Tag Archives: Zach Randolph

Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies preview (Game 38 of 82)

durant ibaka perkins fisher thunder grizzlies randolph conley

  • When: Tuesday, 14 January 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN

The Oklahoma City Thunder have been, what I like to call, consistently inconsistent. In their last 10 games, the Thunder have won 3, then lost 2, then won 2, then lost 2, and won their last game. It’s your basic microcosm of life without Russell Westbrook. Strings of good games, followed by ‘scratch your head’ losses. It’s a case where you say, “the team could be doing better, but, honestly, it could also be doing worse.”

The Thunder, in their current situation, should find some familiarity with tonight’s foe, the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies were the team that finally finished off the Thunder last season after Westbrook went down. After winning the first game of the series, the Thunder went on to lose the next 4 in frustrating fashion. They had shots to win all four games, but with the Grizzlies corralling Kevin Durant and him tiring near the end of games, it became too much for the Thunder in that series. This is the second meeting of the season between these two teams with the Thunder winning the first game, 116-100.

The Opponent

randolph conley grizzlies

The Grizzlies currently find themselves at 17-19, trying to claw back into the playoff race in the Western Conference. A season removed from being a participant in the Western Conference Finals, the Grizz have had their share of injuries and inner turmoil. Dave Joerger replaced popular head coach Lionel Hollins in the offseason and Marc Gasol suffered a sprained MCL in November and has gone on to miss two months. The team has trouble scoring (96.6 ppg – 21st in the league), but keep things close by boasting a good defense. The offense is keyed by point guard Mike Conley, who leads the team in scoring and assists. Recent pick-up Courtney Lee will play beside Conley and provide some perimeter scoring. Up front, Zach Randolph is a double-double machine and Kosta Koufos is a big mobile body. Off the bench, Mike Miller can still go off at any point in a game.

Probable Starting Line-Up

Memphis Grizzlies

  • PG – Mike Conley
  • SG – Courtney Lee
  • SF – Tayshaun Prince
  • PF – Zach Randolph
  • C -Kosta Koufos

Late note: Marc Gasol is active for tonight’s game and will be starting.

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Transition – Memphis loves to slow the game to a crawl and create from their half court offense. If the Thunder can force turnovers and make it more of a transition game, that will be to their benefit.

2. Conley – The key to stopping the Grizzlies from the Thunder’s perspective is to stay in front of Conley. The Thunder have plenty of players that can defend Randolph well (Collison, Ibaka, Perkins). But they need to stay with Conley to limit everything else the Grizzlies can do.

jackson conley thunder grizzlies

3. Durant’s wrist – I thought this would have been a good game for Durant to sit out, but, alas, the basketball player likes to play basketball. Keep that wrist wrapped up and let’s hope for no big falls.

The OKC Thunder and their trade deadline moves

presti-sam

After so much speculation and rumor, this was just about the most anti-climactic trading deadline ever. Other than the Sacramento Kings unloading Thomas Robinson in a “scratch your head” trade to Houston, most teams played it safe and kept their assets. This is probably the first visible sign of how the new CBA will affect how teams view their assets moving forward.  The name of the game is cap space and most teams stuck with what they had instead of taking on salary and risk.

The Oklahoma City Thunder were a microcosm of the trading deadline, itself. The Thunder had one player who was a virtual lock to get traded, in Eric Maynor. The rumors were that teams were interested in Maynor as a solid back-up point guard, but were unwilling to unload a first round pick in exchange for him, which was the asking price from the Thunder. Then on Wednesday, a big rumor sprang up involving the Thunder and the Phoenix Suns. In the proposed trade, Phoenix would send Marcin Gortat and PJ Tucker to the Thunder for Kendrick Perkins, Jeremy Lamb, and a 1st rounder. Though the rumor died down as the day went along, it gained a little bit of momentum late Wednesday when Perkins was a late scratch in the Thunder’s game because of a knee sprain. By Thursday, though, the deal was all but dead. In the end, the Thunder traded Maynor, kept the asset train rolling, and obtained a veteran lock-down defender for virtually nothing.

Deal 1 : Oklahoma City sends Eric Maynor to the Portland Trailblazers for a $2.35 million trade exception and the rights to Georgios Printezis

Eric_Maynor_20130221145500_320_240

One of the greatest things in the world is receiving an extension to a deadline. The Thunder were facing the possibility of losing Maynor for nothing this offseason. While the Thunder didn’t receive the 1st round pick they were initially looking for, they did receive an asset that could help them immensely in the future. The trade exception is actually a little more than Maynor’s actual salary. In essence, the Thunder got a 1 year reprieve on Maynor’s expiring contract, without having a live body taking up a roster spot.

For a player that many fans thought wouldn’t garner anything of value, the Thunder made the best of the situation and got themselves a valuable asset. With possibly 3 draft picks (2 first rounders and a 2nd rounder) in the upcoming draft, look for Oklahoma City to put a package together to get something of high value on draft night.

georgios-printezis-olympiacos-piraeus-eb12-42058

As for Georgios Printezis, he’s a 6’9” PF that currently plays for Olympiacos in the Euroleague. His game is similar to that of Luis Scola of the Phoenix Suns, but with a little more range on his jumper. He is best known for hitting the game winning shot in the Euroleague finals against CSKA Moscow. The 28 year old recently signed a 3 year extension with Olympiacos that will probably keep him in Europe for the rest of his career.

