Ibaka’s Injury Not Only Problem For Thunder

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The Oklahoma City Thunder are the epitome of a growing and promising sports franchise. Moving to Oklahoma City in 2008, the Thunder have drafted extremely well, been coached even better and have quickly become one of the best teams in the NBA.

In 2007 came Kevin Durant and a rookie of the year campaign.

In 2008, the Thunder welcomed Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.

In 2009, James Harden joined the team.

Since coming to Oklahoma City 6 years ago, the Thunder have been to the playoffs 5 times, including a 2012 finals run against the Heat. They have the MVP, one of the best point guards in the NBA and arguably the best rim protector in the league as well. Because of the firepower of mainly Westbrook and Durant, the Thunder’s flaws have often been masked, thrown to the side and forgotten. Why shouldn’t they? They have an MVP and when your top two players are combining for 56 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists per game, its easy to neglect the bad. Especially when you’re winning, and winning consistently. However, it’s clear, especially clear in this year’s playoffs that the Thunder will never win a championship with their current roster.

In the 1st round against the Grizzlies, the Thunder won in 7 games. In all those 7 games, everybody not named Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook scored an average of 46.7 points per game. The Thunder consistently play 8 other guys besides their superstars so if you break it down even further the Thunder were getting an average of 5.8 points per game.

In round 2 against the Clippers, everybody not named KD or Russell Westbrook scored an average of 44.5 points per game, giving their role players an average of 5.5 points each.

In both of those series, the Thunder won out. The first reason was because Serge Ibaka was in the middle protecting the rim and stopping easy baskets. On the other hand, the explosive superstar duo averaged 51 points per game combined against the Clippers and 55 against the Grizzlies.

But now, against the Spurs, the most fundamentally sound and smooth offense in the league, the Thunder cannot match the offensive production. Sure, losing Serge’s 15 points per game hurts, but this meltdown has been one in the making. The Thunder lack two-way players. It’d be ok if their roster had a moderate blend of both shooters and defensive minded players like the Heat (see Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Rashard Lewis, Chris Andersen, Norris Cole) but the Thunder don’t. The Thunder’s role players are defensive minded big men like Kendrick Perkins who has become a liability in the area he’s supposed to excel in, Steven Adams and Nick Collison. The latter two are solid defensively and rebound well but offensively have little to offer besides moving the ball, and getting putbacks around the rim. Their role players are also guys like Caron Butler who has become more inconsistent and unpredictable then Dwyane Wade’s clothing choices and then there’s Derrick Fisher and Reggie Jackson, the only guys who really can produce offensively consistently, and if Fisher isn’t hitting open threes than all the Thunder have to rely on is Reggie Jackson. This is an issue. It’s a big issue. The Thunder cannot rely so heavily on Durant and Westbrook. It works, it sure as hell works, but there is a limit to how far they can go with this current team. There is a ceiling, while teams like the Heat and Spurs both rely on a system that has no limit to their success and that’s all attributed to their well roundedness. Durant and Westbrook are two of the most explosive offensive players in the league and probably the best scoring duo in the NBA but like LeBron and Wade need shooters and other guys who can help carry the load, so do they.

Right now against the Spurs, the Thunder are being embarrassed for two reasons. The first is the gaping hole in the middle of the paint usually occupied by Serge Ibaka. Without his length and athleticism guarding the rim, the Spurs are getting easy buckets whenever they want. The Spurs scored 54 points in the paint in Game 2 and 66 in Game 1. Meaning in Game 1 54% of the Spurs points were scored in the paint, followed by 48% in Game 2. So yes, a lot of the Thunder’s struggles DEFENSIVELY are clearly a result of not having Ibaka.

Offensively, however is a whole different issue. Ibaka does make things easier, yes, but only marginally with 12-15 points per game. The Thunder are getting nothing from anybody offensively and as a result the Spurs are able to focus solely on Durant and Westbrook. They each scored 15 points in Game 2. The Spurs don’t have to worry about anybody killing them from beyond the arc because the Thunder simply don’t have the type of players that are legitimate threats from long range. But on the other side of the court, the Thunder are having to guard everyone because everybody is a threat and unlike the often stagnant offense of the Thunder the Spurs are constantly moving, setting screens, cutting to the basket and moving the ball. Everybody on the court is a threat offensively. The Thunder don’t have that. In Game 1, the Thunder had 5 points from the other three starters combined! Why do the Spurs have to pay attention on defense to a Nick Collison or a Thabo Sefolosha if they’re not doing anything offensively? The answer is they don’t. The Spurs can stand around and stare at Westbrook and Durant, crowd them, pack the paint on them and if Durant or Westbrook want to kick the ball out, it’s to a player who is either not an offensive minded player (Sefolosha, Perkins, Collison) or someone who isn’t a consistent shooter (Butler, Lamb, Fisher) That in itself is causing Westbrook and Durant to keep the ball in their hands more. They don’t trust their teammates offensively, thus their offense gets more stagnant and defense becomes a lot easier for the Spurs. It’s a vicious cycle all stemming from the fact that the Thunder’s roster is constructed in a way that puts too much pressure on Durant and Westbrook. What happens on the off chance that one of those guys doesn’t play well like in Game 2? Well then they’re absolutely screwed.

I won’t say the door is closing on the Thunder because Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka are so young but very soon the Thunder could find themselves 5 years down the road, still without a championship even though each year they are among the best teams in the league. The roster needs to be tweaked. They need more shooting threats – more guys to help them spread the floor, more options for Durant and Westbrook to kick to. They need players who actually attract consistent attention from defenses. The Heat are the model that they should try to emulate. LeBron and Wade are surrounded by shooters and defenders not just defenders.

