NBA Season Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder


Thunder_crowd.jpgLast season: 50-32, which tied them three ways for the sixth seed, but due to tiebreakers they got the eighth spot — and the Lakers in the first round. The athleticism of the Thunder pushed it six games, but you have to learn to win in the NBA and the Thunder are still learning.

Head Coach: Scott Brooks, who has formed a real connection with his young team.

Key Departures: None (because as much as you consider Etan Thomas “key” I do not)

Key Additions:
They locked up Kevin Durant for five years at the max. Put the meaningless comparisons to LeBron’s summer aside and realize that this was one of the biggest moves of the entire summer. Maybe the biggest.

Also, brought in were Daequan Cook, Mo Peterson and draft pick Cole Aldrich. So basically not a lot in terms if key minutes. Maybe the best pickup was a swap to get a future Clipper first rounder (if it’s lottery protected they should see it around 2020).

Best case scenario: They take the next step forward, get home court in the first round (at least) and win a series or two in the playoffs. A Western Conference finals series against the Lakers is the ultimate dream.

For that to happen: Kevin Durant has to continue to be THE Kevin Durant, they have to play better team defense, they have to continue to see growth and improvement out of their young core, and they have to stay healthy.

Yes, you can say “they have to stay healthy” about all 30 teams, but what went largely unnoticed last year was the Thunder were one of the healthiest teams in the league. Durant, Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green and Thabo Sefolosha all played 82 games. James Harden and Nenad Krstic missed just six games each. Nick Collison missed seven, Serge Ibaka nine. Basically, none of the Thunder core had a serious injury last season. That is rare in the NBA (just ask the other young power in the West up in Portland).

As for Durant, if you watched him in the FIBA World Championships this summer you have no doubt he will be THE Kevin Durant again. That may have less to do with scoring more or being a much better player — he is already getting mentioned in the Kobe/LeBron sentences — than it is about public perception. Durant is exploding on the scene, moving from the guy all the basketball fans rave about to a guy the average fan tunes in to watch.

I’ve written this story before but I’ll do it one more time for our many new readers: At a late-season Clippers/Thunder matchup last season I was seated next to a couple of advanced scouts, both whose teams had upcoming games against the Thunder. Three times during that game Durant did something that left these two guys — whose job it is to watch and break down games for a living — looking at each other and just shaking their head. At one point one said, “How the (expletive) are we supposed to stop that?” If you can do that to the most jaded, you are special.

What really matters for the Thunder is continued improvement and defense.

The Thunder were ninth in defensive efficiency in the league last season, not bad but something they can improve on. That starts with Ibaka — he has become the team’s go-to shot blocker and they need someone to protect the rim (every team needs that in today’s NBA). Cole Aldrich may also help in that role, but he is more of a project than a guy playing huge, key minutes this season. Ibaka comes off the bench and may not supplant Krstic as the starter, but look for him to close out more games when the Thunder need defensive stops.

Also, as the season wore on the Thunder’s defense seemed to improve, they seemed to better use their athleticism to disrupt, create turnovers then turn that into easy (sometimes spectacular) points going the other direction.

The other big question is: Can Westbrook and Green and Ibaka and James Harden and the rest of the core all continue to take steps forward. Last season all showed dramatic improvement in their games, fueling the Thunder. If you project them on that same arc, they become a force

Westbrook has become elite in dishing out assists, but can he cut his turnover rate (16.6) down this season. More importantly, can he become more of a scoring threat. Yes, that is an odd thing to say about a guy who put up 16.1 points per game, but he was not efficient where it matters — he shot just 22 percent on threes and finished just 52.7 percent of his shots at the rim (that’s layups, dunks and the like). Those are both very low numbers. Westbrook can get in the lane seemingly at will, but he has to finish better in there to take the next step forward. His quickness also affords him open threes, he has to hit more.

You can say the same kinds of things up and down the Thunder roster. Everyone has things they need to improve on if this team is to continue its assent.

More likely the Thunder will: Be close to last year’s Thunder. Understand that not taking a step back — not having a big sophomore slump — really would be s sign of improvement. But to expect everyone to stay healthy all season and for all the players to keep improving at an exponential rate may be asking too much. Some will improve, some will stay flat, and GM Sam Presti will have a better idea what tweaks need to be made.