Deal 2: Oklahoma City receives Ronnie Brewer from the New York Knicks for a 2014 2nd round pick.

One of Sam Presti’s tenants is that he never deals for a player with just one team in mind. When he dealt for Kendrick Perkins, many people thought he did that with only the Los Angeles Lakers (who had Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol) in mind. But the entire Western Conference is full of skilled big men, especially the playoff teams. Teams like Memphis (Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph), Utah (Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap), San Antonio (Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter), and the Los Angeles Clippers (DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin) all pose a threat on the inside to the Thunder.

With our recent struggles against the Miami Heat, many Thunder fans were clamoring for a big wing defender like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute of the Milwaukee Bucks or Jared Dudley of the Suns to be that mythical being called a “Lebron stopper”. The truth is, when you play a team that plays inside/out like the Heat or the Spurs, a big wing defender is tantamount when it comes to recovering on 3-point shooters. Players like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Dwayne Wade, and James are great at dribble penetrating, breaking down a defense, and finding the open guy on the perimeter. While the Thunder already have a great perimeter defender in Thabo Sefolosha, an extra set of long arms and active hands would not hurt.

02212013_ronnie_brewer

The New York Knicks, in an effort to slash some payroll and open up a roster spot, were looking to unload one of their perimeter defenders. The early rumor was that they were trying to trade Iman Shumpert for an offensively minded guard like Orlando’s  J.J. Reddick. Instead, the Knicks made Brewer available and the Thunder swung the deal for him. Brewer is regarded as one of the toughest big wing defenders in the league. He’ll be especially helpful to Kevin Martin and the bench unit as their best wing defender. Also, if necessary, in small ball line-ups, Brewer can be put in at SF or SG to help on the defensive end.

An added bonus is that Brewer’s salary is nearly half of what Maynor’s was ($2.3 million for Maynor compared to $1.2 million for Brewer). That saved money could be used to get a veteran free agent for the final roster spot, similar to what the Thunder did in obtaining Derek Fisher last season.

okc lbj

Overall, I think these moves made the Thunder slightly better in the present and made them even more dangerous on the draft/trade front in the future. Whether Brewer proves to be of any use is still to be seen. But it’s better to have a player like that on your team than on your opponent’s team. With the more punitive luxury tax looming next season, many teams will be looking to dump some salary in the offseason. With all their assets they’ve accrued, the Thunder should feel pretty good about themselves as we move forward under the guise of this new CBA.

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Preview (Game 46 of 82)

grizz thunder

  • When: Thursday, 31 January 2013 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Welcome to the season opener for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Hold on, what? It’s not the season opener? It’s the 46th game of the season? Wow! With the amount of time we’ve been off (4 whole days) and the amount of time since the last home game (over two weeks), you can see how it feels like an entire off-season since we’ve last seen the team live. Also, this is the longest we’ve had to marinate after a loss since Game 5 of last season’s Finals. Needless to say, Oklahoma City is chomping at the bit to play a game at home.

Their opponent for their return back home is the new look Memphis Grizzlies, although Memphis may be a bit short handed tonight. Yesterday, the Grizzlies traded Rudy Gay and Hamed Haddadi to the Toronto Raptors for Ed Davis and Jose Calderon. The Grizzlies then turned around and traded Calderon to the Detroit Pistons for Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye. Unfortunately (or luckily for the Thunder), those players will not be available for the Grizzlies tonight.

But it’s not like this will be an easy game. This is basically the same team that took the Thunder to 7 games two postseasons ago in the Western Conference Semis. That team was also without Rudy Gay, who was out following in-season shoulder surgery. The Grizzlies defeated the Thunder in their first meeting this season, 107-97, in Oklahoma City. In that game, Rudy Gay hit every big shot in the 2nd half to keep the Thunder at bay. Much like what the Thunder were facing in their 3rd game of the season, the Grizzlies will be getting acclimated to life without a key component of their team.

The Opponent

grizz

The Grizzlies come into the game with a 29-15 record, good for 4th in the Western Conference. Though they struggle to score points (93.4, 27th in the league), they more than make up for it with the best defense in the league, in terms of opponents’ ppg (89.5, 1st in the league). Offensively, they are highly dependent on post play and taking care of the ball. On defense, they use their physicality and brute strength to gobble up boards and get opponents out of position on offense. The offense is led by the big boys inside, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Though not a very athletic duo, their high basketball IQ more than makes up for their athletic shortcomings. Randolph, who was selected as a reserve to the All-Star game, averages 15.8 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. Gasol, who has been struggling a bit this season, averages 13.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. The offense is directed by Mike Conley, who is one of the better floor generals in the league. SG Tony Allen is one of the best defensive wings in the league. The bench is one of the more consistent ones in the league, with 6 players each averaging more than 14.5 minutes and scoring more than 5.5 ppg.

