Thunder-Clippers: A Look Ahead

Thunder-Clippers: A Look Ahead

If you thought the Thunder-Grizzlies series was a nail-biter, you may not be ready for Thunder-Clippers. People who are sans fingernails from the Thunder’s 7-game showdown with the Grizzlies more than likely won’t make it to the end of this series without experiencing cardiac arrest at some point.

Russell Westbrook 2014 Playoff averages: 25.6 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 8 APG

Russell Westbrook 2014 Playoff averages: 25.6 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 8 APG

Make no mistake, these two teams are very evenly matched. If you’re looking for proof of that last statement, look no further than the 2-2 season-series split between both squads. The first matchup was played back on Nov. 13th, and was most notorious for the Serge Ibaka-Matt Barnes double ejection.

I honestly agree with one commenter’s assessment of it. They should have thrown out double Ts and moved on. It was only a little shoving, it’s not like a punch was even thrown. Either way, Ibaka’s ejection proved costly for the Thunder, as the Clippers took that matchup 111-103.

Former Clipper Caron Butler looks to be taking Thabo Sefolosha's starting SG spot for the forseeable future. 2014 Playoff averages: 7.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1 APG

Former Clipper Caron Butler looks to be taking Thabo Sefolosha’s starting SG spot for the forseeable future. 2014 Playoff averages: 7.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1 APG

Matchup #2 gave us a bit of Thunder revenge a mere eight nights later. An out-of-sync Clippers defense allowed 51.9% shooting from the Thunder, and the Thunder went on to a convincing 105-91 outcome. The thing that stuck out to me about that game was towards the end, when Steven Adams goes to shake the hand of former Thunder player Byron Mullens, and Mullens doesn’t even bother to acknowledge him. Adams, crafty big man that he is, decided to remedy the situation in his own way:

Adams: "Good game... or not. Whatever. At least I'm still The Man."

Adams: “Good game… or not. Whatever. At least I’m still The Man.”

The third matchup was played Feb. 23rd, exactly one week after the All-Star game. The Thunder struggled mightily following the All-Star break, but I thought they played the Clippers well here. The defense did everything you can do short of fouling, but Clippers bench player Jamal Crawford was not going to be stopped in that game. I couldn’t believe some of the shots he was making through the defense the Thunder had on him. He had basically no space, hands all up in his line of sight, and he was still draining jumpers, some of them all-net, which was a big factor in getting the Clippers a 125-117 victory. Here’s video of Crawford’s 36-point performance. Your eyes will pop out of your head as you see some of the shots he was hitting.

Less than a month ago, April 9th, saw the last regular-season meeting between the two squads. It was a game the Thunder controlled pretty much the entire way, but a 4th quarter surge by the Clippers nearly stole the victory. the Thunder were able to hold them off at the end for a 107-101 victory.

Kevin Durant 2014 Playoff averages: 29.9 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 3.4 APG

Kevin Durant 2014 Playoff averages: 29.9 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 3.4 APG

As it pertains to this playoff series, the Thunder are staring down the NBA’s highest scoring team of the regular season (averaging 107.9 points a game). Therefore, the Thunder D will need to be on top of their game at all times. One defensive slip up, and a large enough Clipper run, and the Thunder will see games get away from them. This is a Clipper team that does not let up, and they seem to love the run-and-gun style just as much as the Thunder. The Thunder, on the other hand, counter with the league’s leading scorer in Kevin Durant. According to NBA.com, here are five things to keep an eye on as this series progresses:

Serge Ibaka 2014 Playoff averages: 13 PPG, 7.1 RPG, .6 APG

Serge Ibaka 2014 Playoff averages: 13 PPG, 7.1 RPG, .6 APG

1) The play of Kevin Durant: He was struggling immensely in the Grizzlies series before a disparaging headline and possible elimination forced him to stop thinking, and start having fun. He went from averaging 28 points on 40% shooting in the first 5 games, to 34.5 points off of 56% shooting in the last 2. He can’t think about things too much. He needs to just go out on the court loose, and treat it like a day at the park. When he just let’s his game flow naturally, he’s at his best. Overanalyzing things has a tendency to hurt an athlete’s overall performance, because then hesitation in said athlete becomes increasingly noticeable. Hesitation in this league can prove very costly. Trust me. This is coming from one of the most notorious overanalyzers on Earth. This is actually the reason I time-crunch assignments in my college courses. Waiting until the last possible second to get my assignments done prevents me from overthinking them, and turning in an incoherent essay with my thoughts all over the place because, “Oh, I just thought of this as well”. Because in all honesty, if certain facts failed to pop in your head as you write something, the thoughts that you omitted are more than likely not that relevant to your topic anyway. But, as you may have noticed, I’m beginning to digress here.

Kendrick Perkins 2014 playoff averages: 4.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, .7 APG (Perkins: "You really thought I was gonna smile in this photo?")

Kendrick Perkins 2014 Playoff averages: 4.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, .7 APG (Perkins: “You really thought I was gonna smile in this photo?”)

2) Chris Paul’s sore right hamstring: Sore hamstrings are already tough to deal with on their own, but as Mike Conley proved in Game 7 of the previous series, a sore right hamstring is even tougher to deal with when you’re tasked with guarding Russell Westbrook. While Conley was good for 20 points in that game, he had no answer for Westbrook’s blinding speed. Westbrook’s 27-point, 16-assist, 10 rebound triple-double put him in some elite company. Paul should still get his numbers, as he posted a 22 point, 14 assist double-double in Game 7 vs. the Warriors. Although now Paul is going to try to accomplish what Conley could not, and try to limit Westbrook’s numbers on a bad hamstring, which is far easier said than done.

Chris Paul 2014 Playoff averages: 17.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 9 APG

Chris Paul 2014 Playoff averages: 17.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 9 APG

3) The Ibaka-Griffin matchup: Let’s face it. We all know Blake Griffin is a beast. Oklahoma is familiar with Griffin, seeing as he played his high school and college ball here in the state. Griffin is used to dominating his opposition down low, but Ibaka is not a man who can be dominated very easily, if he can be dominated at all. Plus it seems as though tensions really ratchet up in the post when those two are battling down there.

J.J. Reddick 2014 Playoff averages: 14.3 PPG, 2 RPG, 2.3 APG

J.J. Reddick 2014 Playoff averages: 14.3 PPG, 2 RPG, 2.3 APG

4) Will Westbrook continue to facilitate?: Westbrook’s first 5 games against the Grizzlies saw him take 25.6 shots per game, as he averaged 25.4 points per game on 34% shooting. He actually averaged more points in the final 2 games at 26 off of 51% shooting. His shots per game fell to 18.5 as his assists climbed to 10.5 a game. As long as he can maintain a balance between facilitating and aggression, he’ll help give the Thunder the best possible chance to win.