What really matters more than anything is that the professionalism and intensity that characterized the young Thunder locker room remains. That is what ultimately will take them where they want to go.

Prediction: 50 wins, which if it gets them anyone but the Lakers in the first round will lead to a first round upset and a trip deeper into the playoffs. You have to learn how to win at the NBA level and the Thunder are learning that. It may be another year or two before those lessons really bear fruit, but they are being learned. Durant is taking them to heart, you can be sure.

Kemba Walker scores 46, including 10 threes, as Hornets rout Grizzlies by 61 (VIDEO)

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Kemba Walker scored 46 points and made 10 3-pointers, and the Charlotte Hornets rolled to the most lopsided victory in franchise history by beating the Memphis Grizzlies 140-79 on Thursday night.

Walker had the ninth 40-point game of his career as the Hornets easily overcame the absence of the suspended Dwight Howard. The All-Star guard hit 13 of 18 shots overall, including 10 of 14 on 3-pointers, and was 10 of 10 on free throws in 28 minutes.

He scored 17 points in the first quarter, 18 in the second quarter and 11 in the third before he was replaced for the final time with 1:48 left in the period.

It came one night after Howard’s 32-point, 30-rebound performance that helped Charlotte rally from a 23-point deficit for a 111-105 victory at Brooklyn. But in the process, Howard was whistled for his 16th technical foul of the season, meaning he had to serve a one-game suspension on Thursday night.

It didn’t matter as the Hornets roared ahead 12-2 in the first 4 1/2 minutes, were ahead 37-14 after one quarter, 75-42 at halftime and by a game-high 65 points (137-72) with 1:45 left before taking the 61-point win.

Charlotte’s largest previous win in franchise history came by 52 points (136-84) at home against Philadelphia on Feb. 27, 1992.

It was the third-highest scoring game of Walker’s career. The 6-foot-1 point guard had a career-high 52 points against Utah in a 124-119 double-overtime win in January 2016, and had 47 points in a 123-120 loss at Chicago in November 2017.

Marvin Williams and Dwayne Bacon added 15 points apiece for Charlotte. Wayne Selden had 18 for Memphis.


Grizzlies: Memphis interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff was on the Charlotte coaching staff when the city returned to the NBA in 2004 and nicknamed Bobcats. Then a 25-year-old assistant coach to his father Bernie Bickerstaff, J.B. Bickerstaff was the youngest coach in the NBA at that time.

Hornets: On Wednesday, Howard became one of only three players in the last 20 years (Andrew Bynum on April 11, 2012, and Kevin Love on Nov. 12, 2010) to get 30 rebounds in a game.


Grizzlies: Host Lakers on Saturday night.

Hornets: Visit Mavericks on Saturday night.

Kings game delayed, fans blocked by protest of Stephon Clark shooting

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The game between the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks had a late start on Thursday. As fans arrived at Golden 1 Center for the matchup between the two potential lottery teams, they were blocked and most were eventually turned away as a group protested the shooting death of Stephon Clark.

Clark, 23, was killed by the Sacramento Police Department in his grandparents’ backyard. According to KCRA in Sacramento, police claim Clark was seen breaking into cars in the area. When police responded to the scene, police shouted at the unarmed Clark to stop and show his hands. When Clark ran, the officers shot at Clark 20 times. He was pronounced dead on the scene.

Video and audio of the shooting, including police bodycam footage, was released on Wednesday. That sparked protests in the city, including the one at the Golden 1 Center, where people gathered and spoke about Clark’s death.

Via Twitter:

While some fans did find their way inside the arena, the Kings eventually released a statement saying that, “Due to law enforcement being unable to ensure ticketed fans could safely enter the arena, the arena remains closed and we ask fans outside to travel home.”

For their part, the Kings organization, including owner Vivek Ranadive, stood up and spoke to the crowd about the tragedy. In his statement, Ranadive said he was sorry for Clark’s family’s loss, and that he recognized their right to protest peacefully.

The team also said that fans would be hearing from the Kings about a refund for their tickets in the near future.