Probable Starters

Memphis Grizzlies

PG – Mike Conley

SG – Wayne Ellington

SF – Tony Allen

PF – Zach Randolph

C – Marc Gasol

Oklahoma City Thunder

PG – Russell Westbrook

SG – Thabo Sefolosha

SF – Kevin Durant

PF – Serge Ibaka

C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

  1. Don’t give this team a chance – Yes, they just lost their best scorer. Yes, they will be shorthanded. But, don’t give this team a chance or they will steal this game. Memphis is a veteran bunch that has won without Rudy Gay before. Take advantage of their lack of depth and play transition basketball and try to draw fouls.  
  2. Control the boards – While Memphis may not score much, their bigs do get a lot of rebounds. This leads to extra opportunities offensively, which is big for a team that is short handed. If necessary, Kevin Durant may need to hedge over to the post to help out on the boards.ibaka randolph
  3. Play Randolph smartly – Serge Ibaka always seems to have trouble against crafty, non-athletic PFs (Randolph, Nowitzki, etc.). Don’t bite on the pump fakes and keep your hands straight up in the air. It seems like when the Thunder play the Grizzlies, Collison always ends up in the game for an extended period of time due to Ibaka’s foul trouble.

Oklahoma City Thunder: 2012-13 Midseason Review

This was supposed to be the year where the Oklahoma City Thunder’s young quartet of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden was supposed to put it all together and finally reach the mountain top. These four young men who had just competed (and medaled) in the Olympics were supposed to pick up where they had left off and continue on their improvement track. From 1st round losers to Western Conference Finals losers to NBA Finals losers, the eventual next step would have been NBA Finals winners. Everyone went into training camp with that mind set.

Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant

And then, 5 days before the season started, in the middle of a stirring football game between the Oklahoma Sooners and Notre Dame Fighting Irish, came the shocking news that one of the quartet had been traded. James Harden, whose contract extension talks had stalled with the team, was traded, along with Daequan Cook, Cole Aldrich, and Lazar Hayward, to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and 3 draft picks. It took several days before the jaws of Oklahomans throughout the state were picked up off the ground.

Once the shock wore off, and the trade was analyzed, it was one of those instances where it was a good trade for both teams. The Thunder got a comparable player in Martin, a good young guard in Lamb, assets in the form of draft picks, and salary cap flexibility. Championship contending teams usually never have assets and salary cap flexibility, but this trade gave that back to the Thunder before they had an opportunity to lose it. Houston, in return, got a franchise player in Harden. After clearing cap space and failing to land Dwight Howard in the offseason, the Rockets were chomping at the bit for a franchise-type guy. So far, it’s been a win-win for both teams.

kmart lamb

Whether we were ready for the season or not, it still had to be played. The schedule doesn’t care whether the Thunder made a big roster move five days before the start of the season. The schedule doesn’t care that the Thunder never got the opportunity to play any pre-season games with any of its new players. All the schedule decrees is that said team be at the location of the game with at least 8 dressed players. So with that, the Thunder embarked on the first half of the season.

November 1st, 2012 – November 4th, 2012 : The sky is falling!!!! Grab the women and children, and head to higher ground!!!!! (1-2)

After the core rattling trade five days prior, the Thunder had to open their season on the road against their Western Conference Finals opponent, the San Antonio Spurs. The game was back and forth most of the night with neither team controlling the game. In the final minute with the Spurs down by three, Tony Parker hit a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left to tie the game. On the Thunder’s next possession, with the opportunity to take the lead, Russell Westbrook turned the ball over to give the Spurs one final shot. Tony Parker calmly sank a 21-footer at the buzzer to give the Spurs the victory.

parker

Of course, panic set in after that. Would the Thunder ever win another game again? Is this the beginning of the Curse of the Beard? Would we have won that game had James Harden not been traded? The second game was against the Portland Trailblazers in Oklahoma City. The Thunder easily dispatched of the Trailblazers in expected fashion. But that did little to quell the panic of the fan base, especially when Harden was in Houston averaging 35.3 points per game after the first three games of the season.

harden

The Thunder entered the third game of the season with high hopes. But after 21 turnovers and an inability to make shots in the second half, the Thunder lost to the Atlanta Hawks to bring their record to 1-2. Needless to say, some in the fan base were ready to jump off of the Devon Energy Tower.

Novemeber 6th, 2012 – November 23rd, 2012: Getting to know you, getting to know all about you. (8-2)

This home heavy stretch against lesser opponents is just what the doctor ordered, not only for the team, but also for the fan base. After the Atlanta loss, the Thunder reeled off five straight win against 3 likely lottery teams (Cleveland, Detroit (x2), and Toronto), and one injury ravaged team (Chicago). It’s almost like the team had a mini training camp with these 5 games serving as preseason games. The players got a sense of what their roles were, and the coaching staff got a sense of how the rotation would work.

team

Then we played the Memphis Grizzlies, and got man-handled. The big boys (Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph) did work inside and Rudy Gay went all KD on the Thunder, hitting seemingly every big shot in the 4th quarter. The fear that engulfed the fan base at the beginning of the season changed from, “When will we win a game?” to “Will we be able to hang with the top teams in the West?”

