Tuesday, January 20, 2009

MOVED! MOVED! MOVED!

The Thunderworld has moved. You can now get your Thunder fix and all the erratic Royce commentary you can handle at www.dailythunder.com.

Why Daily Thunder? I don't know really. It has a little cache, but not cache out the ying-yang. But instead of trying to be overly creative and fail with some awful blog name like Flying ThunderDogs or DurantGreenWestbrook.com, I just went a little generic. It's the content, not the name anyway, amirite?

So don't forget, DAILY THUNDER. Go. Read. Thunder.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Tomorrow is moving day

Start gathering boxes, because tomorrow the Thunderworld is packing it up and moving on out. I'm not totally sure if it will be a complete redirect, or if I'll just have to do a CLICK HERE!!!!! type thing, but in any event, just a heads up that tomorrow, you won't find me here.

I'm really excited to join something that I think will be absolutely amazing. So get excited everybody. And be ready to update those blogrolls.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Heat vs. Thunder: Pre-gamer

vs.

Miami Heat (21-18) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (8-33)
Sunday, Jan. 18
Ford Center
Oklahoma City, OK
6:00 PM CST

TV: KSBI-52 (Cox 9)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM)

View from the other side: Peninsula is Mightier

We all know what's on the line tonight. And we all know it's more than possible. Over the past two and half weeks, Oklahoma City has played its best basketball of the season and beaten two pretty good teams.

Much like the last two solid teams the Thunder has beat (the Jazz and the Pistons, if you somehow inexcusably forgot), the Heat struggle away from home. On the road, Miami is 9-12 compared to 12-6 at home. And the Thunder are pretty stingy at home, winning four of six at the Ford and six of their eight wins have come at home.

Obviously, what OKC needs to do tonight is rebound, take care of the ball and continue to play tough defense. The Thunder have a +73 rebounding margin over the last five and in seven of their eight wins, have outrebounded their opponent. And the Heat aren't really a great rebounding squad, ranking 23rd in the league in boards.

OKC matches the Heat really well, with Desmond Mason getting the unenviable assignment of Dwayne Wade. But other than that, you got to like Russell Westbrook on Mario Chalmers, Kevin Durant on Shawn Marion, Jeff Green on Udonis Haslem and Nenad Krstic/Nick Collison on Joel Anthony.

Let's get No. 9 tonight and move on with our lives. And you look at the upcoming schedule, and there's winnable games against Golden State, the Clippers, the Nets and Memphis coming up. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but if the Thunder continue to play as my dad would say, "Want-to," they can keep winning.

Friday, January 16, 2009

When you win a game, then you consecutively win another, what's that called again?

Since Dec. 31st, the Oklahoma City Thunder are playing better than .500 basketball. After an 89-79 win over Detroit, OKC (8-33) now has won two in a row. That's right, TWO IN A ROW. Digest that for a minute. Swish it around, let it marinate.

How about more -- when Oklahoma City left Detroit after a tough last-second loss three weeks ago, the Thunder was 3-27. Now? Eight and thirty-three. One off the 1972-73 Sixers. Think anyone's checking ESPN's little tracker anymore? The Thunder are 5-5 in their last 10 and have won three out of four. And also, not the worst team in the league anymore in terms of wins -- OKC is now tied with Washington and the Clippers. One more: After starting 0-20 against plus .500 teams, OKC's first winning streak came against two teams a combined 13 games over.

The first seven minutes of the fourth sealed the deal. How? Because OKC started the last frame on a 15-0 run and Detroit (22-16) didn't score until there was 6:13 left. The Pistons were ice cold, missing their first eight shots of the fourth. Detroit was outworked all night, evidenced by the 52-35 rebounding edge in favor of the Thunder. Here's a crazy stat: Detroit didn't grab an offensive rebound until there was under four minutes left in the third quarter. Overall, OKC pulled down 14 offensive boards to the Pistons' five. Over the Thunder's last five games, they're a +73 on the glass. As Brian Davis would say, wow.

And think about this one -- the Pistons missed five straight free throws at one point in the third, but get this: Detroit was 3-8 from the line overall. That's it. Three for eight. And it wasn't like Detroit just shot the ball poorly or turned it over a ridiculous amount. The Pistons hit 46 percent and only gave it up nine times. No Piston scored more than 18 points. The pace wasn't even that slow tonight, but OKC's defense was great, giving up a season-low 79 points. In the second half, Detroit scored just 33 points. Wow, again.

You look at the box score and you see Jeff Green's miserable shooting night going an awful 2-16 from the field and you'd think he didn't have the best game. But as far as I'm concerned, he's the player of the night. He was huge on the glass, grabbing 14 rebounds, he dished five assists and he was an absolute force defensively. Look at Green's +/- tonight, an awesome +17. And he wasn't visibly frustrated with his poor shooting night. He kept working, kept driving and kept playing hard. That's a wonderful thing.

Speaking of the +/-, the bench guys were great as Earl Watson had a +12, Chris Wilcox had a +13 and Kyle Weaver a +10. Great production from the pine tonight, especially from Wilcox who had 17 and 11. And Desmond Mason had 11 and 11 from his shooting guard position and played excellent defense on Rip Hamilton.

Russell Westbrook finally had a rookie night. About dang time. He was 2-10, scored five, had six assists and played just 27 minutes, but he was actually really good. Because the Pistons' offensive catalyst, Rodney Stuckey, didn't score until there was under a minute left in the third and just had three points overall. But how about that little head-fake, fake pass, up-and-under he pulled on Rasheed Wallace in the third quarter? Or that near monster dunk over the entire Pistons team toward the end of the game? Two sweet moves from RW, even on a bad offensive night.

Here's how good OKC was as a team tonight - it's been six paragraphs and I haven't even mentioned Kevin Durant and his electric 32-point offensive showcase. He scored 12 in the first, four in the second, 10 in the third and six in the fourth. He was 14-21 from the field and 2-3 from downtown. He grabbed six rebounds and only turned it over three times. In other words, maybe his most complete line of the season. But one thing that impressed me more than anything was a sequence late in the second quarter. Westbrook drove and kicked out to Durant who was at the top of the key wide open for three. Tayshaun Prince was closing on him and instead of taking a good look, Durant swung the ball to Green in the corner who was open and knocked down the triple. KD has got it -- he's a superstar and an elite scorer, but he understands being a teammate first. He had his entire game working, but he didn't force anything. It came to him and he made it look easy. I don't care what he says -- he deserves to be an All-Star.

This is the team we thought we were going to see. Competitive, gritty and a group of youngsters that are talented, but raw. The NBA season is definitely a marathon -- these types of games happen for contenders. The Pistons were flat and got outplayed and outworked. But that doesn't make it any less awesome. Especially when at one point we were looking at a 1-16 team, then 2-24, then 3-29. Now they've won two in a row and have another winnable home game against Miami -- another plus .500 team. And one more gives OKC, (deep breath), win No. 9. That's right.

OKC gets the Heat Sunday night at 6 p.m. at the Ford.

Pistons vs. Thunder: Pre-game view

vs.

Detroit Pistons (22-15) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (7-33)

Friday, Jan. 16

Ford Center

Oklahoma City, OK

7:00 PM CST

TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD 722)

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM)

View from the other side: Piston Powered

Another chance at revenge. I'm not even going to say anything about starting a win-streak, uh, nevermind.

Everybody knows it, but I'll say it: The Pistons better come into the Ford Center ready to play. The record says 7-33, but you better treat the Thunder like a 33-7 team or you're going to walk out with your tail between your legs and your beat writers will be saying things like, "Embarrassing loss for Detroit to the worst team in the history of man," and "If there's one thing Detroit can take with them, besides a humiliating loss to a bunch of kindergartners, it's the dust and cow poop that's all over Oklahoma." But seriously, the point is there -- bring your lunch pale to Loud City or be prepared to get rolled.

You'd assume the Thunder's confidence would be off the charts and tonight they'll come in fired up and clicking. But I actually fear that the opposite may happen. I could see a flat team, feeling some sort of weird sense of entitlement coming out and playing bad ball. The thing about OKC is that while confidence is one of the best things in all of sport, second to that is playing with a chip on your shoulder. The Thunder need to realize they haven't earned anything yet and haven't won anything yet. They need to add confidence to the disrespect they've felt and play their hearts out for 48 minutes and see what happens.

But while I worry about that, I trust Scott Brooks will have them ready and will explain this to them. After all, he is an NBA coach. I'm sure he's been over that little theory before. But as for matchups, OKC matches Detroit well. As we know, the last time the two teams played it took a buzzer beater to down the Thunder in Detroit. The Thunder has been playing well, and especially well at home. Russell Westbrook, well, no need to talk about what he's doing well. He's just been awesome. He can handle anything Allen Iverson/Rodney Stuckey has and more than likely, Westbrook will be able to get to the rim and get his shot whenever he wants it.

Such a huge key is how the three Thunder stars play. Against the Jazz, Westbrook had 22, Jeff Green 23 and Kevin Durant 21. Add in Nick Collison and Nenad Krsitc's solid play and there's a formula to get a win. But against a good team loaded with good players, you can't have just a couple parts functioning. Things need to be clicking for the role players and the stars.

