NBA Season Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder

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Last season: So freaking close.

The Thunder beat the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the 2012 NBA Finals in Oklahoma City by 11 points. A double-digit victory over he mighty triumverate. It was their fifth win in a row and they looked, as teams do when the win by double-digits, like the superior team in every way. Russell Westbrook couldn’t be stopped. Kevin Durant couldn’t be stopped. The Heat couldn’t keep up with their athleticism and offensive firepower.

They never won again that season.

The next three game were decided by 16 points total. The Heat won four straight, sending the Thunder home after another step forward but once again without the prize.

It was a season that showed considerable growth for the three stars, Durant, Westbrook, and Harden. Durant became an even more efficient scorer and a better defender, Westbrook increased his production and cut down on his mistakes, Harden grew into a playmaker. The team overall, though, was much te same as it was the year before. Great offensively, pretty good defensively, dominant most of the time and exciting to watch. Defense was the only question, and in the end, it was the only one that mattered, as the grind-it-out style of the Heat wore them down and eventually bested them.

The Thunder had to have walked away from 2012 neither convinced that they could or could not win the title.

Key Departures: Nazr Mohammed played 11 minutes per game last season. He’s gone, so there’s that. That’s pretty much it. And, you know, there’s no real concerns on the horizon. Oh, wait, James Harden.

Key Additions: Perry Jones III plummeted down the draft board, all the way to the Thunder. With no concerns about how he would affect team chemistry or the expecations that would be heaped on him, the Thunder leapt at him and snatched him up. Jones gives them a versatile stretch four who can likely play 3 in some big lineups and has the potential to be an absolute steal if thigs work out right.

They brought in Hasheem Thabeet to replace Mohammed, which is fine. He has to come in, not be horrible, contest or block shots, and rebound. He will do just enough of this to not stand out while clearly still being the weakest link on the team.

How about Daniel Orton? Can I interest you in Andy Rautins? Care for some DeAndre Liggins? No? No? Anybody?

Three One keys to the Thunder season:

1) KEEP CALM AND THUNDER UP: The Thunder don’t need to adapt or change or alter. They don’t need to play differently or mix it up or make things more complex. They just need to do what they did last year.

They just need to show up, run, score, and rock. They are very fittingly the AC/DC of the NBA.

They just need to play better and hope the Heat aren’t as good as they were last year. Bear in mind that in all these other previews I can give you in-depth reasons and tactical adjustments, lineup or chemistry tweaks, philosophical or pragmatic deviations necessary for improvement. I have none for the Thunder. They just need to play a little better. That’s all I’ve got.

What Thunder fans should fear: Chemistry is the thing. This team has accomplished remarkable things at a young age, all built on the strength of their bond with one another. Young players who came up together in a small market with few distrctions who liked each and liked playing with and for one another.

But business has come. Westbrook got his extension, but there are people, even those in Oklahoma City who think that eventually, he’s going to want the opportunity to show what he can be as the main act. James Harden’s contract is on the clock. If it gets done, the Thunder have to plan for their future. If it doesn’t, they have to figure out what to do with him.

This team has exemplified fun and youth for three years, and it’s been an incredible ride. But it’s extremely rare for a team like this to stay together as they get older and the money gets bigger. It’s like the circle of life, only with publicists.

How it likely works out: It’s going to come down to the Lakers or them for the West. There is zero doubt in anyone’s rational, objective mind about this. It’s just a matter of whether Perkins can contain Dwight enough, if Durant can lift his game to another level, if Westbrook can out-produce Nash since neither can defend the other.

There is no way to tell who’s going to come out of it. It’s going to be extremely fun, and there will be many who will want to just skip right to it.

Prediction: 63-19. They have no injury concerns. They have the league’s second best player and best offensive weapons. They have twolegitimate MVP candidates. Their shot-blocking defensive star has reliable mid-range jumper. They have depth, youth, experience, energy, athleticism, skill, and are very, very hungry. The Lakers may have arrived once more. The Thunder are already here.

Lou Williams, Andre Drummond are #madonline about All-Star snubs

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Lou Williams is having a career year. He’s done everything for the ailing Los Angeles Clippers, who have turned things around and are battling for the No. 8 seed in the West.

Likewise, Andre Drummond is having a statistically important year for the Detroit Pistons as he leads the league in rebounding and in defensive box plus/minus.

Needless to say, both of them had a strong case to make the 2018 NBA All-Star Game. The only problem is that neither of them did.

That had both Williams and Drummond speaking their minds on Twitter on Tuesday, letting fans know what they thought about their snubs.