Matt Barnes 2014 Playoff averages: 8.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.9 APG

Matt Barnes 2014 Playoff averages: 8.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.9 APG

5) How much do these teams have left?: NBA.com asked this question in regards to the Clippers, but I honestly still feel as though it applies to the Thunder as well. Both teams just came off of brutal and highly physical 7-game tests. Granted, the Thunder really seemed to find their stride in their last 2, while the Clippers were trailing for the majority of their Game 7 against the Warriors, so I can see why NBA.com wasn’t as quick to ask that about the Thunder. But these two teams matchup very well, and this series is expected to be just as physical as their previous ones. One key injury could easily derail either squad.

Blake Griffin 2014 Playoff averages: 23.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.6 APG

Blake Griffin 2014 Playoff averages: 23.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.6 APG

I’m noticing that when people are asked to pick a winner, the majority will say either the Clippers in 6, or the Thunder in 7. I’m leaning more towards the Thunder in 7 myself. If the Clippers win, they’ll have to get it done in 6, because if a Game 7 in OKC is forced, I just don’t see the Clippers having anything left for it. The reason? I just feel like they’ll expend most of their energy trying to close out Game 6. Failure to do so would leave that team way too drained to compete in Game 7. The Clippers could potentially take a game or two here in OKC, but it certainly won’t be the deciding Game 7 if it comes down to it.

DeAndre Jordan 2014 Playoff averages: 12.1 PPG, 15.1 RPG, 1 APG

DeAndre Jordan 2014 Playoff averages: 12.1 PPG, 15.1 RPG, 1 APG

Game 1 comes to us from The Peake, and tip-off is scheduled for 8:30pm CST. The game will be featured at the back-end of TNT’s double-header, and you already know you’re going to want to catch this one. I have a feeling this series could produce even more drama than the last one.

Thunder Respond To Being Pushed To The Brink With Best Postseason Performance So Far

Thunder Respond To Being Pushed To The Brink With Best Postseason Performance So Far

I’ve noticed this all through the regular season. It’s the reason the Thunder gave up so many 20+-point leads during the regular season, and is the reason the Thunder experienced a 3-2 deficit in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs. There is so much hype surrounding this current Thunder squad that they have a tendency to buy into it themselves at times. It’s understandable. You hear over and over again how good your team is, how good the individual players making up the squad are, and how the GM is building a solid winner, and you can’t help but let some of it go to your head. Buying into hype isn’t always a bad thing. You have to have a certain level of confidence when you hit the court, or a loss is as good as guaranteed. The problem is that you can buy into the hype too much, and start taking things like NBA Championships as a lock before you actually obtain it. This is why the Thunder don’t always play up to their potential. Sometimes they act as if an NBA Championship is a mere formality, treating it as though it’s a guarantee at season’s end.

All three major Thunder contributors are pictured here. Westbrook dropped 25 points for the game, Reggie Jackson was good for 16 off of the Thunder bench, and Kevin Durant's 36-point, 10-rebound double-double marked his best peformance of the series to this point.

All three major Thunder contributors are pictured here. Russell Westbrook dropped 25 points for the game, Reggie Jackson was good for 16 off of the Thunder bench, and Kevin Durant’s 36-point, 10-rebound double-double marked his best performance of the series to this point.

The thing about the NBA is that, especially in today’s NBA, nothing comes easy. Sure, back in the older days, some things were pretty much a formality. Red Auerbach’s Celtics teams winning NBA Championships throughout the late-50s & mid-60s became a formality. And a few decades later, Michael Jordan’s Bulls teams in the 90s were pretty much a lock for a title, much to the chagrin of legends John Stockton and Karl Malone. But even though the Heat have taken the last two titles, I’m not sure if you can call them a lock this year. One key injury could completely derail that team.

Zach Randoplh tries to back down Kendrick Perkins. Perkins' defense was a major contributor in Randolph only scoring 16 for the game.

Zach Randolph tries to back down Kendrick Perkins. Perkins’ defense was a major contributor in Randolph only scoring 16 for the game.

Last night’s Thunder performance was “night-and-day different” from the last 4 outings. They were spacing the floor much better on offense, there was great ball movement, much better shot selection, and they played like a team with something to prove.  One thing I’ve noticed about this Thunder team is that they sometimes need a good, solid hit to the mouth before they start taking things seriously. It’s a lot like when I did amateur boxing. I was always one of those guys who didn’t really get moving until I took a good one to the chin. Then I was like, “Oh yeah. I’m in a fight right now. I’d better pick it up.”

All of the major Grizzlies contributors are in frame here. Marc Gasol was held to 17 points total, while Tony Allen dropped 13 bench points, and James Johnson contributed 15 additional bench points.

All of the major Grizzlies contributors are in frame here. Marc Gasol was held to 17 points total, while Tony Allen dropped 13 bench points, and James Johnson contributed 15 additional bench points.

And pick it up is exactly what Kevin Durant did in the face of a disparaging headline from The Oklahoman that referred to him as “Mr. Unreliable”. From my standpoint, I don’t see why The Oklahoman issued an apology. As it came to this series, they weren’t wrong. Some people took it as an attack on Durant’s character or entire body of work in the NBA. I actually find it sad that The Oklahoman had to clarify that the headline was only in reference to his performance in the Grizzlies series, which even Durant failed to disagree with, saying:

Johnson decides fouling Durant just isn't worth it.

Johnson decides fouling Durant just isn’t worth it.

“That’s what they’re supposed to write. I didn’t come through for the team.”

Honestly, I love the looks on their faces. They play better when they have something to prove.

Honestly, I love the looks on their faces. They play better when they have something to prove.

And if the headline is what it took to wake him up, then so be it. I personally think Durant plays better when he has a chip on his shoulder anyway. Most players do. Give fantastic NBA players something to prove, and they’ll more often than not, do just that.

Point Guard vs. Center? You know Westbrook isn't afraid of the challenge.

Point Guard vs. Center? You know Westbrook isn’t afraid of the challenge.

