Saturday, November 29, 2008

If the Thunder wins a game and nobody sees it, does it count?

With nobody in the state watching, the Thunder finally got it done.

Oklahoma City (2-16) played its best game of the season beating Memphis (4-13) 111-103 to lock up its second win. I'll be honest, I only caught about 10 percent of the game because all my attention was on Bedlam (and how sweet it was - OU 61, OSU 41), but I saw most of the fourth and the really solid finish. As the Thunder edged closer, getting within four, then two, then one, it just seemed like another night of failing to do the little things to win. I was sitting next to my mother and she swore they would win it. I kept telling her, "No, they always figure out a way to lose these type of games." And then Earl Watson blew a layup and Mike Conley Jr. answered with an acrobatic finish.

But OKC wouldn't quit. I was positive they'd mail it in after last night's heartbreaker the way they did against Cleveland after the Phoenix game. But boy, they didn't. OKC trailed by 11 at the half but kept plugging, kept chopping. I'm not going to be the guy that says this "turns the season around" or anything, but these guys needed this. This city needed this - even if we didn't see it. Hey, that's what SportsCenter is for, right?

Tonight, count me in as a Scott Brooks fan. This guy has turned the tide. He's given the players confidence and he's not letting them drag their skulls after a tough stretch. He doesn't chew them out after the opponent goes on an 8-0 run like, ahem, some unnamed people would. He just claps his hands and shouts encouragement. I love starting Russell Westbrook for two reasons: 1) Because it makes me right! I did say Westbrook would be starting by Christmas and 2) because Westbrook plays with so much energy and aggression that he sparks the team while Earl Watson can come in and cool the team. A shakeup was needed and why not go with the guy that plays the hardest? He is so ridiculously athletic. That offensive rebound where he went up and over Rudy Gay was unreal.

Brooks again went with the lineup that was working late in the game when he let Westbrook, Watson, Desmond Mason, Joe Smith and Damien Wilkins bring the team back in it. Then he added Jeff Green and Kevin Durant at the right time to keep the momentum pumping. Great coaching.

This is what Sam Presti has been dreaming about. Kevin Durant scores 30 and General Disarray Jeff Green adds 22. Westbrook plays terrific and the role players do their jobs. Mason adds 11, Wilkins 11, Smith 10, Watson nine and seven assists.

I apologize if I seem a little too jovial with a win over a 4-13 team that improves OKC to 2-16. But geez, cut us some slack - we were dying for one of these. It's not like we're going to have a parade down Sheridan Ave tomorrow morning over it, but after losing 14 in a row, this kind of feels good. And when I think about it, it's really strange that it does, especially when you actually look and see the team is still 2-16. Oh well, one by one. Game by game. That's the mantra from here on out. Baby steps Thunder. And this is a good first step.

A couple of days off for the Thunder and then they travel to Charlotte to take on the 5-11 Bobcats. Winning streak anyone?

Friday, November 28, 2008

14 and counting - the Thunder loses again falling to 1-16

I honestly wonder if it will ever happen. I wonder if this team will ever win another game. Because I know that feeling is what's on everybody's mind - the players, the coaches and all of us fans. And that's the biggest difficulty in breaking out of a losing streak like this. The mental anguish of losing and losing and losing.

Games like tonight hurt. I mean really hurt. Oklahoma City (1-16) lost 105-103 to Minnesota (4-10) on a last second shot by Mike Miller. Before the game started, it seemed like this might be one OKC could win. Then after a half, everybody was sensing it. Then with under a minute left and up 100-99, everybody could feel it. This losing streak was over.

But then a bad call. Chris Wilcox - who was awesome tonight - was tagged with his sixth foul sending Al Jefferson to the line. And the events that followed Jefferson's second shot seriously made me question everything about this team. I honestly wondered if a fourth grade pee wee club had more basketball intellect than these guys. With 10.8 seconds left, Jefferson missed his second attempt. And of course, the Thunder doesn't put a body on anybody. Ryan Gomes snatches the board. Instead of having the ball with a chance to win, the game is now in the Wolves hands.

But it gets better. For some reason, Nick Collison absolutely loses his mind and hacks the crap out of Gomes, sending him to the line for two. He hits both putting Minnesota up 103-101. Now I realize Kevin Durant then tied the game with a dunk and it took a Mike Miller jumper to beat OKC, but this thing breaks down to the sequence with 10.8 seconds left. As I've harped on for three weeks now, this team doesn't do any of the little things to win. The failure to secure big rebounds (OKC was outrebounded 43-33 tonight). Terrible free throw shooting (18-27). Total mental breakdowns.

To me, it's simple why Oklahoma City has lost 14 in a row. It's not because of a lack of effort. It's not because a lack of talent. It surely isn't because of a lack of good luck. It's clearly just a total lack in knowing how to win. All the tiny details just don't seem to get attention. It's one thing to knock down a big three and thump your chest and do that weird jump-in-the-air-and-bump-sides celebration. It's another to dive on the floor and force a jump ball in the middle of the third quarter. Those are the type of tiny difference makers that win these games. And this group either doesn't understand that yet or hasn't been taught that. I don't know what it is.

This one is just a heartbreaker. I fully expect OKC to mail it in tomorrow night in Memphis. It may take days to get over this one. Don't get me wrong. The team played pretty well. The Thunder shot extremely well from the field (50 percent) and four guys played really well instead of just one. There were only 10 turnovers. But like I said, the little things. Those freaking details.

I do like the way Scott Brooks is managing the game though. He found lineups that worked and stuck with it. He didn't shake anything up for no good reason. He stuck with the hot hand and tried to ride it out. Russell Westbrook saw starter minutes logging 34 and netting 15 points and dishing eight assists. As mentioned, Wilcox was wonderful. If he can add that type of post play for the rest of the year, he can really help open things for Westbrook, Durant and Jeff Green.

OKC takes on the Grizzlies in Memphis tomorrow and no one will be watching as all eyes will be on Bedlam. Maybe that's a good thing.

Minnesota vs. Thunder: Pre-game primer


Minnesota Timberwolves (3-10) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (1-15)
Friday, November 28
Ford Center
Oklahoma City, OK
7:00 PM CST

TV: Fox Sports Net Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD 722)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM)

Woo! The day is here! The rematch we've all been waiting for! We all remember the Thunder's 88-85 win about a month ago against the Wolves. I mean, how could we forget (for obvious reasons)? I know I've been counting the days down for this one after the Clippers loss.

There's a good thing about this game and a bad thing. And one of the two will happen. Either OKC gets its second win and breaks this horrible losing streak, or the Thunder loses to Minnesota, and further devastates the team, the coaches and the city.

The Timberwolves finally broke away from their one loss woes, winning two games last week. You look at their stats, and they're strikingly similar to the Thunder. One guy averaging 20 plus, and a bunch of guys averaging eight to 12 points. Evidently, obviously, that's sort of a recipe for losing lots of games.

OKC is rapidly approaching Orlando's 1-19 2004 territory and another loss tonight really makes that type of record a real possibility. Nobody in Oklahoma City saw this coming. Perhaps we thumped our chests a little too much, thinking we could influence games as a crowd and spur this group on to victories. Perhaps we forgot that a decent team is needed for that equation to square.