The Thunder won’t win this series, meaning Kevin Durant will once again fall short of a championship. Next year could be different or it could be the same, but the formula the Thunder have right now isn’t working and waiting longer and longer, and resting on the fact that they are consistently a top 2 seed in the West isn’t going to work. Oklahoma City has become, because of Durant and Westbrook an appealing place to play, Sam Presti needs to figure out a way to move this roster around, and add some pieces that aren’t one dimensional, but players who can play both ends and help out offensively. If not, who knows, but maybe in a few years when Durant’s contract is up he might look at his age and not like the situation he’s in and I’d hate for the Thunder to lose him because they couldn’t surround him with the right sort of team.

Western Conference 1st Round: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

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The Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves both off tense Game 7 wins. Both teams fought long battles against teams who, if a few plays would’ve gone the other way, would’ve been here instead. Both teams like to play fast. Both teams are full of star talent, both should make this an exciting series.

Los Angeles:

The Clippers most clear advantage in this series is their size and athleticism down low and their depth. Serge Ibaka makes a name for himself by being one of the best power forwards in the NBA on the defensive end due to his athleticism and energy, however at the center position the Thunder don’t have anybody that can really stay with DeAndre Jordan. I expect Jordan to eat up the boards against guys like Steven Adams and Kendrick Perkins who are strong and good rebounders but hardly the athletes that Jordan is. He can impact the game in the paint defensively but also on the offensive glass in creating extra possessions for the Clippers. He will also have a size advantage in the post, and he’s not normally an offensively talented guy, but with his foot speed and his athleticism he can get Perkins and other guys into foul trouble. On the pick n roll with Chris Paul, there should be many lobs available for him over the top of the centers of Oklahoma who play mostly below the rim.

Their other advantage will be their bench. The Thunder’s bench was wildly inconsistent against Memphis, scoring only 23.7 points per game as opposed to their 41 during the regular season. Take note that that average was also altered because of Reggie Jackson’s 32 points in Game 4. The Clippers on the other hand, averaged 34.5 against the Warriors. That has to continue through this series because if nobody is scoring in volumes besides KD and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder simply don’t win. That means not only does the second unit need to defend, something they did horribly during the regular season posting a -6 efficiency rating defensively with the 2nd unit on the floor, but they need guys like Jamal Crawford, Darren Collison, Jared Dudley, Glen Davis and others to be on top of their game so when the starters are off the floor, the Thunder are at a disadvantage.

Offensively in general, the Clippers do run a smoother half-court offense and no matter how good the Thunder are defensively, the Clippers have the advantage in the half-court. So of course they should be themselves and push the pace – something that will probably speed up on its own, but they should try make Oklahoma play in the half-court. What will give them even more of an edge is Chris Paul being extra aggressive. He’s usually a playmaker, and he should continue to be, but when his main focus is attacking he attracts so much attention from the defenses and if he starts out scoring off the pick n roll, more things open up for his teammates. He has the ability to take over every game he plays and I think with him coming out trying to score the ball it will only be easier for him and his team.

Defensively, as always when facing Oklahoma, the focus has to be slowing down Kevin Durant, which at this point is as hard as stopping a freight train. The only man who can really do that is Matt Barnes, who is known to be a defensive stopper. However, he couldn’t stop him during the regular season as he was right on his average of 32 points per game against Los Angeles. The Clippers are going to have to double him in the post because he has the size advantage over Barnes and I think making the other guys on Oklahoma like Sefolosha or Caron Butler hit open shots is a possibility they would much rather live with. When in the pick n roll, if it’s Blake Griffin’s man setting the pick they should trap, but if not I wouldn’t want DeAndre Jordan trapping on the perimeter and leaving Blake to guard the rim because he’s not a defensive stopper and I don’t want him getting in foul trouble.

Oklahoma City:

Oklahoma City is going to have to be tough on the boards to stop DeAndre from eating up the glass like he probably will in this series. They’re dealing with the most athletic front-court in the entire NBA and are going to have to contain him to prevent 2nd opportunities for the Clippers. Defensively, Westbrook is fully capable of guarding Chris Paul, especially while he’s dealing with hamstring issues. Ibaka is a premier defender and can handle Griffin down low, because he’s so athletic, the problem might be if Perkins is guarding Griffin because of Griffin’s speed and athleticism he’ll be able to take advantage of that down low. However, doubling Blake in the post isn’t a dangerous thing to do because of Los Angeles’ lack of three point shooting. As long as someone is on Redick at all times, they can afford to double if they need to.

Offensively, this series will be extremely fast-paced. Los Angeles averages 108 points per game and Oklahoma City averages 106 per game. They both love to get up and down and for the Clippers that’s no worry because they have ball handlers like Jamal Crawford, Collison and Chris Paul who are very good at taking care of the ball. The problem for Oklahoma falls upon Westbrook’s shoulders, who has had numerous games where he’s played out of control, taken too many shots and turned the ball over almost generously. That can’t happen in this series, especially against Los Angeles who loves to get out and run. He has to defer to Kevin Durant in this series especially because there really isn’t anybody who can challenge him defensively, unlike Memphis who had one of the best defenders in the league in Tony Allen who gave him problems. The Thunder do struggle in the half-court at times, and especially in this high-speed series, they need to play patiently and wait for things to come to them. That doesn’t mean play passively, but they can’t force things and turn the ball over.

Who Wins?

I’ve never been a fan of the Thunder roster. If KD or Westbrook are having an off game, the team doesn’t have many options offensively to go to. They get some production from a few guys here and there but they’re just not as consistent and well-balanced as the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers move the ball very well, and can score in many different ways. The Thunder bench has been very inconsistent this post-season, while the Clippers have come together at the right time. I think DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin are going to be problems for the Thunder on the glass, and with the way the Clippers play in the half-court there is really no room for the Thunder to play as recklessly as they have in the past in terms of turning the ball over. The Thunder play heavy isolation style basketball and like I’ve said before, without Durant or Westbrook scoring the ball, the Thunder really struggle.

