2014 San Antonio Spurs Finals Redemption

This is about thirty minutes long. It’s a mini movie on the 2014 Spurs-Heat Finals.

The Spurs were coming off their disastrous finish in Game 7 in the 2013 Finals when they let a championship get away from them in the final thirty seconds. The Heat were going for their three peat.

Amidst it all the Spurs played some of the best team basketball ever viewed.  Kawhi Leonard emerged with the MVP and his first NBA championship. If you’ve never seen this it’s worth a watch as a primer for this series.

Can Durant and Westbrook Actually Do This?

It’s game day. To be brutally honest, with the exception of the previous games against the Warriors, Cavs, and Spurs—this is really the first time I’ve been excited this season. This is the first time I feel like we’re going to find out if OKC is the real deal or just more of the same since the Harden trade.

Think about this, since the trade there’s always been various injury issues which have made it unfair to evaluate the Thunder. Not so entering this series. OKC couldn’t be healthier. Scott Brooks is gone. Kendrick Perkins is gone. Same with Thabo. Derek Fisher, Kevin Martin, Caron Butler, and Jeremy Lamb. All gone. Poof.

So here we are entering the beginning of reckoning for Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Billy Donovan, Sam Presti, and Clay Bennett.

Can Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as two of the world’s best five basketball players lead their team to the NBA Finals for the first time in their careers without James Harden or even Derek Fisher for that matter?

I’ve been reading our local scribes, the ones Bill Simmons refers to as the Prestettes and seeing what they think about the series.  Nick Gallo and Royce Young can’t even be referred to as journalists because both either directly or indirectly make their living because of the existence of the Thunder. So I don’t even include them in the mix.

But the writers at newsok are actually journalists and try to be objective. Granted, they know they work in what is still basically a college market and are a little soft minus Darnell Mayberry, but they for the most part do a solid job. But they’re still the Presettes minus Darnell Mayberry.

I went through their series picks and takes, and for the most part they see it like I do, albeit Anthony Slater who has picked the Thunder in six games. I think Slater actually does a good job, so I’m keeping note of this pick in case the Thunder win this series.

Tramel, Carlson, and Erik Horne pretty much see it like me with the Spurs winning in either six or seven games. Darnell sees it with the Spurs winning in five games. Mike Sherman is the editor so he doesn’t count and isn’t included as a bona fide Prestette.

But back to the question above, can Durant and Westbrook actually do this?

True, OKC moved the ball better this season and upped their assists to around 23 per game, but here’s what they also did—they led the entire NBA in blown fourth quarter leads. How stunning is that sentence. With two of the world’s best five players, this team had more blown fourth quarter leads than either my putrid Philadelphia Sixers or the dumpster fire Lakers.

So, my primary question is if Durant and Westbrook can actually make the right ball decisions in the last six minutes of these games without Harden or Derek Fisher around? Because of injuries we’ve never really gotten the opportunity to see for ourselves if they can do this?

Can Durant and Westbrook finish games in the last six minutes? Can Durant and Westbrook do what Jordan and Pippen finally did when they got past the Detroit Pistons to begin their run of championships?

Even if you’re not a fan of either team involved in this series, it will make for a compelling watch because of the basketball history implications.

For the first time this season–I’m jacked.

Tony Parker — My X Factor in This Series

Lots of bloggers, internet dwebs, and various other people who never played sports love picking their ‘X factors’ in games, series, and even entire seasons. So–this is probably a good time for me to pick my X factor in the Thunder-Spurs series.

My X Factor is easy. Tony Parker. How he goes is how I ultimately feel this series will tilt. Tony Parker in his prime was as good as it gets at the point guard position. This is not that Tony Parker with those legs, but this version of Tony Parker doesn’t have to be as good because there’s so much quality depth on this roster. Maybe kind of like Peyton Manning with this year’s Bronchos. Can Parker just be good enough?

Tony Parker doesn’t have to be the Tony Parker who in 2007 won the NBA Finals MVP as the Spurs swept LeBron’s Cavs in four games. He just has to be solid and can’t allow Russell Westbrook to take over the series.

Tony Parker, my series X Factor, either way it goes.

Tim Duncan — The Legend and the Legacy

Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant are No. 6 and No. 7 on my Top Ten All-Time Players List. Both won five NBA championships. Both stayed with one franchise their entire professional careers. But from there they differ greatly. Kobe was always outspoken and in the limelight . But with Tim Duncan there’s always been this quiet, reserved quality about him.

Kobe in fact has left the Lakers as a dumpster fire franchise after these past three seasons where he took way too much money and put his team behind the eight ball. Conversely, Tim Duncan opted to receive less than his market value and be a bridge of sorts as the Spurs have smoothly made the transition to the Kawhi Leonard Era.

In an area in professional sports where you want to turn your head at times, Tim Duncan is one of those rare pro athletes who has carved a legacy of monumental proportions.


Spurs-Thunder Preview

Let’s be candid. The Western Conference Playoffs to date have been brutally bad. Almost unwatchable bad.