Depending on how you view sports trends, you can look at this game two ways:
1) The Pistons have an eight-game winning streak over the Thunder franchise.
2) The Pistons have lost three straight, with the last two being against Charlotte (six-game winning streak over the Bobcats snapped) and Indiana (eight-game winning streak snapped).

It's been four years since Detroit has lost four in a row, which leads one to believe the Pistons would play well tonight. They've lost two games against sub-par opponents and obviously don't want to continue that against the Thunder. But then again, maybe the Pistons are in a lull and this is a good time to catch them. Like the Jazz, the Pistons are mediocre on the road, winning just 10 of 19 away from Detroit. Two wins in a row (crap, I said it) would be nice, but two wins in a row against a couple of playoff teams would be really nice.

UPDATE: Just came out that Nick Collison is questionable for tonight because of a stomach virus and Rasheed Wallace missed the Pistons' shootaround today because of illness.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hey Ross, for your information, I'm riding my horse downtown to send a telegram, thank you very much

As you know, I've lived in Oklahoma all 23 years of my life. I love this state. It's as much a part of me as my last name. So that's why this type of stuff kind of bothers me. In the Salt Lake City Tribune's gamer, written by Ross Siler, here's his lead (hat tip: Doug):
"Because there's nothing to do in Oklahoma City, the Jazz had no excuse for not showing up Wednesday night against the Thunder and suffering a 114-93 humiliation at the hands of the NBA's worst team."
So funny. I bet Ross had to pause and clean his computer screen because he probably spit his coffee all over it after he wrote it due to a wild burst of laughter.
Look, I've heard all the stereotypes and all the put-downs. I know people think we all live in tepees, hang our clothes outside to dry them, haven't discovered the "Internet" yet and the only things that ever happened here was a bombing in 1995 and the Dustbowl. I get it. But geez, trying to toss a little zinger out there in your lead is just unnecessary, especially when you live in SALT LAKE FREAKING CITY. It's not like this was a New York or Miami writer. This guy lives in a city famous for Mormons and snow. Ooooh. Ahhhh.

All the disrespect toward the team doesn't bother me one bit. They're 7-33. They better be disrespected. They brought it upon themselves. But enough about Oklahoma. And people laugh when we all made a big deal about getting professional basketball here. We wanted to change our image and we feel pro hoops can go a long way in helping that. But here's something I wonder: People often say, "There's nothing to do in Oklahoma City." Well, explain to me how much more there is to do in Chicago, San Antonio, Houston or Dallas? I've been to those cities. Spent a lot of time in a couple of them. What more is there to "do" there than here? Go to Navy Pier? Go to the Alamo? You really think residents are making weekly trips to the Sears Tower? Oh, in Dallas they have a movie theater. What's that? Oklahoma City has one too? Oklahoma City has 15?!?

Seriously, someone explain how one of those so-called big cities are so much different than OKC. Sure, they may have an underground live music scene or something, but what normal person really wants to make their way down to some gross coffee shop to hear some band called Two Trips to Hell sing their emo hearts out and make you want stick your face in the coffee grinder.

From my various trips to big towns, the main differences from Oklahoma City are:

A. More traffic
B. More crime
C. More jerks
D. More expensive parking
E. In fact, no where to park
F. Higher gas prices
G. More expensive houses

Now don't get me wrong, I absolutely adore Chicago. I spent part of my honeymoon there. It's my favorite city. It has things Oklahoma City does not. Houston has some unreal qualities. San Antonio has a wonderful charm that OKC doesn't have. But these pot-shots at OKC are lame. This stuff about the only things to do are "read your Bible" and "take your lady on a horseback ride" are really ignorant. I've always said, if people knew what Oklahoma City was really like, they'd be packing their bags and moving here right away. So maybe I better shut up.

Quick Bolts: 1.15.09

As some may have noticed, I haven't been doing the daily bolts due to the fact I've gotten kind of busy lately and also the fact that I'll be moving sites soon (really, really soon) and those have kind of fallen by the wayside. But I intend to return to scouring the net finding anything and everything about the Thunder and bringing them here so you don't have to spend the time searching. But here's a few quick things to point out:
  • Ball Don't Lie, Behind the Box Score: "But even up against Utah's best, I'm not sure the Thunder take the loss. These guys just had it tonight, shots were falling, and Scott Brooks has these guys playing so damn hard. Boston, and I mean the team that beat New Jersey by 32 points on Wednesday, would have had trouble against the Thunder. Oklahoma City crushed Utah on the glass, absolutely destroyed them. The Jazz were without Carlos Boozer and Paul Millsap, which helps, but that doesn't excuse Andrei Kirilenko from pulling in just one board in 39 minutes. I don't care who he had to guard. A 48-26 rebounding advantage for the Thunder. Nenad Krstic had 14 and 11 off the bench, Kevin Durant (5-12) and Jeff Green (8-13) had the turnarounds rolling, and Russell Westbrook just has it. You could see it back in November, even when he was tossing out miserable contributions and making mistakes all over the place. He looks like Devin Harris, with a tailback's build. I don't know what happens from here on out, but what looked like a reach from Thunder brass last June now looks like a coup. Kudos."
  • Be The Three says we should have seen last night coming (and if you're a reader of The Thunderworld, you would have seen it coming, because I said it was coming!): "If you weren't paying attention you'd be shocked that the Oklahoma City Thunder, currently sitting at 7-33, just spanked the Jazz, 114-93. But it's actually not that surprising. After 25 games or so where their offense was a disaster on wheels, the Thunder had actually been playing solid basketball for about three weeks. In fact, the Thundies shot a higher field-goal percentage than their opponents in eight of 10 games going into the Jazz game Wednesday night. They shot at least 48 percent six times in that span. And yet, they they managed to go only 3-7--good for the Thunder, but not a record you'd expect from a team regularly out-shooting its opponents. Why were they still losing? Because even when they shot well, they made the dumb mistakes young teams make."
  • Henry Abbott of TrueHoop agrees, but cautiously: "I'd also add that in any one regular season NBA game ... anything can happen. The opposition can have a bad night. Real surprises come in the playoffs. But nonetheless, you have to be loving this if you're an Oklahoma City fan. Blowout wins can do wonders for your confidence."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Thunder rolls to biggest win of the season, 114-93 over Utah

Three sets of numbers: 48-26, 54.9-42.2 and 38-27. That's the difference in rebounding, field goal percentage and free throw attempts for tonight's game against Utah, all in favor of Oklahoma City. In other words, that's the difference in the game.

The Thunder still turned the ball over 19 times to the Jazz's nine, but OKC (7-33) made up for it on the glass, at the free throw line and by shooting extremely well. Kevin Durant had *just* 21 points, and 10 of it came from the free throw line. On top of getting to the line 38 times, the Thunder hit 33 free shots for a clip of about 87 percent. That's huge. KD also had nine rebounds, continuing this very good trend of scoring and rebounding. But he did turn it over six more times himself, which is still an area of concern.

Though the Jazz (23-16) scored 25 points off the 19 OKC turns, I think some turnovers are necessary for this team to be successful on the offensive end. And what I mean by that is that there are a lot of risk takers and instead of playing tight, half-court offense, the Thunder likes to run, make tight passes and score on the fly. So obviously while you want to cut down on the freebies, you don't want to lose what's making you a solid offensive team, if that makes sense.

There's nice things to take out of this one. First, this is Oklahoma City's biggest win of the year in two ways: 1) In terms of margin, 21 points is the most OKC has won by and 2) This is the first plus-.500 team the Thunder has beaten this year. Second, that makes the Thunder 4-4 in its last eight and 3) OKC outscored Utah 64-45 in the second half after leading by just two at the break. That's the way to beat up a division rival at home.

But look at the +/- for OKC's starters: +21, +17, +22, +20, +21. The three did their work. Russell Westbrook had 22, KD had the previously mentioned 21 and Jeff Green had 23. Chip in with Nenad Krstic playing his best game with 14 and 11 and Nick Collison continuing to play well with 13 and 11 and you've got a certain recipe for a win. And again, Westbrook played an excellent game, showcasing why he may actually win Rookie of the Year -- on top of a solid scoring game, he dished seven assists and picked up three steals. He's totally under control and looks like everything has slowed down for him. He runs the break and instead of driving hell-bent to the bucket, he pulls up and hits a jumper or drops a beautiful pass to Collison. He's really getting it and it's really making a difference.

Of course, it has to be acknowledged that this Utah team was missing Paul Milsap, Carlos Boozer and C.J. Miles, but still a win over a potential playoff team is still a big win. OKC has been getting closer and closer to this type of win and tonight, got over the hump. For whatever reason, the Jazz are awesome at home and not so awesome on the road. This win is going to do big things for the Thunder's confidence. The Jazz may have been without some of their best players but they were still 23-15 and this is still the best win OKC has. I just wish this was the Thunder team that tipped off at the Ford Center Oct. 29. I truly think we'd be looking at a near .500 club if they had played like this to start with.