Those fears were eased a little when the Thunder won their next 3 games, the final two being against Western Conference playoff hopefuls Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors. Against the Warriors, Kevin Durant notched his first career triple double with 25 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists. The Thunder went on the road and lost against the Boston Celtics after that in a close game. Overall, the feeling at this point in the season is that the Thunder were starting to get it together, but still had some kinks to work out.

November 24th, 2012 – December 19th, 2012: We’re going streaking!!!!! (12-0)

This is where the team seemed to put it all together. During this stretch of games, the Thunder beat their opponents by an average of 13.8 points per game. The team averaged 108.6 points per game. That is an astonishing run. The winning percentage of the teams that the Thunder beat during this streak was .477, not necessarily power house numbers, but not necessarily the Sisters of the Poor, either.

There were some very important things that happened during the streak:

1)      We completely emasculated a team. In the second game of the streak, the Thunder beat the Charlotte Bobcats 114-69. The Bobcats were riding high coming into the game at 7-5, the same amount of victories as the previous season. The young Bobcats were looking to show what they could do against one of the big boys in the league. And the Thunder just beat them with their own stick. To a team that was still feeling itself out, this victory is just what they needed to prove to themselves that they could still run somebody out of the gym if necessary. The beating was so bad for the Bobcats that they did not win another game for the next month (17 games total after that).

2)      In the next game, the Thunder exorcised any demons from the trade and beat James Harden and the Houston Rockets handily, 120-98. While the game started off as a walk down memory lane, it quickly turned into an “us versus them” mentality when Harden had a spat that momentarily had Hasheem Thabeet ejected from the game. After that, Harden became another opponent that received boos. And the cherry on the top was that Harden completely struggled against the Thunder shooting 3-16 for 17 points, well below his average.

harden thabeet

3)      We dominated the Los Angeles Lakers at home 114-108. I know these aren’t the Lakers from a couple years ago. But this was the superteam that was constructed in the offseason to battle the Thunder for Western Conference supremacy. When Dwight Howard and Steve Nash were added to the core of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace, it sent shockwaves through the league that this would be the new team to beat. Though chemistry issues have kept the Lakers from achieving this, it was still good to beat them and let them know that we still run the West.

4)      We beat the Spurs handily at home 107-93. With the Lakers struggling, this team is probably our biggest rival. With the Western Conference Finals last season, and the close game the Spurs won to start the season, this was a pivotal matchup for the Thunder, not only record-wise, but mentally also.

December 20th, 2012 – January 7th, 2013 – Holiday sputter (5-4)

It’s a funny thing about perspective. If I were to tell you that we’ve won 17 of our last 21 games, you’d probably think that’s a pretty good run. But, if I told you that we’ve lost 4 of our last 9 games, you’d probably think that we are struggling a bit. This is where the Thunder found themselves at this point in the season. After winning 12 in a row, they lost on the road to an upstart Minnesota team that was just beginning to put it all together, before injuries once again derailed their season. Then, the Thunder lost on Christmas day to the Miami Heat. The one monkey that still hangs on the team’s back is the ability to consistently beat Miami.

russ miami

After the Miami loss, the Thunder went on to win 5 of their next 7. One of the losses was against the Davids of the NBA, or as I like to call them, the Washington Wizards. This Wizards team, with the worst record in the NBA, always seems to play its best against the Goliath’s of the league. They’ve already beaten the Heat once this season, and they beat the Thunder last season also. It’s just something about that slingshot.

January 9th, 2013 – January 20th, 2013 – Wonder Twins activate! (6-1)

This is what Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have done in the past 7 games:

  • KD – 35.9 points / 6.1 rebounds / 4.1 assists /1.7 steals / 1.3 blocks per game
  • RW – 29.0 points /6.7 rebounds /7.1 assists /1.0 steal per game

What these two guys have been doing the past two weeks has been nothing short of dominant. Durant had a career high 52 points in a win over the Dallas Mavericks during this stretch. And Westbrook has notched 4 straight games of 30 points or more. It’s become a tradition that when the Thunder trade away a major player, someone steps up in his place. When Jeff Green was traded two seasons ago, Serge Ibaka and James Harden stepped up their games and the Thunder continued improving. This time around, when Harden was traded, Ibaka has elevated his game to another level, and the two superstars have gotten even better.

durant-westbrook

The Thunder ended the first half of the season with a 32-9 record, good for best in the league. They are the last team with single digit losses and have the best scoring differential in the league, at +9.0. Looking forward, the second half of the season will be a little bit tougher, though. The Thunder will have 3 more road games and the teams they’ll be facing have a combined .511 winning percentage. In the end, I see the Thunder ending up with the number 1 seed, not only in the Western Conference, but in the entire NBA with a 63-19 record.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Thunder

sesame

One of the greatest things about fatherhood is the ability to relive your childhood without having to feel one ounce of guilt or embarrassment. For example, when I was coming up, I grew up on the Street……Sesame Street, that is. So when my kids started reaching the age of noticing the moving objects on the television screen, one of the first things I put on the tube for them was Sesame Street. I would watch it with them and sing along, all while reminiscing about my own childhood. After growing too old for the Street, I progressed to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That was my fad until my cousin showed me some shoes with the insignia of a man flying through the air with a basketball in his extended left hand and his legs spread apart. It was all over for cartoons after that.