Final Prediction:

Clippers in 6.

The Night of Game 7

In what could very well be the most exciting night for the NBA all year, the Pacers, Hawks, Thunder, Grizzlies, Clippers and Warriors all play to move on or go home.

Game 1 of the Game 7 Marathon: Hawks @ Pacers

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Nobody expected this to go this far. But with how the Pacers have finished the season and how discombobulated they are as a team, it wasn’t surprising. They finished the final two months of the season 12-13. They dealt with Paul George’s catfish experience, Roy Hibbert forgetting how to play basketball, Evan Turner and Lance Stephenson fighting in practice and much more.

Game 1 went to Atlanta and showed them they could actually beat the Pacers. Going in, they knew they had the match-up advantage and they knew they were dealing with a team with issues – A cranky group of girls on their periods at the same time. The Hawks also came into the series with 0 pressure. As the 8th seed, beating off a 1 seed has only happened 5 times in the history of the NBA. If they lose it’s expected. If they win, then they’ve made history.

In Game 2, Indiana remembered how to play winning basketball again and put a lot of Pacer doubters to sleep, claiming Game 1 was a simple fluke and they’d be on their way to the next round soon. The Hawks bench produced 39 points, but the key for the Pacers was they limited Jeff Teague to 14 points and that was the big difference between Game 1 and 2. Roy Hibbert had another shitty game but the need for a smaller lineup seemed less important now that they had won.

Game 3 went to Atlanta where Hawks fans were feeling pretty good about how they’d done so far. This was one of the worst games of the year for Indiana. They scored 85 points, got 12 from Paul George and a third consecutive no-show for the tallest man in the NBA who only grabbed 2 rebounds. The need for a smaller lineup was made clear. Hibbert could not continue playing his normal minutes in this series.

Game 4 was a must-win for Indiana and they barely got by. Sure it was a win, but there was absolutely nothing to be happy with from Indiana’s performance.

Game 5 was a big one for the Hawks’ bench. Shelvin Mack and Mike Scott took this one for Atlanta on an off-night Millsap and Teague. Roy Hibbert had an empty box score. An embarrassing performance for Hibbert who in 12 minutes couldn’t even grab 1 rebound. Indiana is probably the worst 1 seed in the past 10 years. At this point nobody except Indiana fans want them to win. Atlanta is America’s team.

In what could’ve been the end of the series, Jeff Teague stepped up big with 29 points but had nobody behind him to defeat the Pacers. Roy Hibbert got 2 rebounds but remained scoreless. Game 7 returns to Indiana where all the pressure lies on the Pacers.

Game 7 in Indiana, not the place anybody thought they would be. This game is up to Jeff Teague. When he’s penetrating and scoring they are a very tough team to beat, especially when Roy Hibbert isn’t the game to protect the rim. This should be a relaxed game for the Hawks. They need to take care of the ball and stretch out the defense meaning guys like Millsap, Korver and Scott all have to hit open shots when they get the opportunity to spread the floor and put pressure on the defense.

The Pacers are the ones with their backs on the walls. If they lose they will be butchered in the media, Roy Hibbert will be hailed as the most disappointing player in sports and Paul George might take step back in terms of how he’s perceived as a star. This will be a big game for Paul George who has played well this series (22 points and 10 rebounds) but hasn’t played like the superstar he was supposed to be. He needs to step up early and play like the Paul George who almost beat the Heat last year. Don’t expect anything from HIbbert as he’s proven absolutely irrelevant so far, but they need to keep Jeff Teague in check. He’s gotten into the paint way too easily this series and in Game 7 if he’s taken out of the equation, their offense is stunted. They have the home-court advantage and know what they need to do to win. I think although it was a nice series the Hawks won’t win. It’s sad, but I think it’s reality. The Pacers don’t deserve to go on, but they won’t lose. The Hawks were a nice story so far but with home-court and the pressure of needing a win, the team will step up and finish off the Hawks.

Game 2 of the Game 7 Marathon: Grizzlies @ Thunder

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So what’s happened so far? We had a relatively easy win for Kevin Durant and the Thunder in Game 1.

Then of course, according to chronological common sense, came Game 2,  the first overtime contest between the two teams. Kevin Durant had 36 and this generally physically impossible shot, Westbrook had 29 but the Grizzlies won behind a surprising breakout game from former Knicks benchwarmer and chronic winer; Beno Udrih.

We flew over to Memphis, where 48 minutes just wasn’t enough for anybody, and the 2nd overtime went 13-10 in favor of Memphis giving them a 2-1 lead over OKC. Kevin Durant had 30, but on 37% shooting, Westbrook had a 30 of his own including this Kevin Durant mimic play from the game prior. Whispers began to swirl that Tony Allen was in Durant’s head, and although they were quiet, the 2-1 deficit and the poor shooting performance was worrying. The Thunder produced 9 points off the bench, while Memphis scored a whopping 34 led by Tony Allen and once again, Beno Udrih.

Game 4 was a must win for the Thunder or else they’d be down 3-1 to the 7th seed and tortured by media everywhere. This game of course, had to go to overtime where the Thunder managed to squeeze out a win. The real hero? Reggie Jackson who carried the team with 32 points, while the usual suspects were quiet as an Oklahoman farm, both scoring 15 points a piece… Whispers about Durant’s struggles gained momentum.

Game 5, the series is tied 2-2 and we’re back in Oklahoma. What happens in this one? Another overtime! The Grizzlies come out with the 1 point win, thanks to 5-three pointers from Mike Miller and one momentum freeze from Joey Crawford, who stopped Kevin Durant’s 2nd free throw and I don’t know if we can completely place the blame upon his bald head, but Durant did inevitably miss, losing the game for the Thunder. A new criticism arose from this game, one that has been continually recycled throughout the Thunder years: Westbrook shoots too much… His 31 attempts to Durant’s 24 don’t help his case either.

