Lakers-Thunder Western Conference Semifinals Preview: No longer a feel good story

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Two years ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder faced the Los Angeles Lakers in the first-round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs. It was supposed to be a nice learning experience for a team on the rise, a quick lesson from the reigning champs as to how the playoffs work. Instead, the world was introduced to the intensity of the Oklahoma City crowd, and the Lakers generally looked inept in their efforts to dominate the less experienced team. The Lakers went on to win the title, because that’s kind of their thing. Struggle when they don’t have to actually try, then kill everything in front of them once they get going. The league took notice, though, and it was the big step forward for the Thunder into the spotlight.

My, how things have changed.

Now the Thunder enter Monday night as the prohibitive favorite, having handled the Lakers in all but their last meeting, an overtime home win for the Lakers that featured Metta World Peace taking out the Thunder’s third best player. The student has become the master, so to speak. But can they win out over the more experienced team, with Kobe Bryant and a huge size advantage?

Five things to note as the series kick off.

1. If You Want Blood,  You Got It: This thing is no longer a friendly little-brother thing. It’s a full-blown rivalry. The Thunder have taken it to the Lakers, and James Harden was actually talking trash to Kobe Bryant in a Thunder win earlier this season. You know, the one before Metta World Peace “accidentally” elbowed him in the side of the head giving him a concussion. Kendrick Perkins has had an issue with Andrew Bynum for years dating back to his Boston days. Serge Ibaka goes at Pau Gasol, and Kevin Durant hates being guarded by MWP. The Lakers will always think they rule the roost and the Thunder just knocked off the Mavericks who tossed them last year. They have something to prove. This is going to be a rough series with emotions running high in the madhouse that is Chesapeake Energy Arena

2. On Guard: Anyone else notice that Ty Lawson destroyed the Lakers? Because Ty Lawson destroyed the Lakers. The Lakers have lacked a good perimeter defender for point guards for years. Ramon Sessions has not helped the situation. Russell Westbrook is the same model as Lawson, fast and explosive, only maybe faster, definitely more explosive, and a better overall scorer. In the 2010 series, Kobe Bryant switched onto Westbrook and did the lion’s share on him. The problem with that is that James Harden has stepped up and become the playmaker that OKC needs as a third option. If Bryant handles Westbrook, they’re just letting Harden loose. Switch MWP onto Harden to defend him without elbowing him, and there’s that problem of Kevin Durant. Someone’s going to get loose for OKC. It’s just a matter of the Lakers picking their poison.

3. Big And Bad And Lazy All Over: Kendrick Perkins does really well against huge athletic centers. But Andrew Bynum’s size is still going to win out most times… if he exerts himself. Bynum could have ended the Nuggets series in five games had he tried. He chose not to, and the series went to seven. How much effort will he give in this series? Likewise, Serge Ibaka is going to have a hard time with Pau Gasol who can shoot over him from mid-range which is where Ibaka struggles. If Gasol is engaged, which again, flip a coin, the Lakers have so much length they can punish the Thunder inside. If not, the game becomes about transition and perimeter and that’s where the Thunder live.

4. Unlikely Heroes: The playoffs have been rife with unlikely heroes. Among these was Steve Blake, hitting five threes in Game 7 vs. Denver. Can the Lakers get great shooting from Blake and MWP over the course of a series despite all evidence to the contrary outside of Game 7? Can Daequan Cook or Thabo Sefolosha makes plays? What about Jordan Hill? No, seriously, what about Jordan Hill? This series is likely to be close and whoever gets a step up from the unlikely guys may come out on top.

5. The Finest Hour: Kobe Bryant was magnificent in Game 6 in a lost cause. In Game 7, he played in the flow of the offense and encouraged his teammates to do their job. Kevin Durant struggled early on vs. the Mavericks before breaking loose. This series is about two evenly matched teams with history and talented rosters. But it’s about Kobe vs. Durant. The Thunder don’t have a defender like MWP to stick on Bryant, but Durant is the best scorer in the series. Either Bryant is going to add to his already insane legend, or Durant’s going to make the biggest statement of his.

Can Stephen Curry shoot the ball into the sun roof of a car? Did you even need to ask?

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Stephen Curry has been getting up buckets the past week, working on his game. Sort of. It’s been a bit unconventional.

First, he finished off an alley-oop pass from Tony Romo on the American Century golf course in Lake Tahoe.