Eventually, kids develop their own individual likes and drop old favorites into the dusty corners of their long term memory. So, it was a complete surprise to me when my kids were looking through the DVD collection and grabbed my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Season 1 DVD and said they wanted to watch it. So, of course, we sat down and watched it and they LOVED it. Luckily, Nickelodeon was coming out with a new Ninja Turtles series themselves, so it fit in with them nicely. Now they (and myself) are all about the Turtles. I watch the new cartoon with them on Saturday mornings (I know, I didn’t know Saturday morning cartoons existed anymore, either) and we sometimes have matches where I’m the Shredder and they take turns beating me with weapons (bruises go away, memories don’t).

tmnt

So, as I’m watching this new Ninja Turtles series, I can’t help but make comparisons to another team in my life, namely the Oklahoma City Thunder. If you’ve never seen or heard of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, let me give you a real quick overview. Four mutated turtles with humanoid features fight evil from their backdrop of their sewer lair where they are trained in ninjutsu by a mutated humanoid rat. The rat and turtles share a father/sons relationship, with the turtles coming into their teenage years. Hence, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Of course, each turtle has his own personality traits, which lends to the parental struggles of Splinter, their rat sensei. Along with their human friends, April O’Neal and Casey Jones, they form a team and battle different foes.

This is not very different from any other professional team: different personalities all coming together to battle one common opponent. And that’s where I thought the similarities between the Ninja Turtles and the Oklahoma City Thunder crossed-over. The personality traits of the characters are very similar to the personality traits of some of the main component of the Thunder. So without further ado….

The Good Guys

Leonardo is Kevin Durant – The unquestioned leader of the Turtles, Leonardo is an apt pupil and the apple of Splinter’s eyes. He exhibits strong leadership qualities, but also struggles in keeping harmony with all the different personalities on his team. Part of leadership is ability, and Leonardo is a master at the martial arts. Similarly, Kevin Durant is the unquestioned leader of the Thunder. Though words may not be his tool of choice, Durant’s actions on the court often dictate how his teammates react.

kdleo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raphael is Russell Westbrook – Was there ever really any question? I mean, if there is anyone in the cartoon world that fits Westbrook to a tee, it is Raphael. Raphael is the hot head of the group. He has the most attitude in comparison to the other turtles, but also has the most swag (confidence, if you don’t speak street). He’s good and he knows it. His quick temperedness can be a detriment as it clouds his judgment. Part of the reason for Raphael’s hot temper, though, is that he cares too much about situations and about others around him. Westbrook, the volatile point guard for the Thunder, and their unquestioned second in command, has always toed the line between beauty and disaster. He has an unwavering confidence in himself that can lead to astonishing displays of awe or to frustrating learning moments that leave you shaking your head. While many question his motives, those who are in tune with the Thunder know that Westbrook does the things that he does because all he cares about is winning. The bottom line, not individual stats, are the most important thing for Westbrook.

russ

raph

Donatello is Kevin Martin – Donatello is the scientific brains behind the whole operation. He’s mild-mannered and spends his free time building gizmos and gadgets for his turtle brethren that will be used in combat. He’s an adept fighter, but his intelligence is his biggest asset. Kevin Martin is probably one of the smartest offensive basketball players in the NBA in terms of floor spacing and angle awareness. His high basketball IQ help him find spaces on the floor where he can launch his automatic jumper. His mellow demeanor only masked the trained assassin that lurks inside the No. 23 jersey.

donny

kmart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michelangelo is Serge Ibaka – Believe me, this was probably the most difficult one. Michelangelo is the fun-loving, “life of the party” of the turtle quartet. He’s very innocent and young-minded, and tends to see the good in everything. But he’s also very loyal and willing to fight for what he considers important (namely, family). Before the trade, James Harden was a shoo-in for the role of Michelangelo. But with Harden’s departure, Serge Ibaka becomes the representative for Michelangelo. He’s a fun loving guy who was probably very innocent and young-minded to the ways of the United States when he first got here. Now that’s he adjusted, though, he is the life of the party (well, parties with a lot of women in them). Due to his rough upbringing, he probably sees the positive in many things in life. But mess with his team (family), and you’ll have something else coming to you.

sergemikey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Splinter is Scott Brooks – Splinter is the sensei (teacher) of the turtles. He is much older than them and acts as their father figure. He is a mutated rat that has humanoid features. He has raised them from young turtles to where they are today, extolling values and morals onto them. He is ultra-protective of them, but like any parent of a teenager, knows that he must let up a bit to allow the turtles to explore the world on their own. Five years ago, Scott Brooks was tasked with taking an extremely young team, that had known nothing but losing. Through his teachings (“play defense with your heart”, “push it, push it, push it, “we’re not out of this”) the Thunder have improved upon themselves every season and are now one of the best teams in the league.

splinter

 

April O’Neal is Wanda Pratt – April is the human liaison for the Turtles. Since the NBA still does not have any female players (enter joke here about NBA player X whom you think is a female), super fan/mother Wanda Pratt would have to do for this comparison. She cheers on the team that her son plays for and treats them all like her kids.