Unlike the previous 4 games of overtime, the Thunder returned to their Game 1 dominance and in response to the Mr. Unreliable headline in the Tulsa newspapers, Durant awoke from his slump and scored 36 points on 11-23 shooting. The Thunder held Mike Conley to 5 points and the Grizzlies to 84, their lowest point total of the series.

Now in Game 7, with things back in Oklahoma, all the pressure is on the home-team. The Thunder weren’t supposed to have this much difficulty with the 7 seed, no matter how good they might be. Kevin Durant wasn’t supposed to be struggling, things weren’t supposed to be this way. With their rivals Miami sweeping the 7 seed in the East, the Thunder are facing doubts on whether they can even get out of the West.

Luckily for them, the NBA screwed Memphis and suspended Zach Randolph from Game 7 of this series and therefore, probably taking away their chances of winning this game. To add on to the misery, Mike Conley is suffering from a strained right hamstring and although he is playing, he says he will be sore.

Clearly this is a blow for Memphis and a big advantage for Oklahoma. But the Thunder have to be wary of not falling into the trap of taking things lightly now that Memphis is short handed. The Thunder have to step on the Grizzlies and not give them any room to hang around because if the Thunder don’t take care of the ball, or lollygag on defense, the Grizzlies will certainly catch up. They win on defense, and on hard-work, both things that don’t require talent so if the Thunder are not on top of their game the Grizzlies will take advantage regardless of who they have playing and how people are feeling.

Kosta Koufos and Ed Davis will be big for Memphis as they try to fill the void for Randolph inside. I think what the Grizzlies should do is counter Randolph’s suspension by attacking early and trying to get Ibaka in foul trouble. That evens the playing field and also helps the Grizzlies in being aggressive from the beginning. It’s also a big game for Beno Udrih and the entire Grizzlies role players who will all need to produce on the offensive end for the Grizzlies to win. They need to somehow produce 18 points and 9 rebounds communally and that means everybody doing a little extra. Mike Miller had a nice Game 5, James Johnson with 15 points in Game 6, Udrih had 14 points in Game 2 but tonight they all have to have a big game. The Grizzlies can upset the Thunder if they can score the ball. Defensively, they’re the same team, but offensively is where they suffer without Randolph.

All the pressure is on Oklahoma right now. Memphis is shorthanded, and a 7th seed who have not only proven they can win on the road but have carried this game to Game 7 and made the entire world doubt the Thunder. They have nothing to lose. Game 7 actually fits their playing style perfectly. Every possession is worth more and the game will likely slow down. The Grizzlies play like that every night, Game 7 or not.

For the Thunder to win I think it means less shots for Westbrook and more for Durant. They cannot afford to have Westbrook playing at his normal speed and playing reckless. With every possession worth so much more, they have to be careful with the ball, while also remaining aggressive and pushing the pace when they can. It’s an interesting oxymoron for the Thunder, play carefully fast. Usually those adjectives don’t go together but the Thunder need a perfect blend to win tonight. In their wins so far this series, the Thunder have scored an average of 22 fast break points per game. In their losses? Only 13. That could be the difference for them. If they push the pace and make Memphis uncomfortable with playing quickly it means easier opportunities for them. Durant needs to eclipse 30 points tonight for the Thunder to win and that means getting him going early, meaning Westbrook has to defer. If everything else follows and the Thunder can hold the Grizzlies down while they’ll inevitably find it harder to score they will win the Game. That with their ecstatic crowd should grant the Thunder entry to round 2.

Game 3 of the Game 7 Marathon: Warriors @ Clippers

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Game 1 we’ll dub the foul trouble game. 51 fouls were called in all. Andre Igoudala fouled out after 20 minutes, as did Blake Griffin after 19. Three more of the Warriors’ starters had 4 fouls a piece and CP3 had 5. However, ironically, a non-foul call lost the game for the Clippers when a Draymond Green foul on Chris Paul was missed and on the review the only thing they could do was say it had to be Warrior ball.  After this one, it was hard to judge what was going to happen going forward, with all the foul trouble and all. The game was certainly as fast-paced as predicted, and the Warriors won by 4, despite 23 turnovers.

Game 2 was probably the most inanely entertaining game of the playoffs. A 138-98 win for Los Angeles helped them re-claim a grip on the series. The decisive factor was that guy from the Kia commercials staying in the game and scoring 35 points. The Warriors turnover woes continued as they coughed it up almost willingly an astounding 26 times, doubling the turnover total for Los Angeles. 7 players scored in double figures for the Clippers and on the other end the entire Warriors team struggled. The Splash Brothers combined for 31 points, the starting lineup combined for 50 and the team shot an uncharacteristic 21% from deep, starting criticism that if they can’t hit threes, they won’t go anywhere.

Game 3 was held in the Bee’s Hive in Golden State, my nickname for Oracle Arena that has surprisingly not been taken or used anywhere despite how genius it is. The Warriors were led by a big game from Klay Thompson and despite shooting only 31% from deep, they outshot the Clippers who bricked threes 71 percent of the time. Blake Griffin had another 30+ game, while Stephen Curry continued to be quiet. During all of this and in the days following the whole Donald Sterling controversy arose. What happened? Well his girlfriend should really be sued or arrested for recording him without his knowledge. Sterling should be kicked out of the NBA for being a disgusting racist man stuck in the 1930’s. And the NBA should continue to stay together while they deal with him and his the lawsuit he’ll probably bring the NBA into, just for the hell of it.

Game 4 was drowned out by the waves of Sterling drama being repeated in the news. Maybe there is a correlation, maybe not, but in the Game following the introduction of the controversy, the Clippers were blown out in Golden State by 21 points – the Warriors’ turn to embarrass the opponent. DeAndre Jordan was virtually non-existent, while Curry seemed to have located his mojo and put it back on the court, scoring 33 points including 5 threes in the first quarter.

