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

Boston Celtics great Jo Jo White dies at 71

NBA.com
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BOSTON (AP) Basketball Hall of Famer Jo Jo White, a two-time NBA champion with the Boston Celtics and an Olympic gold medalist, has died. He was 71.

The Celtics announced his death Tuesday night. No cause was provided.

The team said it was “terribly saddened” by White’s passing, calling him a “champion and a gentleman; supremely talented and brilliant on the court, and endlessly gracious off of it.”

White played 10 seasons for Boston, which drafted him ninth overall from Kansas in 1969. He averaged 17.2 points per game over 13 years, also playing for Golden State and the Kansas City Kings before retiring in 1981.

The Celtics retired White’s No. 10 the following year, and he still was working with the club as a director of special projects at the time of his death.

White averaged 18.1 points as a member of the 1974 Celtics championship team and was chosen MVP of the NBA Finals two years later when Boston won again, scoring 33 while leading the Celtics to a 128-126 win in triple overtime against the Phoenix Suns.

Boston traded White to the Warriors midway through the 1978-79 season and he remained with Golden State through the following season. He played one final season in Kansas City, but was always beloved in Boston as a Celtic.

“His contributions to the team’s championship legacy may have only been surpassed by the deep and lasting impact that he had in the community,” the Celtics said in the statement. “The thoughts and sympathies of the entire Celtics organization are with the White family.”

White, who won an Olympic gold medal with the U.S. team in 1968, was a seven-time NBA All-Star. He was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015, when he recalled his performance in the triple-overtime victory over the Suns that put Boston one game away from winning another title.

White played 60 of a possible 63 minutes of the game. Former Boston coach and player Tommy Heinsohn said the induction into the Hall of Fame was long overdue for White, who was thrilled it happened after battling health problems, including a brain tumor, late in life.

“I absolutely adored playing this game,” White said.

Isaiah Thomas asks Celtics to skip video tribute to focus on Paul Pierce

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The Boston Celtics already conceded to the wishes of Isaiah Thomas, foregoing a video tribute the first time the Cleveland Cavaliers played the Boston Celtics this year at TD Garden.

Now, it seems that Boston might have to skip a video tribute for their former point guard altogether.

On Tuesday, Thomas took to Twitter to say that he’d rather defer to former Celtics forward Paul Pierce, who is having his jersey retired by the team that night and complained about Thomas’ tribute.

Via Twitter:

The odd thing about this whole tale is that Pierce changed his mind on this thing in a span of 24 hours. A Fox Sports radio host pointed out earlier this month that Pierce initially said that he was OK with Thomas’ video tribute.

The next day on ESPN’s The Jump, Pierce did a full 180° and instead said he wanted the treatment the Los Angeles Lakers gave Kobe Bryant, with multiple videos being shown during timeouts throughout the game.

This seems petty on the part of Pierce, but at least Thomas appears to be taking it with grace.

JJ Redick has crack in left leg, will be reevaluated in 10-14 days

AP
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The Philadelphia 76ers could use JJ Redick, but it appears that the sharp-shooting guard will be out for at least 10 days due to an injury he suffered on Monday.

The team says Redick sustained the injury late in the fourth quarter during Philly’s 117-111 win over the Toronto Raptors.

Redick finished the game with 15 points, five rebounds, and one assist in 28 minutes of play, but had to be replaced with a little more than four minutes to go by T.J. McConnell.

Via Twitter:

A bone edema is a bit of fluid collection in the marrow (inner) area of the bone. The cortical part of the bone is the harder outer surface. What appears to have happened is that Redick suffered a crack in the exterior portion of his bone that also caused some inner fluid collection.

None of that sounds fun, but Redick will apparently be re-assessed in 10-14 days, so hopefully for the team it’s less serious that all this medical stuff makes it sound.

Arron Afflalo and Nemanja Bjelica fight, both get ejected (VIDEO)

AP
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The Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers nearly got into a fight on Monday night after their game. The whole thing was a fiasco, and we don’t know the extent of that incident, but apparently it was just an amouse-bouche for Tuesday’s showdown between Arron Afflalo and Nemanja Bjelica.

During the matchup between the Orlando Magic and Minnesota Timberwolves in Florida, the two wound up actually fighting during a play in the second quarter.

As both teams went to contest a rebound on a Jamal Crawford jumper, Bjelica appeared to rush directly at Afflalo as the smaller player tried to pass block.

Elbows and forearms were involved in the rebound attempt, and that’s what caused some actual swinging.

Via Twitter:

Afflalo’s big haymaker didn’t appear to make contact, and Bjelica sort of got the better of him by getting him in a headlock, ending the fight.

Both were ejected. No doubt Adam Silver and the league office will have their work cut out for them trying to parse this fight and whatever happened between Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, James Harden, Blake Griffin, and Austin Rivers.

Afflalo should get a couple of games for that big swing, and for being the main instigator. Bjelica got a good run at him for the rebound, but the first arms going up above the shoulders was all Afflalo.

It will probably also help Bjelica that once he had Afflalo in a headlock he put his other arm up, seemingly indicating he wanted to get out of the situation but didn’t want to let Afflalo go for fear of the fight continuing.

Players are heated lately, and there has been some discussion about whether new officiating styles by younger referees has led to players getting antsy with each other. We’ve heard that some of the newer refs aren’t talking with players as much, and perhaps that hasn’t let guys blow off steam throughout the course of the game and they’re taking it out on each other.

This is all very armchair psychology of me to speculate, but no doubt the conversation between the NBA, NBPA, and NBRA during the All-Star break regarding the officiating will be massively important.