 

Casey Jones is Kendrick Perkins – Casey Jones is a male character in the series that is a vigilante and sometimes fights with the Turtles. He carries an assortment of weapons, such as hockey sticks and baseball bats, and wears a mask. If weapons were allowed on the court, Kendrick Perkins would probably be carrying the biggest bag. Thankfully, all he has on the court is his Scowl Mask. But like Casey Jones, he will extol justice whenever necessary.

CaseyJonesperk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bad Guys

shredder

Shredder is Lebron James – The Shredder is the Turtle’s biggest enemy. He is a lifelong foe of Splinter, and would like nothing more than to destroy the Turtles and Splinter. Even though, Kevin Durant and Lebron James are all buddy-buddy off the court, there is no doubt in my mind that James is our biggest obstacle from attaining our prize. Like the Shredder, James has become ruthless when the game is on the line and is starting to come up big when it matters.

The Foot Clan are the Miami Heat – The ninja army put together by the Shredder. Need I say more how this relates to the Miami Heat. When you face Lebron, you also have to face The Foot.

 

pop

Krang is Gregg Popovich – Krang is an alien brain that brought technology from space to help the Shredder and his sinister plan. Extremely intelligent and cunning, Krang is only limited by a lack of a body. Gregg Popovich has only one thing on his mind…and that is winning. No matter what he has to do. Rest all his starters on a nationally televised game against the Foot Clan (Heat), and absorb a $250,000 fine? Check. Play rookies when other contenders wouldn’t even mess with young players? Check. Extremely meticulous, he details every plan and plans for every detail.

 

300px-Bebop_and_Rocksteady

Bebop and Rocksteady are Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph – Bebop and Rocksteady are the evil mutant equivalent to the Turtles. A wart hog mutant and a rhino mutant, they punish objects using their physicality and brute strength. Gasol and Randolph are probably the best big man duo in the league and do not lack for size.

Tokka and Rahzar are Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol – The movie (Hollywood) equivalent to Bebop and Rocksteady, these guys were also very physically imposing, but were very intellectually limited. While not intellectually limited, the Lakers’ record with Howard and Gasol manning the middle is currently very limiting.

Baxter Stockman is Mike D’antoni – Stockman, a brilliant scientist, is transformed into a humanoid fly after a mutagen accident. D’antoni, a brilliant offensive strategist, was transformed into the Lakers’ head coach after the firing of Mike Brown. So far, the results have been a underwhelming, with a 4-7 start.

as-announcement_hp_players_1213_1

If you are reading this and are over the age of 35, I can understand if this may seem foreign to you. But remember any of your favorites quartets growing up (the O’Jays, the Beatles, the Four Horseman, the Seinfeld crew, etc.), and you’ll realize that the different personalities/talents actually made the whole better than the individual parts. Cartoons never seem to have a finality to them because the writers want to keep the story arcs going. But if I were to write the ending for the Thunder this season, it would end with a Western Conference playoff run that sees us vanquishing the Lakers, Spurs, and Grizzlies. Then, it would culminate with the Thunder defeating the Heat in 7 games in OKC, and the networks renewing us for another season.

Let’s Not Get All Defensive Now

In remembering these past 2 weeks, and watching the first 6 minutes of the first quarter in the Phoenix game, I’m reminded that, even though the Oklahoma City Thunder are athletically superior to most teams, their defense will be the tell-tale sign whether they reach glorious heights this postseason. A lot of the defensive breakdowns they had last season, are back again this season. The cast of characters is the same, so the fact that improvements have not been made, is really worrisome for their future postseason success.

 Two seasons ago, when the Thunder had Ron Adams as an assistant coach, they were near the top of the league in defensive efficiency and used that to propel them to the postseason for the first team since moving to Oklahoma City. Since Adam’s departure after that postseason, there has been a lack of defensive focus that is being masked and hidden by the team’s improved offensive efficiency. When the team struggles offensively, this lack of defensive focus can have adverse effects on the Thunder’s ability to win, especially in the playoffs.

The thing about defensive breakdowns is that they are usually a combination of several defensive breakdowns in one series. It’s not just one play in a possession that causes this. It’s usually a chain reaction of defensive lapses. The first thing the Thunder struggle with is their pick-n-roll defense. The Thunder guards, Russell Westbrook, in particular, have a tendency to go over the pick, instead of fighting through it to stay in front of their man. The problem with this is if the big man doesn’t hedge over a bit, the opposing guard just blows right by them and past their primary defender.

