Game 4: OKC Thunder @ Houston Rockets Preview

It’s early in an eighty-two game marathon, but still a big game tonight at the Toyota Center in Houston where the 3-0 OKC Thunder meet the 0-3 Houston Rockets in an early season Western Conference statement game of sorts.

OKC appears to be back with Kevin Durant working his way into form from a foot injury which sidelined him for fifty-five games last season. The Thunder have reeled off three straight wins against the likes of San Antonio, Orlando and Denver. OKC’s offensive efficiency currently ranks second only to the Golden State Warriors. Billy Donovan seems willing to experiment with different lineups and has shown confidence in lineups favoring the presence of Dion Waiters and DJ Augustin when the Thunder go small. Russell Westbrook has been superb. Serge Ibaka, after two so-so performances, got his season untracked last night in an easy win over the Denver Nuggets. Enes Kanter appears comfortable coming off the bench and has provided instant offensive fire power.

Offensively—OKC doesn’t appear much different. Defensively—OKC still is a work in progress, but that was to be expected as the players become more comfortable with Billy Donovan’s philosophy of playing defense from a team standpoint.

OKC enters this game with it’s first 3-0 start to a season since the 2011-12 NBA Finals season. Conversely, Houston which is coming off a Western Conference Finals appearance has stumbled out of the gate going 0-3 against Denver, Golden State and Miami losing each game by twenty points. Last night in Miami — the Rockets blew a nineteen point halftime lead and lost by twenty. James Harden was 2-15 while Dwight Howard was a rest DNP. Terrance Jones and Donatus Motiejunas were both injury scratches. Not surprising Houston ranks near the bottom of the league in both team offensive and defensive efficiency one week into the season.

The addition of Ty Lawson at point guard has yet to show any positives as Houston has been subpar playing  on both ends of the floor. Ineffective offensively and  porous on the defensive end. Houston playing this bad is a storyline in the NBA after one week into the season. Big game tonight for Houston at home. A loss and they drop to 0-4, a win maybe kick starts their season.

Ask most fans in Oklahoma City which Western Conference team they relish beating the most and the answer usually is Houston. Respectful, heated, rivalries have evolved against both San Antonio and Memphis, but its not an understatement to say Oklahoma City doesn’t like Houston and vice versa. Obviously–some of this stems from the residual of the Harden trade, but much was added to the fire with Patrick Beverly’s questionable play near the scorer’s table which resulted in a post-season ending knee injury for Westbrook, and in a sense, the realistic end of OKC’s title hopes the season after their journey to the NBA Finals.

Big game for both teams as far as claiming Western Conference turf for the marathon journey down the road.




Thunder 117 – Denver Nuggets 93

Unlike OKC’s first two tough uphill grinding victories of the season this was one was over before the fourth quarter ever arrived as OKC expanded a 58-50 halftime lead into an easy win with a 37-20 third period explosion over the undermanned Denver Nuggets for a 117-93 cakewalk.

Several things of note. This marks the first time since OKC’s NBA Finals appearance in 2011-12 in which the Thunder have started a season 3-0. Second thing–this was the biggest margin of victory since the Thunder whipped New Orleans 119-74 back on February 27, 2013. Third thing—It seemed  like Christmas last year during the dumpster fire, injury riddled season before OKC hit 3-12 in garnering its third win. I know it wasn’t Christmas, but let’s just pretend it was for dramatic effect.

Billy Donovan and his Thunder did everything I ask of them in my pregame preview so they get an A from on this report card.

They did the following:

  • Moved the basketball as in garnering 32 assists to 19 turnovers.
  • Played decent defense as in holding the Nuggets to 38% from the field on the night.
  • Got Serge Ibaka going early in what was easily his best game of the season with 18 points, 7 boards, 4 assists and 5 blocked shots.
  • Pounded Denver on the boards 50-35.
  • Took good shots and shot 52.3% from the field.
  • Had seven different players score in double figures with Durant leading the way with an earthly 25 points.
  • Got both Durant and Westbrook off the floor for the night with only 28 and 25 minutes logged on their respective bodies. Hoping to see much more of this trend as the season unfolds.

OKC now goes to Houston for a game against the now 0-3 Houston Rockets. My take is this–don’t worry about the Rockets because the Warriors, the Clippers and the Spurs are all going to very tough…especially the defending world champion Warriors who are 3-0 and playing with a chip on their shoulder. Just beat the 0-3 Rockets and move on.

Excellent, professional, workmanlike win. Crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s. That’s all you can ever ask of your ball club. Life is good. Beat James Harden. Piss on Patrick Beverly. Our OKC Thunder is back.

Mike Jackson



Game 3 — Denver Nuggets @ OKC Thunder Preview

OKC hosts the rebuilding Denver Nuggets this evening at  Chesapeake Energy Arena. OKC enters the game 2-0 with wins over San Antonio and Orlando. Denver is in rebuild mode standing 1-1 with a season opening win against Houston and a double digit loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Nuggets finished 30-52 last season and in Mike Malone have their third head coach in a year. Most see the Nuggets as a bottom four team in the West as the season moves along.

Since the departure of Carmelo Anthony to the NY Knicks, the Nuggets have been a team without a star. This should no longer be the case as the development of rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay evolves being  as the Ty Lawson era in Denver has ended.  Otherwise the Nuggets are a mixture of youth and some older role players. Young players such as Kenneth Faried, Joffrey Lauvergne, Will Barton, Gary Harris, Nikola Jokic and Jusif Nurkic combined with vets Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Randy Foye and Jameer Nelson should round out the rest of the rotation.

OKC comes off its astounding comeback win in Orlando as Durant and Westbrook combined for 91 points with 62 points coming in the second half. OKC’s defense against the Magic was abysmal in the first half as Orlando got to the rim whenever they wanted in what was basically a layup drill. Defense was much better in the latter stages of the game with OKC going with small ball lineups and more quickness.

One would think OKC would want to get off quickly and make this easy on themselves with a road game looming in Houston tomorrow night. Durant and Westbrook both played heavy minutes in Orlando. This evening marks the beginning of a stretch of four games in five nights with Toronto at home on Wednesday and at the Chicago Bulls on Thursday. Tough stretch.

Westbrook – Mudiay matchup should be fun to watch. Otherwise OKC is listed as a twelve point favorite.  Start fast, play hard defensively, move the ball, get Serge Ibaka out of the gates and limit the minutes Durant and Westbrook play should be the Thunder talking points in the team pregame meeting.


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.