A big night for the Thunder. At this point, how can you call a game between two teams with a combined record of 4-25 a must-win for either squad, but boy, OKC really needs to win this one. Everyone had this same feeling for the game against the Clippers and we folded like a card table in the second half. Tonight, the Thunder needs energy and execution for four quarters and needs to start pulling this city with them. I'm not afraid to say that people here are grumbling. I know I feel it. That doesn't mean we're going to throw in the towel and bring only 12,000 a night to the Ford Center. We'll still come out strong, we'll still support the heck out of them, but we desperately want to bring these guys in and make them our own. And their 1-15 record is making it difficult to do that.

Just like Bob Wiley, it's all about baby steps. Win tonight, then look on to the next one. Set a goal of eight wins in December. Be realistic. Take the small steps forward and start trying to salvage this mess of a season. Pretend a new season starts tonight. Win and then look on to the next one. Please. Pretty please.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I'm back - what did I miss?

Home again after spending six days without a shower or a shave. I'm glad everyone had fun with the hunting stuff. It's no secret we hunt in Oklahoma - we're not ashamed of it. Some of us do that here. Just like millions of other people all over the rest of the country. I had a blast with the family and I can't wait until next year.

Let's see, Oklahoma City shocked the world and lost four more, including three of the four being by double-digits. Russell Westbrook had 11 assists against New Orleans last Saturday. The Thunder took Phoenix to the edge and lost by just one. Other than that, pretty much the same old, same old for this basketball season in the Sooner State.

What's that? Who got what?

Of course, the week I take off to play with fire, shoot guns and grunt like Tim Taylor, the Thunder goes off and makes the biggest news of this young basketball season. And I wasn't here to give everyone my incredibly insightful opinion. I know. I'm sorry.

Anyway, when I heard the news of P.J.'s firing, my first reaction was "Well that's not really fair." You give a guy apples and you expect him to make something other than applesauce. Kind of hard to turn a pair of Granny Smith's into a full on apple pie without the crust and the filling. Probably a bad analogy. You get the point.

But as I thought about what possibly led to the guillotine, last week's Clipper game really stood out to me. Because the cardinal sin was committed. The one thing that can get a coach capped, no questions asked, is a team quitting on him. And it was happening. Something wasn't getting through and as I said at some point last week, it looked like this team wasn't improving - it was regressing. Players were openly barking back at Carlesimo. Kevin Durant hollered back at Peej during the Houston game. And when you have a reputation like Carlesimo when it comes to player management (see: Sprewell, Latrell), things like that stick out like a diamond in a goat's rear.

P.J. didn't have players. It's not fair to blame the pile of losses on him. But it is fair to blame him for the way some of those losses happened. All of us spent some time second guessing him. That comes with the territory and with a 1-15 start. The 30 point deficits were disturbing. But let's be honest: It's unlikely Sam Presti and the organization had Carlesimo in its long-term plan. He was a good guy to bring in, help facilitate the move, be a good spokesman at the forefront, say all the right things and bide his time doing the best he could.

At this point, I don't know if I agree or disagree with it. As a casual observer a few years ago, I thought hiring Peej was a bad move. But I've never been a huge fan of midseason coaching moves unless something obviously warrants it. If he had lost the team, then yeah. And I'll say this: I think management might have had concerns about losing the city. I don't think it would have happened, but it's hard not to grumble over a 1-15 start. It's hard not to grumble at Carlesimo's less-than-accessible personality - especially when OKC had a guy like Byron Scott in the past. I think Presti and Clay Bennett may have thought something needed to be done to show this city the team was still serious about competing and that this season isn't a throwaway to get in the Blake Griffin lottery (seriously, just how ridiculous is he?).

The season presses on with Scott Brooks in the lead. Yeah, me too. Who? Scott Brooks has his chance to audition but I'd say it's unlikely he'll be in this same spot this time next year. The team has played a little better, but then took a big step back last night. The players seem to be a little rejuvenated and said all the right things with P.J.'s departure. Brooks does have the rock-bottom advantage - the Thunder really can't do much worse - unless they lose to Minnesota Friday. Come on Scotty, we're really banking on that one.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I'll be out of touch for a bit

I know, where will you go now for some guy's Thunder basketball commentary or to post countless comments spewing hatred towards Oklahoma City? Well, just keep doing it here I guess.

I am going deer hunting with my family and I'll be gone until next Wednesday. I can't wait. Deer hunting has been a Young family tradition since 1948 so this year will be 60 years of it. Awesome. And this will be year 18 for myself. Deer camp to the Young family is one of the very most important things to us. My father actually said to my mom on their very first date: "How would you feel about maybe never spending Thanksgiving with your husband?"

She said, "Why?

He said, "Because I go deer hunting with my family."

That's what it's about for us. It's something that's literally just part of our blood. Family, friends, fire, food, guns and lots and lots of Oklahoma football talk. Trucks stuck in the mud. Getting on a four wheeler at six in the morning only to have the cold air knock your breath out when you take off. Rehashing the same yearly stories of years past, but loving them more and more each year. Spitting in the dirt. Talking with a little thicker country accent than you actually have. Sitting in a tree stand with just you, nature, a rifle and your thoughts. Nothing beats it. Lord, I love it.

I'll actually be making a possible reappearance Saturday because I'll be making the drive back to go to the OU/Tech game before waking up early Sunday and going back down.

In case you're wondering, we go hunting in Cloudy, Oklahoma. It's in the southeastern part of the state, just a little south of Antlers and a little north of Idabel. It's roughly three and half to four hours from Norman. It's public land. We don't use feeders. The land isn't stocked. This is real hunting. Brush so thick you couldn't shoot a bullet through it. Dirt roads and terrible cell phone reception. If you even get lucky enough to see anything, that's an accomplishment in itself. But that's what makes it so satisfying when you get the job done.

So anyway, I'll be back next week to talk it up and hopefully the Thunder will give me a nice surprise with a win in the left-hand part of that column. Take care and go Thunder. Well, go as much as they possibly can.

Let's just go ahead and start looking forward to next June

When your team starts 1-11, there's a few things you can do.
1. Stop paying attention

2. Look for positives and convince yourself improvement is coming

3. Call for your coach's head

4. Watch each game with your arms folded and with a cynical, "I don't care" attitude.

5. Start talking about next year's draft.

And that's what we're going to do here. Why not? It's clear that Oklahoma City will have another lottery pick, but the question is where? By no means am I giving up on the season, because we all knew we'd be in the lottery. It's just, there's not a ton to say about a team that 1-11 besides, "They stink." And plus, it's always fun to look ahead and dream of one player turning your life around.
So who is going to impact the Thunder the most? Who could be our Tim Duncan - the guy to take us from the bottom of the basement to the top of the townhouse?