Sterling was banned from every aspect of the Clippers organization and was then fined 2.5 million. Then Game 5 happened. The Clippers won as a result of bench production. Their bench scored 36 to Golden State’s 19. In a game where both teams starting lineups  were scoring with ease, the bench was the deciding factor.

Game 6 was stolen by Golden State in a 100-99 victory. I didn’t watch it. I can’t make up stuff and write about it. However, nobody shined, offensively it was quieter than both of these teams probably expected and although Matt Barnes hit an exciting 3 with 1.1 seconds left, it was essentially too little too late.

Now Game 7 heads to Los Angeles where the pressure isn’t really on anybody. The series was very even going in and it’s unlike the Thunder series or the Pacers series where a Game 7 probably wasn’t expected, but neither of these teams is really on another level than the other. The key for the Clippers is getting Blake Griffin going early. In losses this series, he’s scored 18 points per game and in wins, he averaged 25. When he’s scoring and is a low post threat it opens things up for everyone else and gets people open shots as well as gets him in a rhythm. The Clippers need to keep the Warriors to under 30% from beyond the arc. In wins so far, the Warriors have shot 39% from deep. In losses, they’ve shot 26%. If the Clippers can do those things, and get Blake scoring 25+ and keep the Warriors to under 30% from deep they will take this game. They already have the home-court advantage on their side, so sticking to those guidelines will secure them a round 2 entry.

 

Russell Westbrook Down And Out: What Now?

***UPDATE***

Russell Westbrook is out for the remainder of the postseason. The Thunder will have to fight through without him. It’s truly a shame for the Thunder and Westbrook who had  a real shot at winning a championship. He and Durant will have to get it next year. #WinforWestbrook. 

Superstar point guard Russell Westbrook will get surgery to repair a torn meniscus he suffered during the 2nd quarter in game 2 of the Thunder’s series against the Houston Rockets. Here’s the play…

Now what’s happening above is Patrick Beverly desperately trying to get Kevin McHale to notice him. He doesn’t play much, he’d been playing hard all game and this was one of those things players do to get their coach to say, “He never stopped playing hard, I like that. He’s getting some more minutes next game.” Usually playing hard is a good thing, but not if you’re doing it recklessly. I’ve honestly gone through a thousand scenarios in my head and there is no way that Beverley would’ve gotten that steal anyway. Westbrook is clearly calling a timeout, just watch his leisurely gallop to Scott Brooks and the rest of the bench. If anything he should’ve been called for a foul, as Beverley clearly reached across Westbrook’s body. But hey, let’s not get mad at Beverley. It wasn’t a dirty play, just unnecessary. He’s a youngster trying to make an impact on the biggest stage. He’s overzealous and that can lead to things like… I don’t know ruining the Thunder’s chances of reaching the Finals… No biggie.

Where does this leave the Thunder? That is the big question right now. He’s out indefinitely but that really doesn’t eliminate him completely from post-season play. If you remember clearly, Chris Bosh was ruled out indefinitely last year due to an abdominal strain he suffered in Game 1 of the Heat’s series against the Pacers in the 2nd round of the playoffs. He came back in Game 5 of the Heat’s series against the Celtics in the Conference Finals. Ultimately, he was only out a total of 22 days. Now I’m not comparing a torn meniscus to an abdominal strain at all, because they’re not similar in the slightest. Bosh didn’t get surgery, Bosh’s injury didn’t prohibit him from running. I’m just saying the diagnosis – “out indefinitely” – sounds a lot scarier than it is. Kind of like hearing you’re going to face the Lakers in the playoffs and then… playing them. His timetable is unknown, although the expected time of return for someone with a torn meniscus is 6 weeks after surgery. There is some hope for Thunder fans in terms of a return though. Just a few weeks ago, Metta World Peace suffered the same injury and underwent surgery. He was seen 12 days later at Staples Center playing against the New Orleans Pelicans. His return was an unbelievably fast return so don’t think Russell can pull it off as well. It’s like saying school isn’t necessary because Mark Zuckerberg dropped out and became a billionaire – he’s the ultimate exception. However, Russell Westbrook is as crazy and may be crazier than MWP and if there’s any guy to come back from an injury like this quickly, it’s going to be him.

I think the Thunder will be fine in their current series against the Rockets. They have a commanding 2-0 lead and the Rockets haven’t shown any signs of a desire to play defense. They may give the Rockets some more room to grab a game, maybe two if god’s feeling good but ultimately they’ll come out on top. The real problem will come in the next round when the Thunder play either the Grizzlies or the Clippers. I predicted the Grizzlies but it could go either way at this point. Both of those teams are true contenders in the West and both boast very well rounded and talented teams with experience. If it were up to me right now, I would take the Thunder out of contention for the NBA championship. Westbrook and Durant are the best duo in the NBA and without Westbrook I don’t think they can compete with teams like the Clippers, Grizzlies and especially the Spurs. The Thunder have never been without Russell Westbrook before as he has never missed a game in his 5 years of professional basketball. So there are no stats nor parameters by which we can judge the Thunder’s future success. Westbrook had been averaging 24 points, 7 assists, 6.5 rebounds and 3 steals a contest in the Thunder’s two games against Houston. So obviously, losing him is a big hit to what they do as a team.

I think, however blunt it may sound, the Thunder’s hopes of a title are over. However, if we want to look on the bright-side of things, and I’m doing this specifically for Thunder fans, we can look at five things:

The Brightside!

#1. Kevin Durant is probably the best offensive specimen in the NBA and was partially held back by Westbrook’s 18.8 shot attempts per game this season. Without Westbrook, Kevin Durant really gets all the shots he could possibly want to potentially score 40 points a game throughout the rest of the playoffs. It’s damn hard to beat a Thunder team with KD scoring 40-50 a game.

