowitzki and Ellis to break down the defense. Both are adept at hitting the open man if double teamed.

nowitzki ibaka thunder mavericks

2. Transition – Dallas has a lot of veterans on their team, but that also means they have some age on their team. If the Thunder can create turnovers and turn this into a horse race, the Thunder should be on the plus side of this.

3. Russell Rest Watch – The Thunder will be resting Westbrook on one of the games of the remaining 6 back to backs in the last month of the season. This will be the first B2B in that stretch. It would not surprise me if the Thunder chose to sit Westbrook in this game, instead of in the Chicago game.

Dallas Mavericks vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 4 of 82)

durant westbrook thunder mavericks

  • When: Wednesday, 06 November 2013 at 8:30 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Three words come to mind when I think of this game: Return to normalcy. For the past 6 months, Thunder fans have been living on the edge regarding our present and our future. We’ve seen what life is like without Westbrook and we’ve seen Westbrook (surprisingly) come back for the home opener on Sunday. Now it feels normal. A primetime game with the whole band together against a rival. To me, the NBA season starts today.

The Oklahoma City Thunder come into this game with a record of 2-1, after what can only be described as a whirlwind first week. They looked good, but not great, in their opener against Utah. Then, in Minnesota, crews are still trying to pick up the mess that was left behind by the shellacking the Thunder received at the hand of the Timberwolves. And then Westbrook returned to provide a spark at home against the surprisingly resilient Phoenix Suns. The week was like the recordings of a seismograph: up and down, up and down. But alas, the Thunder came out relatively unscathed and have had a couple of days between games to practice with a full compliment of players.

The regional rivalry between the Thunder and Dallas Mavericks begins tonight in Oklahoma City. The Thunder won all 4 games against Dallas last season, and have won 10 straight games against the Mavs, to include the playoffs. While it may seem to currently be a one-sided rivalry, two of the games last season went to overtime and a third was only a 6 point victory for OKC. Regardless, when it comes to regional rivalry games, you can usually throw records out the window.

The Opponent

mavericks nowitzki ellis calderon marion dalembert

Coming into this game, the Mavericks are 3-1, and are surprisingly one of the top offenses in the league. Surprising, not because of the personnel, but because of how quickly the new parts have assimilated into an offensive force. The Mavs are still led by forward Dirk Nowitzki, who seems to be recovered from the myriad of ailments that plagued him last season. The Mavs’ reassembled backcourt seems to be what is spear-heading the offense. Shooting guard Monta Ellis has been very efficient in the first 4 games of the season, averaging 25 ppg on 53% FG shooting. The other half of the back court, Jose Calderon, has struggled mightily offensively, but has done a good job orchestrating the offense. Off the bench, the Mavs are led by veterans Vince Carter and Dejuan Blair. Continue reading Dallas Mavericks vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 4 of 82)

In the Midst of Chaos

Here’s a hypothetical scenario: Let’s just assume you and every one of your 29 friends is married. You guys would always talk and hang out, but were kept apart by some controlling power (let’s say the wives) for about 5 months. Now, you and the guys are allowed to hang out again. But to spice things up, let’s say the wives felt bad and decided to all chip in and get each and everyone of you a week together in Miami and an MHP (Marital Hall Pass). Now, you know some of your friends would immediately use their MHP. But the question that needs to be asked is whether you, in the midst of all this chaos, would go against the very fiber of ethics and virtue that you’ve stood by for the past half decade because you were given permission to? 

This is the scenario and question I would pose to Sam Presti. We know that Presti was the honor role student at the San Antonio Model Academy. We’ve seen and read the book on how to do it. Develop a culture, build a great core, get good contributing players, and the rest will fall into place. It has worked in San Antonio and Utah for the better part of two decades. And it is beginning to work in Oklahoma City. The Thunder have developed a culture of community and hard work. They have a great core in Durant, Westbrook, Harden, and Ibaka. And they have good contributing players in Perkins, Sefolosha, Collison, and Maynor. But there is one thing that is missing from the equation that was always promised to us once we started our march to the promised land. 

In December 2008, while in the middle of the one of the worst beginnings to any NBA season, the question was always brought up about who would want to come to play in Oklahoma City. The answers ranged from sad to comical (redemption projects to Mark Price). The one answer that always intrigued me, though, was veterans wanting to win a ring. In the middle of a 3-29 start, the last thing you are thinking about is contending for titles. But now that we’ve knocked on championship’s doorstep, shouldn’t this be the next logical step in our player development? 

Leading up to opening of the free agency period, there was word that the Thunder had interest in obtaining Shane Battier. A veteran who would have been a great compliment to Kevin Durant off the bench and a good source of wisdom for our young team. Someone who was defensive minded and would fit seamlessly into the culture of the team. Even Kevin Durant wondered what Battier would look like in a Thunder uniform via his Twitter account. Instead, as the courting came down to the final days, the Thunder were not a part of the list of teams that Battier was looking at. He ended up signing with Miami for what is rumored to be 3 years / $9 million. Now, I wouldn’t have given him 3 years, but I would have given him $3.5 million per for 2 seasons. Don’t quote me on this and I hope I’m wrong, but I could see Battier hitting a big 3 against us in the Finals sometime in the next few seasons.

 Then there was the Chauncey Billups waiver wire Ebay auction. When the New York Knicks decided to amnesty Billups, all the non-tax paying teams had the opportunity to put in a bid for Mr. Big Shot’s services. It was rumored that OKC put in a bid, but like any skilled Ebay bidder, the Clippers came in at the last minute and offered $100 K more than any other team. Again, I could see Billups hitting a big shot against us in our probable first round match with the Clippers come May.

 Vince Carter was on the market after being waived by the Phoenix Suns. Carter always kills the Thunder. In 6 games over the past three seasons, Carter has averaged 22.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.3 assists on 20/45 shooting from 3 point land. Can you imagine if he were able to supply half of that to the Thunder off the bench? It would’ve made the transition to Harden starting a lot more smoother. Instead he signed with the team we faced in the Western Conference Finals last season.  

Presti is probably a better man than me. His patience reminds of the Chuck Norris quote, “He doesn’t sleep, he waits.” Presti has always tried to put himself in a position of power when dealing with any other team. He’ll take advantage of your mistakes while minimizing his. But at this point in the game, with us at the doorstep of becoming championship caliber, isn’t it time to take that risk on a veteran? 

Young players make mistakes in crunch time, especially in the playoffs. And while young players eventually (hopefully) learn from their mistakes, the time it takes to get there can be fraught with disappointment and frustration. A veteran player can be that bridge that helps guide a young team through rough seas. While we already have a few veterans on the roster (Mohammed, Collison, and Perkins), signing a free agent for the purpose of them wanting to compete for a championship makes it that much more important for the young guys. How many times have we heard, “We just want to win one for (Player X) who has never won a championship.” 

As a fan, you know that the window of success can close on your team as quickly as it opens. A tweak of the knee here, a bruised ego there, and the entire dynamic of the team changes overnight. When we experience success, we want to continue experiencing that feeling. It’s the reason why men think of sex 19 times an hour; its our epitome of success. I don’t necessarily want to see a big splash (i.e. paying Jamal Crawford $20 million for 2 seasons). But something to help the team in the immediate future, especially off the bench. 

I understand Presti has to look at the today AND the tomorrow, especially with us being a small market team. But myself, as John Q. Fan, just saw 3 of our biggest competitors get a piece that will probably make them better in the short term and am seeing a few of our other competitors making moves to obtain great players. In a time where we are financially sound, why not take a risk and use your MHP on something safe. It could make the difference in May and June.