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Game 13 Preview: Thunder at Milwaukee Bucks

Tipoff Time: 8:30PM EST

Game Preview

This has all the makings of another trap game:

  • Thunder coming off an emotional win
  • Back to back games
  • Lots of energy spent
  • Bucks are a good defensive team
  • Result?

The Bucks at 5-7 have not gotten off to the start they had hoped for this year, so they too are looking to get back on track.  Unfortunately I have not paid much attention to them so far, and this will be the first look I will give to them.

Keys to winning back to back:

  • Westbrook needs good ball distribution once again.
  • Defensive rebounding.
  • Guard the perimeter.
  • Be patient when the early shots don’t fall.
  • Be strong enough to avoid a let-down game.

Prediction: Thunder by 4.

Game 12: Thunder at Celtics Rematch

As of 3:30PM, it is still unknown as to whether Durant will be suiting up tonight, due to a sprained ankle sustained in the Rockets game.  Obviously this will impact the overall game to a great degree, so expectations may need to be tempered.

***

Tipoff: 7:00PM EST

Nearly two weeks ago, the defending Eastern Conference Champ Boston Celtics came into the Thunder Arena to test our young team.  As you probably also recall, after strategic bursts in both offense and defense as well as an ample helping of veteran savvy, the Celtics dispatched the Thunder, leaving the team demoralized and confused at 3-3.  I wish there were a little bit more time in between the first game and the rematch, which is this evening, so we could have a better picture at where the two teams are headed.  Never the less, we can still get an idea of what is to come by taking a look at what we have learned.

WHAT 3 THINGS DID THE THUNDER LEARN FROM GAME 1?

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Game 11 Preview: Houston Rockets at Thunder

Tipoff Time: 8:00PM EST

The Thunder come into this game off of their biggest win of the year thus far.  Conversely, the Rockets are looking at a season that was once full of promise quickly circling the drain due to a lot of close losses and now recurring injuries.  Houston will be without Yao Ming and Aaron Brooks tonight, which leaves them paper thin (barely three men deep) and lacking in offensive punch.  And on Friday night, the Thunder are traveling to Boston for a rematch.

This type of game sends two signals:

  1. The game itself is a mismatch.
  2. This is a classic trap game.

This game is of the type that does not and should not require herculean effort.  Rather, it is a game where if the coaches prepare the team properly, the Thunder can get a win in an efficient manner and be well-rested for Friday.  This is what the Thunder need to do:

  • Look to their collapse against the Clippers and remember that their defensive rebounding cuts off inferior teams’ chances.
  • Go to the bench early and often to keep fresh legs in and wear out the shallow Rockets bench.
  • Scola will probably be too much to handle for Ibaka, so it would probably be best to get Collison in the game early to defend him.  Scola is a physical player with a deft touch and good passing skills.  These kinds of big men can capitalize on an over-committed defense.  The Thunder must continue their strong inside play.
  • Be patient on offense.  The Rockets’ Kevin Martin can light it up offensively, so it is important to limit the amount of touches he gets, both through good defense and a purposeful offense.

Prediction: Thunder by 9

11/14 Daily Links

Tipoff is at 7:00PM EST

First, some links to savor:

11/12 Daily Links

A few links for your palate:

Game 7 Preview: Philadelphia 76ers at the Thunder

Tipoff Time: 8:00PM EST

Key Players:

Elton Brand: 18.6PPG, 8.1RPG
Kevin Durant: 27.7PPG
Sergei Ibaka:  8.2RPG
Jrue Holiday: 6.1 APG

Key Injuries:

Jeff Green
Andre Iguodala

The 76ers come into this evening’s game at an anemic 2-5, toiling against the mediocrity of the Eastern Conference.  The Thunder are arriving in Philadelphia looking for a bit of a team identity.  At 3-3, they have suffered 3 humiliating losses where they fell out of competition early and never really regained a foothold.  They lost badly to a Clippers team that may be on the same competitive level of the Sixers.  The question tonight is, will Philly see that as a sign of weakness and play above their heads, thriving on the home crowd? Or will the Thunder seek to snap out of their season’s funk and finally assert themselves collectively?