#2. Through the month of April, Reggie Jackson was averaging 9.5 points and 2.6 assists on 45% shooting in 21.6 minutes a game. Throughout the playoffs so far, he has averaged 7.5 points and 3.5 assists a game. He’s been playing superbly given the minutes and you can bet he’ll get a spike in that department now. The Thunder fans can find salvation in the fact that Reggie Jackson will be a reliable source at point guard in the place of Westbrook.

#3. The Thunder have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. The fans have the power to control the series for OKC. If they are behind them, they can push their team further than expected.

#4. Russell Westbrook is a psychopath. You can tell from the way he plays on the court and the way he dresses off the court. If there’s any player in the league who has the ability to come back from an injury in the blink of an eye, it’s Russell Westbrook.

#5. Thunder fans now have their own version of #prayforware… It’s called #WinforWestbrook

So with all that in mind, good luck to the Thunder and let’s #WinforWestbrook.

Heat vs Thunder: NBA Finals Games 1 & 2 Wrap Up

Both games have gone mostly how I expected, very close toward the end and tense. A true test of which players can carry their team the furthest. Game 1 the Heat had the obvious upper hand throughout the entire game. Lebron was carrying them, Battier was producing from beyond the arc going for 4-6 and Bosh and Wade were supporting the run with a combined 29 points. Then the 4th quarter came around and we divided the two superstars into separate groups. Before I say this, this is not a shot at Lebron choking in the clutch because he is clutch. Think game 6 of Eastern Conference Finals. Durant scored 17 of his 36 points in the 4th quarter to lead a comeback and win the Thunder game 1. Lebron scored 7 points, which is again a solid quarter production. It just showed who was able to really show up in crunch time when it mattered. Game 1 showed that Wade needs to be much more assertive in his drives to the basket for the Heat to sustain the lead. Lebron scored 30, but he can’t keep scoring and hold off the wildly energetic Thunder squad at the same time. Wade was active on D, but he wasn’t aggressive enough on offense and let Lebron take the fall. Game 1 showed us that Lebron can find great success in posting up KD. He did a great job of posting up from 12-15 feet and either driving, or hitting a turn around jumper. Game 1 showed us that Westbrook is a true superstar not just an athletic all-star. He contributed to the win with 27 points and 11 assists. He also only committed two turnovers, that just shows his development as a player because earlier in his career he used to be careless with the ball and in turn had a poor assist to turnover ratio but he is continuing to be efficient. Game 1 showed us that Bosh will have trouble scoring against the Thunder, the interior defense is too tough for him to score over and Ibaka is too athletic for him to just shoot over him after a jab. He will continue to have trouble. We also learned that the Heat’s supporting guys aren’t just glory-hunting scrubs but great supporting players. Battier had 17 points and Chalmers had 12 points. After Game 1, we have to think the series will continue to come down to the 4th quarter considering Wade only had 19 points and Harden only had 5. When those two produce more these games will be closer and have more factors to take into account.

Game 2 showed the difference Dwyane Wade makes to the Heat with his aggression and assertiveness. He recorded 24 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists and to no surprise the Heat ended up with the W. Bosh faired better in this game with 16 points and 15 rebounds, he was very effective on the boards and killed Oklahoma that way. Once again Battier scored 17 points, but the rest of the team only scored 11 points. That’s why the Thunder rally was possible, the Thunder were intensifying on defense and the Heat only had 5 players to score instead of a whole team. Luckily Lebron and Wade came up big in the 4th while Bosh rebounded relentlessly to keep them alive. The Heat still need the rest of their team to produce consistently otherwise, the Thunder will win the odd game in the series and ultimately win the championship. The Thunder fought back relentlessly and showed true heart. Unfortunately, they couldn’t finish it off. Harden was the best player in this game for the Thunder, and began the run that brought them back. He recorded 21 points while Durant had 32 and Westbrook had 27. They combined for 80 of the Thunder’s 96 points. They desperately need someone else to score with them. Three players can’t beat a team with an equally talented trio who have their supporting guys scoring. The Thunder also need to rebound the ball. Not one player, not even Ibaka and Perkins finished with double digits in the rebounds column. Ibaka and Perkins combined for only 12 rebounds while Bosh alone got 15. They have a strength and size advantage of everybody on the court at all times, they need to start rebounding to limit the Heat’s possessions and give them more opportunities. Overall, a close game in the 4th, and this time Lebron stepped up and held his team up until the finish line.

Game 3 is taken to Miami where the Heat are 8-2 at home. The fans are excited, the celebs will be piled high and Wade always plays better at home, on the flip side Battier only shoots 31% from three on his home-court as supposed to 42% on the road, his production has been huge and if he can’t produce like he has then the Heat may be in trouble. Harden should have another big game, as well as the usual suspects. The Thunder big men need to be more effective everywhere on the floor, they need to show their presence as well as the Thunder bench minus Harden.

More To Come

Don’t think because the Thunder have gotten to the next level and the next tier of excellence that they’re going to stop there. They’re not done. Actually, far from it. They’re on their way to winning an NBA championship. 5 years ago Kevin Durant joined the Oklahoma City Thunder or Seattle Supersonics as they were known and won 20 games. 20 games. The next year they picked up Russell Westbrook in the draft. They won 23 that year. In 2009, they picked up James Harden and Serge Ibaka and won 50 games, while suffering a heartbreaking loss at the hands of the Lakers in the first round. The next year, they were the 4th seed in the NBA and won 55 games. They advanced to the conference finals but lost in 6 games to the Dallas Mavericks who went on to win the NBA championship. This year they clinched the 2nd seed in the West by winning 47 out of 66 games. That was just to highlight the growth and development of this team as a unit. They worked their way up through hard work and patience and they progressed every single year. Kevin Durant is now a 3 time scoring champion, James Harden the 6th man of the year, and Russell Westbrook a top 5 point guard in the NBA. Now they’re in the NBA finals. It wasn’t easy though, they were down 2-0 to a team who had won 20 games in a row and looked unstoppable. However, they won 4 in a row and finished the aging Spurs and are now bound to win an NBA championship, with their three best players all under the age of 24. So, if they don’t win it this year, which they most likely will, they will certainly win it in the years to come.