I haven't said anything about Brian Davis in a while, but I have to point this out. During the second quarter, the camera flashed over to Desmond Mason and Kyle Weaver sitting by each other on the bench and Davis said confidently, "The Master and the Pupil." Huh? Who's the Master? Dez? And what exactly is he a master of? Bad shooting? That was just a weird moment among many nightly weird moments when Brian Davis is involved. If we give him 30 more years of this, he'll probably reach "lovable, crazy-man" status like Bob Barry, where he can say anything and we all just say, "That's Brian for you." But he hasn't been here 30 years so right now it's kind of not so lovable.

One note to point out: Chucky Atkins was an official Trillionaire tonight. He played one minute and didn't notch anything -- no points, no fouls, no assists, no nothing. So his stat line looks like: 1-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0. Congrats Chucky. You earned it.

Game one of the three-game stand is down and next up is the Pistons Friday night. Of course, we all remember how Allen Iverson nipped OKC with a runner beating the Thunder 90-88 a few weeks ago. It would be nice to get a little revenge against a second straight opponent, start a winning streak and get to .500 for 2009.

Jazz vs. Thunder: Pre-game view

vs.

Utah Jazz (23-15) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (6-33)
Wednesday, Jan. 14
Ford Center
Oklahoma City, OK
7:00 PM CST

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

Well, it's time to celebrate. Not a single Sooner underclassman is going to make the jump pro this year. Sam Bradford, Trent Williams, Gerald McCoy and Jermaine Gresham will all return for another run at No. 8. What's that? This blog is about basketball?

After the New Jersey loss, I said I had a feeling a big home win was coming. And I think it is. Utah is another plus .500 club, but they're very average on the road. The Jazz are 16-4 at home and 7-11 on the road. Though the Jazz are suffering from injuries, they're still a really good team. No Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams still isn't totally 100 percent, but Mehmet Okur has played huge. He's a guy I really wanted OKC to go after because I love his inside/outside game. Nenad Krstic has a bit of the same game, but Okur is really a good three point shooter. He'll make for a tough matchup for Nick Collison and Krstic.

The last time the two teams met, Utah had a 29 point lead, laid off and the Thunder stormed back to within a few points before losing 104-97. But this group is different. They're in (pretty much) every game and they're competing throughout. Kevin Durant is rounding into a complete player and we all know what Russell Westbrook is doing. Add in what Kyle Weaver has started to add and it's just a matter of time until these guys start winning these close ones instead of coming up one shot, one turnover, one free throw short. Just for perspective: The Thunder have lost 14 games this year by six or less. That's pretty incredible. Just turn half those into wins and you're looking at a 13-27 record, which would be huge for this young of a team. But that's the point -- they're young and they're learning.

If there's anything to really focus on, it has to be turnovers. Ron Adams spoke about it after last game, but you just can't turn it over 22 times and expect to win. There's enough talent and enough desire to keep it close, but those little things need to be tightened. Free throw shooting has been corrected pretty much, but turnovers need to be cut down. Granted, with a rookie playing point and two second year guys playing the three and four, it's understandable the ball's getting turned over.

I fully expect this to be close deep into the fourth quarter. The Jazz have some star power and some really good players, but again, they're not great on the road and the Thunder's gaining a little momentum. OKC has won three of its last seven and has lost three in that stretch by a total of eight points.

One other note: David Thorpe's Rookie Watch is out today and Russell Westbrook is No. 2. That's pretty awesome. He says this about RW: "Westbrook is rapidly improving, and we can project him to be capable of running a terrific team one day. He also has the potential to be an All-Star. He has a long way to go as a shooter, but give credit to head coach Scott Brooks for letting Westbrook do what he does best on offense: Rebound. Westbrook reminds me of a young Dwyane Wade, relentless on the glass with his effort, long arms, great timing and big hops. He's a rebounding difference-maker, something point guards usually aren't. Teams already tweak their game plan when preparing to face him, and he just turned 20 years old. Westbrook is basically tied with power forward Nick Collison for the team lead in offensive rebounds per game. The Thunder may sit last in the NBA standings, but they rank 11th in offensive rebound rate."

Thorpe also tosses Kyle Weaver into the mix: "Weaver has appeared in 15 games this season, and the Thunder lost every one of those games except for their win over the Bulls on Saturday. That's ironic because Weaver is the kind of player whom winning teams almost always have -- a player who takes good shots (and makes half of them) and can defend multiple positions. With Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Westbrook, and now Nenad Krstic, the Thunder appear to have a set of talented core players. Weaver could be one of the glue guys who helps make the team special."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Oklahoma City: Where the trade winds come sweepin' down the plain

As the trade deadline starts nearing (about a month away), Oklahoma City is the talk of the town. With a roster full of savvy veterans with expiring contracts, contending teams have their eyes on the Thunder. One thing that I can't help but wonder: How does OKC have so many players that other teams desperately want, but yet the Thunder are 6-33? Does that make sense to anyone? If the roster is full of coveted players, shouldn't that mean the team shouldn't be six and thirty-three? I digress...

Most recently, Chris Sheridan wrote a piece for ESPN.com talking Earl Watson trades. One interesting thing he said (among many interesting things he said): "Well, if you are playing GM the same way I am, the best option seems to be to wait another five weeks, wait for a better offer and let Watson keep doing what he's doing. Eventually, someone will get him on the cheap. But the guess here is that the selling price will be a little higher than it was when the Thunder were ready to let the trade to Charlotte go through, especially if Watson keeps averaging 10 assists as he has the past two games."

You have to give it up to Earl. He was a big time stinker for the first two months, but now he's playing well and becoming a more attractive pick-up for a contender. So thanks Earl for upgrading your value from a late second-rounder and an aged, out-of-his-prime veteran with a huge contract to maybe a late first with that crusty veteran.

But I'm not even sure if trading Watson is the best move. I realize now the Thunder have Chucky Atkins and Kyle Weaver's also playing a little back-up at point, but in this league, you need a solid back-up point man. Watson has two years left on his deal and while I realize Russell Westbrook is playing very well, he is still 20 and is still learning a new position. If this is the Earl Watson we could see playing second fiddle to RW, why not keep him around for another year? He's averaging close to 10 points and 10 assists the past week and while I realize he won't keep that up, now that he's evidently healthy, his game has improved drastically.

Is what Earl can give back to the Thunder via trade worth more than what he can give potentially on the court? I never thought I'd say that especially with how Earl made me want to leap out of Loud City at a few times earlier in the year, but if he can continue to play consistently, I'm not sure I wouldn't like to keep him.

But it seems Presti might be hell-bent on shipping Watson. So what can OKC get? As Sheridan said, both Boston and the Lakers would love to get Watson, but they don't have players that can match up salary-wise. With some playing on the ESPN Trade Machine, here's the deals I came up with. Keep in mind, if Bill Simmons is the Picasso of the Trade Machine, I'm Homer Simpson with a barbecue pit .

A. Boston. Boston really doesn't have anything to offer because anyone with a contract that could line up is untouchable. The guys the Celtics would be willing to deal (Eddie House, J.R. Giddens, Brian Scalabrine) don't make enough to match Earl's $6.2 million. The Machine does allow a trade of House, Giddens and Scalabrine go through for Watson but come on, is that going to happen? So cancel out Boston. Nothing happening there.

B. Los Angeles. Honestly, there's not too much that's attractive on their roster other than Trevor Ariza and Jordan Farmar. But no way the Lakers let Ariza go for Earl Freaking Watson. I would assume Farmar would be part of the deal because he's the guy getting replaced if Watson comes to town. And also the fact it's been about three weeks since Farmar has stepped on the court. Everyone assumes both Boston and L.A. would attempt to use draft picks, but how many late first round picks can Sam Presti use over the next three years? He's already got about 200 stockpiled and obviously he's not going to use them otherwise we'd see a roster full of Earl Watson's, if that makes sense. I don't think anything is working out here.

C. A three-way trade. This little diddy could make something possible. Here's one I worked up (though there's probably as much chance of it happening as me playing power forward next year): Oklahoma City sends Earl Watson to Los Angeles, the Lakers send Vladamir Radmonivic to San Antonio and the Spurs send Roger Mason Jr. and Jacque Vaughn's expiring deal to Oklahoma City. The Lakers get the backup point guard they so desperately need, the Spurs get a solid three-point shooting small/power forward to replace the shaky Matt Bonner and OKC gets the three-point threat it clearly needs. Everybody's a winner right? Well, the hitch is whether or not San Antonio would want Radmonovic. I think the Lakers would part with him because he's only getting about 18 minutes a game, but I don't know if he fits into the Spur game plan, plus Bonner has done a pretty good job thus far. And also, I'm not even sure San Antonio would be alright with giving up a promising three-point threat for a streaky veteran tweener. Maybe the Thunder could toss one of its picks in to sweeten the pot. I'm just thinking out loud here.

Basically, you can spend hours swinging three-way deals the Trade Machine will accept, but who knows if Presti could actually pull one off. Joe Smith is likely to be dealt, Chris Wilcox will probably be on the move and even Damien Wilkins or Chucky Atkins could be packing bags. Something's going to happen, but we're just not sure what. Hopefully, it's something tangible that we can say, "Yep, this improved the team NOW," instead of another, "Well, we got a second-rounder from Charlotte and cash, but I'm sure we'll deal that pick later for something good." Shooting guard is the position that's the most glaring weakness so Presti should focus there and flip one of these players to help the team get better today. I'm sure he has big plans for the offseason as well, but why not take a step today?