Then on Thursday he was filming an Infinity car commercial and had to shoot one into the sun roof from what looks to be 15-20 feet away. He drains it.

Of course he made that, he’s basically the Meadowlark Lemon of a new generation, but without the hook shot.

Celtics sign 2016 first-round pick Guerschon Yabusele

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When you think of the best-run organizations in the NBA — think Spurs or Warriors right now — they not only have elite players helping them win now, but also have a couple of roster spots for younger players they are trying to develop.

The Boston Celtics are trying to be that kind of franchise, and the signing Thursday of Guerschon Yabusele fits that trend.

Boston took Yabusele with the No. 16 pick in the 2016 draft, which means he is on the rookie scale and at least the first two years are guaranteed.

Yabusele is an explosive but very raw 6’8” power forward out of France who the Celtics had get a year of seasoning in the Chinese Basketball Association. He’s a project and may not be able to contribute this season to the Celtics, but he’s got the athletic potential to at least be a rotation player in the league. That the Celtics signed him means they must think that potential is real. He didn’t play at Summer League because he is coming off surgery to remove bone spurs from his foot.

Interestingly, with the Celtics’ signings of Shane Larkin and Daniel Theis in the last 24 hours, Boston now has 16 guaranteed contracts on the roster. They can only go into the season with 15 players on the roster (plus two two-way contracts, but we’re not talking about those deals). Someone is going to be cut and be paid not to play this year, or be traded.

One year after attempted murder charge dropped, Eric Grifin signs two-way deal with Jazz

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — One year after having an attempted-murder charge against him dropped, Eric Griffin signed a two-way contract with the Utah Jazz.

Griffin was a member of the Jazz during NBA summer leagues in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. He averaged 10.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in Vegas.

The 6-foot-8, 205-pound center/forward played for Hapoel Galil Gilboa in the Israeli Basketball Premier League last season, averaging 14.9 points and 7.1 rebounds.

This is the first time the Jazz have used the two-way contracts implemented by the NBA for the upcoming season.

Teams can sign two players to these deals in addition to the 15-man roster. The contracts allow NBA teams to better compensate Gatorade League players expected to spend time with the big league team. Griffin can spend up to 45 days in the NBA.

Warriors fans will need to buy “memberships” to then pay for season seats in new arena

Image courtesy Golden State Warriors
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Going to NBA games — particularly playoffs and NBA Finals games — at Oracle Arena in Oakland is a joy because it is loud and filled with exuberance and love of the sport. It feels more like a college atmosphere (with beer) than it does the more staid feel of many modern NBA arenas. I hope the Warriors don’t lose that when they move into their new arena in San Francisco in the fall of 2019.

What I do know: It’s going to cost some serious bank just to have the right to buy season seats in the new building.

The Warriors are making teams buy “memberships” for the right to buy season tickets — just don’t call them “personal seat licenses.” The San Francisco Chronicle has the details.

The team is calling it a “membership” program, and it will require season-ticket buyers to pay a one-time fee that will enable them to buy their seats for 30 years. In a unique twist yet to be used in any pro sport, the Warriors promise to pay back that fee after 30 years.

Golden State’s ticket plan represents the latest evolution of a business trend that has deep roots here in the Bay Area, where Al Davis and the Raiders were pioneers in selling “personal seat licenses,” and where both the Giants and the 49ers used similar strategies to help finance their new stadiums. The twist the Warriors are stressing is that, unlike PSLs, which required a one-time cost allowing a customer to buy season tickets every year, this plan involves a refund at the end.

How exactly does this work?

If you want to own Warriors season tickets, you would pay a one-time fee for the right to purchase your seats every year for the next 30 years. You can do that in one lump sum, or finance the payments. That’s a big commitment, but the team says memberships will be transferable and can be sold, but only through a marketplace run by the team.

How much are they? The Warriors say about half the memberships will be less than $15,000, the other half scale up from there.

In the Bay Area, there was zero chance the Warriors would be able to get public funding to help them build this new $1 billion arena (as it should be everywhere, but that’s another rant for another time). This is the Warriors’ way to essentially get an interest-free loan to help pay for part of that arena. This is not a plan that will work in every market, but with the money available in San Francisco they can pull it off.

This arena is going to generate a lot of new revenue for the team outside of just this membership fee, and those fattened revenue streams are something Warriors ownership is counting on to help them keep the best — and soon to be the most expensive — team in the NBA together.