Oklahoma City Thunder v Houston Rockets

PBT NBA Playoff Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets

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SEASON RECORDS

Oklahoma City: 60-22, first seed in East

Houston: 45-37, eighth seed in East

SEASON SERIES

The Thunder won 2-1, though that doesn’t truly capture how much they dominated the series. Oklahoma City won by 22 and 30, and Houston won by just three.

KEY INJURIES

Oklahoma City: Kevin Martin and Kendrick Perkins haven’t played since April 11, but all signs point to both being fine for the playoffs.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Oklahoma City: offense 110.2 (2nd best in NBA), defense 99.2 (3rd in NBA)

Houston: offense 106.7 (6th in NBA), defense 103.5 (16th in NBA)

Differential: Thunder +11.0 (1st in NBA), Rockets +3.2 (9th in NBA)

THREE KEYS FOR OKLAHOMA CITY:

Avoid a Russell Westbrook meltdown: Westbrook had the best season of his career, taking a slight lead in the race to be the NBA’s best guard behind Chris Paul. He’s driven on the court by a burning passion, and that’s part of the reason he’s so successful. If he played calmer, he probably wouldn’t have the same impact. But that intensity can get the best of Westbrook at times. As long as he stays close enough to even-keeled, Oklahoma City should be fine. But if he melts down, that crack could give the Rockets an upset opportunity.

Make corner 3s: The Rockets’ perimeter defense is bad, and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook should have little trouble penetrating, but Oklahoma City doesn’t necessarily need to rely on that. The Rockets rank 29th in defensive corner 3-point percentage, making Houston the only team in the bottom seven of that category to make the playoffs. As a bonus, the Thunder have two of the league’s best corner 3-point shooters in Thabo Sefolosha and Kevin Martin.

Don’t be afraid to turn the ball over: The Thunder have the NBA’s second-highest turnover percentage, but that’s due in large part to their offensive aggressiveness. They can handle a few more turnovers if it leads to extra high-efficiency scoring opportunities.

THREE KEYS FOR HOUSTON:

Limit Thunder other than Durant and Westbrook: Asking Durant and Westbrook beat you is probably asking to lose, but the Rockets probably aren’t going going to beat the Thunder without catching a major break. Despite outside pressure for Durant to get upset by Westbrook’s high usage, Durant has rejected the suggestion to show dissatisfaction. When the Thunder share the ball, that’s easy to do. But if Westbrook is taking all the shots that don’t go to Durant, maybe, just maybe Durant would see things differently.

Funnel Durant and Westbrook toward Omer Asik: In the spirit of the previous key, Asik is a physical player, and if he can protect the paint, great. If he can wear down Durant and Westbrook, maybe Houston gains an edge.

Don’t be afraid to turn the ball over: The Rockets have the NBA’s second-highest turnover percentage, but that’s due in large part to their offensive aggressiveness. They can handle a few more turnovers if it leads to extra high-efficiency scoring opportunities.

OUTLOOK

James Harden facing his former team is a fantastic storyline. Unfortunately the one-vs.-franchise matchup doesn’t necessarily make for a fantastic series.

Though the Rockets are extremely strong for a No. 8 seed – those who evaluate their rise from recent seasons only in terms of standings don’t fully appreciate how far this team has come – they’re not much of a match for the Thunder. Oklahoma City is better offensively and defensively, and it’s difficult to find a matchup that will turn this series in favor of the underdog.

Still, the individual storylines are great.

Did the Thunder err by trading James Harden? If they had to trade one, should they have dealt Serge Ibaka instead? Or did they completely miscalculate by keeping Westbrook rather than Harden?

Plenty of players will have something to prove this series.

PREDICTION:

Thunder in six

JaVale McGee, Shaq beef on Twitter

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JaVale McGee hasn’t liked Shaquille O’Neal targeting him, and the Warriors center sure disliked the above video.

Due to the All-Star break, there was no fresh content for Shaqtin’ A Fool. So, TNT ran that spoof video with Shaq mocking McGee lowlights.

After Golden State beat the Clippers, McGee and Shaq engaged on Twitter:

And attention was received by all.