On another note, you've got to love this quote from Kevin Durant on whether or not he'd like to play in New Jersey when his contract is up in 2010: "I want to stay in Oklahoma as long as possible. I do, that’s the honest truth. I love it there."

Voting for 2008 Slam Dunk Contest ends tomorrow

And Russell Westbrook gives you even more reason to vote for him -- by rapping. Poorly.



So he's not exactly Jay-Z or Method Man or Coolio or whoever is a popular rapper today. (I don't listen to rap, if you couldn't tell.)

But I think he had something going there...

This is Westbrook
Not your normal rook
You vote me to dunk and I'll show you something... OFF THE HOOK

I think that's what you were looking for Russell. But speaking of Hook, I actually just watched it for the first time in like eight years today on AMC. Great freaking movie. You lewd, crude, rude, bag of pre-chewed food, dude! It made me think if OKC were to draft Ricky Rubio, we should all call him Rufio or at least we he scores we all either crow, yell Bang-a-rang or chant Ru-bi-oooooo!!!!

What was this about again? Oh yeah. Vote for Russell. He deserves it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

More free basketball, but this time OKC doesn't close out New Jersey

In the Thunder's second straight overtime game on the road, Oklahoma City came up short. In OT tonight, the difference was a slow start. The Nets jumped out 7-0 in the extra period while the Thunder missed two shots and turned it over twice before scoring. It all ended up leading to a 103-99 loss to New Jersey.

But they did show some solid resiliency getting back to within two, but the team was gassed. Jeff Green and Kevin Durant both went 48 tonight. Nenad Krstic played a season-high 23. Russell Westbrook played 37 and Earl Watson 38. It was a long, hard-fought night for OKC.

Two things stick out as reasons OKC lost -- turnovers and rebounding. The Nets piled up 18 offensive boards on the Thunder and OKC turned it over 22 times. That's a total of 40 extra, free possessions New Jersey got tonight. Plus the Nets scored 26 points off the 22 turns. That's bad.

If I were to second guess anything tonight, it has to be the final play of regulation. I understand what Scott Brooks is trying to do there. You've got Russell Westbrook who is an elite leaper and the Nets have their seven-footer, Brook Lopez, pulled out of the lane guarding the inbounds pass. So OKC tried to go up top to RW for a tip-in to win. But there was 0.5 seconds left in the game which is enough for a catch and shoot. And Kevin Durant is maybe the toughest man in the world to guard on a catch and shoot. He's so long that he can get his shot over basically anyone. I'd rather see KD hoist a 29-footer than an oop attempt at the buzzer. That sort of oop is like the equivalent of a Hail Mary in football -- high risk, high reward. Oh well. If it goes in then I don't make a peep.

Since it seems I have to spend at least one paragraph per recap heaping praise upon Russell Westbrook, let me just say this about RW -- I've been saying he's got that little jumper coming along nicely, but now he's expanding on it. Tonight, he used a great baseline dribble-drive, floated out toward the three-point line, took one hard faux step in and bounced back for a sweet 15-footer. That's the move that can make him absolutely lethal. He's so freaking lightning quick that every opposing guard is doing to fear his drive. But now with a fake push and a step-back jay, he's deadly. It opens up his drive even more and he could see more points, more assists and more everything from that. Oh, and he only turned it over two times in 37 minutes, scored 17 and dished four assists.

And Earl Watson has played very well the last two. I've been very frustrated over the first two and half months with his play, but he's been extremely productive the last few. And evidently, it's because he's healthy. He had 11 and nine assists and does an excellent job throwing opposing teams a changeup when he steps on the floor. Westbrook creates, Watson distributes. It works pretty well.

One thing about the Nets: Brook Lopez is going to be a very solid big man in this league. He's got freakishly sweet hands, his footwork is great and he's seven-feet tall. He torched OKC scoring 31 and grabbing 13 rebounds -- five of them being offensive. Nick Collison did all he could to hang with the bigger Lopez and Krispy has never been known as a great defender and plus he's rusty. It was a perfect recipe for a career night for Lopez.

But I have to give it up to the Thunder for showing up tonight on the road and taking a .500 team to overtime. And on top of that, OKC got the TWO stops it had to have at the end of regulation. And on top of that, the big 11-3 run to tie the game at 88-88 to even give the Thunder a chance. Those a more baby steps in the thousand mile march to respectability. But look at it this way -- since Dec. 31, OKC is 3-4 with two two-point losses and one overtime loss. I know it's easy to coulda, shoulda, but geez, the Thunder's just 11 measely points away from away from being 6-1 in that stretch.

One quick travel day back home and OKC gets ready to take on the Jazz Wednesday night at the Ford Center. I don't know -- I feel a big home win coming. Just like Marc Stein said in today's power rankings, it's strange to feel this much optimism for a 6-33 team, but it's there.

Thunder at Nets: Pre-game view

vs.

Oklahoma City Thunder (6-32) vs. New Jersey Nets (18-19)
Big Monday, Jan. 12
Izod Center
East Rutherford, New Jersey
6:30 PM CST

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

Since Dec. 31, OKC is 3-3. That's .500. That's awesome. Throw in a very nice road win against a sluggish Bulls team and I'm feeling strangely good about a 6-32 team. Oh and also, 10 minus six is... let's see... four. That means four more wins and nobody says anything about Worst Team Ever anymore. And better yet, there's 44 games left! In order to tie the 1972-73 Sixers, OKC would have to go 3-41 the rest of the way. No way that's happening. Especially because I think the Thunder's going to notch No. 7 tonight. That's right.

The Nets are a two man scoring team. Devin Harris and Vince Carter. That's really it. Brook Lopez is a nice rookie averaging about 10 a game. YI Jianlian is an ALL-STAR!?? that's getting about 10 a game (seriously, no more fan vote for All-Star games anymore. I bet Penny Hardaway still gets a couple thousand votes still just because people don't know). Jarvis Hayes hits some threes, Bobby Simmons is a good role player and Ryan Anderson is a decent big, but there's not a lot to the Nets. But there will be an Eduardo Najera sighting which makes me happy. I love Eddie Naj.

But OKC matches the Nets well. And add in the fact that New Jersey is worse at home (8-12) than they are on the road (10-7) and that leads me to lean OKC. More than likely there will be 45 people there tonight and that's including the two teams' entire rosters. So if the Thunder come out with energy and excitement, they could jump on top of the Nets. Because empty arenas typically tend to lead to unexcited home teams. Throw in the fact that Yi won't be playing and Devin Harris is still hurting and is questionable.

A couple good storylines to pay attention to within the game:
Nenad Krstic versus his former franchise. Is it a big deal? Does this even register on the Revenge Scale? I don't think Krstic holds any grudge against the Nets, but I'm sure he is a little miffed they didn't sign him to an extension regardless of a busted knee. Each game Krstic plays, the more acclimated and less rusty he gets. Tonight would be a good game to break out with.

Russell Westbrook vs. Devin Harris (assuming Harris plays).
Quick on quick. Speed on speed. Both players attack the rim with reckless abandon, except Harris has a more consistent jumper. Both are very good defenders and both are catching more and more attention. Westbrook finally had a "bad" game against the Bulls but now his bad ones are a 3-16, six points, five turnovers showing but rather a 5-20, 14 point, 12 rebound performance. A major, major key will be Russell staying in front of Harris and limiting his penetration.

Helllooo Nick Collison! Finally. Seriously, finally. In Collison's last three games since returning from injury, he's averaged 15.3 ppg and 9.7 rpg. That's what I'm taking about.

Kevin Durant's turnovers. KD has been so awesome lately scoring 28 and grabbing 12 boards against Chicago. But he turned it over six times. And that's on top of the seven he had against Houston. I wrote about his carelessness with the rock about a week ago and I've talked about his struggles in ball-handling too (I actually have a theory for this), but he's got to do better here. Right now, that's what is holding his PER down and is keeping him from being an elite player.

A road trip can wear on a young team especially when that team will being playing its fifth game in seven days. But like I said, energy is key tonight. The crowd will be non-existent and the Nets won't be at full strentgh. If OKC can play with confidence early, I think I smell a winning streak.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Thunder at Chicago: Pre-game view

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Oklahoma City Thunder (5-32) vs. Chicago Bulls (16-20)
Saturday, Jan. 10
United Center
Chicago, Illinois
7:30 PM CST

TV: KSBI-52 (Cox 9)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM)

I've been looking forward to this game for about three weeks. Why? Well, obviously not because I think it's going to be a great matchup between contenders, but for an individual matchup.

I want to see Russell Westbrook versus Derrick Rose. We all do. And this isn't a "gauge where Russell's at" type of matchup -- he's played against much, much better point guards than Rose. But it's more just to watch the rookie with all the hype take on the one that's gaining steam. John Hollinger wrote about Westbrook probably being the best rookie guard when it's all said and done. Tonight's a big chance for Westbrook to prove it.