Hell, Durant put up a 36-point, 10-rebound double-double playing with that chip on his shoulder. If disparaging headlines gets Durant to play this well, maybe the next headline should read, “KD Pushes Down Little Old Ladies Just Trying To Cross The Street. Is The NBA Stardom Going To His Head?” Heck, he might go off for 50 points after reading that one. The headline wasn’t even about Russell Westbrook, but it seemed to help his play too, as he took a step back in the 1st quarter to let Durant make his case. That ended up netting Durant 14 points in that one 12-minute period. (Interesting note: The Thunder are 5-0 in the postseason when Durant scores 14 or more in the 1st quarter.) But even in taking that step back, Westbrook still finished his night with 25 points. Reggie Jackson’s 16 points off of the bench were a major help as well.

Beno Udrih tries to run with Jackson.

Beno Udrih tries to run with Jackson.

And in a good coaching move, Scott Brooks opted to start Caron Butler over Thabo Sefolosha. In fact, Sefolosha never saw the floor. Yet, the defense was as good as I’ve seen all series long, and Butler’s presence gave this Thunder starting 5 a 4th scoring option. This lineup change alone is most likely how the Thunder were getting such good floor spacing last night, because all three perimeter players were 3-point threats. You can’t pack the paint in that scenario. And speaking of paint performances, hats off to Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams for the way they frustrated the Grizzlies’ paint offense last night. Ibaka’s 4 blocks were actually outnumbered by Adams’ 5 from off of the Thunder bench. You give Adams a couple more years of development, and I think he ends up filling in the missing piece to a Thunder title run.

It wasn't even Steven Adams' house. He told Tony Allen to get that mess out of here anyway.

It wasn’t even Steven Adams’ house. He told Tony Allen to get that mess out of here anyway.

And the Grizzlies’ offense in the paint found themselves increasingly frustrated at the Ibaka/Adams block party that was taking place last night. Marc Gasol was held to 17 points, while Zach Randolph managed 16. Neither had a double-double to speak of, which is rather unusual when you talk about that big man duo. Tony Allen and James Johnson were able to combine for 28 points off of the Grizzlies bench to no avail (Johnson: 15, Allen: 13).

Westbrook takes the wide-open shot.

Westbrook takes the wide-open shot.

I said in the series preview not to be surprised if this went to 7 games. This series has gone almost exactly as I envisioned it, with the only difference being that I had the winners of Games 5 and 6 switched. Oddly, last night was the first Game 6 loss by the Grizzlies in franchise playoff history (They are now 4-1 all-time.). That’s the most likely reason you heard a few Thunder fans lose faith in the squad’s ability to extend the series. Plus, this 2-game losing streak at the Grindhouse comes off of the heels of a 15-game Grindhouse winning streak. Now, even though the series just turned into a winner-take-all matchup, I feel like it’s the Grizzlies’ back against the wall after they just got handed the most lopsided defeat of the series. Game 7 comes to us from The Peake tomorrow night at 7pm CST. So far, it looks like TNT has acquired the rights to broadcast. I’ll let you know if anything changes TV-wise. One thing that is certain, however, is that the matchup will definitely be broadcast via WWLS The Sports Animal. You know you don’t want to miss this one.

Grizzlies “Grind Game” Effective, But Decidedly Unentertaining.

Grizzlies “Grind Game” Effective, But Decidedly Unentertaining.

I don’t see this article being particularly lengthy this time. While the Grizzlies “grind-it-out” style suits them well, and sets them up for wins, it is decidedly boring to watch as a spectator. The Grizzlies basically controlled the pace from start to finish, and save for a couple of impressive made baskets by the Thunder near and at the end of regulation, there was nothing really of note. So I suppose I’ll provide video of the moments that made Thunder fans cheer in that game. (There aren’t many.)

The Thunder celebrate Kendrick Perkins' crazy put-back buzzer-beater.

The Thunder celebrate Kendrick Perkins’ crazy put-back buzzer-beater.

Here’s video of Kevin Durant’s “I-can’t-believe-that-just-happened” 4-point play:

Without that, this “he-really-just-hit-a-buzzer-beater” move by Perkins would not have been possible:

Unfortunately, those two amazing plays simply delayed the inevitable, as the pace slowed to molasses once again for the OT period. The Grizzlies got the grinder they wanted, and tied the series 1-1 with a 111-105 victory.

Kevin Durant's 36-point, 11-rebound double-double couldn't secure the win.

Kevin Durant’s 36-point, 11-rebound double-double couldn’t secure the win.

Durant had 36 points and 11 rebounds. Serge Ibaka also had a 15-point, 11-rebound double-double. Russell Westbrook dropped 25 points. What killed the Thunder was their lack of bench production. 14 bench points were scored by a total of five different Thunder players. Normally we can get that kind of production from just one bench player.

Serge Ibaka's 15-point, 11-rebound double-double kept it close, but failed to secure the W.

Serge Ibaka’s 15-point, 11-rebound double-double kept it close, but failed to secure the W.

Zach Randolph’s 25 points led all Grizzlies scorers. While Marc Gasol and Courtney Lee dropped 16 points apiece, the real damage was done via Mike Conley’s 19-point, 12-assist double-double. And Nick Calathes’ suspension opened the door for Beno Udrih, who scored 14 points off of the Grizzlies bench.

Russell Westbrook's intensity will be heavily required throughout the remainder of the series. Say what you will about Westbrook, but he's the aggressor that Durant isn't.

Russell Westbrook’s intensity will be heavily required throughout the remainder of the series. Say what you will about Westbrook, but he’s the aggressor that Durant isn’t.

Game 3 is coming to us tonight from FedEx Forum, affectionately nicknamed “The Grindhouse” in regards to the Grizzlies’ style of play. And with Saturday’s Game 4 also coming from “The Grindhouse”, the Thunder will either have to figure out how to win through the grind, or break up the grind a bit and start getting out in transition. If they don’t do either in these next two games, the Thunder will find themselves in the unenviable position of staring down a 3-1 series deficit as they come back home, and only 8 NBA teams in history have taken a series in the face of that deficit. The last one to do so was the Suns over the Lakers, and that was 8 years ago. Tonight’s game is featured as the front-end of TNT’s double-header, or you can catch the game via WWLS The Sports Animal.

Thunder Hang On To Take 1-0 Series Lead After Nearly Squandering A 25-Point Advantage

Thunder Hang On To Take 1-0 Series Lead After Nearly Squandering A 25-Point Advantage

It didn’t really surprise me. This is something for which the Thunder have become known. Their regular-season tendency to jump out to a 20+-point lead, only to give away not only said lead, but eventually the game itself to the opposition almost reared its ugly head for their first postseason match-up of 2014. Why it wasn’t surprising was because this happened on a day when the 3 other home teams that played Saturday all found a way to drop their series openers. Once you factor in that two other road teams won yesterday, we all bore witness to history. For the first time since the NBA Playoffs expanded to 16 teams in the ’83-’84 season, 5 road teams claimed Game 1 on opening weekend.