Blake Griffin - Oklahoma
If OKC picks No. 1, this is who they take. No questions asked. Don't even think twice. Blake Griffin is your man. First, he's obviously a hometown guy. Second, I truly don't think there is another player in the country that can match him athletically or physically. He's the best player in the nation. Period. He's big (6-10, 260 lbs) but he's quick. He's developing a nice little jumper and the dude can handle the ball. I've been saying it before Fran Fraschilla decided to say about 14 times on national television - he's Amare Stoudemire, version two. Except honestly, at this point, I think Blake is stronger and more developed than Amare at 20. Blake is impossible to guard one-on-on in the post because he'll overpower you. He can face you up and take you off the dribble. And he's an ideal guy to run pick and rolls or pick and pops with. He will immediately impact whatever roster that he winds up on. Take him OKC. Take him. (Highlights)

B.J. Mullens - Ohio State

He's clearly got ability. He's 7-1 and is extremely athletic. But one thing about him is nobody will know if he will be NBA ready when he comes out after this year. Watching video of him, I see a little Greg Oden in him, just because of his length and the way he dominates the post. But he's so much more athletic than Oden. This pick wouldn't hurt OKC. He should be a nice post player in the future, but I don't see him as an immediate impact player. Right now, the Thunder doesn't need anymore projects and I fear Mullens would be one. (Highlights)

Ricky Rubio - DKV Joventut

I would love Rubio for a couple reasons:
1. To stick it to Bill Simmons. The Sports Guy (who is probably my favorite sports writer) is hell-bent on disrespecting Oklahoma City. He was outspoken about the move and now only refers to the Thunder as the SloppySeconds, the Bennett City Hijackers or Kevin Durant's Team. But he has also declared in two columns, that he has such a crush on Rubio that he "would move to whatever city drafts him." Welcome to OKC Bill. Give me a call. I'll show you around.

2. Because he's a darn fine player. At 17, he showed his talent in the Gold Medal Game against the United States in Beijing. He's extremely gifted with the ball, has excellent court vision and gets to the rim with ease. He looks like a combo of Steve Nash and Chris Paul, but with more size (6-4). If OKC took him, the Thunder might be labeled the Detroit Lions of the NBA having taken two straight point guards, but Russell Westbrook is more of a combo guard while Rubio is a straight point man. He runs a fast break with such fluidity and is awesome at penetrating and finding someone to dish to. One thing that concerns me is how much of a set-shot jumper he has. He gets basically no lift and he's got a slow release. Obviously, he did fine for himself against Team USA, but I don't know how well that would translate to the NBA. Also, he appears to be developing a bit of an ego and I'm not sure how thrilled he would be to play in small market OKC. All that aside, I am behind Rubio and would be buying billboards downtown begging Sam Presti to take him if Blake Griffin weren't involved. (Highlights)

Demar DeRozen
Some are calling him the next Vince Carter. Is that a complement? I assume so, but I have to think he really doesn't fit into what Oklahoma City already has and what it wants to do. He dunks, he's freakishly athletic, but where does he play? Well, unless OKC wants to shuffle things around for him. Jeff Green would either have to move to the four or to the bench, Kevin Durant to his more natural small forward spot and DeRozen play the two. Otherwise there's a crowd. It's hard to ignore his pure, unbelievable ability, but unlike former Trojan guard O.J. Mayo, DeRozen probably won't be able to come into the league and play right away. He has absolute superstar potential, but sometimes those guys pan out and sometimes they don't. He's far from a sure thing and OKC really needs a sure thing right now. (Highlights)

James Harden
- Arizona State
Get ready. I'm about to do it. I'm about to compare a black guy not just to a white guy, but to a Spanish guy. James Harden reminds me of Manu Ginobili, except without all the falling down. He's lefty, he's talented but he gets his points in different ways. He's not your traditional scorer. He's does little things well and scores a lot of awkward baskets. If the Thunder somehow fall to the fourth, fifth or sixth pick, this would be a pretty good one. (Highlights)

Brandon Jennings -
Lottomatica Roma
For 6-1, the guy is a freak. He throws down windmills, 360s and reverse jams. He is the most "pure" point guard in the top 10. He's a lefty so of course, since when we make comparisons we have to stay within the realm of someone who is short, black and left-handed. So I'm seeing a lot of Kenny Anderson here, but with more athletic ability. Or maybe Dee Brown. Or Mayor Kevin Johnson. They all fit the dense comparison. But seriously, the guy can play but he really reminds me a little of Sebastian Telfair. A ton of hype, undersized and will have to understand that he can't come into the NBA and play like he did in high school. Passing lanes are smaller, jumpshots are harder to get off and getting to the rim is much tougher. He could definitely help the Thunder, but again, he's not a safe pick. (Highlights)

Hasheem Thabeet - UCONN

Let's see - Robert Swift, Johan Petro, Mouhamed Sene, Nick Collison... Hasheem Thabeet. Fits right in. One of these guys has to pan out, right?

But you know where most teams make the most strides? Those late first, mid-second round picks. The guys that turn into really nice role players or in some cases stars (Kevin Martin, Michael Redd, Kwame Brown, oh wait). These solid role players are what the Thunder need more than anything.

Connor Atchley - Texas
This guy has solid contributor on a contending team written all over him. He's tall (6-10) and can shoot. He can defend and he has the awesome scrappy white guy stereotype.

Eric Maynor
- Virginia Commonwealth
Want a perfect backup point guard or maybe the next Chauncy Billups. Maynor is your man. He's had four years in college, knows how to run and offense and knows how to lead a team. This guy has solid pro written all over him. (I guess my cliche sports phrase of the day is, "written all over him." You know, I'm just trying to take it one day at a time. I just really need to step back and refocus. I'm getting better... ok I'm done now.)

Darren Collison

Russell Westbrook's defensive running buddy. Collison is a nice point guard that can score a little but will be more of a solid defensive guard that's got floor leadership and nice game management skills.

Josh Heytvelt
- Gonzaga
See: Atchley, Connor. But with a better post game and a little more scoring ability.

Curtis Jerrells - Baylor

A little Michael Redd but with insane slasher ability. He may not be a starter, but he'll be that type of pure scorer every team want to have waiting. He could easily be the kind of guy that puts up 14 or 15 a night in 20 minutes. He's got basketball player written all over him.

If Oklahoma City lands to the top pick, the official Thunderworld endorsement goes to Blake Griffin. He's an Oklahoma guy through-and-through. He can immediately impact the team. He fills a spot that OKC desperately needs help. And he's a great human being. Take Blake.

Thursday Bolts - 11.20.08

  • Lisa Dillman of the LA Times on last night: "Last-place love, apparently, is in the eye of the beholder. The warm civic bear hug applied to the Oklahoma City Thunder, formerly of Seattle, has continued unabashed through a most-miserable start with only one win in 12 games, and now, a nine-game losing streak."
  • The LA Times takes a look at hometown kid Russell Westbrook: "It's hard to make the Clippers' Mike Taylor look slow -- or maybe less fast -- but fellow rookie Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder pulled it off early in the second quarter Wednesday night. His fastbreak, with Taylor in pursuit, culminated with a spectacular dunk to give Oklahoma City an eight-point lead."
  • Empty the Bench counts down the five worst teams in the Western Conference: "On any given night this season the Oklahoma City Thunder may well be the worst squad in the Western Conference. But they are not the worst franchise out West because of two things: hope and potential. The Thunder have compiled a nice young core of perimeter talent that has legitimate star potential in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green. While the Clippers may win more games this season (then again, maybe not) the Thunder are a better franchise because they seem to actually have a plan for future success - that, and their owner isn’t named Donald Sterling."
  • A first for Oklahoma City - boo-birds: "Upon his arrival in Oklahoma City, Carlesimo was told of the city’s boo-free zone. Carlesimo said he hoped the trend continued but would understand if Thunder fans booed when his team’s play warranted it. Against the Clippers, it was warranted."
  • Joe on last night: After shooting 50% for the first quarter, the Thunder shot 42% in the second, 31% in the third, and 33% in the fourth. The Clipps shot 40% in the first, 41.3% in the second, 63% in the third, and 46% in the fourth.
  • Clips Nation on last night: "For one night - for a little over one half, to be precise - the Clippers were not the worst team in basketball. In fact, as they were dismantling the actual worst team in basketball, the Clippers looked like a pretty good team. Maybe it was just by comparison, but still. They had to fall behind by 15 before that good team showed up, but better late than never."
  • Kevin of ClipperBlog: "Fans — particularly those jonesing for a win — are often inclined to overvalue a W against an inferior opponent. But sometimes there’s a counter-tendency among cynics to discount the victory because it’s a cheap win. Yes, OKC is a sloppy team, but Clips make some real strides tonight. And every little bit counts."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thunder... well, they lost again - let's just leave it at that

It's a good thing I don't keep a stack of bricks next to my couch. Otherwise, my television screen would have one right in the middle of it.