The thing about Westbrook -- early in the season when he had a nice game, he usually followed it up with a stinker. After he scored a then-career high 30 against Miami, he came back with just six on 3-13 shooting. After 19 solid points against the Mavs, he scored just two against the Spurs. But since that two point game against San Antonio, Westbrook has scored in double figures every game since (12 straight). And Russell, I apologize in advance for the jinx. I'm sorry.

The point I'm making is every game it kind of seems like he's due for a typical random rookie stinkpot. But he hasn't done it in three weeks. Compare that to Rose who had games with just three and eight in two of his last four. It's completely plausible and highly possible Russell may not play well tonight. Because I've been waiting for it to happen for a week. But he's got that little pull-up elbow jumper working for him and he's playing totally under control and staying within himself. He looks awesome right now. And he's just 20 and he's learning a new position. Can you tell I'm excited?

The last time Rose and Westbrook hooked up, it was in the 2008 Final Four in San Antonio. Rose outscored Westbrook 25-22 and the Tigers beat the Bruins 78-63. It should be another really good matchup between the two guards.

As for the actual game and not the game-within-the-game, OKC will keep this one close down the stretch. Nenad Krstic is figuring things out and playing back-to-back games should help him acclimate himself to the flow a lot better and I actually expect a solid game from him. I'm curious as to if Krstic will start over Robert Swift tonight and also curious to see what the starting five will look like. Last night it was Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Nick Collison and Robert Swift, a throwback to P.J.'s type lineups with Durant at the two and Green at the three. I could see that lineup working well tonight but I could also see it creating mismatches in the Bulls favor. So I really don't know. That's why I sit in my underwear and write previews and Scott Brooks actually makes the decision.

I'll toss out another prediction because I was relatively close last night and say I like the Bulls, but not by much. I'm going with 104-101 win for Chicago. The Bulls are 12-5 at home and OKC hasn't won on the road in a month. It makes for a pretty easy decision, but my OKC optimism keeps me thinking it will be close.

Rockets do their work at the charity stripe to down Thunder

I went and saw Gran Torino tonight (which was excellent, by the way) and didn't watch the game. So sue me.

Evidently, I missed a good one. I'm just doing a box score drive-by and here's a few quick ruminations:

1. No Chris Wilcox, no Damien Wilkins. Woo and woo. I like Joe's theory at Thunderguru -- holding Wilcox out so not to risk injury seems very plausible. Holding Wilkins out because OKC would be better off letting me hoist stupid jumpers seems very smart.

2. I listened to the first quarter on the radio, but one thing was pretty eye... er, ear-catching. The Rockets didn't make a field goal until three minutes left in the first quarter. Yet the most they ever trailed in that quarter was by seven. Incredible.

3. What's the deal with Robert Swift? Obviously, he's just a token starter. He's been in the first five the past six games, but the most minutes he's played has been 21. Tonight he played just 10. Are they trying to slowly -- and I mean slowly -- work him back into game shape? Or are they trying to keep him somewhat happy so that they can make a decision on whether to bring him back next year? Or is he just biding time until Krispy Nads is ready to take over full-time? I think I found my answer.

4. Speaking of Krispy, judging by the box score, it looks like he's adjusting decently back to the NBA game. But on the radio in the first quarter, I heard him make a major mental boo-boo. The Thunder had the ball with two seconds on the 24 and the ball went in two Krstic and he was totally clueless and swung the ball to Russell Westbrook. I'll just cut him some slack and chalk it up to being rusty, even though you could not play basketball in 45 years and have enough court awareness to look at the shot clock, especially when there's two seconds on it. But hey guys, come on... he's new.

5. Twenty-two turnovers? Seven by Kevin Durant? Geez.

6. I really wasn't aware Earl Watson was rehabbing a bum thumb for the first two months of the season and since he's been "healthy" he has been better. I'll give him that. But I only feel about .001 percent bad for all the ragging on him I've done. He's shooting better but he still takes too many "No, no, no, NO, NOOO!!!" jumpshots. And I think I like Kyle Weaver as Russell's backup more anyway.

7. When I have about two hours that I need to completely flush, I'll do research on this, but how many games has Oklahoma City lost this year while outshooting its opponents? I feel like this has happened a decent amount under Scott Brooks. Tonight, the Thunder shot 48 percent from the field while Houston shot 46. And on top of it, OKC took seven more shots! The difference was at the free throw line where Houston took 15 more and made 11 more than the Thunder.

8. Seriously, you look at that stat line and you've got to think OKC won. 44-31 in rebounds. 48-46 in field goal percentage. OKC made four threes, Houston made five. OKC had six steals, Houston had... oh, I see. Houston had 14 steals. And 21 points off 22 Thunder turnovers.

9. Nice lines though by Westbrook and Durant though. KD continues to be one of the best scorers in the league, notching 27, but his game is becoming full. Six rebounds and five assists to go with the points is nice. Westbrook put up 15, six and six. Is it just me or does anyone think that's going to be his consistent line for pretty much the rest of his career? He just screams 15, six and six to me.

10. I'm not really a moral victories kind of guy, but I don't really have a problem with some of these losses. The team is playing contenders extremely well, but there's just clearly one or two little, tiny things missing or these would be wins. And I fully expect that to be corrected by next year. So imagine all these under six-point losses Scott Brooks has piled up and make them wins. We'd be looking at a 13-24 record just on that alone instead of 5-32. Tack on more experience for the youngsters, more skills developing and maybe an added piece here or there and I think at this point next year we could see a 20-17 record. Is that crazy? Yeah, probably.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Rockets vs. Thunder: Pre-game primer

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Houston Rockets (22-15) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (5-31)
Friday, Jan. 9
Ford Center
Oklahoma City, OK
7:00 CST

TV: FS Oklahoma
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal

It should be a somber crowd tonight at the Ford. Maybe we should all wear black as we mourn the loss of the Sooners. Twas a wonderful season, but nothing hurts more than coming up empty-handed on the biggest stage in your sport.

Maybe the Thunder can give us some solace! Yeah.

I'm in the process of setting up the new website, so I'm a little swamped. But here's a quick breakdown:

Rockets good.
Thunder not so much.

But I actually sort of like OKC to play well tonight despite that 42-point whooping the other night. Under Scott Brooks, that doesn't happen much and typically the team comes back competitive. Hopefully, Nenad Krstic gets more settled in tonight and unlike the Wolves, the Rockets don't hit EVERYTHING. The Rockets are just .500 on the road and the Thunder have played them relatively well. And I'm kind of excited to have a real 7-footer to match up on Yao. I'm going to go on record and make a prediction for tonight: Oklahoma City 101, Houston 97. Yep. Maybe I'm reaching because I need something to help me get over last night. As you can see, I took it pretty hard.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Looking at Kevin Durant's hot spots

I love these NBA.com hotspots. I could shuffle through them all day and look at where guys hit shots from. As you look at them, you notice strange trends. For instance, Kevin Durant:


Look at how many more shots KD has taken on the right side of the court (209 to 159) and how much higher a percentage he's shooting from the right side (40 percent to 37). Also, he clearly likes the right wing/straightaway three over the left wing trey. A lot of that has to do with the fact that in the offense, he mostly starts out on the right side of the court, but I still find that slightly interesting. And for some serious perspective on how much better KD has been this year, check out last year's graph:

But here's what started to catch my eye more than anything from both seasons. He also doesn't shoot well from the baselines about 6-8 feet out (34.7 percent this year). I've always said that's the hardest shot in basketball. It's too far to be an easy lay-in and it's too close to be a pull-up jay. You've got no backboard -- it's basically swish or miss. I probably airballed that shot 30 percent of the time in my prestigious basketball career. LeBron James is shooting 24.4 percent from the baseline tweener as I like to call it. (Because you don't know whether to take a full jumpshot or if you should float it or if you should drop step toward the rim and try and lay it. Just a tough shot.) Kobe is hitting 38 percent on the tweener (10 percent below his season percentage). One of the best shooters in the league, Joe Johnson, is hitting 38 percent on the tweener (six below his season percentage). I don't think this is big news to anyone, because most everybody knows players hit a higher percentage the more they are in front on the rim. Instead of looking at just a little thin rim, you've got everything to focus on -- the backboard, the hoop, the square, etc. But that tweener shot is closer than the jumper five feet behind it, yet for the most part, players hit that jumpshot more than the tweener. Swish that around for a minute and take it for what it's worth.

Also with LeBron, just because it's crazy -- he's shooting a wonderful 50.8 percent on the season. Good, right? Well, look at his hotspots:


Unless he's at the rim, he's not a good shooter. At the rim, sure -- he's hitting 71.6 percent (compare that to KD's 59.6 -- Bron knows how to finish). But anything else, he's hitting just 34.8 percent. Wow. It's not like this is any major revelation here because we all know LeBron's game is getting to the rim, but when you really look at it, it's kind of amazing. It's very interesting to see the difference in two of the top six or seven scorers in the league and how they get their points. Durant hits silky jumpers. Bron finishes at the rim. Nothing revolutionary there, but again, I was just struck by that when it was laid out so plain and clear with the hotspots.

