Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook celebrates with small forward Kevin Durant during their NBA basketball game against Chicago Bulls in Oklahoma City

NBA Season Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder


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.

Five Takeaways from NBA Wednesday: Stories to be thankful for this season

Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson
Leave a comment

Happy Thanksgiving. In the spirit of the day, our five takeaways have become five storylines we should be thankful for this young NBA season. We at PBT are thankful to you for being here, reading our work, and, of course, we’re thankful for stuffing (the best part of the Thanksgiving meal). 

1) Record-setting Golden State revolutionizing the game. The Warriors’ revolution will be televised. And copied by half the league or more. Golden State put together the personnel to take full advantage of the current rules (zone defenses, no hand checking on the perimeter), to take what Mike D’Antoni and Steve Nash started to do in Phoenix and win with it. Golden State is at the forefront of the small ball revolution sweeping the league because they can make it work — but nobody can quite copy it because nobody has Stephen Curry or Draymond Green. Those guys are the lynchpins. Curry is the perfect modern point guard, one who can shoot the three comfortably out to nearly 30 feet, but can also recognize the defense and set guys up. Green is his dangerous pick-and-roll partner who makes going small work because their defense doesn’t suffer when they do.

Golden State is kind of like Brazil in international soccer — they’re everybody’s second favorite team to watch because they play such a beautiful and entertaining game. And in the case of Golden State they are winning doing it — they are a record-setting 16-0 to start the season after they won the NBA title. They are the bar to clear in the NBA right now.

2) Kristaps Porzingis, Karl-Anthony Towns lead an impressive rookie class. Even Porzingis’ biggest supporters on draft night thought it would be a year or two before he could contribute at the NBA level. Nope, he’s good right now with the potential for greatness. Karl-Anthony Towns had great offensive moves and vision but back at the draft was seen as a defensive project (especially off the ball). Nope, he is an effective rim protector and pick-and-roll defender now who looks like a franchise cornerstone big man (to go with franchise cornerstone wing Andrew Wiggins) in Minnesota. Justise Winslow is already a good NBA defender who can get some points for Miami on offense. Jahlil Okafor is as advertised, a scoring machine when he gets the ball in the post. Emmanuel Mudiay is improving and showing strong NBA potential up in Denver. Stanley Johnson and Frank Kaminsky are already contributing in Detroit and Charlotte, respectively. And the list goes on.

This is a great rookie class that is going to be fun to watch for a long time.

3) Highlights like these. The NBA’s highlight factory is back in full session with plays like these from Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin — and these were just Wednesday night’s plays. It’s like this every night.

4) Paul George is back. This is maybe my favorite story of the young season — I was not sure we’d ever see peak Paul George again after his horrific leg injury playing for Team USA. He is all the way back and more. George has scored at least 25 points in nine straight games, he has developed a much more reliable jump shot, and he can still play lock-down defense. He is back to being an elite player, and with him the Pacers are back to being a good and potentially danger ous playoff team (9-5 so far, with a top five defense). 

5) Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan are defying Father Time. Nowitzki’s jumper seemed to be deserting him in recent seasons, and then this season he has gone and gotten it back — he’s shooting 51 percent from three this season. Teams have to game plan for him again like it’s 2011. Duncan and Manu Ginobili are playing their best ball in years for what felt like it could be the final run for this era of the Spurs — San Antonio has been the second best team in the NBA so far. Duncan is playing great defense and understands what he can still do efficiently on offense. Duncan and Nowitzki could well be All-Stars in the West — and they will have earned it, they deserve it for their play.

LeBron James calls Cavs players’ only meeting after loss to Raptors

LeBron James

Yes, the Cavaliers are 11-4 on the season and on top of the East. Yes, they are outscoring teams by 6.7 points per 100 possessions, which is fourth best in the NBA. They have the third best offense in the league. All that without their starting backcourt (Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert). There are reasons to be optimistic.

But the Cavaliers have a middle-of-the-pack defense and their efforts have been up and down. Wednesday night was one of those down nights, they lost on the road to Toronto, dropping the Cavs to 3-4 outside Quicken Loans Arena. All those losses are to teams in the East.

It was enough for LeBron James and James Jones to call a players-only meeting, reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

Following a 103-99 road loss to the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, the Cleveland Cavaliers held a players-only meeting during which LeBron James and James Jones got on the team for its inconsistent play through the Cavs’ 11-4 start to the season, multiple sources told ESPN.com….

“It’s all mindset,” James said after the game, still visibly frustrated. “It comes from within. I’ve always had it; my upbringing had me like that. It’s either you got it or you don’t.”

When asked whether fatigue was a factor, James said, “No. It’s not an excuse.” When another reporter asked whether injuries were to blame, James repeated, “It’s not an excuse.”

Injuries and fatigue did play a role, this was a team without four regular rotation players and that puts more of a burden on everyone else. Players can’t look at it that way, but injuries are a reality and they are impacting the Cavaliers right now.

But I get it. LeBron is trying to set a tone, one he learned in Miami and is now trying to instill in the Cavaliers. It’s about effort, it’s about attention to detail, it’s about building good habits over the course of a season so they can pay off in the playoffs. The Cavs are winning, they look clearly like the best team in the East once healthy, and yet LeBron rightfully isn’t convinced they could beat Golden State or San Antonio right now. The good news is they don’t have to beat them right now, but they need to beat them eventually. The building blocks for that are laid during the season. He wants that building to start going up.

But getting guys healthy would solve a lot of those problems.

Jason Kidd ejected; shoving match ensues between teams after Kings beat Bucks

Jason Kidd

Jason Kidd is going to miss a game or three (and some dollars to go with it), and he could not be the only guy in trouble with the league after a tension-filled end to the Kings’ win over the Bucks Wednesday.

There wasn’t a ton of drama at the end of the contest itself. The Bucks played a “defense optional” game that led to 36 points for Rudy Gay and 13 dimes for Rajon Rondo, and the Kings won their first game this season without DeMarcus Cousins (back issue). That frustrated the Bucks to no end.

Jason Kidd expressed that frustration by slapping the ball out of referee Zach Zarba’s hands, a move that rightfully earned him an instant ejection.

You can be sure a suspension is coming for Kidd — the league can’t let that slide. This was not a Budenholzer incidental bump. After the game here is what Kidd had to say.

After Kidd had gone to the showers, there was a little jawing on the court between Cousins (in street clothes) and the Bucks’ O.J. Mayo. That spilled over after the final buzzer into the tunnel, where there was at the very least some jawing, maybe a little shoving, and a lot of security stepping in before anything serious happened.

Whatever happened in the tunnel is going to be a lot harder for NBA disciplinarian Kiki Vandeweghe (technically the vice-president of basketball operations for the NBA) to sort out. Who started what, and did it rise to the level it calls for a fine or more, is going to be tricky, especially since this was out of site of the arena cameras.

Cavaliers stand in middle of Raptors dancers’ routine (video)

1 Comment

The Cavaliers were ready for their game against the Raptors tonight, and Toronto’s dance team wasn’t going to change that.

The last time I remember something like this happening, Grizzlies guard Tony Allen walked through the Warriors’ kid dancers. This video doesn’t show how the Cavaliers got to that point, but they might have the defense of being there first. Allen definitely didn’t have that.