After Morning Random Thoughts

So much to touch on after last night’s game. This is when it’s nice having your own blog and knowing there’s no space limitations on what you’re about to write and you won’t be pissing anybody off by doing so.

Putting aside I live in a place called Deer Creek, Oklahoma and have a natural bias as to where Durant and Westbrook continue to play basketball–I would admit as a longtime NBA fan I hope they stay together in any city, not just OKC.  Nights like last night make you realize how lucky you are to have the privilege of watching these guys every game. But having these two players together is good for the NBA and basketball as a whole….even if it means they break my heart and end up playing in New York or LA. Messier and Gretzky both started in Edmonton–a city similar to OKC–but ended up in New York and LA as their pro careers moved along. Just saying. But of course–Durant and Westbrook have yet to win a championship so I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.

So much happened during the last twenty-two minutes last night they have to be mentioned. Let’s start with Steven Adams stepping up to the line and sinking two clutch free throws in overtime even if Oladipo’s baseline jumper did mean more basketball.

Enes Kanter–his defense wasn’t horrible. He was a big part of the comeback last night and his defense wasn’t bad which enabled Donovan to go with that makeshift lineup of Durant, Westbrook, Kanter, Waiters and Augustin.

DJ Augustin again played a role in OKC winning as he hit another big shot and did his job when it mattered. Nothing flashy, just an experienced pro who’s been around and knows his role.

Dion Waiters is a nightmare to the analytics guys, yet there is something endearing about the way he competes. He had a horrible night if you looked at his stats, but he just kind of competes and it appears Durant and Westbrook feel comfortable with him even on nights when his shot isn’t falling.

Kyle Singler saw his first action and was okay, but nothing which made you think he needs more playing time.

Anthony Morrow didn’t play much coming down the stretch which again re-enforces the little things Waiters does competitively as far as defense, loose balls and such which maybe his coaches see in practice every day and bloggers on the internet don’t.

Nick Collison didn’t play in this game which doesn’t surprise me considering the matchups with the Magic. Mitch McGary didn’t play, which did surprise me just a bit–especially in the second quarter when OKC seemed to be lacking energy, interest and a kickstart.

Neither the rookie Payne or Steve Novak played–which didn’t surprise me as well.

Which brings me to Serge Ibaka. He’s had two subpar shooting nights in the first two games and looked  kind of fuzzy and lost in this game on both ends. I don’t think it’s an effort thing, but more of just Ibaka adjusting to a new head coach and maybe not having Kendrick Perkins barking out the defensive calls making it more simple for him. Orlando got to the rim whenever they wanted in the first half and in essence, that’s what Ibaka has to be for OKC if they want to be elite in the end…a rim protector. It  may take Ibaka longer to adjust because of his limited basketball experience.

Two games in the book. OKC is 2-0 with the Denver Nuggets coming to the Chesapeake Arena on Sunday evening. I’m worn out. No Thunder Nation Victory Song on this one.



Thunder 139 – Orlando Magic 136 2 OT

OKC’s Thunder basically pissed off every single one of my pre-game cliché warnings and opted to play some really uninspired basketball for the first thirty-six minutes on Friday night in Orlando against a young Magic team. So bad the Thunder found themselves trailing by 18 points heading into the final period of play.

Serge Ibaka was bad enough he left Billy Donovan with no other option other than basically sitting him down and tinkering with other lineups. A curious lineup of Kanter, Durant, Westbrook, Waiters and Augustin was what changed this around and created a change of flow which gave those of us in Thunder Nation some of the most dramatic twenty-two minutes of basketball in recent memory as ‘this thing’ unwound before our eyes.

OKC shot 15-21 from the field in the 4th period and still it took a make on No. 21 on a half court bank shot from Westbrook to send it to the first overtime. For those not keeping track–OKC scored on three separate possessions in the last 21 seconds of regulation…. I think. This is when I called my brother and father and asked, “Are you watching this shit?” Don’t lie—I know many of you were doing the same to a friend or loved one.

