PBT Playoff Preview: Thunder vs. Mavericks

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Season Records:

Oklahoma City (47-19, 2 seed) vs. Dallas (38-28, 7 seed)

Season Series:

OKC 3-1

Offense/Defense Rankings (points per 100 possessions):

Offense: OKC 107.2 (2nd in NBA) vs. DAL 101.1 (20th in NBA)

Defense: OKC 100 (9th in NBA) vs. DAL 98.6 (8th in NBA)

Three Key Thunder:

Kevin Durant: Durant just locked up his 3rd consecutive scoring title, and he did it with a ludicrously high true shooting percentage of 61%. Durant can take the ball to the rim, he can catch and shoot, he can knock down contested jumpers, he can do it all. Basically, if it involves putting a basketball in a hoop, Kevin Durant is really good at it. Durant will likely finish 2nd to LeBron James in MVP voting, but he’s got a great chance to make up for it by winning a championship before LeBron does.

Russell Westbrook: For all the junk Westbrook takes about whether or not he’s a true point guard and how many shots he takes, the Thunder run their offense through the ultra-talented Westbrook, and it’s been working for them, to say the least. When Westbrook can get the Thunder out in the open floor, they become completely unstoppable, and he’s getting better and better at picking his spots and setting up his teammates in half-court situations. The Thunder offense will stagnate when Westbrook tries to take contested jumpers early in the shot clock that he shouldn’t be taking, but there’s no denying that the UCLA product is a true superstar and a main reason the Thunder have been so successful.

James Harden: Harden makes bad basketball plays about as often as he shaves his beard. Harden isn’t the most athletic star in the league, and he took a bit of time to develop, but he’s become a true star and a lock for the 6th Man of the Year Award. Harden has true 3-point range, can slither between defenders and get to the rim, and is a fantastic playmaker to boot. It’s almost unfair that the Thunder have the luxury of bringing him off the bench, because he can pick apart a defense as well as almost any player in the league, starter or non-starter.

Three Key Mavericks:

Dirk Nowitzki: The reigning Finals MVP. What more do I need to say? Dirk finally got the monkey off his back by winning it all last season, but he followed it up with a bit of a down year statistically, as his points per game went down and his FG% was as low as it’s been since his rookie season. Still, Nowitzki can take over a game at any time with his unblockable fadeaways, and the Thunder won’t sleep on him after what he did to them in last year’s Western Conference Finals.

Jason Terry: Terry is a player who can simply light up the scoreboard and take over a game whenever he feels like it. Terry has range out to the parking lot, doesn’t seem to care whether there’s a hand in his face or not, and lives for clutch situations — it takes some serious stones to get a tattoo of the NBA Finals trophy before the Finals begin, and Terry backed it up last season. The Mavericks are coming into this series as underdogs, but I get the feeling that’s how Terry likes it.

Shawn Marion: Marion isn’t the two-way force he was in Phoenix, but he’s still capable of doing a ton of things on offense and guarding almost any player on the court. Against the Thunder, he’ll have the unenviable task of trying to use his length to limit the damage Kevin Durant will do — if he can’t find a way to slow down the Thunder’s offensive attack, it could be a very short series for the defending champs.

Outlook:

Normally, it’s never wise to bet against the defending champs until they’re actually beaten, but Mark Cuban changed the game a little bit when he decided to let Tyson Chandler walk in free agency in the hope of landing Dwight Howard or Deron Williams this off-season. The Mavericks have a lot of experience, and were able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against the Thunder in last year’s Western Conference Finals last season, but a more experienced and confident Thunder team should be able to roll through this year’s Mavericks squad without too much trouble.

Prediction:

Thunder in 6.

Lakers coach Luke Walton rips officiating: ‘I wasn’t going to say anything. I was going to save my money, but I just can’t anymore’

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The Lakers are 0-3 with LeBron James, and pressure is mounting.

One way to release it: Venting about officiating.

Lakers coach Walton via Kurt Helin:

“Let me start here. … I wasn’t going to say anything, because I was going to save my money. But I just can’t anymore.”

“It’s 70-something points in the paint to 50-something (74 to 50), again they outshoot us from the free throw line, 38 free throws (the Lakers had 26),” Walton ranted after the game. “Watch the play — watch the play where I got a technical, watch what happens to LeBron James’ arm. It’s the same thing that James Harden and Chris Paul shot 30 free throws on us the night before. Then LeBron pulls up on a screen and somebody’s trying to fight over it, same thing they shot free throws on. Same thing.