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Kevin Durant tries to find an outlet past Marc Gasol. Durant’s 33 points led all scorers to take the floor. Gasol finished with 16 points.

I was in attendance for the first half, a half that was all Thunder. The Thunder jumped out to a quick 8-0 lead that eventually ended as a 14-2 run. With the Thunder lead 19-10 at the 5:25 mark of the 1st quarter, the Thunder spark a 6-1 mini-run that extended the Thunder lead to 14 (25-11). The 1st quarter ended with the Thunder up 29-16 in a quarter that saw the Grizzlies shoot an ice-cold 17.2% (5-for-29).

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Durant gets fired up as Tony Allen tries to do the same. Allen finished with 13 points off of the Grizzlies bench.

2nd quarter saw more ice-cold Grizzlies shooting, and the Thunder were all too willing to take advantage. After a Tony Allen dunk cut the lead to 11 (29-18), the Thunder sparked yet another run. This run ended up as a 20-8 run, adding more cushion to the Thunder lead (49-26) with 3:29 to go in the first half. After a couple of lay ups by Mike Conley and Zach Randolph cut the Thunder lead to 19 (49-30), the Thunder almost ended the quarter on a 7-1 run that saw them extend the Thunder lead to 25 (56-31). That would have been the halftime score also, but James Johnson ended the half with a last-minute 3-ball that actually marked the first outside-the-paint points for the Grizzlies all game. The score would be 56-34 going into the break, ending a half in which the Grizzlies picked it up a bit, but were still shooting a miserable 25% from the field. This was turning into such a beating, I decided to leave at halftime to beat the traffic.

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Mike Conley can’t figure out why the Grizz are so ice cold. You’d figure his 16-point, 11-assist performance would have had more impact.

That probably wasn’t my wisest decision, as the Thunder came out flat in the 3rd quarter, while the Grizzlies started to heat up. They opened the 3rd with a 8-0 run that ended as a 17-4 run, cutting the Thunder lead to 9 (60-51) with 7:17 to play in the 3rd. Serge Ibaka tried to slow the Grizzlies’ roll with free throws, hitting all 4 attempts to reextend the Thunder lead to 11 (64-53), with 5:51 left in the 3rd. The Grizzlies were still hot at this point though, ending the quarter on a 12-5 run that had cut the Thunder lead to 4 (69-65) to start the 4th quarter.

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Serge Ibaka had 17 points, and finished one rebound shy of a double-double.

Shots began to get traded back and forth in the 4th quarter, allowing the Grizzlies to cut their deficit to a mere 2 points (74-72) with 8:46 to play. Thankfully for Thunder fans, this would be as close as the Grizzlies would come to claiming the lead, as not only did the Grizz go cold again, but the Thunder started heating up again as well. An almost immediate 15-4 run reestablished a double-digit lead for the Thunder (89-75) with 5:30 remaining, and subsequently put the game out of reach for the Grizzlies. They ended the game trading buckets, and the Thunder escaped Game 1 with a 100-86 victory.

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Durant takes flight.

Kevin Durant scored 33 points in the Game 1 victory, but I’d give Player of the Game to Russell Westbrook for his 23-point, 10-rebound double-double. Although Ibaka scored 17 points while being just one rebound shy of a double-double himself.

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Zach Randolph may have posted a 21-point, 11-rebound double-double, but Kendrick Perkins deserves a lot of credit for keeping Randolph and Gasol as quiet as they were.

Randolph’s 21-point, 11-rebound double-double came as no surprise to me, seeing as the man averaged a double-double in the regular season (17.4 PPG, 10.1 RPG). Marc Gasol was good for 16 points. Mike Conley was also good for 16 points, but had 11 assists to go with them, and Allen’s 13 points off of the bench almost provided the spark required to steal Game 1 outright.

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Russell Westbrook, who finished with a 23-point, 10-rebound double-double.

Game 2 tips off tonight at 7pm CST, and will be featured at the front-end of tonight’s  TNT double-header, with Clippers-Warriors immediately following it up. Not near a TV, but can pick up radio signals? You can also catch the action on WWLS The Sports Animal.

Thunder-Grizzlies Postseason Match-Up Marks The 3rd Meeting In 4 Years

Thunder-Grizzlies Postseason Match-Up Marks The 3rd Meeting In 4 Years

Is anyone really surprised that these two teams will butt heads in yet another playoff series? This marks the 3rd time in a 4-year span that these two teams will square off. It’s almost as if these two teams are linked.

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Banner celebrating the Thunder’s 4th consecutive Northwest Division Championship.

2011 was the first meeting. It was the second trip to the playoffs for the Thunder, who were itching to prove they belonged there after pushing the Lakers to 6 games in the 2010 playoffs only to lose at literally the last second due to Pau Gasol’s tip-in. They did so by downing the Nuggets in 5 games to move on to the Western Conference Semi-Finals. Another Gasol by the name of Marc was looking to make an impact for the Grizzlies coming into this series as well. The Grizzlies had just knocked off the Spurs, requiring 6 games to seal the series.

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PG Russell Westbrook: 21.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 6.9 APG

The series itself didn’t start well for the Thunder either, as the Grizzlies came into Oklahoma City Arena (as it was known at the time, because Chesapeake didn’t acquire the naming rights until July of that year) and took Game 1 in rather convincing fashion, 114-101 in a game were the Thunder were outscored in all but the 4th quarter, which ended in a tie. Game 2 saw the Thunder redeem themselves at OKC Arena with a 111-102 final. However, due to the Game 1 loss, the Grizzlies were now the ones with the home court advantage, and it would require the Thunder taking a game at FedEx Forum in Memphis to reclaim it.

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SG Thabo Sefolosha: 6.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.5 APG

The first attempt at that didn’t go so well, as the Grizzlies took it 101-93. Fortunately for the Thunder, it required an OT period for the Grizzlies to get it done. Game 4 saw 3 overtime periods played to determine a winner, which ended up being the Thunder. The Thunder used a 14-4 3OT period to seal a 133-123 victory to knot the series up at 2 games apiece. This meant that Game 5 at OKC Arena would be pivotal to the series.

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SF Kevin Durant: 32 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 5.5 APG

The Thunder took that pivotal Game 5 using some super-stingy defense. The end result was a 99-72 victory that finally saw one of the squads build up a winning streak after trading wins each game. That win put the Grizzlies behind the 8 Ball (No. Not the Memphis rapper. Although chalk that up to an odd coincidence.), because now it was win or go home.