What’s so good about the Thunder? How did this small market team come out of nowhere in the past 5 years and take over the NBA? Well, one thing is for certain they have every piece to the puzzle in place. They all know their roles and there is not a hole in this roster that needs filling. They have the unstoppable scorer, the best 6th man in the NBA, and a top 5 point guard. They have the runner up for defensive player of the year playing alongside Kendrick Perkins one of the grittiest, and toughest players in the NBA. They have Thabo Sefolosha, one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. On the bench, Derrick Fisher a 5 time NBA champion who brings the wisdom and experience to the young team. They have Nick Collinson a terrific post defender and pick and roll defender. Daquon Cook even gave the Thunder a boost beyond the arc in this series. Everybody knows their role and everybody is so damn good at it. They are so good defensively, because they are constantly helping each other out. Offensively, they are often too quick for most teams in the league. Besides the Heat, no team gets up and down the floor as quickly as the Thunder do. Then of course, it’s nearly impossible to stop Kevin Durant from scoring, and if you focus too much on him then Westbrook puts you on a poster while Harden gets another and 1.

The reason they are destined for an NBA championship is because neither team in the Eastern Conference finals can beat the Thunder in a best of 7 series. The Celtics first off are too slow and I don’t think they can compete with the youth and quickness of the Thunder. Sure, we all said that about them vs the Heat but it’s different. The Heat can’t beat the Celtics because of the lack of depth, the Celtics make up for their lack of athleticism with their overwhelming depth. The Thunder however, are the better version of the Heat. They have their own big 3 but they have so many premier role players that there is no area in which they lack. The other thing is that the Heat are having troubles because the Big 2 are finding it extremely hard to get to the basket because of the stifling Celtic defense and because of Garnett in the middle. James and Wade aren’t great shooters however, Durant, Harden and Westbrook don’t need to get to the basket to score. They can all shoot the ball from everywhere on the floor, especially Durant. They shouldn’t have a problem settling for jumpers, because they do that naturally already. Perkins or Ibaka can also outmuscle and outplay Brandon Bass down low, another minor advantage that could prove invaluable if these two teams meet up. And one of the most important things is the Celtics have yet to face a team in the playoffs with a defender who can really bother Garnett. Al Horford was the closest thing to Ibaka and Perkins yet and Garnett averaged 18 and 10 against him. Garnett has yet to play against a really good and tough post defender and a tough big man in the playoffs. He won’t be playing against a Spencer Hawes or Joel Anthony. He’ll get takes from Ibaka and Perkins and that will completely alter his production making it much harder for the Celtics to score. If the Thunder play the Heat, well it should be even easier. The Thunder are just a better version of the Heat and a younger version. Instead of a Big 2, and an inconsistent 3, they have a really big young 3. Instead of no big men, they have Perkins and Ibaka, with Collison for support. Instead of aging veterans surrounding them, they have young talented players like Sefolosha, and Harden. The Thunder would pound the Heat inside. Ibaka and Perkins would absolutely have their way down low and would outrebound everybody on the Heat, making it a lot harder for the Heat to get out and run, which is what they love to do. Additionally, the depth of the Thunder would prove lethal like the depth of the Celtics is proving to be against Miami. Durant and Lebron will cancel out, Westbrook and Wade will cancel out and we know Harden will produce more then Bosh so there goes their big three. And when the stars in Miami are out the Heat can’t handle Harden and Derrick Fisher on the perimeter. They’re outnumbered and outmatched as they say.

The Thunder may have improved this season and gotten to the next level, but i assure you they’re not finished. In fact, there is tons more to come.

Regular Season Awards

As the season winds down it’s time for awards. You know that awkward time where you have to choose the select few who are worthy of recognition for their roles this year. I’m not one of those people who lighten the mood and say everyone’s a winner… everyone deserves it. Blah blah blah. No, so… let’s begin.

MVP: LeBron James

January Prediction: Kevin Durant

Honorable Mention: Kevin Durant

The fight for MVP has been close all season, going back and forth between candidates. But LeBron seemed to have that one extra special game over Durant and if you put things in perspective, for LeBron to get the numbers he does while playing with Bosh and Wade is surreal. Sharing the spotlight with 2 all-stars and still recording the same numbers when he was the lone star in Cleveland just shows the superiority LeBron has over the rest of the league.  His numbers scream dominance. Recording about 27 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists a game is astounding. And it doesn’t happen often. He gets that extra inch over Durant for two reasons. First, Durant is averaging about 28 points 8 rebounds but 3 assists. Their numbers are almost identical until the assist column hits us square in the face. LeBron manages to average 27 while leading his team in assists. Durant only averages 3. That’s what separates them; Durant’s game is still developing while LeBron’s game is so well rounded that he could play 4 positions on any team in the league. Second, the Miami Heat are currently on a 5 game winning streak with a good chance of grabbing the #1 seed in the East. Not to mention LeBron’s takeover of most of those games while Wade sat out. During all of this the Thunder have been a bit up and down and have lost their grip on the #1 seed. The success of the Heat has rested significantly on LeBron’s shoulders and he has risen to the challenge, Durant is a scorer first and an all around player second, so I guess LeBron continues his legacy with his third MVP. Only thing missing now is a… yeah I figure everyone was thinking it anyway, I won’t bother finishing the sentence.