Golden State with an injured Steph Curry cruised past Houston in five games. Maybe the fact James Harden and Dwight Howard hate each other somewhat plays into the fact Houston was a nightmare this season. Sarcasm dripping. Kevin McHale smiling knowingly.

San Antonio swept an injury decimated Memphis team which was without Marc Gasol and Mike Conley.

OKC’s Thunder beat an untalented, injury riddled Dallas team in five games. Note to Mark Cuban, instead of worrying about Westbrook, get some ball players on your roster. Your team is a mess. Even Dirk knows this.

In the one competitive series to watch, the Clippers versus Portland, it’s hard to watch because LA lost both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in the same game. A completely forgettable season for Blake Griffin. Calling it a wasted, pissed away season doesn’t seem over the top to me. Steve Ballmer must be thrilled. I’m an OU fan and I’m not sure I’d want Blake Griffin wearing a Thunder jersey.

In the East, does anyone actually think any of these teams are going to beat the Cavs? Cleveland looks good. LeBron, Kyrie, and Kevin Love appear to have figured out the role and ball distribution issues. With Steph’s knee injury, it wouldn’t be completely foolish to tout the Cavs as the team most likely to win the Cup just about now. But let’s see how Steph’s knee comes along before we do that.

So…maybe with this OKC-Spurs series… all of us NBA fans will get something worth watching this post season.

The two teams split their four games going 2-2. OKC was a pedestrian 55-27, while the Spurs set a franchise record winning 67 regular season games. But keep this in mind abut the Spurs and Thunder –neither did much against the two teams who matter. OKC went a combined 0-5 against the Warriors and Cavs, while the Spurs went 2-4.

For the first time since their 2012 NBA Finals season, OKC’s big three of Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka are all healthy beyond Patrick Beverly.

It’s not that I think the Spurs are world beaters, but my question would be…is this OKC team better than the Thunder team which made the NBA Finals in 2012?

To me the answer is a resounding no. That team had a then still hungry James Harden playing the sixth man role to the hilt. That team had Thabo playing defense while actually having the capability to make some shots. That team had Kendrick Perkins threatening to strangle Durant and Westbrook if they didn’t exert themselves on the defensive end.

This OKC team has a vastly inconsistent Dion Waiters trying to fill the Harden role. This team has Andre Roberson with their hands over their eyes and a prayer on their lips whenever he launches a shot. This team has an offensively talented Enes Kanter who can catch and finish, but can’t guard.

So what do we know about post season NBA basketball? Defense seriously matters. The games slow down. Each possession means more. Smart teams advance, mentally challenged teams usually don’t.

But having written that paragraph I think this series has the potential to be extremely watchable and exciting. I heard Traber say the other day what a coaching mismatch this provides with Pop versus Donovan. I also heard Jim Traber continually lobby for Scott Brooks’ dismissal. Take a guess what Brooks’ post season record was against Popovich. It’s 6-6 with each coach winning a six game series against the other. BTW, the guy sitting next to Donovan will be the same guy who was sitting next to Brooks in 2012, which would be Mo Cheeks.

To me the series comes down to several questions for Oklahoma City if they want to advance.

Can Durant and Westbrook play championship caliber defense and keep their turnovers to a minimum?

Can Good Dion Waiters keep Bad Dion Waiters hidden in Sam Presti’s basement?

Can Billy Donovan and Mo Cheeks hide Enes Kanter’s defensive liabilities against Tim Duncan, Boris Diaw, David West, and Boban?

Can Durant and Westbrook figure out the ball distribution decisions in the last six minutes of the games? Erik Horne at newsoksports wrote a nice piece on this very topic this morning.

Can OKC get something from its bench in each of the games?

Will Serge Ibaka show up?

On the flip side for me, the questions for San Antonio are a much shorter list.

Can Tony Parker play well enough to ‘somewhat’ neutralize Russell Westbrook?

Can Popovich make OKC pay for putting Enes Kanter on the floor? Forget the Dallas series. The Spurs have four bigs in Duncan, Diaw, West, and Boban who can all score the ball.

There should be moments in this series which are breathtaking to witness. Kawhi Leonard versus Kevin Durant. LaMarcus Aldridge versus Serge Ibaka. Westbrook versus the aged Parker. This series should give all of us some entertaining moments.

It could even give us our last glimpses of Durant and Westbrook together as Thunder teammates.

But if you put a gun to my head and asked me to make a pick, I’d take the Spurs in six games.

Mike Jackson



But What Would a Ted Cruz Presidency Have Looked Like?

Well, okay, I fibbed. One more political entry, then it’s all business with this Thunder-Spurs series in which Vegas has the Spurs listed a heavy favorite to win.

But still, what if Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham, and Marco Rubio’s endorsements of Cruz had meant anything at all?

What would a Ted Cruz presidency have looked like?


Ted Cruz’s Big 48 Hour Adventure

I have to admit this new ‘presidential’ Donald Trump who isn’t allowed by his handlers to call Ted Cruz…Lyin’ Ted Cruz saddens me. Why change at this point? This is what got all this to where it is now…namely, Donald Trump on the cusp of being the GOP’s presidential nominee.

