Jerami Grant

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Thunder a two-star team once again

1 Comment

NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

What’s the difference between the Russell WestbrookKevin Durant pairing and the Russell Westbrook-Paul George pairing?

Durant is better than George, sure. But Westbrook now is also better than the Westbrook who played with Durant. George might also fit better with Westbrook than Durant did, which can go a long way in overcoming the talent deficit.

For a star, George is exceptionally comfortable off the ball – important as Westbrook dove headfirst into controlling everything post-Durant last season. George can also be a lockdown defender. And when Westbrook sits, George can dominate the offense himself.

Plus, simply being a lesser player might help in some ways. While Durant and Westbrook countered each other for supremacy, George is clearly Westbrook’s sidekick. That understanding could help chemistry and, ultimately, performance.

The Thunder needed more spot-up shooting surrounding Westbrook and someone capable of creating when he sits. In George, they got both – for pennies on the dollar. The cost – Victor Oladipo (a fine player owed $84 million over the next four years) and Domantas Sabonis (the forgettable No. 11 pick last year) – was so low, Oklahoma City needn’t panic about George becoming a free agent in only one year. The Thunder could do enough damage just this season, also the final year of Westbrook’s contract unless he signs the offered super-max extension, to justify the trade.

The difference might be semantic, but we might be erring by treating Oklahoma City as merely an upgraded version of the team that lost in five games in the first round last year as opposed to a slightly reduced version of the team that was a perennial conference finalist when healthy.

Of course, this team has nobody as good as Serge Ibaka or James Harden were with the Thunder. But Oklahoma City boasts solid depth beyond its stars.

Patrick Patterson is the major addition, signed with the taxpayer mid-level exception. A stretch four and versatile defender, he should start – if healthy. I loved the signing when it occurred, but his subsequent knee surgery makes me wonder whether his low price tag is just due to being damaged goods. Patterson’s injury concern is the only reason I dropped the Thunder’s grade.

They also re-signed Andre Roberson to a reasonable three-year, $30 million contract. He’ll form a tenacious defensive duo with George and platoon with Alex Abrines, a dangerous shooter.

Down to minimum salaries, the Thunder still needed to find an NBA-caliber backup point guard – and did with Raymond Felton. The 33-year-old won’t necessarily solve Oklahoma City’s issues, but he should at least hold his own.

With Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and Jerami Grant returning, the Thunder can play big or small. They’ll have the luxury of developing No. 21 pick Terrance Ferguson slowly.

Of course, the timeline depends on whether George re-signs. The Lakers loom.

But Oklahoma City has already changed its entire paradigm. It’s no longer “Westbrook and the supporting cast.” It’s “Westbrook, George and the supporting cast.” To nab a star who transcends being grouped with Westbrook’s underlings without surrendering a single draft pick was remarkable.

For now, that’s more than enough.

Offseason grade: A

Rumor: Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder ‘officially circling each other’

14 Comments

Carmelo Anthony prefers to be traded to the Rockets. He might soon be traded to the Rockets.

Are the Thunder trying to interject themselves before it’s too late?

Bill Simmons of The Ringer:

Thunder assistant general manager Troy Weaver was an assistant coach at Syracuse when Anthony played there. Weaver is also well-connected in the Washington area (D.C./Maryland/Virginia). I’m not sure how much that means to Anthony, who grew up in Baltimore – in many ways, a different world from the DMV (which includes only parts of Maryland and Virginia closer to D.C.). Still, Weaver and Anthony at least share their Syracuse connection.

The problem: An Oklahoma City trade for Anthony would almost have to include Steven Adams (way more valuable than Anthony) and/or Enes Kanter (way less valuable than Anthony). There’s no easy way to bridge either gap, especially considering how much the Thunder need Adams’ interior presence.

Here’s my best stab at a workable framework for a trade, via ESPN’s trade machine:

screenshot-www.espn.com-2017-07-24-12-26-16

The Clippers would get a more-skilled backup center while just shuffling bad contracts (at least that’s how it seems they view Wesley Johnson‘s deal). The Thunder would still need to send the Knicks more assets (Terrance Ferguson, Jerami Grant and/or draft picks). The Knicks would get a veteran point guard in Austin Rivers while Frank Ntilikina develops and, more importantly, additional young assets. It’s just a matter of determining whether there’s an overlap in the picks Oklahoma City would trade and New York would receive. That window might be tight – or not exist.