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PF Serge Ibaka: 15.1 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1 APG

Game 6 was the last one of the series to be played at FedEx Forum, and the Grizzlies responded beautifully, taking Game 6 95-83 to force the always-decisive Game 7 back at OKC Arena.

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C Kendrick Perkins: 3.4 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.1 APG

I really feel the Game 7 of this series instilled much of the confidence and swagger you see in the Thunder today. By taking Game 7 105-90, the Thunder proved to themselves and the rest of the world that they could survive tough postseason tests against top competition.

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PG Mike Conley: 17.2 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 6 APG

Last year’s postseason was the one where the Grizzlies got their revenge. taking advantage of Russell Westbrook’s absence after an injury suffered when a Rocket by the name of Patrick Beverly (who is now officially Public Enemy #1 in the OKC area) tore the meniscus (the cartilage in your knee that absorbs shock) in Westbrook’s right knee going for a steal after the whistle was already blown. With Westbrook out, despite the Thunder being able to take Game 1 93-91, the Grizzlies went on to win the next 4 straight, taking the series in 5 games.

Courtney-Lee

SG Courtney Lee: 9.6 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 1.5 APG

I was going to go into some numbers for this upcoming series, but if you ask me, John Schuhmann already did great work of that in Sekou Smith’s Hang Time Blog on NBA.com.

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SF Tayshaun Prince: 6 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.6 APG

Numbers Preview: Thunder-Grizzlies

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PF Zach Randolph: 17.4 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 2.5 APG

And you can get great analysis of the individual match-ups here:

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C Marc Gasol: 14.6 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 3.6 APG

SportVU Preview

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Nick Calathes. Rookie reserve PG for the Grizzlies who will most likely miss the entire postseason after being served a 20-game suspension yesterday for failing a drug test.

As far as this postseason series goes, I wouldn’t count on a sweep. As a matter of fact, if you ask me, don’t be surprised to see this series go to 7 games once again. Both teams feature stout defenses and improved perimeter shooting. I still see the Thunder taking this series, I just don’t see it being the walk in the park some Thunder fans are trying to make it out to be. My prediction: Thunder in 7. (I just see them needing all 7 games to finally put away a Grizzlies team that can be rather pesky. Never sell your competition short.)

Andre Drummond’s 6th Foul Kills Chance At Pistons Upset

Andre Drummond’s 6th Foul Kills Chance At Pistons Upset

I noticed we didn’t bother to rest our starters for the finale. I suppose Scott Brooks had the same mindset I did: Better to go into the postseason on a winning note than to play it safe and risk going in on a 3-game losing streak.

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Banner celebrating the Thunder’s 4th consecutive Northwest Division Championship.

The 1st quarter was close pretty much the entire way, as the largest lead established for either team was the Thunder’s 6 (17-11 with 6:11 on the game clock). Although the Pistons only led by 3 at most in quarter #1, it ended with the Pistons up 2 (30-28).

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Kevin Durant pops one over Andre Drummond as Kyle Singler’s attention is elsewhere. Durant ended the game with 42 points to lead all scorers to take the floor. Drummond had 22 points and 13 rebounds before his 6th foul ended his night. Singler was good for 20 points.

The 2nd quarter was where the Pistons started to take control. The Thunder never led in the 2nd quarter, and the Pistons used a nice run to start pulling away. Up 3 (35-32) with 7:59 to play in the half, the Pistons used an 13-5 run to establish their largest lead of the game (48-37) with 4:57 to go until halftime. Fortunately, the Thunder were able to end the quarter on a 17-7 run to pull within a single point at the break (55-54).

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Durant goes one-on-one with Singler.

The 3rd turned into more back-and-forth, as once again, neither team could establish a double-digit lead at any point in the quarter. Despite the Thunder starting the quarter on a 5-2 mini-run to reestablish a Thunder lead (59-57) with 9:17 to play in the 3rd, Greg Monroe scores the next 5 Pistons points, only being interrupted by a pair of Kendrick Perkins free throws to reestablish a Pistons lead (62-61) at the 8:03 mark of the 3rd. And despite a Kevin Durant driving lay up off of a Reggie Jackson assist tying the game at 72-all with 4:24 remaining in the period, the Pistons ended the quarter on a 15-7 run to reestablish an 8-point lead (87-79) heading into the final 12 minutes of the season.

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Greg Monroe and Singler challenge Durant at the rim, while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope looks on. Monroe was good for 22 points, but Caldwell-Pope had a career night with 30 points of his own.

It wasn’t looking good for the Thunder in the 4th either. The Pistons lead was still 8 (105-97) with a mere 5:40 left in the game. Unfortunately for the Pistons, the Thunder turnaround was sparked by Andre Drummond committing two quick personal fouls on Durant. Those two quick ones added up to 6 fouls for Drummond, forcing Pistons interim head coach John Loyer to sub in Jonas Jerebko. This allowed the Thunder to end the game on a 15-6 run that was just enough to squeeze by the Pistons, earning them a 112-111 final that gives the Thunder a 59-23 record that will officially lock in the #2 seed. At 29-53 (29-52 before the meeting), the Pistons had long been eliminated, simply looking to play spoiler on the final night of the regular season.

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Serge Ibaka stuffs Monroe at the rim as Reggie Jackson watches. Ibaka posted a 10-point, 15-rebound double-double, while Jackson was good for 15 points off of the Thunder bench.

Durant ended the game with an astounding 42 points, marking the 14th time Durant has scored 40 or more this season. That stat leads the NBA. Russell Westbrook was good for 22 points, while Serge Ibaka posted a 10-point, 15-rebound double-double. Jackson was good for 15 points off of the Thunder bench.

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Russell Westbrook with the aggressive lay-in. Westbrook finished his night with 22 points.

Piston’s rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored a career-high 30 points, while leading all Pistons scorers. Andre Drummond was good for a 22-point, 13-rebound double double, as fellow Twin Tower Monroe was also good for 22 points. Kyle Singler’s 20 points rounds out the scoring. The bad news for the Pistons was that, despite playing a 9-man rotation, all 4 Pistons bench players combined for a grand total of 11 points. That’s bad, because that means one of our bench players outscored their entire bench by himself.

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More Westbrook aggression.

With the #2 seed locked, we officially draw the Grizzlies in the 1st round of the playoffs. Tomorrow, I will be posting a special series primer for the 1st round. Stay tuned.