It's not that the team is losing. We knew that would happen. It's the way the team is losing. You often don't see a team regress, but honestly, I don't think anyone can say that this team is better today than it was four weeks ago. I understand youth and inexperience. But I also understand bad basketball.

Just like most other nights, there was a fun half - whether it be the first or the second - where Oklahoma City (1-11) plays with some gusto and like they actually can. The Clippers (2-9) couldn't hit shots, couldn't rebound and couldn't play defense in the first half. They... reminded me of someone. But then in the second, the two teams switched roles. Los Angeles started hitting shots, forcing turnovers and playing defense. The Thunder countered by throwing the ball away like it was a piece of trash, missing open looks and playing poo-poo defense.

And while OKC was outscored 59-36 in the second half, this game was really given away in the last five minutes of the first half. The Thunder had built a nice 15 point lead. They were playing loose, hitting shots, having fun. The Ford Center was ballistic. Russell Westbrook had a sweet open-court slam. Kevin Durant soon followed with an awesome rim-rocker. Everything was wonderful.

And then it was like the entire team looked up at the scoreboard, saw the 15 point cushion and collectively thought, "Oh crap! Look at us! What the eff do we do? Can we just stop playing now?" Because the Clips promptly went on a 12-0 run to make it 52-49 going into the break.

What do you even second guess tonight? I'm looking at my first half notes and I'm seeing stuff like, "Jeff Green is playing really good again. I love his jumper right now. He gets his body so square and his hands are perfect on the release," or "Man, what a difference Chris Wilcox makes! He's totally changed us on the defensive end," or "The Clippers look like they have no confidence; I think they're giving up." Kind of funny now.

I'll tell you, rumor has it the Clips are shopping Chris Kaman and his huge $40 million contract and you know who I think should make a deal and take it? Yeah, you know who. Kaman is like everything Robert Swift (or Thunder fans for that matter) wishes he was. A subtle scorer and solid rebounder that is deadly in the post and finds ways to squirm free for an open dunk. We'll take him. Please.

Typically, I'm Mr. Positive and I'll look for encouraging things to take away from a game. But I really just don't feel like it tonight. I expected OKC to win this game (and I think the team did too) and they didn't. Now I don't know when they will. Busting out of a losing streak is tough, because the hardest thing about it is the mental anguish it puts on you. You just feel like it will never happen and you're just waiting for something else to go wrong. Even when you're up 15 (like tonight) you start feeling that little tingle in your body like, "Oh, could we break out of it tonight? Rats, there's still two quarters to go. I hope it happens though! But I bet we screw it up."

Well, I will say one positive thing and that is Russell Westbrook got 30 minutes tonight. Clearly Coach Peej is slowly working his minutes up, which I'm happy about.

To summarize, a complete two and a third quarter collapse. The team fell flat on its face. What happened? Well, 19 turnovers happened including four consecutive ones in the third quarter. A complete inability to rebound (the Clips had 14 offensive boards) and an overall lack of focus for the entire second half. Tonight was bad. Nothing much else to say.

The Thunder gets Oklahoma City's first born, the Hornets Friday night. Should be a special night, until the Thunder starts bouncing the ball. (Ok, negativity over. I just had to get it out.) As we all know, going through these horrible, horrible growing pains will make it that much sweeter when we turn this thing around. Right now! (Cue Eddie Van Halen solo...)

LA Clippers vs. Thunder: Pre-gamer


Los Angeles Clippers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Wednesday, November 19
Ford Center
Oklahoma City, OK
7:00 PM CST

TV: Fox Sports Net Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD 722)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM)

Game thread
Clips Nation preview / ClipperBlog preview

In a car accident type of way, this Clippers vs. Thunder matchup is becoming must-see TV. People all around the media and the league are hyping this one up, sarcastically dubbing it the "Clash of the Titans" and whatnot. And why not? The two teams are a combined 1-19. So somebody has to pick up win No. 2. Has to. Right?
So this is kind of a big home game. Big for the reason that this is maybe the Thunder's best chance for a bit to get off this nasty eight game losing streak. Right now, OKC is 1-5 at home. And before the season, a lot thought (including myself) that this team would received a nice little push from the hometown fans and put together some nice home wins.
But upon further investigation, OKC fans have yet to really have a chance to make a difference. While the Ford Center patrons are louder than most crowds through the first three quarters and are filling up the arena, the time to really make a difference is money time - the fourth quarter. But in OKC's six home games, the Thunder has trailed by an average score of 74-65 has led only once (62-58 against the Hawks) and has only been within single digits once (73-70 against the Timberwolves). So you take those two games out which OKC played probably its two best games and the Thunder are trailing by an average of 16 points heading into the fourth. Tough to get loud and rowdy when the game has basically already been decided.
So tonight, please just give the fans a chance to make an impact. Play hard, play fast and play well - for more than a quarter and a half. On paper, I really don't know why the Clippers are this bad, but they are. On paper, I understand why Oklahoma City is this bad, but come on, 1-10? Against the Rockets, the Thunder played excellent ball for a half before falling on their faces in the second. But the Rockets are a pretty good team. If OKC can keep up the intensity and fight for 48 minutes, maybe they can pull this one out. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green were all at Lloyd Noble to watch Stephen Curry and Blake Griffin duke it out last night. Maybe that display of fire and intensity will give them a little encouragement heading into tonight. A reminder like, "Oh yeah... that's why I play this game. Well, and because of the money of course."
And you've got to love the Chris Kaman/Robert Swift matchup. That's where my eyes will be all night.
Someone walks away with their second win. Thunder. Clippers. The NBA on FSN Oklahoma. Where someone has to win happens.