“We are scoring 70 points a night in the paint. We’re putting pressure on. Josh Hart, watch how plays the game, played 40 minutes tonight, all he does is attack the rim — zero free throws tonight. Zero. I know they’re young, but if we’re going to play a certain way then let’s not reward people for flopping 30 feet from the hole on plays that have nothing to do with that possession. They’re just flopping to see if they can get a foul call. And then not reward players who are physically going to the basket and getting hit. That’s not right.”

I’m not certain Walton will get fined. These comments are borderline. But he asked for it, and the league might abide.

The numbers Walton cites are not convincing. Sometimes, one team deserves more free throws than the other. Maybe the Lakers outscored the Spurs by so much in the paint because the Spurs kept ceding baskets inside rather than fouling and the Lakers kept sending San Antonio to the line for free throws, which don’t count as points in the paint. Also keep in mind: Los Angeles outscored the Spurs 41-7 in transition. Many of the Lakers’ paint points came against a defense not positioned to contest shots, with or without contact.

But Walton is fighting bigger battles – taking heat off his team for losing, showing his players he has their back, making referees think twice on foul calls. If Walton achieves those objectives, a fine will be well worth it.

LeBron James appears to call for timeout with Lakers out of them (video)

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David Blatt infamously tried to call a timeout while the Cavaliers were out of them. Though he was stopped before receiving a technical foul, that was seen as evidence Blatt didn’t have the basketball intelligence to coach LeBron James.

Somewhere, Blatt is quietly smiling. (Or let’s be real, loudly telling everyone how smart he is.)

LeBron had his biggest moment as a Laker, making a game-tying 3-pointer to force overtime in Los Angeles’ eventual loss to the Spurs last night. But LeBron probably shouldn’t have had the opportunity to take the shot.

Once the Lakers secured possession, LeBron appeared to call for a timeout despite the Lakers having none remaining. If referees granted the timeout, it also would have come with a technical foul that gave the Spurs a chance to put the game out of reach in regulation.

Instead, Josh Hart incidentally made a big play by passing to LeBron. LeBron had to drop his T-signaling hands to catch the pass. Then, he brought the ball up court and drilled a 3-pointer.

LeBron said he wasn’t trying to call timeout, but his smiling denial isn’t exactly convincing.

This isn’t the first time LeBron lost track of timeouts at the end of a game, anyway.

Ostensibly on bench, Markieff Morris steps onto court and tugs Seth Curry’s shorts during play (video)

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Markieff Morris (28 points and nine rebounds) came up big in the Wizards’ overtime win over the Trail Blazers last night.

He didn’t even need to be in the game to help Washington stop Portland on the final possession of regulation.

CJ Fogler:

There should be no place for that. None. Games should be decided by the 10 players on the court. Anyone not in the game should do nothing to encroach on the space of players in the game. Stepping over the sideline is an egregious violation. Touching a player or his uniform is beyond outrageous.

The NBA has occasionally fined coaches (including former Wizards assistant Sidney Lowe) and players, but the league hasn’t gone far enough. This type of conduct, though usually not this flagrant, occurs far too often. It’s past time to crack down. Fines, suspensions, whatever it takes to ensure this stops.

After years of neglecting to deter these antics, the NBA shouldn’t put all the weight of the problem on Morris. Fine him what has been the standard amount, but make clear to everyone this was the last straw before more severe penalties.

Morris’ shorts tug might have decided the game. We’ll never know whether that would have been the difference between the Trail Blazers scoring on the possession or not. Probably not. Damian Lillard missed on a drive, but maybe he would kicked to Seth Curry if Curry weren’t flailing his arms, exasperated by Morris contact. Or maybe Otto Porter would have stuck just a little closer to Curry without “help” defense from Morris, leaving more room for Lillard.

But it’s only a matter of time until the NBA has a more controversial ending involving someone on the bench getting involved in the play.

Check out Maurice Harkless’ Tyrone Biggums of the “Chapelle’s Show” Halloween costume

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The Trail Blazers were celebrating Halloween a little early this year, wearing their costumes to the arena Monday night.

Damian Lillard went with Stone Cold.

But nobody topped Maurice Harkless’ Tyrone Biggums costume. Brilliant.

 

There were other creative players, too.

Portland has set the bar high this year.