DeMarcus Cousins on talking to Kings: ‘It was a coward move, so I’m pretty sure I will get a coward response’

Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, center, is applauded by Kings majority owner Vivek Ranadive, left, and Vlade Divac, Kings vice president of basketball and franchise operations, after he was presented with his NBA All-Star jersey, during ceremonies before playing the Chicago Bulls in an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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Vlade Divac said the Kings wouldn’t trade DeMarcus Cousins, and then two weeks later, once they dealt their franchise center, the general manager said, “character matters.”

Though he’s clearly trying to move on, Cousins, now with the Pelicans, can’t escape how he was treated in Sacramento.

Cousins, in a Q&A with Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:

Is there any part of you that wants to talk to Ranadive or Divac?

Nah. For what? It was a coward move, so I’m pretty sure I will get a coward response. For what? And I’ve seen this happen before. I’ve been there through all same types … I was there with [coach] Mike Malone’s [firing]. I’ve seen how they operate. I know what kind of answer I will get anyway. So, what is the point?

When did the Kings tell you that you wouldn’t be traded?

A week before the trade. The sick part about it is that Vlade came in my house with my agent [Jarinn Akana]. We sat in my theater and just talked. That was maybe three weeks ago. We sat there and [he] told me what moves he wanted to make. All of that. I just didn’t understand.

I got a text from the owner right before I went to All-Star. He was asking me about a player, how I felt about him and making a move. The owner! When it happened, I was just in shock. I didn’t understand.

The Kings might differ on how well they informed Cousins of their intentions as the trade deadline approached, and it’s perfectly reasonable of owner Vivek Ranadive to consult Cousins while his front office explores a trade.

But the Kings stated often enough that they wouldn’t trade him, including offering him a designated-veteran-player extension, that he can rightfully feel aggrieved.

The Kings torched Malone after dismissing him, and Cousins has already gotten similar treatment. There’s little reason for Cousins to expect anything other than a rocky relationship with Ranadive and Divac from here.

Hawks suspend Dennis Schroder for reporting late after All-Star break

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Dennis Schroder #17 of the Atlanta Hawks poses during media day on September 26, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The Hawks dealt before the trade deadline with an eye on winning this season.

That mission will start without their starting point guard, Dennis Schroder.

Hawks release:

Atlanta Hawks guard Dennis Schröder has been suspended by the organization for one game without pay for failure to report to the team on time after the all-star break. He will serve his one-game suspension tonight when the Hawks host the Miami Heat.

“Dennis has played an important role for our team and been a significant contributor to our success this season,” President of Basketball Operations/Head Coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We are disappointed that he did not return to the team on time and we have discussed this with him. We look forward to him rejoining the team in Orlando tomorrow night.”

Schroder missed Wednesday’s practice, and Budenholzer attributed it to a travel issue. The guard corroborated that with this Instagram post:

FINALLY GOT MY VISA & CAN GET BACK TO WORK !!! @fg_pa @atlhawks #iBelieve #DS17 #FG #TeamBros #TheGoldenPatch

A post shared by Dennis Schröder (@ds17_fg) on

Ultimately, the responsibility was on Schroder to get back to Atlanta. Extenuating circumstances might have offered him a reprieve, but the Hawks clearly believed he didn’t deserve a break.

Wizards rookie changes name from Sheldon McClellan to Sheldon Mac

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 30: Sheldon McClellan #9 of the Washington Wizards dribbles in front of Sean Kilpatrick #6 of the Brooklyn Nets during the first half at Verizon Center on December 30, 2016 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The Wizards trading for Bojan Bogdanovic pushes Sheldon McClellan even deeper on the bench.

Actually, “McClellan” is now off the team entirely.

Chase Hughes of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

Yes, the player formally known as Sheldon McClellan is now officialy Sheldon Mac. The 24-year-old returned to Houston, Texas over the past week and, with the blessing of his mother, changed his name.

Mac expects to have his jersey changed at some point and he will now be referred to in print as ‘Sheldon Mac.’ He said the reason was because ‘McClellan’ was a name he got from his father, whom he has no relationship with.

“I just added a little swag to it.”

If this makes him happier, I’m all for it.