Fast forward to the end of the first OT with OKC leading by three with a handful of seconds left and the Magic inbounding from the side in their offensive zone. Andre Roberson was all over Victor Oladipo–but still while falling into seats from the corner, Oladipo hit nothing but net as time expired. Double overtime. More phone calls.

OKC controlled the second OT, but it still took Durant blocking two shots from the baseline corner in the final seconds to seal the win for OKC and finally subdue this talented, yet inexperienced Magic team. Orlando will be pretty good once they learn how to close games and has a nice core in Oladipo, Payton, Vucevic, Harris and Gordon to build upon. I have no idea how many games these guys will win this season, but the fans in Orlando are going to have some fun down the road with a couple of vet additions added to their bench.

But back to the two ‘older guys’ playing for OKC. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were simply amazing the final twenty-two minutes of this game. This is why the Jordan-Pippen talk surfaces and doesn’t go away. Combined they scored 91 points on the night with 62 points coming after halftime. Westbrook had a gaudy 48 on the night, Durant with a ‘quiet’ 43. Epic stuff even if it came in the second game of the season against a team still learning how to close games.

Russell Westbrook was clearly the No. 1 star of this game and Kevin Durant said as much in his post game comments. But Durant scored 43 points in 54 minutes of play and blocked those two shots at the very end to finally seal it for OKC.

In the end, this is exactly what Billy Donovan was supposed to steer the Thunder away from this season as he puts his own individual coaching brand on the Thunder, but on nights like this–a smart coach just said go to his two future Hall of Famers and it was a beautiful thing to witness.




Game 2 Preview — Thunder @ Orlando Magic

Cliché time. OKC needs to show up early, put the foot on Scott Skiles’ young Magic team, cruise to a road win, and improve to 2-0. Take care of business. One game at a time. Anybody can beat anybody on a given night–blah, blah, blah. This is a young team coming off a 25-57 season and a fifth place finish in the Southeast Division. I haven’t even checked the official Vegas spread, but I would guestimate OKC -7.5 or so.

Orlando has some promising young players in Victor Oladipo, Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Elfrid Payton, and Aaron Gordon, but OKC is one of the three most talented teams in the NBA when healthy and OKC should win this game. Orlando comes off a narrow loss to the Wizards. OKC comes off a dramatic hard fought win over the Spurs.

Much better game for Kevin Durant to work off his rust as he should find space and time much easier to come by working against various Magic defenders instead of Kawhi Leonard. It would  seem an appropriate game to insert Mitch McGary into the mix off the bench. One would think Russell Westbrook will have another Russell Westbrook game. But still—the clichés.

Minor storyline is Billy Donovan’s return to Orlando where he was coach for six days in June of 2007 before changing his mind and returning to the University of Florida. People in Florida love Billy Donovan. It’s not like he ever left the Gators to coach the hated Kentucky Wildcats. Seems like a mini lifetime ago since Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson led the Magic to an NBA Finals appearance.

Cliché finish…be professional and just win the game.


Morning After Random Thoughts

Just finished sipping a Dr. Pepper while watching Joe and Mika give their obits on Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign. I agree-he’s going to get his wish now and have plenty of time to do all those other fun things. Somebody in his family should have told him back in 1988 his father employed Lee Atwater to run one of the toughest in your face presidential campaigns in contemporary history in defeating the guy who pardoned Willie Horton and drove the tank with his helmet falling off his head.

Now…to the basketball game.

First off, OKC won a game on opening night against a top eight team overall in the NBA on a night when Kevin Durant  was rusty from what has basically been an eight month layoff from real NBA games against good players and good teams. Kawhi Leonard is a very good two way player. Maybe not a stretch to call him the NBA’s most unnoticed, underappreciated star. Give Leonard some credit–he had a very good night.

Even in having an off night it was clear Durant has a calming effect on Westbrook and the other Thunder players during closing time. Think how many times last season in these same situations OKC imploded against good teams in the last four minutes of games. Durant, even rusty, is OKC’s closer and everyone on ‘his’ team knows it.