Wednesday Bolts - 11.19.08

  • Sam Amico of Pro Basketball News on Thunder - Clippers: "Now, the Thunder have some legit reasons for stumbling in their new city. For one, they're in a new city -- after having spent the previous 212 years or so in Seattle. So even home games have to feel like they're being played on the road. Besides that, they're extremely young, with guys like Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Robert Swift and rookie Russell Westbrook performing key roles. Basically, even if the Thunder aren't really an expansion team, you'd have a hard time convincing anyone. They're being rebuilt in a new town, with a new nickname, new uniforms and new set of fans. It just doesn't seem right that SuperSonics legend Lenny Wilkens is considered part of their history."
  • Mike Baldwin says tonight is a must-win: "General manager Sam Presti warned fans a methodical approach to building a winner around young players would take time. But even Presti is disappointed the Thunder has trailed by 20 or more points in several games."
  • ESPN fantasy dude Eric Karabell talks roto Thunder: "Jeff Green can be better than Kevin Durant: I'm talking only from a fantasy hoops sense, really. But hey, Green was the best player on his team Saturday night, hitting 10 of 15 field goals and adding a few rebounds, 3s and steals. Durant didn't have a great weekend in New York and Philly, hitting only 14 of 39 shots and committing only one fewer turnover than he had rebounds and assists combined, but I do understand that he probably wasn't 100 percent after missing a game with a sore ankle. On Monday night, Durant bounced back with a nice game, but Green still got his shots. Impressed with Green and still disappointed in Durant from his rookie season, I began to wonder whether Green might actually end up the better fantasy option this season. Why is that such a crazy statement?"
  • Clips Nation on tonight's game: "Now this is how you rebuild. Or at least, they've got the first part down; the part where you hit rock bottom. The Thunder's top three scorers are 20 year old Kevin Durant (21 points per game), 22 year old Jeff Green (15) and 20 year old Russell Westbrook (12). Their leading rebounder is 22 year old Robert Swift. The problem is, no one else is averaging in double digits. The Thunder have a new city, some young talent, extra first round picks in each of the next two draft, and about a ton of cap space for the foreseeable future. Can they get free agents to move to Oklahoma? That remains to be seen, but it's no surprise that they're losing this season - that's all part of the plan. Step 1 is working perfectly. But Step 2 often proves to be the tricky part."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tuesday Bolts - 11.18.08

  • Ball Don't Lie, Behind the Box Score: "Robert Swift started. He started and he played 25 minutes with six points and eight rebounds and two assists with two blocks and he started. Jokes aside, good news. Albeit three years too late. Russell Westbrook needed 14 shots to score 14 points, he had more turnovers (three) than assists (two), and he may not ‘ave a clue, but he is the future. And he had five steals in 28 minutes."
  • Blue Blitz's take: "Part of the reason the Thunder had such a successful first half was because they followed the gameplan that I laid out in the preview. Specifically, that means pick n' roll things to death. They got so, so many easy midrange shots and drives to the basket, it was awesome. But in the third, it's like they decided they could do it on pure energy alone. They felt the arena intensity and completely abandoned the gameplan. They started trying to create for themselves, and I even saw Petro take a turnaround jumper with two guys in his face. Hello? Heck, Jeff Green tried to lift it over 3 guys and do this layup at the free throw line."
  • SI's power rankings: "Seven straight losses have killed a lot of the excitement surrounding the NBA's newest franchise. We're guessing there will be more than a few wistful OKC hoops fans when the city's one-time adopted club, New Orleans, makes its first appearance as a visitor Friday."
  • Kevin Durant is "glad we made the move": "Pretty good, actually. I'm loving Oklahoma City. I was just telling that to my teammates last night at dinner. It's a great town. It's quiet, the people are nice, the fans are unbelievable, and that's what we need as a team. It goes a long way with us that the fans are there every day, whether we are winning or losing. I'm glad we made the move."
  • P.J. sees good stuff in another loss: "It was a very good first step,” said coach P.J. Carlesimo. "Again, it’s still a loss. So we have to play better. "We have to build on it. We can’t settle for a much better performance over 48 minutes against a really good team and slip back the way we did last week.”
  • Joe's recap: "Again the practice of putting four quarters of efficient, consistent basketball eluded the Thunder Monday night against the Rockets. I think actually, the concept has been missing in every game so far this season."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Rockets surge past Thunder, 100-89


If you told me before tip that Oklahoma City would lose by 11 to the Houston Rockets (7-4) I would have said, "Hey that means we probably played pretty good!"

And they did. For one half again. The score was 56-50 at the break. Five minutes into the third, OKC (1-10) was down double-digits.

So what went wrong? Why couldn't OKC keep pace again? Well, for one the Thunder could not hit shots in the third and fourth quarters. They went from shooting over 50 percent to shooting right at their average of 40 percent. Every open look hit everything but the bottom of the net. It's clear: This team just does not have the talent to compete with an average or above average team for 48 minutes. It's that simple. Over the course of a game, Oklahoma City just can not keep pace with probably 90 percent of the league. Obviously, we can hope for improvement and we can hope for something to miraculously change, but at this point, that's all we can do. Hope.

Second, Jeff Green went stale. He had 13 at the half and only three in the second. And not only were the Thunder missing open jumpers from 20, they were missing the most open shot of all - free throws. OKC went 18-27 from the line (67 percent).

Two of the biggest misses were Johan Petro about midway through the fourth. OKC had the Rockets lead to eight and Petro came up with a big board after a Joe Smith miss.

As Petro walked to the line, I knew he'd miss both. It was just obvious. Because that's why these guys are 1-10. They don't do any of these little things right to win. They don't knock down the two free throws to cut it to a two possession game. They don't complete the three on one fast break. They don't secure a loose rebound even though three Thunder players are around the ball. Just the type of things that make you scream at the TV and then dig around the couch so you can throw the remote at it.

Kevin Durant was his usual self, scoring 29 and grabbing seven rebounds. And hey, Russell Westbrook actually played three more minutes than Earl Watson! How exciting. He was decent scoring 14 on 5-14, but he also picked up five steals. To which at one point Grant Long said, "Westbrook is known for his offensive prowess, but this defense of his is a real nice surprise." I'll let you off the hook there Grant. You're new. You probably didn't know that pretty much the reasoning behind drafting Westbrook was his defensive skills. That's ok.

And with how unproductive Nick Collison is right now, I start Joe Smith over him. Collison's stat lines make me wonder right now. Four points, three rebounds. What's the deal there? Where's under-the-radar guy that puts up 10 and nine every night?

It's tough to win when you're only productive on a night-in, night-out basis from two or three positions. This team is no where near complete. It needs another scorer (or two). It needs a reliable three point shooter. It needs a post player that can score AND defend. It needs a point guard that isn't one dimensional and can drive, dish and shoot (Westbrook will be that man, but he's not there yet). I believed before the season Oklahoma City would give this squad a bump and that they'd win these type of home games just like the Hornets did (that team was 4-6 after 10). But there's a difference between the two teams: Chris Paul. One team has him, the other team doesn't.

Oklahoma City has tomorrow off and then another home game against the 1-8 Clippers. There's a winnable game. Maybe.

Rockets vs. Thunder: Pre-game primer

Houston Rockets (6-4) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Monday, November 17
Ford Center
Oklahoma City, OK
7:00 PM CST

TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD 722)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM)
Is there any hope for tonight? Any reason at all to turn off College Football Live's endless coverage of OU/Tech and tune in to watch Oklahoma City play the Rockets tonight?
(Still thinking...)
Ok, so I don't really have a reason per say, but I can tell you this: Yao Ming is really tall, Tracy McGrady is really good and Ron Artest is a little unbalanced so who knows what we might see? Just like the thousands of you Oklahomans that chug to the Myriad to watch Doug Sauter's Blazers play, go watch the Thunder for the outside chance of a cool fist fight tonight. The Rockets rumbled with the Suns last week - even though goonie Matt Barnes started it - so I guess there's a chance.
Because other than that, I can't really think of much of a reason to watch this team at this point. One night, OKC gets down by 30 and then the other team falls asleep and the Thunder try to make a game out of it. The next night, they do the same thing again. Then again. And then they play hard and consistent for two quarters and just the opposite of the previous nights, they tumble in the second half. As frustrating as it is to watch, I bet it's even more so for the dudes on the floor. We can tell ourselves it will get better and we can keep chalking it up to inexperience, but as long as it keeps happening, we will keep getting sadder. But one thing - the Rockets haven't blown anyone out yet in their six wins. Every game has been close, including an 89-77 win over the Thunder at the beginning of the month.