ESPN's John Hollinger (really smart guy) thinks Russell Westbrook will be this year's best rookie guard

I'm glad I'm not the only one that thinks Russell is going to be a special, special player. I don't feel so crazy anymore. Hollinger says:

"Since everyone sees this rookie of the year race as a two-man chase between Derrick Rose and O.J. Mayo, let me steal a page from Rob Neyer and present this comparison:

Player A: 37.3 min., 16.3 pts., 6.2 ast., 45.9 FG%, 13.58 PER
Player B: 36.4 min., 17.7 pts., 3.8 ast., 43.8 FG%, 14.03 PER
Player C: 33.1 min., 15.5 pts., 5.1 ast., 46.2 FG%, 16.23 PER

Player A is Rose in the month of December. Player B is Mayo in the month of December. And Player C, who has more combined points and assists per minute than either Rose or Mayo, a better shooting percentage and a higher Player Efficiency Rating? That would be Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook in the month of December.

He's getting zero attention because he had a dreadful November and his team has won only five games. But Westbrook has been spectacular over the past month -- he shot 34.5 percent in November but 46.2 percent in December and hung 22 points, nine assists and six rebounds on the Knicks on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Rose and Mayo have cooled off from their hot starts. Westbrook also is the youngest of the three, the best defender and the only one who had to change positions upon arriving in the NBA. All of which suggests he's only scratching the surface of his potential -- as does the fact that he has a higher turnover ratio than the other two, which, in a paradoxical twist of logic, is actually a good thing for a rookie. Historically, those with high turnover rates have had much higher rates of improvement in subsequent seasons.

So 12 months from now, don't be surprised if we're calling Westbrook the top guard from this rookie class."

And also, if that last line becomes true, don't be surprised if I send David Berri a gloating email.

Note: If you're an ESPN Insider, you could continue reading as Hollinger also predicts OKC will win 20 (TWENTY!) games this year. I've got them penciled down for about 14-17 at this moment, but who am I to disagree with John "The Brain" Hollinger? I just hope he didn't watch last night's game.

Also... in today's B.S. Report, Bill talks with Ric Bucher and Marc Stein and at about the 47 minute mark, they get into Oklahoma City and potential trades. Also, Bill asks if Portland had to do it all over again, would the Blazers take Kevin Durant? Bill even makes the bold claim that if Durant hits his ceiling, he will be one of the top 20 players ever. Interesting stuff.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Oklahoma City forgets to get off the bus in a 129-87 loss to Minnesota

Ever stay up waaaay too late on a Tuesday night, just sitting there on the couch mindlessly flipping channels, catching a cool episode of I Shouldn't Be Alive and then watching the same SportsCenter like four times? Then you wake up the next morning and you're a zombie until quitting time and all you can think about is, "Why in the heck didn't I go to bed at a reasonable time? I should have known I had business to take care of tomorrow." That was the Thunder tonight. Instead of finishing off the Knicks last night and cruising into tonight's game, they stayed up way later than they should have and they paid for it tonight.

What is there to say? Really, what is there to analyze, breakdown or write about after a 42 point (FORTY. TWO.) loss?

It was evident from the tip, the Thunder left their legs in Oklahoma City. Jumpshots were short. They were slow on the defensive end. Loose balls went to Minnesota every time. Perimeter defense was atrocious. I swear I saw a couple guys yawn while the ball was in play. Just bad all the way around. And you know what I have to say about it? It happens. Especially when you're not all that good and you're average age is 24. It's just bound to happen.

Under Brooks, this type of game hasn't occurred since the beat down in Cleveland in his second game at the helm. So almost two months of the team being competitive night in and night out is pretty good and like I said, it was just time for it again. Everything set up for it when the stretch of games, the tough on the night before, the road game in front of about 45 people and five degree weather outside.

Once the game was out of hand in the second half, there wasn't any effort to plug away and get back in it. And that was probably a wise decision by Scott Brooks. Tonight's game turned more into an elevated scrimmage than a competitive NBA game. Kevin Durant played just 22 minutes. Jeff Green played 19. Twelve guys played total. Including Nenad Krstic, who was clearly rusty, but clearly has ability. Hard to really gauge him in a laugher like this, but it's nice to see him in the rotation. Also nice to see Russell Westbrook continue to play well -- he was a bright spot as he went for 16 and 12 assists. And good to see Nick Collison back and he played well (17 and 10). Bummer the team was about as focused as me in Intellectual History of the 19th Century last semester, but there's no reason to flip over tables and curse the TV. As happy and encouraged we've been over the last week or so, we need to keep in mind this is still a 5-31 team that's not real good. Tonight was a pretty solid reminder.

But it just kept piling up and getting worse. It was 42-24 after one (with the Wolves shooting 75 percent in the quarter). It was 72-43 at half. 98-66 after three. And a horrible 129-87 in the end. Some will look at this and think, "Boy, just when I thought we were making up ground. What a step in the wrong direction." In my mind, this isn't really a step backward. Unless the Thunder lets this affect them and they fall into a funk as a result, tonight just wasn't them. Perfect stat to prove it: OKC was outrebounded 57-38. That just doesn't happen when they're focused and giving 100 percent. They may be a bad team, but they don't get outworked like that. We all know they're better than their record and we all know they're better than they showed tonight. And in the end, a 42 point loss counts for the same about of losses as the two-point one Minny handed to OKC over a month ago. (And hey, at least it's not as bad as Sacramento's 108-63 loss two weeks ago.)

(Quick note on today's trade: We all know what it was for and there's not much too it. Since signing Nads, there really wasn't room for 14 centers on the bench. Somebody had to go. Quite honestly, this is an excellent deal for the Thunder because Johan Petro was basically going to be seven feet of waste the rest of the way. I assume Sam Presti is shuffling here -- get Chucky Atkins and his expiring deal and now you have a backup point guard so you can move Earl Watson at the deadline (Watson has two years left). You also get the Nuggs first round pick, but I sense that pick will be a throw-in to somebody during a deadline deal. Good move by OKC.)

No overreaction here. Of course it's fairly disconcerting that the team lost by 42, but OKC is in a stretch of four games in five days and had to travel after a grueler last night. Now if something similar happens Friday night and the Thunder are flatter than a wall and don't show the same hustle and heart they have over the past three weeks, then I'll be upset. Granted, the next game is at home against a playoff team in Houston, but I fully expect OKC to bounce back and at least be competitive for 48.

Thunder vs. Minnesota: Pre-game view

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Oklahoma City Thunder (5-30) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (9-25)
Wednesday, Jan. 7
Target Center
Minneapolis, MN
7:00 PM CST

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

After losing streaks of 14, nine and then just five, the Thunder snapped a one-game losing, uh, streak. Sure sign of improvement. But one thing has been consistent in all five of OKC's wins - sub-par opponents. And tonight, the Thunder gets another one, albeit on the road, in 9-25 Minnesota. The two teams are eerily similar. Minny averages 96.6 and surrenders 102.2. OKC averages 94.7 and gives up 102.7. They're identical in rebounds per game (41.7) and nearly the same in field goal percentage (both under 45 percent). So far, the season series is split 1-1 with the Thunder taking the first one 88-85 and the Wolves taking game two on a Mike Miller buzzer-beater, 105-103.

I'm a little pressed for time today, so I'll just give you five quick keys to tonight's game.

1. The Thunder's legs. Will they be tired after having to exert so much energy in holding off New York last night? In a perfect Thunder-world (see what I did there?), OKC would have finished the Knicks off by 25, Mo Sene would have seen some burn and KD, Russell and Jeff Green would've sat most of the fourth. Instead, Durant played 45, Green 36 and Westbrook 42. Right now, the Scott Brooks is rotating 8-9 players in and out. We may see more than that tonight due to jello legs.

2. Oklahoma City stinks on the road. The Thunder's 1-15 away from Loud City. Not much to break down or analyze there. This is as good a time as any to notch another one though.

3. Nenad Krstic. I thought he'd play a few last night, but he wasn't even in uniform. No word on whether or not he'll play tonight. But we're all excited to see what Nads could potentially bring. I'll go ahead and stick with my predicted line from last night: 14 minutes, eight points, three boards, two assists and city of encouraged people.

4. Winning streak? Another crack at it. I actually don't like this opportunity for two in a row as much as I liked the Denver game. Weird, huh? But as mentioned, the Thunder's no good in roadies, having lost its last eight away from home. The Wolves have played rather decently as of late, winning three in a row. Had it not been for Carmelo Effing Anthony, we'd have a clash of the three-game win streak titans. But when a bad team is on a winning streak, the first thing I always think is, "They're due for a loss. Because how long can they keep it up?" Hmm. I guess the same principle could apply to the Thunder as well...

5. Randy Foye vs. Russell Westbrook. Foye has been playing excellent as of late. So has Westbrook. Something's gotta give in a matchup of quick on quick. Of course I like Russell because well, I like Russell. But the key is limiting Foye's scoring while also keeping him off schedule - meaning, don't let him have easy drive and dishes to Al Jefferson and Craig Smith because that's how Minny gets a lot of points. Foye wants to shoot the three but Westbrook plays pretty stiff man up defense, so I think Westbrook can handle him. But as it goes for rooks, they're due for a bad one every few nights and Russell has played a pretty good streak of good ones.