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On the Eve of a Celtic Showdown, the Celticsblog Comes A Calling

The ever-gracious Jeff Clark at CelticsBlog, the preeminent NBA blog on the web, asked me to do a little cross-posting action to get everyone pumped up for Sunday evening’s showdown with the defending Eastern Conference champs.  You can find this post here:

Q&A With OKC Thunderdome

Many thanks to Jeff, and be sure to follow up on his blog, as he addresses some of my questions for his team.

Game 5 Preview: Thunder at Portland Trailblazers

Tipoff at 10:30EST

What the pros are saying:

What I’m saying:

  • The negative numbers that the Thunder are accumulating are kind of staggering.  Lots of turnovers, a terrible shooting percentage, an even worse 3 point shooting percentage…and like I mentioned before, those numbers don’t even tell the whole story.
  • A bigger part of the story is the difference between their team psyche from last year’s playoffs and where it is now.  In fact, I even wrote about it.  If you look at the stats from the Lakers series, what is quite notable is the fact that the team did not play well from a pure numbers standpoint.  Durant wasn’t great, they were still prone to bad shots at times, and ultimately succumbed to a more talented team.  And yet, that team kept fighting in a way this team has not.
  • Take a look at the early season standings.  Aside from the fact that the Thunder are .500, they are also looking up at three teams that will be competing with them for the division.  They have to take their games against Portland, Denver, and Utah more seriously.

What to expect:

After getting burned with my last two predictions, I’m under no illusions this time around.  Portland is a better team playing better ball.  So going into this game, I’m going to be looking for incremental improvements.   Sure, a win would be nice with the Eastern Conference champs coming to town this Sunday, but as for right now, I would really just like to see 4 quarters of solid play.  In fact, I’d like to see one quarter of solid play where the Thunder actually win the quarter.

Thus far, the Thunder have only come out ahead in three of the 16 quarters that they have played.

The key matchup for the Thunder will be Durant locking horns with Portland’s Nicholas Batum.  Batum matches up well against Durant, but perhaps this is the kind of matchup Durant needs to wake up a bit.  He plays the game on a level that seems remarkably easy; maybe a bit of a challenge will help him hone in, in a more deliberate manner.

I’ll also be looking for some semblance of an offense this time out.  The Clippers loss was so revealing because the Thunder displayed zero patience when it came to execution for good shots.  That falls on the coaching and on the PG, Westbrook.   Both Coach Brooks and Westbrook need to be more engaged and disciplined.

My hopes are tempered, but perhaps the Thunder will surprise me.

Prediction: Portland by 8

Game 4 Preview: Thunder at the LA Clippers

Tipoff 10:30PM EST

The Thunder are facing the first of two away games tonight.  This evening’s game, against the struggling to be relevant (but not really) Clippers are looking to notch their first win of the season.

What to expect:

The Thunder’s past performance is duly noted.  They have struggled with their interior defense and struggled with the perimeter shot.  They have played solid but not great against mediocre teams, and poorly against a superior team.    The Clippers have dropped their first four games, looking mostly inept, breaking 90 points only once.

The Clippers have two bright silver linings – that of Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin.   Gordon has shown signs of explosiveness this season, though as a shooting guard one would hope that his 3-21 3 point shooting percentage might be a tad higher.

Oh me.  Oh my.

Down low, Blake Griffin, injured all of last year, has finally begun to make his impression on the league, averaging 16 and 10 through four games.  He has been every bit as explosive, dynamic, and strong in the post as they’d have hoped.

We’d better stop there.

I gave a listen to Bill Simmons’ podcast that was posted on 11/2, and he touched on Griffin thus far.  Much to his despair, he said that Griffin already appears to have “The Stink” of the Clippers on him.   After only four games, Simmons reported that he’s already seeing Griffin begin to get that glazed over look in his eyes, slumped posture, and a notable lack of energy that only the suck of a defeated organization can infuse in a young talent.

And then there is chubby Baron.  Baron Davis has provided some of the league’s highlights during his time in the NBA.  However, it seems that no other player vacillates between crunch time stud and disinterested three point chucker as Baron.  He again doesn’t seem engaged this year, and that is sad.