It’s a play like this where you have to know your opponent’s tendencies. If the scenario is guarding a slower guard (i.e. Jason Kidd or Mike Conley), then the Thunder guard can go over the screen as there is no threat of a blow-by. The only threat is if the guard is a competent 3-point shooter. The big man in this situation has to know who he is guarding and decide whether to hedge or stay with his man. In this case, if we are talking about Dirk Nowitzki or Zach Randolph, then it would probably be best for the defending big man to stay on his man.

If the situation is changed to a speedier guard, such as Ty Lawson or Tony Parker, then the big will have to hedge to allow the defending guard a chance to stay in front of his man. The worst thing that can happen in this situation is a switch, where the big is guarding a speedy guard, and the defending guard is on the offensive big. This opens up a ton of options for the offense and puts a lot of pressure on the defense.

The primary goal of the pick-n-roll is to allow movement towards the rim. But, against the Thunder, this is also achieved through dribble penetration. When he was drafted out of UCLA, Russell Westbrook was advertised as a defensive guard, having just won Pac-10 defensive player of the year. But what worked in college (gambling on steals, using other-worldly athleticism to pressure opponents) hasn’t worked quite as well in the NBA where the world’s best basketball players play. A lot of what makes defense work is where you are positioned. If you are not in the correct defensive position, an NBA player will blow by you in a heartbeat.

Where Thabo Sefolosha is more of a technical defender, using his length to make the opposition adjust their play, Westbrook is more an instinctual defender, always trying to go after the steal. But don’t mistake steals for good defense. When you constantly gamble for steals, you put pressure on the rest of the defense to play 4 on 5 defensively. Eventually, the open man will be located, and its usually on the 3-point line or for an easy bucket.

This, then leads to the next defensive issue for the Thunder, which is closing out shooters. After the acquisition of Kendrick Perkins and the insertion of Serge Ibaka into the starting lineup last season, the Thunder went from squishy soft interior presence to hardcore interior presence. One would surmise, with that kind of support in the interior (to also include Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed), the Thunder wings would trust their bigs more and not sink in every time the ball gets into the paint. Instead, it’s become commonplace for the entire defense to sag into the paint when a breach occurs which leads to wide open three point shots. Teams like San Antonio and Dallas feast on this and always give the Thunder problems.

Once the defense has been breached and the ball is in the paint, then the advantage goes to the offense. When big men have to move around, it takes them out of their comfort zone. Our big men like to battle until the shot goes up and then box out for a rebound. But if ball is penetrated into the paint, then the bigs have to move around to defend the paint. Even with Ibaka leading the league in blocked shots, this still puts the defense at a disadvantage. If Ibaka leaves his man and whiffs on a blocked shot attempt, then his man is in position for the offensive rebound and put back. Much like steals, blocked shot don’t automatically equate to good defense. But if you are going to have Ibaka play free safety in the paint, then KD needs to slide down on defense and help out on the boards. While it may seem like this has been happening, as evidenced by Durant averaging a career high 7.9 rebounds per game, it also needs to be taken into account that the Thunder have played a lot more small ball with Durant at the 4 this season.

The most important issue with the Thunder’s lack of defensive intensity is their will. A lot of their deficiencies can be overcome by focusing more on the defensive end and working smarter. Ron Adams may have been a great defensive strategist. But even more important was that he held the players accountable for their actions on the defensive end. Once he left, there was a general sense of apathy concerning smart defensive basketball. The Thunder were content with just being good enough defensively and letting their athleticism dictate their defensive schemes. This is especially evident in the 4th quarter of close games. When the Thunder are focused, they can play great defensively and use that close out games.

It’s not all bad though. Due to their athleticism, length, and youth, the Thunder are one of the better teams at defending the fast break. They are constantly stifling transition opportunities for the opposition and cause a good number of turnovers defending the fast break. As we saw in the 4 game stretch from March 25th thru April 1st, where the Thunder played the Heat, Trailblazers, Lakers, and Bulls, the Thunder can put together a string of great defensive games. The question becomes, will that translate to the playoffs?

Top NBA Teams and Senior-itis

Ahh, yes. April. That time of year where the memories of Spring Break start to fade, and the doldrums of the final quarter of school starts to set in. This is when high school seniors start to really feel the effects of senior-itis. It’s this same disease that is beginning to affect some of the better teams in the NBA. For those teams that have already sewn up spots to the NBA’s Big Dance, this affliction is making them act like 8 years olds on a road trip. “Are we there yet?”

When it comes to this time of years, teams are in one of 4 modes. They are either completely out of the playoff hunt, fighting (realistically) for a playoff spot, fighting to move up in the playoff standings, or fighting off boredom from having clinched a playoff spot so early in the 2nd half of the season.  Of the 30 teams in the NBA:

  • 11 are completely out of the playoffs: Charlotte, Washington, New Orleans, TTFKATSK (the team formerly known as the Sacramento  Kings), Cleveland, Toronto, Golden State, New Jersey, Detroit, Minnesota, and Portland.
  • 7 are realistically fighting for playoff spots: Utah, Phoenix, Milwaukee(all currently out), Philadelphia, New York, Denver,  and Houston (all currently in).
  • 8 are securely in the playoffs and jockeying for positioning: Dallas, Memphis, LA Clippers, LA Lakers, Orlando, Atlanta, Boston, and Indiana.
  • 4 teams are entrenched in the playoffs and fighting for the top two spots in their respective conferences: Chicago and Miami (East) and Oklahoma City and San Antonio (West).

