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Game 8 Preview: Trailblazers at the Thunder

Game time tip off: 9:30PM EST

Key Players

  • Kevin Durant & Russell Westbrook, who both totaled 28 points, 11 rebounds in game 1.
  • Brandon Roy – 19 points in 47 minutes.
  • Marcus Camby – 12 rebounds in game 1.
  • LaMarcus Aldridge – 22 points last game.

Game preview:

In the first matchup between these two teams, the Thunder had once again fallen behind early, looking completely disinterested.  However, they battled back, which I think presented an early season turnaround as to how they expected themselves to perform against the better teams in the league.  Granted, the Thunder struggled against the Celtics.  But in each game, they battled.  Maintaining a competitive nature throughout a game will not always result in wins against elite teams, but against the 2nd and 3rd tier teams, it is a good way to insure a winning record.

I believe there will be two keys to tonight’s game, one controllable, the other not:

  1. Brandon Roy’s knee.
    Roy clocked in 47 minutes during the Blazers’ loss in their first matchup.  Since then, in a loss to the Lakers and a win against the Pistons, he logged 31 and 21 minutes, respectively.  No team seems to be as collectively snake-bitten by the injury monster like the Blazers.   If Roy can’t go tonight or is ineffective, the Blazers will have a difficult time matching up with the Thunder’s offensive output.
  2. Defensive rebounding.
    I am a broken record here, but when a struggling team comes to town, you have to limit their offensive rebounding opportunities.  Second chance points can ruin otherwise good play.  The Blazers have one of the best rebounders in the game in Marcus Camby, and he will likely be matched up against Krstic and Ibaka.  Camby does not present much challenge offensively, so either guy should be able to check him.  Where the challenge comes from though is in keeping him off the boards.  the Blazers have active bodies in Aldridge, Batum, and Fernandez who can capitalize on those second chance points.

I am looking forward to seeing if the Thunder can maintain their early-game focus as they did against the Sixers.  The Sixers win was an imperfect game, but offered good things on which the Thunder can build.

Westbrook will be matched up against the veteran Andre Miller, who has always had a place on the league both for his strong point play as well as his strong afro.  Miller won’t want to play at the breakneck pace that Holiday did on Wednesday, so hopefully it will be a little bit easier for Westbrook to play at a quick but not fast speed.  He had initiated good ball movement last game, and we will look for that to continue.  Remember, he doesn’t need a gaudy stat line to prove that he distributed the ball.  Good passing begets good passing.  Let’s see everyone get into the vibe.

Last notes:

  • It was great to see Sefolosha get some quality contribution against the Sixers.  His offense can be sporadic, but one thing he can always do is play good defense.  In the last game he tallied three steals in his time on the court.  He could absolutely be a defensive stopper type, given his length and quickness.
  • Durant will likely see a rotation of Camby, Batum, and Aldridge thrown at him to limit his touches.  This could present opportunity for Ibaka on the inside.  It would be great to see Durant get some high-low post play going on with Ibaka and Aldrich.  Anything that puts Durant in a scoring position with options is a play worth repeating until it is stopped.
  • I’m still pushing for James Harden to get into the starting lineup to see how he handles himself.  Hopefully he can avoid the fouls this time out and get into a bit better flow.  Regardless, his outside shot is not yet there; I’d like to see him get into the paint a bit more and see how the defense responds.

Prediction: Thunder by 4

Game 3 Preview

Utah Jazz at the Thunder on Oct. 31

7:00PM Tipoff

What the pros are saying:

What I’m saying:

  • There are things you can usually take away from previous meetings, even when it wraps around the off-season.  However, it appears that the Jazz are going through some growing pains, though it frankly surprises me.  They added Al Jefferson to their low post to play along side Paul Millsap.  Jefferson replaced Carlos Boozer, who now finds himself in Chicago.  To me, Jefferson is a huge upgrade offensively.  I think over the course of the season, he is going to learn how to play extremely well with Deron Williams, one of the top 3 PG’s in the league.  However, there will be an adjustment period because off the screens that the Jazz like to run, Boozer was often a step back mid-range scorer, while Jefferson prefers his back to the basket.  This combination should pay dividends over the course of 82 games, but for now the team is struggling to find itself.
  • The defensive side of the ball seems to be where the Jazz are struggling most, and that again appears to be lack of coordination.  The team has talked about not being sharp on its rotations. Knowledge of this type of information always bodes well, but again it is going to try the Thunder’s resolve to stay committed in their half-court set.  When a rotation fails, the gut instinct is to shoot as soon as there is space.  A team, and specifically a PG, committed to exploiting rotations must be patient and force the issue by making the extra pass.  This often leads to layups instead of open 15 footers.
  • Given the Jazz interior struggles, it will be imperative on Krstic and Ebaka to have impact games and avoid foul trouble.  So far the team as a whole has resisted early foul struggles, which has allowed their bigs to stay on the court and make sizable impacts.  They will have their hands full with Millsap and Jefferson.  Defensively, the Thunder will need to stay at home and avoid getting trapped out on high screens.  Deron Williams is extremely adept at being patient with his passing.
  • This game will be another outstanding opportunity for Westbrook to square off against one of the league’s best in Williams.  Williams is a more traditional kind of point guard, who is very committed to the schemes Coach Sloan likes to run.  He doesn’t have the explosiveness of a Rose or a Rondo, but he is fundamentally sound and doesn’t make many mistakes.  Where he will have a distinct advantage is in the low block – Williams is adept at posting up smaller guards.  We might see Westbrook take the posture of attacking Williams with his speed to try and force the issue and get Williams to pick up some fouls.  Regardless, Westbrook seems to love measuring sticks like these, and this will be a key matchup.
  • Will the Thunder get better guard play this game? Thus far, James Harden has had negligible impact, accumulating only 7 points and a single assist so far this season.  If Deron Williams has his way with Westbrook on the block and Westbrook picks up some fouls, it will be imperative that Harden be ready to take the reins against the Jazz.

What to expect:

This one is easy.  The Jazz will hit the Thunder with a heavy dose of pick and rolls.  The game will hinge on whether the Thunder can deal with them, in part, or in whole.  The Jazz will be reluctant to run on the Thunder, because while their bigs are skilled, they are not court-runners like Green and Ibaka.  The Thunder will need to look to push those screens higher than the Jazz want, in order to force the play into a screen and kick rather than a screen and roll.  It doesn’t look like the Jazz have the perimeter shooters that they have in the past to take advantage of this strategy.

Stylistically, the Thunder will want to run, and it will be incumbent on Westbrook to maintain discipline when the fast break numbers are not present.  So far he has played well in the point position, tallying 11 assists against the Pistons.  I expect him to come out strong, the way he did against Derrick Rose, because the young man likes a challenge.  However, Rose is not yet a disciplined PG, and Williams will not make the same kinds of mistakes.

The Thunder are tempting fate by continuing to force so many outside shots, and I think that dealing with the Jazz’ inside presence on the boards will haunt them if they do the same this time around.   They cannot continue to have 2-15 3 point shooting games and not expect that to average out over the course of the season.  Right now, they are not a good 3 point shooting team.  Coach Brooks needs to recognize that, and rein in the outside shooting because it really isn’t necessary.  Offensively, the Thunder have tactical advantages with Durant and Green, and getting them in closer to the basket should be a priority.

With Durant, he faces an interesting matchup where he will likely be guarded by Kirilenko.  Kirilenko has the length to challenge Durant’s shooting. Durant will need to change up his game a bit in order to get the open looks he is accustomed to seeing.  Kevin needs to find offensive patience in this game if he is going to have a more efficient offensive game.  Again, 9-24 shooting nights eventually hurt you, even if they haven’t hurt the Thunder yet.

Playing the Jazz is always a temperature-taking game for teams.  The Jazz are deliberate, precise, and make you play the same way.  The Thunder are more talented offensively and athletically, but this is the kind of game that can expose the sloppiness that the Thunder have covered up with wins so far.  Fortunately, they’ll be back at home and the boisterous crowd should help with their energy.

Prediction:

Thunder by 6.

Ball Don’t Lie Thunder Preview

Kelly “Soul Patch” Dwyer’s Thunder preview, wherein he considers their relationship to the mercurial Holden Caulfield (Caulfield.  good explosiveness, must work on: emotional stability).  I can’t complain that Dwyer is belated since I haven’t even attempted to write a Thunder season preview.

BDL: Oklahoma City Thunder

For some reason the largest picture on his preview is of Patrick “Gold Club” Ewing, whom I still profess is the all time leader of game winning shot attempts that didn’t go in.  It’s a fun way to remember him.

 

2010-2011 Season Preview

The great thing about blogging is that you really don’t have to do much work.  My value added is offered by aggregating these links into one central location.*

Planetbball

Welcome to Loud City

SB Nation

 

*I did not actually aggregate these myself