But these were the type of games we lived for (warning: Hornets comparison) in 2005. These were the type of out-of-nowhere wins that made us fall in love with that transplanted group. Of course they had Chris Paul and we have Earl Watson, but still, I guess it's possible.
What is encouraging for OKC though is Jeff Green. He's averaging 15. 2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. He's becoming the player Sam Presti has dreamed about. Kevin Durant has been solid, a little inconsistent himself, but solid. Russell Westbrook sure has flashes of awesomeness, but then there's the bad charge, the bad turnover or the bad shot. So what will it take to be competitive tonight? For once, all three of those guys have a good game together. Forget Earl Watson, Desmond Mason or Nick Collison. Wins are going to come through these three guys. Collison and company are absolutely vital to give support, but those three guys will have to be the guys to carry OKC to wins. Especially if it wants to win games like tonight, where it realistically isn't supposed to have any shot.

This will be the first time the Thunder has to go head-to-head with the Oklahoma Sooners men's basketball team. Lucky for Kevin Durant and company, OU is playing Mississippi Valley State, so maybe not that many will choose Lloyd Noble over the Ford Center tonight. But maybe unlucky for the Thunder: What would you rather see - 20 incredible dunks by Blake Griffin or 20 Earl Watson jumpers clank off back-iron. A tougher choice than I thought.

Monday Bolts - 11.17.08

  • David Berri of Wages of Win looks at what's ailing the Thunder and it may surprise you: "On offense, though, it’s a very different story. So far Oklahoma is only scoring 90.0 points per 100 possessions. To find a team that had this much trouble scoring one has to go back to the 2002-03 Denver Nuggets. So the problem is on offense, not defense. And to see why this team struggles so much on offense, one only has to look at the five players who lead this team in shot attempts.
  • Joe the Guru of Thunder actually had that same theory before David Berri: "It seems like the Thunder are relying much more on the players creating their own offense this season, as opposed to having offensive sets where players run certain plays to generate good shooting opportunities. Durant and Green constantly have to make something out of nothing. If this is what I am seeing, this might explain why Collison, Wilcox, Mason and Watson are playing so much below last season’s levels; none of these guys excel at creating their own offense."
  • Mr. Monday says hang in there Thunderfans: "Mr. Monday keeps saying that Oklahoma City will be in this for the long haul, that there wouldn’t be any grumbling about the fact the team has about as many 3-point shooters as a British cricket team. Of course, Mr. Monday thought no one would get tired of singing the Macarena in 1995, but who’s counting?"
  • Seattle's next move: "The latest plan to bring pro basketball back to Seattle now that its team has been sold and moved to Oklahoma City faces enormous challenges as it heads to the 2009 legislative session. The city of Seattle proposal for financing a major remodel of KeyArena -- a prerequisite for getting a new NBA team -- would raise $75 million with a 1 percent Seattle hotel tax currently collected to pay debt on the Washington State Convention and Trade Center. The city would provide another $75 million with revenue and admissions taxes from KeyArena. A group of investors, including Microsoft Corp. Chief Executive Steve Ballmer and Seattle developer Matt Griffin, is seeking to buy a new NBA team to play in Seattle and has agreed to contribute $150 million to the arena upgrade. But all of that depends on persuading state lawmakers to allow the city to keep that 1 percent hotel tax."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

This time a poor second half dooms OKC

Different night, more of the same. 
Oklahoma City (1-9) fell short in Philadelphia (5-5) 110-85 in its worst loss of the season to date. Kevin Durant played his worst game of the year and while the game was close at the half (46-42), this time it was a second half hole instead of the first.
It's just pretty clear that this team is overmatched in terms of talent and playmaking. There's spurts of really good play, but they just can sustain it because either 1) They're too young and inexperienced to understand how 2) it's poor coaching and poor preparation or 3) they just aren't talented enough. And if I were to answer, I think it's a little combination of the three.
There's obvious missing pieces. No shot makers. No run killers. No guy that will step up and say, "I'm not going to let this happen again." Whether that's a lack of experience or a lack of overall ability, I'm not real sure. I know certain players have all the talent in the world, but in a general sense, the team as a whole really does not. Finding five guys to put on the floor that can play with another solid NBA team for 48 minutes just doesn't look possible. 
Robert Swift was completely ineffective tonight which is discouraging with the way he had played the past few games. Durant just couldn't get the jumper going. Jeff Green played yet another good game, but this taking turns with good nights just doesn't cut it. That's what I mean - there's just no consistency. These young guys will grow and learn how to put four quarters together but it's also going to take some other outside guys brought in to fix this. 
Jim Traber actually made a pretty good point on the radio today. Basically he said, it will get better in February and March. Teams that are seeing their playoff hopes fade will mail it in some nights and OKC can pull out wins. Early in the year like this, every team is pretty fired up and trying to position itself for a playoff push. Guys are trying to earn playing time, trying to earn that next contract and trying to impress. come March, April and May, those same guys may just go through the motions and the Thunder may pick up some wins. 
I tend to agree, but I just hope the team doesn't lose itself. At times, it looked like KD was visibly upset and looked to be going through the motions a little. I think he expected this group to be better. I think we all did. This is seven in a row to drop and with Houston coming to the Ford Center Monday night, that streak doesn't look like it will end quite yet. The game the Thunder needs to circle is Wednesday, November 19 because that's when the Los Angeles Clippers come to town. That's really a must-win game. Otherwise, people in OKC are going to start wondering if this group will win another one the rest of the way.
Fans, media and the organization are preaching patience. While I agree, it's hard to watch and it's hard to be excited right now with the way things are going. But we have to believe it will get better. And when it does, we can all say we were with these guys through the bad and the good. 
Let's hope for a regroup and a really solid, sold-out effort against the Rockets Monday. I think the team is going to get a good boost from being back home and hopefully will play with tons of heart. The Ford Center faithful is looking for that kind of game - one the team has no business being in, but is because of determination and guts. Maybe Monday. 

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Thunder vs. 76ers: Pre-game primer

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Philadelphia 76ers 
Saturday, November 15
Wachovia Center
Philadelphia, PA
6:00 PM CST
TV: KSBI (Cox 9)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 Am)
Oklahoma City is coming off yet another failed comeback attempt and the 76ers are looking to get to .500. By all appearances, this game should should result in OKC's seventh straight loss and ninth overall. And while I don't see any reason for the Thunder to surprise tonight in Philly, I do think the team will be competitive for 48 minutes and not slip behind by 20 or 30.
Last night was more of the same. The Knicks overwhelmed OKC and got a nice, big cushion. New York relaxed and the Thunder fought back. I really hope this doesn't happen again tonight, because it gets kind of old watching a team try and work its way back down 30. In the Thunder's past two games, they've given up 139 points in the first half combined. Unless you're playing Billy Tubbs on back-t0-back nights, that just shouldn't be happening. 
The Sixers are incredibly balanced scoring with five guys averaging between 10 and 16 points per game. That makes them extremely tough to defend because obviously, you've got to guard all five spots. 
Likewise, the Thunder's going to have do something similar to that to keep pace with Philly. Russell Westbrook was great last night,  Kevin Durant was his usual self and Jeff Green was solid, but all of it came when the game was all but out of reach. Those three needs to have big first halves and help OKC stay in it going to the locker room. Robert Swift, who had his first start of the season and put up 13 boards, will have to play well in the paint keeping Elton Brand and Samuel Dalembert off the glass as much as possible. 
One thing we saw though, is OKC doesn't do well when the opposing team has a shot blocker to control the paint (see: Dwight Howard vs. OKC), and Dalembert can do exactly that. The Thunder's going to have to hit some jumpshots (I know) and Westbrook will have to make good decisions in the lane when he penetrates and not recklessly challenge every time. 
I think there's hope for tonight. I'm not predicting victory, but I am think this will be a competitive game. Just for our sake, I am hoping for a semi-close halftime score and a chance going into the fourth quarter. We haven't seen that in four games, so it would be nice to see a competitive game for 48 minutes. 