Of the 4 teams at the top,Chicago is trying to battle through injuries and maintain the best record in the league.San Antonio is blitzing anyone in their way and trying to take the top spot in the West. And apparently, OKC and Miami (to the enjoyment of all the fans not in Chicago or San Antonio) are ready to meet in the Finals, and are acting like it’s a forgone conclusion. But, honestly, for these four teams, is there anything to worry about besides injuries at this point in the season?

These four teams are treading water at this point in the season. Chicago is 4-3 since April started. Miami and OKC are both 5-4. And San Antonio, riding the hot hand, is 6-2. Are these records indicative of any shortcomings that decided to pop up in the final month of the season?

In Chicago’s losses this month, it is quite apparent that they need Derrick Rose to be completely healthy for their playoff run. But, perhaps, more importantly, the health of Rip Hamilton is of great importance to the offense. While Rose is the end all, be all of the offense, Hamilton provides a great release valve if the defense collapses too much on Rose. Getting those two healthy at this point of the season is the best thing that could have happened to the team. It’s almost like they got a trade deadline acquisition in Hamilton, who is just now starting to pay dividends on the team. The greatest positive to come out of the injury plagued seasons of Rose and Hamilton, is that the bench players have had to contribute and have done so in above average fashion.

In Miami’s losses this month, a lot of the problems that surfaced last season are starting to resurface this season. It’s the Big 3 and no one else on that team. The Big 3 moniker has taken a bit of a hit this season with injuries to Dwayne Wade, but the production from the role players that was so evident in the beginning of the season, has begun to decline to the detriment of the team. The size issue that was a problem last season is still a problem for the Heat. They got Ronny Turiaf after the trading deadline, and while it is a slight improvement over Joel Anthony, the move didn’t really register too much on the Richter scale. The big man rotation of Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Anthony, and Turiaf does give the Heat a bit more flexibility as compared to the big man rotation last season (Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Juwan Howard, Bosh, Anthony, and an injury-recovering Haslem). The point guard position has been slumping for the last month and a half. Mario Chalmers has only been shooting 30% from 3-point territory since March 1st, after shooting about 48% from there in the first 2 1/2 months of the season. Norris Cole has hit the rookie wall and is not producing like he was in the beginning of the season, even being relegated to the bench in favor of James Jones, who is just now starting to find his shooting stroke. But, in the end, this team still has Lebron James and Dwayne Wade, and when those two are clicking, this team is still very difficult to defeat.

The Spurs have begun to streak after finally getting all their pieces back from injury. Its no coincidence that their 11 game win streak coincided with Manu Ginobili finally getting his rhythm back after being in and out of the lineup with a myriad of injuries for most of the season. The young players (Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal, Danny Green, and James Anderson) all know their roles and play them to a tee. This team is a well-oiled machine that is just now starting to hit its stride. The team still relies heavily on its trio of veterans, but Coach Popovich has made sure to limit their minutes in the regular season. The addition of veterans Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw will help during their post-season run. This, in my opinion, is probably the most dangerous team heading in the playoffs.

The Thunder’s last 10 games have exhibited the same errors that have been plaguing them the entire season. They are 6-4 in those games, but those errors become very evident in the losses. Stagnant offense always hinders this team in the beginning of games. The team even has a punt play to start nearly every game: giving the ball to Kendrick Perkins in the low post. It very rarely ends in points for the Thunder. In their 4 losses in this 10 game run, the Thunder score an average of 22.3 points in the first quarter. In the 6 wins, that number jumps up to 27. That’s nearly a 5 point difference, which, in an NBA quarter, is a huge difference. Another stat that hinders the team in their losses is the number of turnovers. In that same 10 game span, they are averaging 16.5 turnovers per game in their losses, and 14 per game in their wins. That difference of 2.5 turnovers can, hypothetically, be equated to an extra 7 points for the other team. Which, again, in the NBA, is a game-changing amount.  Defensively, the team still has trouble with the pick and roll and guard penetration.

The good news for all these teams is that there is nothing new that can be labeled a negative. The deficiencies and errors that they have been exhibiting all season, are the same things that are afflicting them now. Even with all these issues, these teams are still the top 4 teams in the league and the leading contenders to win the championship. Are there darkhorses on the fringes that could slip in? Of course. The Los Angeles Lakers are starting to show some diversity in their offense with Andrew Bynum finally taking charge in the absence of Kobe Bryant. The Memphis Grizzlies are one of the deepest teams in the league, with 2 All-star caliber post players (Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph) and an All-star caliber wing (Rudy Gay). And the Boston Celtics will give it all they got for what appears to be their swan song together.

The thing about senior-itis is that, eventually, everyone graduates and moves on to the next level. In that next level is where your skills and abilities come out in full force. Some end up in college, some in a job, and some at home on the couch. In this crazy season, anything can happen. But if the playoffs play out anything like the regular season, then these 4 teams should be the cream that rises to the top.