Wednesday Bolts - 1.7.09

- Have you voted for Russell Westbrook today? Do it... Do it.

- One day until the National Championship game. I'm nervous. And mad about the media storm around Dominique Franks' "comments."

- Seth from Posting and Toasting on OKC: "Credit Oklahoma City with being a really surprisingly solid city and arena. They're really loveable underdogs. There's a pre-game prayer (I'd like to see that), they have silly sound effects for each player (I guess the Knicks do to, but somehow this is sillier), and get legitimately rowdy when their team performs. Hats off to the OKC. Still, it would've given me sick pleasure to rob them of a much-deserved win."

- See, we knew everyone would start to come around. One commenter at Knickerblogger: "It was totally [messed] up how the Thunder ended up in OKC, but yeah, the fans in OKC obviously love them their basketball."

- What do YOU mean, "those guys?": '"It's taking steps back, especially losing to those guys," Al Harrington said. "No disrespect to them, but we're in a different place than those guys." "What different place? The Thunder boast three young studs the Knicks wish they had. Second-year stars Kevin Durant and Jeff Green battered the Knicks with 27 points apiece, and rookie point guard Russell Westbrook, whom the Knicks targeted in the draft, finished with 22 points and nine assists."'

- Still following the Thunder on ESPN's "worst team ever" thing? Yeah, me neither: With last night's win, the Thunder are on pace for a 12-70 record. After 35 games, the 1972-73 Sixers were 3-35. Which isn't even the worst ever after 35. The 1997-98 Nuggets, the 1993-94 Mavs and 1970-71 Cavs were all 2-33. Hey, I'm kind of digging 5-30 now.

- Ball Don't Lie Behind the Box Score: "The Thunder stormed (I just wrote that, I didn't even think about it ... I think the BtB wheels have come off) to an early lead with some sound ball movement and plenty of aggression. Good aggression, getting into lanes, making the extra pass, and finishing well. Kevin Durant had 27 points on 16 shots, with 12 rebounds, and Jeff Green scored 27 of his own. A sneaky 27, if I'm honest. Didn't know it was happening until I was told. Also, Russell Westbrook ... 22 points, nine assists, six boards, four turnovers, not bad. Again, lots of aggression. The Thunder looked great, New York came back for a spell during the fourth quarter, but Oklahoma City is playing some really good basketball of late, and it's been truly fun to watch."

- Bored? Waste some time checking out what I think are the top 10 Nike commercials ever: "Pretty much anything with Michael Jordan makes a great commercial. It could be 30 seconds of MJ just dribbling in his underwear with some awesome pulsing beat with a light piano over the top and then you slap, "Become Legendary" and the Jumpman on the end of it and you've got a flippin' sweet commercial."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Role reversal: Oklahoma City outlasts New York 107-99

What a strange feeling to have as a Thunder fan. Winning a game and yet feeling some disappointment and frustration. And it's kind of weird to be on the other side of a comeback attempt.

But hey, it's a win. And guess what: TWO OUT OF THREE. Had it not been for Carmelo tearing out OKC's heart, this would have been three in a row. Can you believe that? But one encouraging thing to take out of it is that instead of OKC getting the "Here we go again" feeling, they closed. A month ago, the Thunder would have lost this one by eight points. But instead, they closed. They made clutch plays, got big rebounds and most importantly, won. And that feels good. Despite what may have happened in about an eight minute stretch, the Thunder played awesome for about 40 minutes, then hung on for dear life for eight. And won.

But the path to getting there wasn't pretty. After leading by as much as 25 late in the third, Al Harrington went on an 11-0 run by himself to cut it to 14. The Thunder called timeout, went on a 4-0 spurt and pushed it back to 18. But then New York went back at it and got it down to as little as three. At one point, the Knicks scored on 13 consecutive possessions. As the game tightened, so did the Thunder. Jeff Green (who was awesome tonight) was 7-7 from the free throw line. But late in the fourth, he missed three of four from the line. OKC turned it over time after time and in general was just loose with the basketball. Had it not been for the Knicks just going completely cold from three, this may have been a jump-off-a-building type game.

You've got to love OKC shooting almost 53 percent, hitting 24-31 from the line and outrebounding the Knicks by 11. You've got to love Kevin Durant scoring 27, Jeff Green doing the same and Russell Westbrook adding 22. You've got to love how the Thunder came out scorching, outscoring New York 35-23 in the first quarter. You've got to love the team playing well tonight, despite what happened to them the last time out. That HAS to feel good for them.

Tonight was about getting up big and hanging on. Something the Thunder has watched other teams do a lot to them this season. But you had to like OKC's chances as the Knicks are now 0-16 when behind going into the fourth. But check out OKC's last two first halves: 63 against the Knicks, 64 against the Nuggets. Look at these halftime numbers: Mason 11, Durant 17, Westbrook 17, Green 10. Earlier in the year, those were end-of-the-game numbers. Against the Nuggs, OKC shot 58 percent. Tonight, 53. This isn't a bad offensive team anymore. They're efficient, they're hitting jumpshots and they're scoring in the paint. I wrote about the problem earlier in the year and it was simply that the team couldn't hit jumpers. Now they are. Add in Westbrook's dynamic driving and this is a pretty good offensive team. But the horrible lapses defensively are definitely disturbing.

Kevin Durant continues to totally blow me away. On all of his 11 makes, I don't think he hit the rim once. Seriously. I really don't think he did. His game is becoming more and more complete as he's turning into a nice rebounder (eight a game since move to the three, with 12 more tonight) and he's got the dribble-drive working more and more. He's good. Plain and simple. Good. He didn't have as big a second half, but that's because when the ball went to him, he was doubled. And tripled. He may say he doesn't deserve to be an All-Star, but he's really looking like one. If he were on a winning club, heck, he might be on the outside of the MVP discussion. One other thing: He also played 45 minutes. He may be worn out tomorrow.

Russell Westbrook is getting a tad lazy with all those reach-around steal attempts. I know when I play a pick-up game, when I'm tired and no longer feel like playing defense, I won't try so hard to stay in front of my man and will just try the olay defense. It's a fine defensive move, but I don't think many players should be getting around Russell, so I fear it may be a bit of a lazy move. But other than that, Westbrook has been playing so freaking good. Another great game - 22 points, nine assists, six rebounds. And anyone else notice the Good, Bad and the Ugly theme played when WESTbrook scored, a la David West circa the 2005-2007 Hornets. If you close your eyes and Mason and Westbrook score back-to-back baskets, you may think you're at a Hometown Hornets game.

Not to leave out Green who was really the go-to-guy late. He created for himself, made shots, got to the line and rebounded well. Again, 27 points on 8-16 shooting, seven boards and 3-6 from three. So awesome to watch Green, Westbrook and Durant all click together.

One thing: Why is it whenever the ball goes into Mason in the post, I just want to turn my TV off for about four seconds? Oh, I know why. Because he's about to A) Turn it over B) Take a little baby hook that just hits backboard or C) Throw it away after getting caught in the air with no where to go. After New York cut it back to four with four to go, why go to Mason in the post - twice? WHY!?!?!? But with that said, I love Dez. He plays so hard and works his tail of defensively that I have no qualms with him. Except for that one thing.

Nenad Krstic didn't play tonight. Scott Brooks cited it being because he's something they like and there's no need to rush him along. He's right, but we all are dying to see him. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe not. It's not like he's a piece added to make a playoff run. It's probably a smart move. And evidently, no need for him tonight. Hi-Oh!

An observation about the Knicks: I know this isn't any huge revelation here, but if the three isn't falling, this team isn't that good. I've never seen a team give up on the offensive glass quite like the Knicks did in the first three quarters. The shot goes up and everybody puts their head down and heads for the defensive end, make or miss. They turned it up a little in the fourth, but before that, there was just no effort there. They almost look like a pick-up team. Everybody standing around, waiting for their turn to hoist a three, not playing much defense and not crashing the offensive glass. Of course, in every pick-up game you've got that one annoying guy that hustles for some unknown reason and works hard on the glass (David Lee).

Four good things for the young Thunder to take from tonight's game. 1) A win. That's what matters most. 2) Things to have done differently in order to not give up a huge lead. 3) Showing character to not let it get away and in the end closing it out. And 4) A win. Did I already say that?

After just a one game losing streak, the Thunder looks for two in a row again, this time in Minnesota tomorrow night. Definitely winnable, as long as everybody's legs don't fall off.

Knicks vs. Thunder: Pre-game view

vs.

New York Knicks (13-19) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (4-30)
Tuesday, January 6
Ford Center
Oklahoma City, OK
7:00 PM CST

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

The other view: Knickerblogger

Throw out the first meeting between these two. Just take it, wad it up and toss it. Because much has changed since these two squads hooked up. November's 116-106 win for the Knicks saw Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford both tossing up 29 point games as New York stormed out to a big lead and OKC fought from behind. But both Crawford and Randolph have been traded. Now OKC has to prepare for Al Harrington and Tim Thomas. Coach P.J. Carlesimo is gone. The Thunder welcomes in one new player as Nenad Krstic joins to fold. So basically, it's as if the two teams never met.