But you can tell in this speech—Trump wants to go back to being Trump, but just can’t quite pull the trigger because his new handler has told him to stop it.

So here’s Trump having fun with Lyin’ Ted Cruz at the conclusion of LTC’s Big 48 Hour Adventure in which he was mathematically eliminated from the GOP race,  mangled the iconic Hoosiers’ scene, and then for some reason inexplicably capped it off by announcing Carly Fiorina as his vice-presidential running mate.

Let’s be clear here, the only way those two will ever serve together as president and vice-president is if they live in the same home owners association and serve on their HOA board together. America is in steep cultural decline, but not quite to the point where Ted Cruz and Carly Fiorina are in the White House. I’m not even sure they could pull that off on House of Cards.

After this, no more politics for me until the Thunder are either eliminated or win the NBA championship.


Lyin’ Ted Cruz Botches Iconic Hooisers Scene

Not a good day for Lyin’ Ted Cruz. Since Donald Trump has pivoted, become all presidential, and now calls him Senator Cruz, someone has to do this. Cruz not only got smashed in all five states yesterday, but completely botched the iconic Hoosiers scene where Gene Hackman (Norman Dale) has the height of the rim measured in Indianapolis,  but not in the tiny Hickory gym. He  got it all backwards.

This is where Donald Trump needs to tell Ted to get on the plane and go home…now. This is how the scene actually goes. Sigh.


Your Daily Thunder Western Conference Regular Season Seeding Contest Co-Champion

Well, I won the co-championship of the Daily Thunder contest with  a score of 26. Not my best score in the contest, but solid considering how far both New Orleans and Portland deviated from their predicted finishes in the regular season. The objective in the contest is to simply pick as closely as possible how the fifteen teams in the West will finish the regular season 1-15. Like in golf, lowest score wins.

A nice gentleman named slowaneasy from New Zealand finished with 26 as well and is my co-champion.

Some nice NBA basketball novices blog over there and they make for interesting conversation mates on any topics non-basketball related. They’re especially good on food related topics. They’re good kids. They’re not trafficking drugs or humans as best I know. Misguided and sometimes a little immature at times — yes, but still good kids at the end of the day who just don’t know any better.

So what I would just ever so gently say is…stay with the food message board, but when you privately need to read something from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about basketball related–just sneak over here and become smarter about the game.

No big deal. No theatrics. You don’t have to tell your girlfriends or significant others. Just go over to okcthunderground.com and read something which might actually help you fill out your brackets next season so you can start beating Vegas with regularity.

That’s it. Have a wonderful day.


Thunder Wrap Up Mavs in Game 5 to Advance

Oklahoma City Thunder 118 — Dallas Mavs 104

Finally…we’re to the NBA basketball season.

After a preseason to see if Kevin Durant’s Jones’ fracture healed properly, then a completely boring regular season in which OKC won 55 games, but was left in the competitive dust by the record setting Warriors and Spurs—we’re to where we all thought the OKC Thunder would be.

Namely-the Western Conference Semi-Finals. Nothing has changed except Steph Curry has sprained knee ligaments–which could be something if the Thunder survive and advance beyond the Spurs.

But as far as the Thunder, we really still don’t know all that much because this first round series against the Dallas Mavs was basically nothing. Dallas was hurt. Dallas doesn’t have all that much talent on its roster, and in essence all OKC did was win four out of five games against a team it swept 4-0 during the regular season.

Now we start to find out if the Thunder are pretenders or serious contenders. We find out if Durant and Westbrook have finally reached the juncture in their careers when they can lead a team to an NBA Finals without James Harden in actuality being their MVP as he was in that Western Conference Championship 2012 run to the NBA Finals.

No excuses. Durant healthy. Westbrook healthy. Ibaka healthy. Kendrick Perkins hands of stone exiled into the NBA wilderness. Scott Brooks is now the coach of the Washington Wizards. Steven Adams has evolved. Enes Kanter has shown he can play some. Maybe a problem with the shooting guard position, but gimme a break here–Jordan and Pippen won NBA championships with Stacy King and Luc Longley. At some point if you want to be mentioned among the league’s elite you take your team  by the reins and lead. This would be that time.

So here we are. For the first time since the Harden trade, OKC is healthy in post season. For the first time since the trade we’re going to get the opportunity to see if the roster Sam Presti has assembled is championship worthy.

Durant and Westbrook can’t do this alone. Players named Ibaka, Kanter, Waiters, Adams, Collison, Foye, Morrow, and even Kyle Singler will have to pull their collective weight. This can’t be two versus five. Period.

This series against the Spurs should be fascinating. The Spurs have retooled with Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge now the superstar faces of the franchise. It’s a deep Spurs team with a blend of talent, age, and experience. And it’s a team which will have home court advantage in this series in the event it goes to a Game 7.

I’m not exactly sure what Mark Cuban was trying to say, but I know what I’m saying–it’s time for both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to show what they’ve got against the league’s elite players and teams.

It’s time.

Mike Jackson