Thunder 2 For 2 In California Back-To-Back

Thunder 2 For 2 In California Back-To-Back

A couple of streaks ended Tuesday night, as the Kings held Durant to just 23 points. Granted, he didn’t play one minute of the 4th, and seemed like he was happy the media focus was about to disperse back throughout the entire squad, instead of the brightest spotlight being squarely on him.

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Kevin Durant dunks as (from left) Ben McLemore, DeMarcus Cousins, Jason Thompson, and Travis Outlaw all look on. Durant’s 23-point performance ended his streak, but he did drop 27 against the Clippers. Cousins had a 24-point, 14-rebound performance, while Outlaw also added 24 points. McLemore and Thompson were both good for 11 apiece.

“I don’t like all the attention when it’s a team game. I’m glad it’s over.”

Serge Ibaka battles Thompson for the loose ball as Durant and Caron Butler look on. Ibaka scored 19 against the Kings, and 15 against the Clippers. Butler didn’t do much in the Clippers game, but went off for 23 points against the Kings.

Another bright spot for the Thunder is that Kendrick Perkins returned for the Spurs affair, and now Thabo Sefolosha is officially back as well, as he was cleared to play just in time for the Kings contest. Now our starting five is finally healthy, and just in time too.

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Reggie Jackson throws down. Jackson only had 9 points against the Clips, but scored 13 against the Kings.

A Thunder 2-game losing streak also snapped when the Thunder found victory at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, using a 16-0 run to start the 4th to create the breathing space necessary to win. They were only up 8 (85-77) to start the 4th, and found themselves up 101-77 with 6:24 to play. After that, it was all the Kings could do to pull back within 20. Once the final buzzer sounded, the Kings still took a 107-92 pasting that jumped the Thunder to 56-21, while dropping the Kings to a horrid 27-51.

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Jeremy Lamb shoots the fadeaway over Jared Cunningham. Lamb didn’t do much against the Clippers, but dropped 10 points against the Kings.

Durant was good for 23 points, while Serge Ibaka posted 19, and Russell Westbrook added 13. While Jeremy Lamb posted 10 points off of the Thunder bench, Caron Butler had the hot hand in this contest, scoring 23 points off of 8-for-10 shooting, including 6-for-6 on his 3-ball attempts from off of the bench.

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Butler fires one over the outstretched arm of Derrick Williams.

DeMarcus Cousins posted a 24-point, 14-rebound double-double, while Travis Outlaw added 24 points of his own. Jason Thompson and Ben McLemore were good for 11 points apiece as well. The Kings got almost nothing from their bench, as 4 bench players combined for a total of 15 points.

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Cousins tries to score around Ibaka.

The Clippers, on the other hand, were (and still are) sitting in the #3 seed for the Western Conference, knowing full well that their playoff appearance is guaranteed at this stage. As of Wednesday night, they were still an outside threat to potentially steal the #2 spot from the Thunder, so this game was all about the playoff seeding.

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Durant and Blake Griffin square off. Griffin finished with a 30-point, 12-rebound double-double.

As of tonight, however, the #1 spot is officially going to the Spurs, as the Thunder are 3 1/2 games back with only 4 games remaining, counting the Clippers victory. The Spurs, however, only have 3 games remaining, meaning even if they lose out, the Thunder would still be half-a-game back for the #1 seed.

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Serge “Air Congo” Ibaka

Oddly, the Clippers managed a maximum lead of 1 on the Thunder for the whole game, while the Thunder had their’s pushed to 17 at one point. Although this particular 4th quarter nearly went the Clippers’ way. The Thunder were up 94-79 with 7:08 to play, when the Clippers sparked a 16-0 run to pull within a single point (94-93) while taking just over two minutes off of the clock. The Thunder lead was only 2 (102-100) with just over 1 minute remaining, yet free throws were the only made baskets in that final minute. Seeing as the Thunder made 5 free throws to the Clippers’ 1 in that time frame, the Thunder escaped Staples Center with a 107-101 victory that puts the Thunder at 57-21 while dropping the Clippers to 55-24. With the Clippers now 2 1/2 games behind the Thunder, and with only 4 games left on the Thunder schedule, the Thunder only need 2 more victories to secure the #2 seed.

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Russell Westbrook takes advantage of a wide lane to the rack, as Griffin defends. Nick Collison, Darren Collison, DeAndre Jordan, Durant, and Chris Paul watch. Jordan’s 10-point, 12-board performance allowed him a double-double as well. Chris Paul ended his night with 25 points.

Westbrook went off in his home city of L.A., dropping 30 points and pulling down 11 boards. Durant was right behind him with 27, and Ibaka dropped 15. We didn’t get our usual bench production in this one though, as 5 bench players combined for 26 total points.

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Durant dunk mode!

Two double-doubles by Clipper starters weren’t enough to seal the win here (Blake Griffin: 30 points, 12 rebounds. DeAndre Jordan: 10 points, 12 rebounds.), even after adding Chris Paul’s 25 points. Although Darren Collison deserves credit for a decent game off of the Clippers bench, scoring 12.

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Cousins making Westbrook’s shot a bit tougher.

4 teams are still vying for 3 remaining playoff seeds (the Trail Blazers have since clinched), but tonight’s opponent, the Pelicans, are not among those teams. They’re simply looking to play spoiler coming into OKC, as that’s really all they can do. The Thunder took the first contest in this series 109-95 back on Dec. 6th, and a win tonight will claim the season series outright for the Thunder, despite another match-up to take place this coming Monday. Tonight’s affair tips at 7pm CST, and will be broadcast via Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.

Thunder Follow Up Nuggets Blowout With Mavericks Letdown

Thunder Follow Up Nuggets Blowout With Mavericks Letdown
The leading scorers for their respective squads. Kevind Durant posted 27 points against the Nuggets, and 43 points against the Mavericks. Ty Lawson was good for 25 points against the Thunder.

The leading scorers for their respective squads. Kevin Durant posted 27 points against the Nuggets, and 43 points against the Mavericks. Ty Lawson was good for 25 points against the Thunder.

The Nuggets game was the blowout I’d expected, seeing as they really had nothing to play for anyway. One more loss was going to render their elimination from the playoffs mathematically official, and they had way too many injuries to overcome a Thunder team that has been learning to overcome injuries on the fly themselves since All-Star Weekend. Danilo Gallinari was out with a torn ACL in his left knee, JaVale McGee was out with a left tibia stress fracture, Wilson Chandler was out with a strained left groin, JJ Hickson was out with a torn ACL in his right knee, and former Thunder guard Nate Robinson was out with a sprained ACL in his left knee. On top of all of that, recent trade-deadline acquisition Jan Vesley wound up sitting out due to a left rib cage contusion (bruised ribs).

Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka give Randy Foye a hard time at the basket as Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, and Kenneth Faried look on. Jackson posted a 16-point, 11-assist double-double, while Ibaka dropped 15 points, and Steven Adams added 10. Foye and Faried were both good for 11 points, but Faried also grabbed 11 rebounds as well.

Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka give Randy Foye a hard time at the basket as Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, and Kenneth Faried look on. Jackson posted a 16-point, 11-assist double-double against the Nuggets, and was good for 11 points off of the bench against the Mavs. Ibaka dropped 15 points against the Nuggets, and added 10 against the Mavs. Steven Adams scored 10 against the Nuggets. Foye and Faried were both good for 11 points against the Thunder, but Faried also grabbed 11 rebounds as well.

The Nuggets’ largest lead was 13-10 at the 6:58 mark of the first quarter. The Thunder would then use almost the rest of the 1st to set up a 31-9 run to create serious breathing room at 41-22. The Nuggets ended the 1st with a 2-pointer with 2/10ths of a second left. This became a 12-0 run that pulled the Nuggets within 7 (41-34). The Thunder then used a 14-4 run to push the lead back to 17 (55-38). with 6:25 until halftime. The Thunder would claim a 117-96 victory that lifted them to 52-18, while dropping the Nuggets to 32-39, effectively eliminating them from the playoff race. The win also allows the Thunder to claim a 3-1 season-series victory.

Ibaka rises through the defense of Timofey Mosgov and Quincy Miller, who were both good for 12 points apiece against the Thunder.

Ibaka rises through the defense of Timofey Mosgov and Quincy Miller, who were both good for 12 points apiece against the Thunder.

Kevin Durant led all scorers with 27 points, while Serge Ibaka was good for 15 points. Reggie Jackson posted his second career double-double starting in place of the resting Russell Westbrook (16 points, 11 assists), and rookie big man Steven Adams scored 10 points starting in place of the injured Kendrick Perkins. Caron Butler provided fire from the Thunder bench with his 23 points, and bench big man Nick Collison was good for 10 points of his own.

Big man Nick Collison lets the rebound come to him. Collison was good for 10 points against the Nuggets.

Big man, Nick Collison lets the rebound come to him. Collison was good for 10 points against the Nuggets.

All of the Nuggets’ starting five scored double figures, led by Ty Lawson’s 25 points. Quincy Miller and Timofey Mosgov scored 12 points apiece, Randy Foye dropped 11, and Kenneth Faried’s 11 points provided a double-double performance when coupled with his 11 rebounds.

Caron Butler drives past Foye. Butler exploded for 23 bench points against the Nuggets, and an additional 10 against the Mavs.

Caron Butler drives past Foye. Butler exploded for 23 bench points against the Nuggets, and an additional 10 against the Mavs.

The Mavericks’ victory on Tuesday Night allowed them to claim a 2-1 season-series victory over the Thunder, which makes them the only team to do so this season. Others have split their season series with the Thunder, but the Mavs have been the only team to claim their’s outright. This victory also allowed them to claim a half-game lead over the Suns in the Western Conference, so the Thunder might be okay with not getting the #1 seed if the Mavericks end up with the 8th and final playoff spot.

Durant streaks past Shawn Marion. Marion was good for 11 points against the Thunder.

Durant streaks past Shawn Marion. Marion was good for 11 points against the Thunder.

It was a good game all around. The largest Thunder lead was 9, while the largest Maverick lead was 10. There were 10 ties and 16 lead changes as well. The Mavs just broke the Thunder in the overtime period, outscoring them 17-8 to win 128-119. This win put the Mavs at 43-29 at the time, while dropping the Thunder to their current 52-19 record. Although last night’s loss to the Clippers puts the currently 43-30 Mavs a half-game behind the Suns for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot. Meanwhile, the Thunder are now a full 3 games behind the red-hot Spurs, who have won their last 15 consecutive games. The Thunder and the Spurs both have 11 games remaining on their schedule, and with the Mavs 10 games behind the Thunder at the #9 spot, this means that both the Thunder and Spurs have their playoff tickets punched. It’s simply about seeding at this point.

Durant goes "Air Jordan" as Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis trail. Calderon finished with 22 points, while Ellis finished with 17.

Durant goes “Air Jordan” as Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis trail. Calderon finished with 22 points, while Ellis finished with 17.

Durant once again led all scorers with 43 points. This marks the 36th straight 25+-point performance, putting him 4 behind the great Michael Jordan for largest such streak. Westbrook dropped 23 points in limited action, while Ibaka added 10. Jackson, Butler, and Derek Fisher even combined for 34 points off of the Thunder bench (Fisher: 13, Jackson:11, Butler:10).

Ibaka slams as Dirk Nowitzki, Calderon, and Samuel Dalembert spectate. Nowitzki's 32-point, 10-rebound double-double did the damage, while Dalembert added 10 points of his own.

Ibaka slams as Dirk Nowitzki, Calderon, and Samuel Dalembert spectate. Nowitzki’s 32-point, 10-rebound double-double did the damage, while Dalembert added 10 points of his own.

Dirk Nowitzki was “The Man” in this game however. 32 points and 10 rebounds saw to that. Jose Calderon dropped 22 points, including the 3 that forced OT. Monta Ellis posted 17 points, Shawn Marion dropped 11, and Dalembert added 10. Vince Carter and Jae Crowder even combined for 26 points off of the Mavs bench (Carter: 16, Crowder: 10).

Vince Carter runs into both Butler and Derek Fisher on the way to the rim. Fisher dropped 13 points off of the Thunder bench, while Carter dropped 16 off of the Mavs bench.

Vince Carter runs into both Butler and Derek Fisher on the way to the rim. Fisher dropped 13 points off of the Thunder bench, while Carter dropped 16 off of the Mavs bench.

The Thunder begin the first of a three-game home stand tonight, as they welcome the Kings. The Thunder are currently 2-0 in the season series, as they claimed a 97-95 victory on Dec. 3rd, and a 108-93 victory on Jan. 19th. The Kings are already mathematically out of the playoffs, and have been for some time now. All they can hope to do is play spoiler and split their season series at this point. Tip-off is scheduled for 7pm CST, and will be broadcast via Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.

Russell Westbrook looks to get the ball past Calderon. Westbrook scored 23 points in limited action.

Russell Westbrook looks to get the ball past Calderon. Westbrook scored 23 points in limited action.