Warning: NSFW language ahead.

Via Twitter:

Who should have been left off the East and West teams in voting, respectively, to make room for Williams and Drummond? No doubt this will be some topic of discussion for years to come as both players use it as fuel for the rest of the season.

All-Star reserves announced, Kristaps Porzingis, Damian Lillard make cut

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Last week the All-Star Game starters were announced, and a few players felt burned by the selections.

Now the reserves have been announced, and the real snubs happen.

As a reminder, the NBA is trying to inject some life into this staid event by having LeBron James and Stephen Curry — the top vote-getters in each conference by the fans — named captains who will pick the All-Star teams. Playground style. Just one after the other, whoever they want from either conference (but not televised… boo), first from the pool of other starters selected by fans, media, and current players, then from the list of reserves selected by the coaches (those coaches had to choose two backcourt players, three frontcourt players and two wild-cards for each conference). Curry and LeBron can pick anyone — if Lebron wants to choose James Harden, he can.

Here are who the coaches chose to round out the rosters:

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Russell Westbrook
Klay Thompson
Damian Lillard
Jimmy Butler
LaMarcus Aldridge
Draymond Green
Karl-Anthony Towns

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Kyle Lowry
Victor Oladipo
John Wall
Bradley Beal
Kristaps Porzingis
Al Horford
Kevin Love

The Warriors become the first team to have four All-Stars in consecutive years.

There are four first-time All-Stars in there: Towns, Beal, Oladipo, and Porzingis.

So who got snubbed? The West was so deep there was just no way to get all the deserving guys in, but the biggest snubs are the Clippers’ Lou Williams (he has carried that team), Chris Paul of the Rockets (probably due to missed time), and the Thunder’s Paul George. Out East Andre Drummond was just off the board, as were Goran Dragic and Ben Simmons.

Just as a reminder, the starters are, from the West, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins; and from the East Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Joel Embiid.

The All-Star Game is Feb. 18 from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Kobe Bryant nominated for Oscar

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Does Kobe Bryant need another trophy? He might get one – at the Oscars.

Bryant, the retired Los Angeles Lakers star, was nominated in the animated short category for “Dear Basketball,” based on a poem he wrote in 2015 announcing his impending retirement from basketball. He was nominated along with veteran Disney animator Glen Keane.

Bryant’s poem begins: “Dear Basketball, from the moment I started rolling my dad’s tube socks, and shooting imaginary game-winning shots in the Great Western Forum, I knew one thing was real: I fell in love with you.”

It reflects on how time is running out. “I can’t love you obsessively for much longer,” it says. “This season is all I have left to give. My heart can take the pounding, my mind can handle the grind. But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.”

It ends by counting down the final five seconds on a game clock:

Bryant, 39, a five-time NBA champion, played 20 seasons with the Lakers before retiring last year.

Report: Cavaliers, Kings still talking George Hill for Shumpert, Frye trade

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are going to make moves at the deadline — they have surveyed the landscape and realize they may need help just to get out of the East this season, forget about the Warriors (or even Rockets).

It’s been reported before that Sacramento guard George Hill is of interest to Cleveland. The Cavs could use guard help — they have Isaiah Thomas at the point, and a combination of Dwyane Wade (really a three), Iman Shumpert (injured) and the starter J.R. Smith at the two. Hill is a defensive upgrade, can play some backup point guard, and generally give them solid minutes when healthy.

Which is why the sides are still talking, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Channing Frye and Shumpert straight up for Hill works as a legal trade. It also works for the Cavaliers, as Frye and Shumpert are not part of the rotation. But adding another older player (31) who has an injury history (he hasn’t played even 50 games the past two seasons) to this roster comes with a lot of risks. Is it really worth that for Cleveland? This is not a deal that changes things much, it’s just a better fit for the Cavs.

It’s less of a good deal for the Kings, who want a deal that is about how it helps them two or three years from now as they rebuild. The only advantage Shumpert and Frye give the Kings is their contracts are shorter — Frye is a free agent next summer, Shumpert has a player option at $11 million for next season, while Hill has two more years after this one on his contract. However, neither player would be part of the Kings’ long-term plans, so the Kings likely want a pick or something else in this deal to make it work for them.

The Cavaliers are going to do something at the deadline. What remains to be seen. While there may be trades that help them get out of the East, there isn’t anyone available who solves their Warriors problems, and if they can’t get that it’s hard to imagine them throwing in the Brooklyn pick in a trade (their biggest chip). The moves will be smaller, not grand ones.