Really, the main thing to watch for tonight is what Nenad Krispy does or is given the opportunity to do. Scott Brooks has said he wants to "work" Krstic in, meaning play him a little and build his minutes. But what if he walks out on the floor and scored three buckets and grabs four boards in a minute? I have a feeling Brooks will say, "Screw it. He's playing 30 tonight." My guess for Krispy: 14 minutes, eight points, three rebounds, two assists and 19,000 highly encouraged people.

The Thunder actually match up fairly well against the Knicks. Much like OKC, the Knicks play pretty small. I like Russell Westbrook on Chris Duhon because Russell is quicker and Duhon is prone to made poor decisions when pressured. Westbrook had 19 points, 10 rebounds and six assists against the Knicks in the first meeting and for the most part outplayed Duhon. Quentin Richardson isn't the same scorer he used to be. Wilson Chandler can be electric but at this point, I'm taking Kevin Durant over about 90 percent of the league's small forwards. Jeff Green could really give Harrington trouble on the offensive end, but Green's going to need help guarding the bigger Harrington. And Robert Swift versus David Lee is a total mismatch athletically so OKC will have to do something there. I don't know who will get the start, but Chris Wilcox might be able to neutralize Lee somewhat.

I actually lean to OKC to win this one for a few reasons:

A. Because the Knicks are coming off a big win over the Celtics two nights ago. To me, that's a red flag for a below average team to come out flat.

B. The Knicks are 5-11 on the road.

C. As mentioned, the matchups might favor OKC. The Knicks dominated Boston in the frontcourt. OKC doesn't get much from there anyway and relies mainly on its backcourt. Plus, adding a wildcard like Krstic could be a huge boost for the Thunder. I like Westbrook against Duhon, Durant against Chandler and Green offensively against Harrington. Lee could be tough for Swift, but Wilcox might be able to guard him. And we just concede shooting guard every night. Basically, you could put a fan out there and let him run around and you'd get about the same production.

But the real key is how will the Thunder respond after last Friday's 122-120 heartbreaker against the Nuggets. Some teams use it as extra motivation and come out looking to rectify and justify. Some come out sulking and mail it in for 48. Hard to say what will happen here. Last time the Thunder lost on a buzzer beater against the Pistons, they played poorly in Washington. But after Mike Miller's horn beater to give Minny a 105-103 win, the Thunder beat Memphis on the road. So who knows.

But much like the Golden State game, these are no longer the stay-close-and-hope-you-have-a-chance games. These are winnable games. OKC is better than four wins. But you've got to show it against the 13-19 teams too, not just against the best. The Thunder has somehow started gaining respect despite having the worst record. Another solid performance and win No. 5 could go a long way in helping build that respect.

Tuesday's Five

1. Kevin Durant's PER is at a solid 19.48 right now compared to 15.87 for his rookie season. He ranks 37th in the league in PER, ahead of players like Carmelo Anthony, Gerald Wallace and Rashard Lewis. The two categories KD really needs to improve in order to get into "elite" status are assists and cut down of turnovers. Something many don't realize is that Durant ranks SIXTH in the entire league in scoring at 23.8 ppg, and THIRD in the West. And he's in his second year and is 20 years old. Durant actually ranks ninth in the league in three point percentage (44.4). One other thing is that under Scott Brooks, KD is averaging about seven more minutes per game than under P.J. Carlesimo. I had that as one thing that needed to change for Durant almost two months ago.

2. A somewhat disturbing stat: Oklahoma City has hit 135 three pointers on the season. The team is shooting a pretty solid 38 percent from three which ranks 11th, but the 135 made ranks second to last. Between Jeff Green and Kevin Durant, those two have made 89 threes (Green 45, Durant 44), accounting for 66 percent of OKC's made threes. The next highest total comes from Damien Wilkins who has made 16 on the year, followed by Russell Westbrook who has 15. After that, Earl Watson has 11, Kyle Weaver three and Joe Smith one. I think three point shooting is an issue.

3. David Thorpe on Russell Westbrook: "Westbrook has not disappointed his coaches on either side of the ball. He notched his third five-steal game of the season on New Year's Eve after scoring 31 points two nights earlier. The Thunder were expecting the steals, but not the points this early in his first season. He's scoring well while still not being a good shooter, a skill that can be improved over time. That bodes well for both Westbrook and the Thunder." Hmm. Seems like somebody else was saying that about Russell. Look out league if he can get a consistent jumper? Yep.

4. Nenad Krstic appears to be fitting in nicely with his new team. He's already been given the nickname "Krispy." There's no definite word on whether Krispy will play tonight against the Knicks, but all signs point to yes. He's been cleared to play and the way Scott Brooks talked, I bet minutes will be limited (something like 8-10), but we should get a look at him at least.

5. Kevin Durant leads the Thunder in blocks with 30. The next closest player is Nick Collison with 24. And if you're wondering, no, Krispy is not a big-time shot blocker. He has averaged just 0.7 bpg over his NBA career.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Five (sort of) realistic goals for the rest of the season

What's something I've said about 200 times over the last month that you already know, but that's not going to stop me from saying it again? Anyone? The Thunder are getting better. The December 31 107-100 win over Golden State gave the team confidence. Last week's 122-120 heartbreaker either shattered that confidence or built it even more, telling the young team they can compete with anybody.

So as this season wears on, what are five NEW goals for the Thunder? Being 4-30, it's not crazy to say the team likely won't be able to meet the goals they set before the season started. I remember a Sporting News reporter asking Kevin Durant about the playoffs. That really funny now in a that's-not-so-funny-kind-of-way. But what can OKC set out to do the rest of the way? There's 48 games left. Since there's not a whole lot to play for other than to lose more and secure the most ping-pong balls, some new goals need to be set. Here's five suggestions:

1. Win six games in a month.
Is this possible? More than you think. It seems in the past few months any time something seemingly impossible comes up, my first (and typically only rebuttal) is, "Hey, you know the Tampa Bay Rays did go to the World Series." So.... you know the Tampa Bay Rays did go to the World Series. There's 14 games in January, 12 in February, 15 in March and eight in April. This month gives a few good opportunities with home games against the Knicks, New Jersey and Memphis, but in order to get it done, OKC would have to win road games at Minnesota, Los Angeles (Clippers) and Golden State. Granted, there's other opportunities in there -- but while the Thunder will surely surprise some contenders, we can't think they'll do it six times. The best month to do it? March. Not only is there 15 games (more chances) but OKC will have home games against Dallas, Washington, Philly and Chicago and winnable roadies at Sacramento, Minnesota and Toronto. Plus, throw electric home game atmospheres against the Lakers and San Antonio and there's good reason to think that may be possible.

2. Win three in a row.
The chance to check this one off may have come and gone. The win against the Warriors, then the shocker against Denver followed with tomorrow night's winnable game at home against the Knicks was probably the best opportunity OKC had. Because other than that, any two games against a below average, beatable opponents is linked with a game against a contender. And most of the Thunder's games against beatable opponents are on the road -- for instance, I'd love to go with a three game stint against Golden State, the Clippers and New Jersey, but two of those are on the road. There's really no three game home stand that has three winnable games, so the Thunder's going to have to win one on the road. My pick to do it: the last week of January. Two home games against New Jersey and Memphis and a road game in Utah. Obviously, winning in Utah will be near impossible but there's good chance the Jazz could come out asleep. They'll be coming off a game two night's earlier against San Antonio and then will have to immediately travel to Portland the next night for a big game against a fellow contender. I also liked the last week of March with home games against Washington and Dallas and a roadie at NOLA, but by that time Gilbert Arenas should be back and Dallas may be fighting for the playoffs.

3. Win every two of five at home and one of five on the road.
That would put OKC's record at 8-14 in Loud City and at 5-21 away from the Ford. Overall, the Thunder would be finishing with a 17-65 record overall, but with a 13-35 record in the final 48. Not bad considering the team has started 4-30.

4. Shock at least two title contenders.
The best nights to do it: Tuesday, February 24th at home against the Lakers and Tuesday, April 7th at home against the Spurs. The Lakers because that's the first time Kobe and the Lake show come to the Ford Center and the place with be crazy and that games against the Spurs because it's game three of a three game road stint with games at Indiana and Cleveland. Maybe San Antonio comes in flatter than the last fourth of a Diet Dr. Pepper.

5. Most importantly: Finish with more than nine wins.
It's simple. Don't finish with five, six, seven, eight or even nine wins total. Finish with MORE than that. You have to. You finish with 10 and people will dog you for a while, but no one will remember you. Finish with nine or fewer and you're part of history. But the kind of history that no one likes to remember. You know, the Spanish Inquisition, William Howard Taft's presidency, the 2008 Detroit Lions. You don't want to be in that side of the history book. Win 10. As Chauncey Billups said, this team isn't a 4-30 team. But they still need to get it done on the floor. I'm going to start printing shirts. Win 10.