Thunder can't complete the comeback in New York

Another deep hole, another valiant comeback try. 
And another one coming up short as Oklahoma City fell to the Knicks (6-3) tonight 116-106. The Thunder (1-8) closed the gap to seven after at one point being down 30. Seeing as this is becoming a recurring theme, I tend to think teams are just pulling back and losing focus when building these 20-30 point leads over OKC. But also a theme is the lack of quit. One of these times, a team is going to mess around and the Thunder are going to get them. Some teams will quit and start thinking about breakfast the next morning when down 30, but not the Thunder.
Looking back, there are so many missed opportunities that just make you want to scream in a pillow. After cutting the lead to just seven, Jeff Green had a wide open look at a three to cut it to four. He hit front iron. Down eight, OKC had a fast break that finished with three missed attempts. Down 10 with about two minutes left, OKC forced a turnover that looked to lead to a fast break but Green promptly gave it right back. So many chances to really tighten the thing up. 
Russell Westbrook played his best game as a pro (19 points, 10 boards, six assists). That's a really, really good line. If/when he gets a consistent jumper going, he's going to be lethal. Like impossible for other guards to defend. He is so quick and controls the dribble so well. He gets to the rim at will and can finish as good as anyone. 
I think my favorite lineup is the one that finished the game. It was Westbrook, Durant, Mason, Green and Swift. I think Green creates a lot of good matchup issues at the four and Mason is a good defender and an excellent leader on the floor. He plays hard. Swift has the ability to control the paint - he had 13 rebounds which ties a career high - and I love having a true post man on the blocks. Westbrook's freakish athleticism and Durant's ability to score from anywhere give that lineup diversity, defense and scoring ability. 
One other positive: I really like the black shoes with the road blues. I've always been a black shoe guy, and I just thought they really made the road duds look a little better. 
To wrap up, as long as the Thunder digs themselves into big holes, they're going to keep dropping games. Sure we can all be encouraged that they don't quit - which is great, it really is - but the wins won't start coming until that stops. Like I said, they may catch a few teams napping long enough to finish the comeback but getting consistent is such a key. I know that's obvious, but as I've been saying a lot, as long as we're better at the end than we are right now, I'm happy. And the starting point is four quarter consistency. 
The Thunder move a little south on their East Coast trip to take on the 4-5 Philadelphia 76ers tomorrow night in Philly. Tip is at 6:00 PM CST. 

Friday, November 14, 2008

Thunder vs. New York Knicks: Pre-game primer

Oklahoma City Thunder (1-7) vs. New York Basketball Knicks (5-3)
Friday, November 14
Madison Square Garden
New York, New York
6:30 PM CST
TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD 722)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM)

First, love this question from Bill Simmons' mail bag today: "Perhaps the biggest story in the NBA that nobody is talking about is the sheer size of PJ Carlesimo's glasses. It looks like he took the windshield out of a '68 Catalina, chopped it in half and attached some industrial strength frames. This is perhaps the most unfortunate eyewear selection since George Costanza chose his new look from the Gloria Vanderbilt collection." Spot on. I can't believe I've let eight games go by never commented on those goggles. I've thought about it numerous times as I watched Peej stroll the sidelines with his arms crossed and those massive windows on his face. But I never thought to say anything about it. Nor could I have articulated it as perfectly as that. All P.J.needs now is that little chain around his neck so he can wear 'em while he's playing Canasta.
Oh yeah, tonight's game. The Running D'Antoni's are off to a nice start and people in New York are ecstatic about the change. The team is playing fast and loose and Knicks fans are actually clapping and cheering rather than booing and chanting fire someone.
With the Knicks tossing up a season best 132 in regulation against the Grizz this week, and OKC allowing 71 in a half against Orlando, is it possible New York could touch triple-digits in the first half? Oh yeah, yeah, the defense is improved. But it better be really improved if you want to slow down the Bockers. New York hit 19 threes against Memphis and just ran the Grizzlies right out of the building.
Honestly, this is a decent matchup for the Thunder. Kevin Durant is a game-time decision and if he doesn't play, it will likely be another attempt to just keep it within 20. But if he's playing, I think OKC can play with them. Through eight games, the Thunder has played best when playing loose and fast. They've played worst when trying to run terribly simple half-court sets. Most experts would say not to fall into D'Antoni's game and try and run with them. I say do it. Especially if the KD isn't playing. Try to score with them. Throw Russell Westbrook in there and see how fast he can run from one end to the other. It may not work and OKC may still lose, but that's better than running some painful, 20 second halfcourt set that ends up with a Desmond Mason fadeaway clanking off the rim hitting a running Jamal Crawford in stride and the Knicks scoring .006 seconds later, right?
Right now, OKC is 28th in the league averaging 88.5 points per game. The Knicks average 103.4 a game. Unless the Thunder intend to play out of their minds defensively tonight, they are going to have to score with the Knicks. And like I said, from what I've seen through eight games, a lot of times they score the best when pushing the tempo. That doesn't mean looking at the shot clock and seeing it's at 18 and thinking, "Oh crap. I gotta shoot!" It means, not walking the ball up the court and trying to run some lame motion set that goes nowhere. Press the pace but still take wise shots. That's how OKC dug itself out of holes against Utah and Orlando. That's how it built a 15 point lead in Indiana. Play loose. Play fast. But play smart. Because like I said, I just don't know if there's hope to beat the Knicks tonight by scoring 85 and holding them to 84. Unless they come out cold, which is a possibility.

What to watch for:
I'm actually pretty excited for this game because I'm anxious to see how Jeff Green responds after one of the best games of his career. He threw up 25 and 10 and was very aggressive but still played within himself. Obviously, if there's no Durant, he'll have to do more of that, but honestly, if there is Durant, he needs to do more of that. He's that second scorer the Thunder's dying for right now. I realize 25 and 10 isn't reasonable on a night-in, night-out basis, but 18 and 8 is.
It's the same thing every preview, so I'm just going to put it briefly: OKC needs to play four complete quarters. No slow start. No drag in the second quarter. No lackluster close of the fourth. A complete game. If you're going to play your tails off, don't do it trying to make up a 25 point deficit. Do it trying to build a 25 point lead.