Adding Paul George and Anthony to a team led by Russell Westbrook would be exciting. I’m just not sure it’s realistic.

Watch Houston’s Eric Gordon jam over Thunder forward Jerami Grant (VIDEO)

Getty
2 Comments

Eric Gordon is a leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate for the Houston Rockets for one reason: he can shoot the lights out.

But that didn’t stop Gordon from surprising a few folks during Tuesday night’s closeout Game 5 against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Gordon scored just eight points in Houston’s 105-99 win, but two of those points came on a thunderous dunk over Oklahoma City’s Jerami Grant.

Via Twitter:

Wasn’t expecting him to get up like that.

Houston will go on to play the winner of the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies series.

Rockets advance with 105-99 win, Thunder eliminated despite 47 from Westbrook

Getty Images
3 Comments

HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden had 34 points and his supporting cast helped the Houston Rockets overcome a 47-point game by Russell Westbrook to get a 105-99 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night to advance to the Western Conference semifinals.

The Thunder head home a year after advancing to the Western Conference finals after Houston took this series 4-1.

The Rockets used a 5-1 run, with all their points coming on free throws, to pull away from the Thunder and make it 98-91. Victor Oladipo threw a pass about 5 feet above Westbrook’s head and out of bounds on the next possession and Harden made a layup on the other end with about 3 minutes left.

The Rockets began eating up the clock after that and Oklahoma City missed shot after shot that could have closed the gap.

Houston couldn’t add to its lead though and the Thunder cut it to 4 points twice in the final seconds, with the second one coming on a basket by Alex Abrines. But Harden made two free throws both times they got close to secure the win.

After scoring 20 points in the third quarter, Westbrook made just 2 of 11 fourth-quarter shots in a disappointing end to a stellar season where he became the first player since Oscar Robertson in 1961-62 to average a triple-double by scoring an NBA-best 31.6 points a game, with 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists. He also set an NBA record for most triple-doubles with 42 to help the Thunder withstand the loss of All-Star Kevin Durant in free agency.

He had 11 rebounds and nine assists to come just shy of his fourth straight triple-double in this series, but he made just 5 of a career-high 18 3-point attempts.

Lou Williams added 22 points and Patrick Beverley had 15 to help the Rockets get out of the first round for the second time in three seasons in front of a crowd that included Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon, rapper Travis Scott and his rumored girlfriend and reality star Kylie Jenner.

The Thunder had a five-point lead entering the fourth quarter and led by 3 after a jump shot by Jerami Grant early in the quarter. The Rockets then used a 10-2 run to take an 86-81 lead with about 9 minutes left. Williams made the last eight points in that stretch, making three free throws to start it and capping it with a 3-pointer from way behind the line.

Houston was up by 6 early in the third quarter before using a 7-2 spurt to make it 61-50 with about 7 minutes left in the quarter. Harden got things going in that span and Beverley capped it with four straight points.

The Thunder started rolling after that, using a 12-3 run, with seven points from Westbrook, to get within 2 with about 5 minutes left in the quarter. Houston’s offense went cold in that span with its only points coming on free throws by Harden.

Five straight points by the Thunder a couple of minutes later, highlighted by a 3-pointer from Westbrook, gave the Thunder a 69-68 lead.

Harden made two free throws after that before Westbrook hit two 3-pointers in about 30 seconds to extend Oklahoma City’s lead to 77-70.

The Rockets were unhappy with a few calls in the first quarter and team owner Leslie Alexander got up from his courtside seat and walked over to a referee during play late in the quarter apparently to express his displeasure before sitting back down.

Houston led 51-44 at halftime.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Led by as many as 8 points early. … Oladipo had 10 points and eight rebounds. … Abrines had 11 points. … Westbrook received a technical for arguing with Beverley in the fourth.

Rockets: Made just 1 of 13 3-point attempts in the third quarter. … Williams has scored at least 20 points in three of the last four games. … Houston made just 6 of 37 3-point attempts overall. … Beverley received a technical for arguing with Westbrook in the fourth. … Harden made 16 of 17 free throw attempts.