With this landscape on the horizon, and the bitter taste of a loss still lingering, you would think that the Thunder should be primed for a strong outing.

A check list for the Thunder:

  • Commit to defensive rebounds.  Griffin is extremely active on the offensive boards, and second chance shots are one of the easiest ways for inferior teams to remain competitive.
  • Commit to early fast breaks.  This goes hand in hand with defensive rebounding.  Westbrook, Durant, and Green have been at their best thus far when pushing the ball and making good fast break decisions.
  • Take less than 15 three point shots.  They’re relying on it too much, and it isn’t falling.  Durant can get any shot he wants to, and Westbrook shouldn’t have much trouble getting into the paint.  Steer clear of the outside shots.
  • Take the home crowd out of the game early.  Avoid cheap turnovers and wasted possessions.  The crowd will only be half full anyway, so it makes it that much easier.

Prediction: Thunder by 9

 

Game 2 Preview

Thunder at the Detroit Pistons
8PM Tipoff

What the pros are saying:

What I’m saying:

  • The Thunder have an opportunity to pad their wins a bit early on before facing tough consecutive games against Portland and Boston.
  • Injuries to big men are never a good thing, because they often rely specifically on their lower body strength, and Nick Collison’s knee bruise will likely keep him out for a while.  However, early on in the season it can provide opportunity for younger players to earn minutes that can pay big dividends down the stretch.
  • Ever since the Pistons parted ways with Chauncey Billups, they seem to have been a team without a specific identity.  They feel more like a mish-mash of ill-suited parts than anything else right now.
  • Ben Wallace?

What to expect:

The Pistons dropped their first game of the season to the New Jersey Nets, a team that won a grand total of 12 games last season (starting it out at an incredible 0-18).  The Pistons faded late in the game, losing a 7 point lead in the 4th quarter.  Their roster is populated by a bunch of guys who consistently get you about 15 points.  With the exception of Rip Hamilton and his fabulous Amish beard, there isn’t anyone on the team that can consistently score 20 in an efficient manner.    They will struggle to keep up offensively with the Thunder.

For OKC, they will likely individually and collectively be coming off the high of starting off the season right, especially after such lofty expectations for the young team.  This feels like a game where, if they can get out early and run, there will be opportunity to put the Pistons back on their heels.

Looking at match-ups, while Durant always poses a challenge for defenders, in this game there is really nobody at all that is going to provide much resistance to his offensive game.  Villanueva and perhaps McGrady offer a little bit of athleticism to slow his efforts, but his complete game should prove too much.  The key for Durant will be to be patient with his shot selection, which he did not do well in game 1.  The only way that the Pistons will be able to keep up with the Thunder offensively is if the Thunder waste possessions on quick shots.  Durant will get another 30 if he wants to, but the efficiency of how he does it will dictate the pace.

Pistons PG Rodney Stuckey provides a different challenge to Westbrook than what Rose offered him.  Stuckey possesses defensive acumen and tenacity, but has nowhere near the same offensive repertoire.  Westbrook showed a superior effort in game one largely in part because he did not force his shot selection, and scored his 28 off of only 15 attempts.  It is critical for PG’s to not take away shots from the rest of the team, and if he can do this again he should once more come out ahead in the personal matchup.

If the Thunder are to struggle anywhere, it could be in the rebounding game.  This is once again where Jeff Green will play a role.  His 21 points and a key 3 pointer were a valuable contribution in game 1, but having only tallied 4 rebounds, he needs to be more aware of his power forward responsibilities.  The easiest way for big men to get easy transition baskets is by first rebounding.   He must be able to keep the Pistons off of the offensive glass if the Thunder are to make quick work of this Pistons team.

In closing, if the Thunder can rebound well and utilize their superior transition game, which also heightens offensive skill positions, they should be able to make short work of the Pistons.  Detroit’s best chance is to slow the game down, commit to offensive rebounds, and hope that the Thunder get impatient with the pacing.

Prediction:

Thunder by 15