Coach of the Year: Tom Thibodeau

January Prediction: Mike Brown

Honorable Mention: Gregg Popovich

When the Bulls surprised everybody last year with the best record in the East, we all pointed to Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau. Why wouldn’t we, I mean the MVP and the coach of the year led that team to a surprise takedown of the Eastern Conference let alone the league in a season where health was an issue for Rose’s two supporting guys. So this year when they still manage to grab the best record in the East while Rose missed 26 games we have to emphasize Tom Thibodeau’s effect on this team. They still managed to really dominate the league without their superstar. Their defense suffocated teams and their role players stepped up every night. How can any other coach win this award? No other coach had to deal with their star player missing almost half the season. No other coach would be capable of keeping his team in gear to a #1 seed in the East without his superstar. No coach would be able to enforce a top 5 defense without the leadership of their superstar. I applaud Tom Thibodeau’s work this year, it is something that is taken for granted. The way he managed to keep everybody focused and winning even with the absence of the league’s MVP. Look at the Bulls without Rose; they should be a downgrade from the 76’ers, however they ended up being an upgrade from the Heat.

Defensive Player of the Year: Tyson Chandler

January Prediction: Dwight Howard

Honorable Mention: Serge Ibaka

The reigning champions all hailed Tyson Chandler after their championship for being the X factor for their team. He was praised for being the guy that brought toughness, grit and a defensive mindset to a relatively soft team. They worshipped him in Dallas for turning their team into a defensive monster. We recognized him for that last season, however this season the definition of ‘X Factor’ was taken to a whole new level. The Knicks ranked 28th last year in points allowed with a discouraging 105.7 points per game. However, this year since the addition of Chandler and partially Shumpert the Knicks rank 13th in points allowed with 94. 84 points a game. For those who aren’t too fond of math, that’s a 10.86 difference from last year to this last year. The Knicks have become one of the best defensive teams in the league through Chandler’s input vocally and physically. He is exactly the player the Knicks needed. I mean it almost sounds wrong, to be calling the Knicks a good defensive team but strangely enough they are. This season the Knicks have given up an average of 116.5 points per game in the 4 games that Chandler hasn’t played so. His impact on this team is undeniable and his emphasis on the defensive end has completely reshaped the Knicks’ culture. Even his individual stats scream defensive stopper. Averaging 10 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game this season. Sure Ibaka may be blocking every shot that is comes into the paint, he hasn’t transformed the team defensively. They’ve been consistent defensively for years, and he has a whole team full of defensive oriented players, while Chandler is dealing with a mainly offensive minded squad.

Rookie of the Year: Kyrie Irving

January Prediction: Iman Shumpert/Kemba Walker

Honorable Mention: Kenneth Faried

To be honest I think this race was decided once Rubio busted his knee earlier this season. Kyrie Irving has been playing like a veteran. There are no signs of immaturity and he has taken on the responsibility of carrying a Lebronless Cleveland team who are still sulking over the man who has the same amount of hair as he does rings. He doesn’t seem to be phased by any pressure. Look January 29th vs. Boston, or March 7th vs. Denver. He not only gave hope to a essentially depressed Cleveland fan base but he averaged about 19 points, 4 assists and 5 and a half rebounds a game. He will only continue to develop in the future, and could easily be an all-star by next season.

Most Improved Player: Jeremy Lin

January Prediction: Ryan Anderson/Kyle Lowry

Honorable Mention: Ersan Ilyasova

Wow. I mean really though. Wow. It’s unbelievable. It is, for a lack of a better pun, a Linderella story. In fact it’s Linsane. It’s Linsanity, I tell you. Linsanity. He’s the only player I use on my Lintendo DS nowadays. (I’m on a roll,) ok but back to his season. First off, he probably got a lot of NBA scouts fired. He embarrassed Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, and Deron Williams and brought the Knicks much needed success. I don’t think a most improved player award could go to someone more worthy. He didn’t let his past failures stop him from being successful. He kept striving and working and eventually found an invaluable spot on a team that needed him more then anybody can measure in wins and losses. I also don’t think any player has defined this award better then Jeremy Lin did this year. A most improved player award is given to a player who strives to success and isn’t content with his production. Jeremy Lin went from the guy at the end of the bench whose ear you maybe see on the corner of your screen, to a guy who had the whole world begging for interviews and hailing at his feet. Last year he averaged 9 minutes per game in 29 games for Golden State and only averaged 3 points, 1 steal and 1 assist. This season he played 35 games started 25 games and averaged 15 points, 6 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Before the all-star break the Knicks had a 12-3 record with Lin playing major minutes. He holds the record for most points scored in his first 5 starts with 136 total points. Some might counter with he only played three weeks in this season. They would have a point if they wanted to deprive Lin of this award, he did miss a significant chunk of the season. I just think his season can’t be dismissed without an award.

6th Man Of The Year: James Harden

January Prediction: James Harden

Honorable Mention: Lou Williams

James Harden is no doubt the unsung hero on the Oklahoma City Thunder. Imagine how selfless a player has to be to accept a 6th man role when he could be the best player on more then half of the teams in the league. He is the epitome of providing energy and scoring off the bench. He has averaged about 17 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists a game. He just continues to grow… a beard and as a player. He is the X factor for this team and could very well be the difference makers in a close series come playoff time. No team in the NBA can match his intensity off the bench, which puts everyone at a disadvantage when they play their second unit. Nobody can really handle him. He is a lockdown defender, a part of his game that isn’t mentioned enough. He’s also versatile scorer. If he keeps this role throughout the rest of his career he could possibly win this award every year for the next half of a decade. As well as being on several all-star teams in the future.

If you disagree with these conclusions, feel free to comment with your opinion. And hey, while you’re at it, subscribe. Hit that subscribe button that says Hell Yes! I want to subscribe. I won’t let you down.