 

James Harden has 37 points; Rockets rout Thunder, Westbrook 118-87

Getty Images
5 Comments

HOUSTON (AP) — Although James Harden is Houston’s undisputed star, he can’t top Russell Westbrook entirely on his own.

As is so often the case, Patrick Beverley was there for support Sunday night.

Harden scored 37 points to outshine Westbrook, and the Rockets pulled away in the third quarter and coasted to a 118-87 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.

Harden had nine assists and seven rebounds, and Beverley, who had the unenviable task of guarding Westbrook, had a playoff career-best 21 points along with 10 rebounds.

Beverley’s performance was nothing new to Harden, who has had a front row seat to his work for years.

“That’s the reason we’re in the position we’re in,” Harden said. “He brings it every game. Whether his shot is falling or not, he brings that intensity, that resolve. He was just Pat tonight.”

The best-of-seven Western Conference series continues Wednesday night in Houston.

The third-seeded Rockets were up by 20 when Harden came off the bench with about seven minutes remaining. He went right to work – making two 3-pointers to power a 10-0 run and push the lead to 110-80 with 4 1/2 minutes left. Harden, who along with Westbrook is a front-runner for MVP, went to the bench, and both teams cleared their benches soon after that.

Westbrook had 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, but made just 6 of 23 shots and had nine turnovers for the sixth-seeded Thunder.

“We’ve got to do a better job starting with myself – got to do a better job of taking care of the basketball and making some shots,” Westbrook said.

Beverley refused to take credit for slowing Westbrook down.

“It was a team effort in just trying to show him a lot of bodies,” he said. “He’s one of the most explosive guards in this league, so we were just trying to make it tough on him.”

The Thunder trailed by 15 entering the fourth quarter, and six straight points by the Rockets extended the lead to 100-78 with about 7 1/2 minutes remaining. Lou Williams scored the first four points in that span, and Beverley found Clint Capela on an alley-oop dunk.

The Rockets scored the first five points of the second half to push their lead to 10 early in the third quarter. After a timeout, Oklahoma City scored the next eight points with 3s from Westbrook and Andre Roberson to cut it to 64-62 with about 8 1/2 minutes left in the quarter.

Houston scored the next nine points, capped by consecutive 3-pointers by Beverley to make it 73-64 midway through the period.

Beverley went to the bench soon after that to a huge ovation and a high five from Houston Texans star J.J. Watt, who watched the game from a courtside seat.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan raved about Beverley.

“He played a very, very good game,” Donavan said. “I thought he impacted the game way, way more with his energy, his effort, his hustle, his loose balls, his offensive rebounding, keeping balls alive. That’s where he really did a great job.”

Westbrook ended a scoring drought of almost 3 1/2 minutes for the Thunder with a layup, but Houston used an 8-2 spurt – highlighted by a 3 from Eric Gordon – to push the lead to 81-68 with just more than three minutes remaining in the third.

Harden made a pair of free throws to cap the third quarter and leave Houston up 89-74 entering the fourth.

For Houston coach Mike D’Antoni, it’s the first postseason win since April 27, 2008, with Phoenix. D’Antoni’s teams were swept in the first round in his last two trips to the playoffs in 2011 with the Knicks and 2013 with the Lakers.

Houston’s victory comes after the team went 3-1 in the regular season against the Thunder.

The Rockets led 59-54 at halftime.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Roberson added 18 points with seven rebounds. … Oklahoma City, which led the NBA in rebounding in the regular season, was outrebounded 56-41. … Jerami Grant had 10 points.

Rockets: Capela missed a few minutes in the second quarter to receive three stitches in his lip. He had 14 points and seven rebounds. … Nene had 15 points. … Houston had 31 second-chance points to just four by the Thunder.

THEY SAID IT

Thunder center Steven Adams on Oklahoma City’s performance: “We were just trash on the reads, on the pick-and-rolls. We were just absolutely garbage. We just have to go back to the drawing board and figure it out before Game 2.”

PUTTING THE WIN IN PERSPECTIVE

D’Antoni wants to make sure that his team realizes it still has a lot of work to do despite its big win.

“All we did is defend our home court, and that’s what we’re supposed to do,” he said. “It’s nice to play well and get the win because you have to, but this is just one little step … in the big scheme of things. I’m sure they’ll bounce back, and we’ve got to be ready to go.”