Why Stephen Curry’s new low-top shoes don’t mean more danger to his ankles


Stephen Curry‘s new shoes, the Under Armour Curry 5 low, will see the floor underneath the Golden State Warriors star for the first time. According to ESPN’s Chris Haynes, Curry isn’t worried about ankle support.

“It is kind of ironic that I made the switch this season considering my ankle issues, but this shoe is stable and engineered to maximize my performance,” Curry told ESPN. “I will still wear my ankle braces, but I have total comfort and security in my new shoe.”

Well there you have it. Curry is confident, but no doubt some fans will be wondering whether wearing low tops are the right move for a player with a history of ankle injuries. Especially when that player is a 2-time MVP and perhaps the most important guy on the Warriors roster.

So, should you be worried about those low-top shoes affecting Curry’s ankle? In short: no.

There’s been several medical studies released over the years regarding the benefit of high tops vs. low tops when it comes to ankle support. Long before Kobe Bryant made it popular to have a low-top signature shoe, the question of high and low was being raised.

The issue at hand is what the studies call “ankle inversion” — strains of the outer ligaments of the foot. One study published in 2000 by researchers at BYU in the Journal of Athletic Training suggested that high tops were more effective in limiting inversion, but that susceptibility to injuries also depended on the type of load exerted, among other factors. In short, it wasn’t definitively conclusive.

Other studies have actually contradicted the BYU findings. In 1994 a study published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that, “There is no strong relationship between shoe type and ankle sprains.”

Likewise, the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists (UK) published a paper in 2008 saying that high-top shoes may actually hurt your ability to keep your ankle healthy and may have a, “Detrimental effect on establishing and maintaining functional ankle joint stability.”

Over at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Sara Lyn Miniaci-Coxhead says the best way to prevent ankle inversion is, “Strong muscles on the outside of the foot.” Dr. Miniaci-Coxhead adds that, “Wearing high-top shoes can cause these muscles to activate later and be less effective.”

So, there you have it. Clear as mud. While common sense might tell you that firm ankle support can lead to fewer turned ankles, the actual medical and university studies on the matter aren’t so sure. There’s certainly not a consensus.

That brings us back to Curry. It’s hard to say that Curry needs to wear high-top shoes, and not only because medical science can’t quite seem to agree that it’s the best preventative measure. That’s because at the time of his last injury, Curry was already wearing high-top shoes with ankle braces.

Those braces, by the way, are what Curry will continue to wear. And if we can take his prior routines as evidence, there seems to be some context to suggest that Curry has done and will continue to do all he can along his kinetic chain to prevent further injury. Curry famously does band warm-ups before a game, and that type of muscle activation from my admittedly untrained eye seems to suggest he works on strengthening and loosening many muscles in his legs rather than relying on staunch support of braces.

Ankle injuries are what they are: accidents. Curry wearing low-top shoes isn’t going to make him more likely to have another ankle injury — his injury history and aching soft tissues will do that.

It’s still possible that Curry rolls his ankle again, not just because of this history but because we don’t know the dynamics of the new shoe. A lot goes into making a shoe safe for play, including traction, stability, and materials. But the sole fact the Curry 5s are low tops doesn’t necessarily mean more danger to the former MVP.

Honestly, my only problem with Steph wearing a low-top shoe? It looks like a damn sock.


A post shared by SneakerJamz (@sneakerjamz) on

Oh well. Better than the Chefs, I guess.

Feel better, champ. The Warriors need you.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s dunk get blocked by Anthony Davis (VIDEO)


Lonzo Ball isn’t known for dunking. Heck, he’s not even known for being that aggressive toward the rim. But Thursday night against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Los Angeles Lakers rookie got a little gutsy.

Early in the second quarter, Ball found his way to the right side of the lane on a pick-and-roll. LA’s screener slipped early, and the rest of the Lakers were spread out across the 3-point line.

That left Ball driving toward the basket with nobody standing in the paint. Seeing an opportunity, Ball went up securely with two hands to flush the bucket.

However, Anthony Davis had other ideas.

Via Twitter:

I’m actually all for this decision-making. Ball can sometimes be too deferential to his teammates. Going up against Davis, however, is not a good way to end the play. Isaiah Thomas was sprinting to the far corner, and a pass to him would have been the correct choice.

Fun block, though.