Westbrook was Westbrook on the night. Tony Parker never really had a chance as he showed all the wear of his previous fourteen NBA seasons. To me, Parker’s decline is the most important Spurs storyline to watch as the season unfolds. Aldridge will eventually fit into a morphed Spurs system. Remember…Pop did coach Tim Duncan and David Robinson together with a different offensive system.

Dion Waiters, Enes Kanter, and Anthony Morrow confirmed what we thought going into last night–that being, OKC will have a vibrant offensive bench on most nights.

Enjoyed watching Billy Donovan’s presser. He comes across well and is very much a players’ coach. Watching the pressers this season will be more interesting.

Game one in the books.


OKC 112 – San Antonio 106

On a night when Kevin Durant made his return and looked mortal going 6-19 from the field, the OKC Thunder hung in against the San Antonio Spurs winning Billy Donovan’s debut game as an NBA coach. Russell Westbrook led the Thunder scoring 33 points and dishing out 10 assists, but on this night it was what other Thunder players did coming down the stretch which enabled the Thunder to make enough of the winning plays to claim Donovan’s opening game.

It wasn’t pretty at times, but when the Thunder had to dig in during the last six minutes of the game—they did, and it wasn’t just Westbrook and Durant. On the night, OKC’s bench produced 39 points and was pivotal in this season opening win. Call it cliché if you will, but it was a team win. Ten players played for OKC on the night and all contributed in some form or fashion on the night.

Much maligned Dion Waiters hit several key baskets down the stretch and led the Thunder at +15. Anthony Morrow was 3-6 from beyond the arc. Steven Adams had a key shot deflection at a critical moment. DJ Augustin wasn’t great, but was good enough. Enes Kanter did what should be his norm coming off the bench coupling 15 points with 16 rebounds. Serge Ibaka did his part defensively as Lamarcus Aldridge  was miserable shooting from the field going 4-12 and looking awkward at times in the Spurs offensive sets.

Tony Parker was 5-11 on the night in 26 minutes for ten points and was no match physically for Westbrook. Kawhi Leonard was superb with a career high 32 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocked shots.

Donovan was what I thought fairly astute in distributing minutes at the shooting guard position. Waiters played 21 minutes, Morrow 22 minutes, and Andre Roberson  17 minutes. Plus, I give Donovan an A grade for his press conference demeanor—clearly a players’ coach.

OKC was 21-22 from the free throw line. Won the boards 45-36. Nineteen turnovers are too many, but I’m sure Donovan will be preaching tomorrow on taking better care of the ball.

All in all, a very good night for the OKC Thunder. Won the game, covered the Vegas spread, and won the opener over an iconic coach on a night when Kevin Durant had an off night.




Season Opener Preview vs. San Antonio Spurs

When you think about it, this is really the first time since OKC beat the Clippers two seasons ago to advance to the Western Conference Finals in which they appear to be healthy as a team. Both teams are coming off extremely disappointing seasons. The Thunder finished 45-37 amid a plethora of injuries failing to make the playoffs for the first time since the team’s first season in OKC,  while the Spurs lost on the last night of the regular season in New Orleans to tumble in the seeding order. Without home court advantage, the Spurs fell in Game 7 of the first round to the Clippers.

OKC appears perched for a return to elite status with the major question mark being who will evolve as the starting shooting guard as Billy Donovan feels his way with this team. Otherwise–OKC is loaded with overall roster talent, size, depth and one would think a reason to be extremely motivated. And of course, those two guys—Durant and Westbrook.

Spurs come in with two new faces in LaMarcus Aldridge and David West.  Aldridge an All-Star caliber power forward who can score the ball, West a veteran big who gave up $11 million in pay this season to play for the Spurs for $1.4 million.

For me…the major question for the Spurs is Tony Parker. He enters his 15th season. Does he have enough left in the tank to stay with the elite point guards in the West like Curry, Westbrook, Paul and Conley? The secondary question would be if Aldridge’s presence slows the ball movement which has been the cornerstone of the Spurs’ offense.

A good matchup to open the Billy Donovan era in OKC.