NBA Playoff Preview: Oklahoma City vs. Denver

15 Comments

SEASON RECORDS
Thunder: 55-27 (No. 4 seed)
Nuggets 50-32 (No. 5 seed)

SEASON SERIES
Oklahoma City 3-1, including sweeping two games in April when the Nuggets were playing well and were everyone’s new second favorite team.

KEY INJURIES
Thunder: No significant injuries.
Nuggets: Ty Lawson sprained his ankle in the season finale Wednesday and it has been described as “throbbing” but he is expected to go and maybe start Game 1; Arron Afflalo has a lingering hamstring injury and while he is expected back for the series when remains unknown; both Nene and Danilo Gallinari are expected to play through minor injuries in this series.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per 100 possessions)
Thunder: Off. 108.6 (4th in NBA); 104 (13th in NBA)
Nuggets: Off. 109.5 (1st in NBA); 104.8 (16th in NBA)

THREE KEY THUNDER

Kevin Durant: He is the leading scorer in the league and he will be the focus of the Thunder offense — and Denver doesn’t have a real good way to stop him. He dropped 32 and 21 on them in the two April meetings (Durant was very efficient in the first game, not efficient in the second but it didn’t matter). In a series where the Oklahoma City Thunder defense may make it hard on the Nuggets to score, the points that Durant does put up may be the difference.

Russell Westbrook: We know just how good he is, but he has to start taking the next step because he is the key to how far the Thunder go this playoffs. If he plays within the system, the Thunder will win this series and likely more. If he starts trying to do too much himself, taking on the defense and not setting up teammates, playing selfishly and then turning the ball over, Denver will be right there. Westbrook can be a force of nature, but as the point guard he still has to share the wealth.

James Harden: Since the trade that sent Jeff Green out — for Kendrick Perkins in a very good move for the Thunder — Harden has picked up the scoring slack. He is averaging 15.8 per game since the All-Star break, and he does it with this cool old-man-at-the-Y game. He hits his shots, defends, always seems to be in the right spot making the right play. Not flashy, just damn good.

THREE KEY NUGGETS

Ty Lawson: The Nuggets need him healthy — he played well against the Thunder this season, nearly 16 points per game on 57 percent shooting. He’s quick, can penetrate and break things down. Easy points are hard to come by against the Kendrick Perkins Thunder, they need all the shooters they can get.

Danilo Gallinari: He is matched up on Kevin Durant. He has got to get a hand in his face when he shoots and make Durant do a lot of work on defense. Contest and just try to wear him down. The Nuggets are going to need points from the Italian star to hang with the Thunder.

George Karl: During the regular season, he got his team to play defense, share the ball and play with a real chip on their shoulder. That kind of team ball won them a lot of games and made them a fun team to watch. They became the plucky underdogs everyone wants to root for. But now he’s got to find a way to slow down a young, energetic team with much more firepower than he has at his disposal.

OUTLOOK

The real key to this series in the Thunder defense — they shut the Nuggets down in two recent meetings. In those games Denver shot 42 percent and in both games had an offensive rating of under 100 (points per 100 possessions). If Denver does not find a way to get some points — ideally some easy buckets — this series could be a lot shorter than people think.

Ty Lawson has to come up big, Nene needs to get Kendrick Perkins into foul trouble and keep Russell Westbrook from doing whatever he wants in the lane. Kevin Durant has to be forced to work for his shots and find them contested. Denver has to play as well as it can.

Problem is what we saw in the two recent games between these teams — OKC plays well as a team too, and they have Durant and Westbrook. Better players, more firepower.

PREDICTION

There will be no easy games for the Thunder, Denver will make them work for it. But in the end, Oklahoma City is just the better team.

Thunder in 6.

Russell Westbrook’s triple-double hands Warriors fourth straight loss

3 Comments

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Russell Westbrook recorded his first triple-double of the season as Oklahoma City defeated the Golden State Warriors 123-95 Wednesday night in a game in which Thunder rookie Hamidou Diallo was carted off on a stretcher with 7:17 left with an apparent left leg injury.

Diallo’s left leg was stabilized as he was wheeled away to applause from the Oracle Arena crowd. The team it turns out not too serious.

Westbrook began 1 for 6, then hit stride, finishing with 11 points, 13 assists, 11 rebounds. It was his second game back since missing five with a sprained left ankle, then another when he welcomed twin daughters Saturday night.

Paul George had 25 points, nine rebounds and five assists and Steven Adams contributed 20 points and 11 rebounds as the Thunder sent the two-time defending NBA champions to their first four-game skid in nearly six years.

Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson scored 27 points apiece with Durant grabbing a season-best 14 rebounds for the Warriors, who were again playing without All-Star starters Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, as well as key reserve Alfonzo McKinnie.

Clearly in pain, Diallo moved himself off the court and was under basket for several minutes.

In a loss Monday at Sacramento, Diallo became the first Thunder rookie ever to go at least 7 for 7 from the floor. He made both his 3-point tries on the way to 18 points.

Westbrook’s 3-pointer 4:17 before halftime put the Thunder ahead 50-37.

The Warriors, who held off the Thunder 108-100 in their season opener Oct. 16 and had won the last three matchups, trailed 60-46 at halftime with just 11 assists to 10 turnovers but opened the third with a 13-2 run to get within 62-59.

While Golden State dropped 10 of its final 17 games last season, the Warriors hadn’t endured a four-game losing streak during the regular season since dropping four in a row from Feb. 26-March 2, 2013. They also lost six straight just before that in February `13.

OKC’s Terrance Ferguson returned from a two-game absence as he welcomed a baby, then went down at the 5:41 mark of the first with a sprained left ankle and didn’t return.

 

LeBron James, Lakers prevail in Cleveland after controversial late call

Jason Miller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LeBron James got a warm welcome before the game. He got another standing ovation during the game. And he got favorable officiating late.

Just like old times in Cleveland.

LeBron returned with the Lakers and escaped with a 109-105 win over the Cavaliers on Wednesday. With 32 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists, he did all he could to top his old team. But an odd call also benefited Los Angeles.

With the Lakers up two late, LeBron missed a jumper, and the rebound went out of bounds. Officials ruled it Los Angeles ball with 22.9 seconds left. Per the NBA’s new offensive-rebound shot-clock rule, the shot clock goes to 14 seconds “after the offensive team gets possession of the ball after it goes out of bounds immediately following a missed field goal or free throw that hit the rim.” That seemed to apply here. Yet, the Lakers inbounded with the shot clock off, so the Cavs were forced to foul.

Ultimately, I’m not convinced it mattered, because LeBron split from the line. Is there a huge difference in win expectancy between the Cavaliers getting the ball down three with 19.6 seconds left (what actually happened) and defending down two with 22.9 seconds left and 14 seconds on the shot clock (what probably should have happened)? It seems not.

Besides, this game was more about sentimentality than result, anyway. Sure, a win over LeBron would have been satisfying during a lost season. But Cavaliers fans settled for a nice ovation to LeBron during intros and another with his tribute video:

This game was far closer than 2010, when LeBron returned to Cleveland with the Heat and routed the Cavs. This game was also far, far, far tamer.

On the eve of Thanksgiving, it seems everyone is happier to walk away with limited drama.

Kyrie Irving: ‘F— Thanksgiving’

Tim Bradbury/Getty Images
4 Comments

There’s a theory Kyrie Irving resented the way LeBron James‘ political opinions always drew attention and Irving’s didn’t. The biggest folly of the situation? Irving’s flat-earth takes were the only non-basketball thing he said that resonated.

But Irving seemingly hit on more meaningful discourse tonight.

After the Celtics’ loss to the Knicks, Irving addressed tomorrow’s holiday.

Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston:

Irving has Native American roots and a strong connection Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. I suspect that informs his opinion on Thanksgiving.

The history of Thanksgiving is more complex than the fairytale many of us were taught in school. Agree or disagree with Irving’s point of view, his remark presents a great opportunity to learn more about different perspectives.

Anthony Davis gets 5×5, but misses game-tying free throw

4 Comments

When going to the line for multiple free throws, NBA players typically shoot better on each successive attempt.

Anthony Davis bucked that trend at the worst possible time.

With the Pelicans down three and 2.5 seconds left, Davis drew a foul on a 3-pointer. He sunk the first two free throws then missed the third, allowing the 76ers to escape with a 121-120 win.

Davis deserves credit for getting New Orleans so close. Before Davis drew the foul, Jrue Holiday missed a wayward quick-two attempt. Davis stole Ben Simmons‘ attempt to keep the ball in bounds and got up the 3-pointer the Pelicans should have been attempting all along.

After swishing the first two free throws what went wrong for Davis? Maybe it was the curse of Jahlil Okafor. The former 76er subbed in for New Orleans before the third free throw, working the loud Philadelphia crowd into even more of a frenzy.

I’m not sure Davis’ final steal should count, as Simmons might not have had possession. But if it holds up, Davis will have a rare 5×5 – at least five points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

For now, it’s the first 5×5 since Draymond Green‘s in 2015 and first 5×5 in a loss since Andrei Kirilenko’s in 2003.

Here’s every 5×5 since 1983-84 (as far back as Basketball-Reference records go):

image