Friday Bolts - 11.14.08

Slightly new look today, as the centered version was getting a little crammed and making stories stretch out too much. So we'll see how this new layout goes. 
  • Bleacher Report has its All NBA Embarrassment team. Coach Peej is heading the list: "Carlesimo has no business coaching in the NBA. Sure, he put up some wins as the Portland Trailblazers head coach, but the Blazers were already a solid team when he was hired. He was let go by the Blazers and the Golden State Warriors picked him as their next head coach. In a little over a season as the Warriors coach, he went a combined 46-113 during that time. Now he's coaching the Seattle Sonics/Oklahoma City Thunder and is off to the same way he started as Warriors coach. So far his record as coach of the team in just over a full season is 21-68. Talk about embarrassing for a NBA team to pick him as a coach."
  • Check out SI's Ian Thompson's interesting answer to this questionIs there a possibility that another franchise will relocate after what happened to the Sonics? My guess is Memphis. --- Sanjeev, Perth, Australia. My guess is the Nets, who have been trying to move to Brooklyn. If that falls through as many believe it will, then it will be no surprise if they are sold and the team is moved to another market. The other vulnerable franchises include New Orleans, Memphis and Charlotte (which appear unlikely to break its leases), as well as Sacramento and Milwaukee (which can escape). "The Nets aren't going to be moving to the Barclays Center, that's not happening,'' a rival NBA owner said of their proposed move to Brooklyn. "And they're losing money.'' (Very interesting. Crazy to think about the chain reaction effect the Sonics move to OKC could have. And even crazier to think about if Oklahoma City would have been more patient, could it have had it's pick between all those franchises? How ironic would it be for the Hornets to move to Seattle and Oklahoma City demi-god Chris Paul is a Sonic? Oh, the irony.) 
  • OKC has been playing from behind all season writes Mike Baldwin: "The most sobering statistic? In half of its games, the Thunder has trailed by 20, 14, 10 or 8 points after one quarter. "We can’t do what we did against Utah and what we did against Orlando,” said coach P.J. Carlesimo. "It’s encouraging we get back into games, but we can’t keep digging holes.”
  • A little pre-game warm up from the Thunderguru: "Friday night the OKC Thunder go to the Big Apple to play the resurrected New York Knicks. I say resurrected because the Knicks have been a very craptastic team for quite some time; they haven’t had a winning season since Jeff VanGundy was their coach in the 2000-01 season. Now they have Mike D’Antoni calling the shots, bringing his run and gun, high power mojo from Europe via the Phoenix Suns."
And high school playoffs start tonight. Go Mustang Broncos!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thursday Bolts - 11.13.08

  • Bethlehem Shoals of FreeDarko and Tom Ziller talking a little Kevin Durant (very interesting stuff): "Durant, possess no such mystical qualities. Barkley, I think, compared KD to Gervin, in terms of piling up points without anyone noticing. And it's true: Unless Durant hits five threes in a row and follows it with an especially acrobatic drive (which, with his length, he rarely resorts to), his style is impressionistic. Not understated—a 6'9" jumble of arms and legs that rises up for threes like he's floating is still an extraordinary sight. But between the lack of emphasis in his game, his build, and those limbs just seem to trail off into the rafters on every play, Durant can get pretty ethereal at times."
  • Joe breaks down the game: "The game was never in doubt. The Thunder were without Kevin Durant who rolled his ankle on Monday, but I don’t think it would have made any difference. This was out of control from the outset and Kevin is not our strongest defender. We needed stops and never really got them at any point. It’s true that we could have used his points, but we needed stops far worse.
  • The Lost Ogle looks at trade options for Earl Watson: "Losing him would not be a big deal. It shouldn’t be hard to find a guy who can guide the team to a 1-6 record. Currently, Watson averages 7.6 points, 5.6 assists, and one steal per game. That assist figure is in the top-25 for the league, but most of those come from handing the ball off to Kevin Durant and letting him do his thing. The real measure of how Watson is doing for the team is how the team looks on offense, since he is the starting point guard. No one who has watched more than a couple of ESPN highlights would suggest the Thunder run like a well-oiled machine."
  • And within that story, check out this odd quote from P.J. Carlesimo: "It certainly doesn’t mean anything to our (Oklahoma City) fans,” Carlesimo said. "What do they care if we’re better than last year?” (What's that supposed to mean? There are multiple ways of interpreting that one. Does he mean we're like an expansion team and this is our first year with the team so last year doesn't matter? Or is he saying that we don't care about wins and losses because we're just excited to have basketball? I don't know. You tell me.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Magic overwhelms undermanned Thunder

As Oklahoma City fought its way back to respectability in the third quarter against the Orlando Magic, I wondered, "Is this the Magic just going through the motions or are the Thunder playing their hearts out again like in Utah?"

I think the answer is a little of both.

Orlando had no need to keep up the intensity with a 30 point cushion, but some teams quit when down like that. The Thunder didn't. They used the little light the Magic gave them and capitalized, outscoring Orlando 29-16 in the third cutting the Magic lead to 16. Orlando put up 71 points in the first half but then just 38 in the second. Of course, it wasn't enough as the Magic (5-3) thumped the Thunder (1-7) 109-92 Wednesday night.

But about four minutes into the game it was clear: Oklahoma City was not going to win the game. Some may have figured that out before the game even started with Kevin Durant sitting this one out with a sore ankle.

This was just an absolute mismatch. An absolute recipe for disaster. Dwight Howard doesn't let anyone in his lane and if they happen sneak in, he promptly throws their shot into the second row. The Thunder stinks at shooting jumpers. I think you can put two and two together there. And on top of it Orlando's big man was unstoppable offensively too. Just check out Howard's stat line - 30 points, 19 rebounds and 10 blocks. Yeah, pretty good game.

Nothing to really second guess or breakdown tonight. OKC was just overmatched in every way. Of all the games to miss, this may have been the worst one for Durant, because he's really the one guy that can hit a consistent jumper.

A new-look Robert Swift actually played Howard relatively well. Swift blocked him twice and "sort" of slowed him down. Swift entered earlier (about eight minutes left in the first) and played his most minutes (18), pulling down seven boards and netting three. In a way, Big Robert's haircut might have been the highlight of the night.

Potential reasons Big Rob cut his do:
- Somebody on the canal mistook him for Ronald McDonald
- He kept getting it caught in the rim.
- He thought a haircut might help his image.
- Too many people were getting him confused with a mascot.
- He felt it was affecting his upside.
- He actually saw himself in a mirror.

Jeff Green did his darndest to pick up the slack for Durant as Green had 25 and 10. And he kept up the good three point shooting hitting three of six. Maybe he's coming around. I hate to be the "next year" guy, but if he's starting to get it and Durant is moving forward, then things may really start to look up soon.

Russell Westbrook went 3-19 from the field but actually played better than those numbers indicate. I counted at least three shots that were tossed by Howard. So I guess, "potentially" those could have went in. But he made some nice passes in the lane once he figured out he couldn't score over Superman. And how freakishly athletic is Westbrook? He really can go up with anyone. He has the ability. He just needs to put it together and he could be special.

And is it just me, or does Desmond Mason fade on every single jumpshot? I'm no jumpshot technique expert, but maybe that's why he struggles so much with the jay. Maybe.

When teams are as young and inexperienced as the Thunder, games like this can potentially happen every night. Things start to snowball, you get overwhelmed by the other teams sheer talent and you're in a 20 point hole before you know you tipped off. But the bright side is with a team this young and inexperienced, improvement happens at a rapid rate so by the end of the year these guys may be totally different than this. They'll limit the hurried bad shots. Limit the dumb transition turnovers. Limit the feeble shots into the chest of the best shot blocker in the world.

Tomorrow off and then to the east coast for a couple games starting with the Running D'Antoni's as OKC takes on the Knicks (5-3) Friday night in Madison Square Garden.