Westbrook Factor Shows In Loss To Mavericks Versus Win Over Bulls

Westbrook Factor Shows In Loss To Mavericks Versus Win Over Bulls

Sunday’s 109-86 loss to the Mavericks marked the first loss in 12 games for the Thunder in “The Battle Of I-35”. But when you’re playing without 60% of your starting lineup, wins are not very easy to come by. Just ask the Lakers. Even Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle made mention of Russell Westbrook’s absence by saying,

Shawn Marion puts one over Kevin Durant while an open Samuel Dalembert watches from the perimeter. Durant led all scorers with 30 points, but Marion's 19 points, coupled with Dalembert's 10 helped seal a win for the Mavericks.

Shawn Marion puts one over Kevin Durant while an open Samuel Dalembert watches from the perimeter. Durant led all scorers with 30 points, but Marion’s 19 points, coupled with Dalembert’s 10 helped seal a win for the Mavericks.

“They were down a great player so we caught a break there. You still gotta go out and play. They’ve had a great record with and without Westbrook. It’s a game we needed, so it’s a plus for us.”

Dirk Nowitzki with the faeaway over Reggie Jackson. Nowitzki posted 17 points, while Jackson had 13 filling in for Russell Westbrook.

Dirk Nowitzki with the fadeaway over Reggie Jackson. Nowitzki posted 17 points, while Jackson had 13 filling in for Russell Westbrook.

I noticed what Carlisle failed to mention was the fact that the great record amassed without Westbrook was in large part due to the suffocating defense provided by Thabo Sefolosha on the perimeter and Kendrick Perkins in the paint. It has been a struggle to win consistently without these two defenders. The Thunder are 5-3 this March, playing the entire month without them. And the Thunder are expected to be without both defenders for essentially the remainder of the season. The Thunder have been unable to string together three wins in a row without them, and may now have serious trouble reclaiming the Western Conference’s #1 seed from the Spurs, as Sunday’s loss puts them two full games behind. Not only are the Thunder struggling to win consistently, but the Spurs are doing exactly that, currently riding an 11-game winning streak. The Mavs jumped to 40-27 with their victory while dropping the Thunder to 47-18. The Mavs have gone 1-1 since Sunday’s night’s win, currently putting them at 41-28.

Jose Calderon scores 2 of his 16 points takig advantage of an open lane to the basket. Nick Collison, Jackson, Serge Ibaka, and Durant were all caught off-guard. Calderon dropped 16 points, while Ibaka added 19 for the Thunder.

Jose Calderon scores 2 of his 16 points taking advantage of an open lane to the basket. Nick Collison, Jackson, Serge Ibaka, and Durant were all caught off-guard. Calderon dropped 16 points, while Ibaka added 19 for the Thunder.

The fact that the Mavericks had five players in double figures illustrates the struggle for the Thunder defense, as sadly, the Mavs had the game pretty much sealed by the end of the 1st quarter. Not that they had the game out of reach, but the Thunder D just couldn’t get stops to save their lives. Shawn Marion led the Mavs’ scoring surge with 19 points, followed by Dirk Nowitzki’s 17, Jose Calderon’s 16, and Samuel Dalembert’s 10. Vince Carter also added 18 points off of the Mavs bench, making him the 27th player in NBA history to reach the 27,000-point plateau. He currently has 27,010 for his career.

Vince Carter's 18 points off of the Maverick bench made him the 27th player in NBA history to eclipse the 27,000-point mark.

Vince Carter’s 18 points off of the Maverick bench made him the 27th player in NBA history to eclipse the 27,000-point mark.

Kevin Durant’s 30 may have led all scorers, but it simply wasn’t enough to seal the deal. Serge Ibaka added 19, while Reggie Jackson dropped 13. The problem for the Thunder was that they only got 22 points out of 6 bench players, meaning more-known-for-his-defense Ibaka nearly outscored the entire Thunder bench.

Westbrook attempts the floater over Carlos Boozer. Westbrook's 17 points were more than enough to counter the 12-point 11-rebound double-double posted by Boozer.

Westbrook attempts the floater over Carlos Boozer. Westbrook’s 17 points were more than enough to counter the 12-point 11-rebound double-double posted by Boozer.

Westbrook returns for the road game against the Bulls at United Center, and the Thunder respond with a tremendous defensive effort against the Bulls. Make no mistake, the Bulls made them work for it. Clinging to a 1-point lead (76-75) with 10:01 to play, the Thunder hit on a 13-0 run that gave them an 89-75 lead with a mere 3:45 left on the clock. That run sealed the deal for the Thunder, as they went on to win 97-85. This win has the Thunder currently sitting at 48-18, while dropping the Bulls to 37-30, although last night’s victory over the 76ers has the Bulls currently sitting at 38-30.

Ibaka goes for 2 of his 15 points over Joakim Noah. Noah finished with 12 boards, but only 9 points.

Ibaka goes for 2 of his 15 points over Joakim Noah. Noah finished with 12 boards, but only 9 points.

NBA.com’s Kent McDill said it best about the Thunder’s decision to rest Westbrook during back-to-backs,

Caron Butler did much better Monday night, posting 12 points off of the Thunder bench. Here he shoots over Mike Dunleavy, who added 11 points to the Bulls' total.

Caron Butler did much better Monday night, posting 12 points off of the Thunder bench. Here he shoots over Mike Dunleavy, who added 11 points to the Bulls’ total.

“If resting Westbrook for one game on a back-to-back allows him to provide a 17-9-9 game, then the plan makes sense.”

Durant throws it down. Durant had a 35-point, 12-rebound double-double Monday night against the Bulls.

Durant throws it down. Durant had a 35-point, 12-rebound double-double Monday night against the Bulls.

Westbrook’s near-triple-double, including 17 points, wasn’t even the night’s standout performance. Durant posted a 35-point, 12-rebound double-double, extending his streak of 25+-point games to 32. This has him 8 short of Micheal Jordan’s record of 40 straight. Ibaka was good for 15 points of his own, and unlike the Mavs contest, two bench scorers alone were good for 23 points (Jackson: 11, Caron Butler: 12).

Durant loses the handle to D.J. Augustin as Jimmy Butler tries to avoid the foul. Butler had 13 points, while Augustin contributed 10 off of the Bulls bench.

Durant loses the handle to D.J. Augustin as Jimmy Butler tries to avoid the foul. Butler had 13 points, while Augustin contributed 10 off of the Bulls bench.

The Bulls gave good effort, as evidenced by Carlos Boozer’s 12-point, 11-rebound double-double. Joakim Noah added 12 boards, but only 9 total points. Jimmy Butler dropped 13 points, and Mike Dunleavy dropped 11. Oddly enough, the lead scorer came off of the bench, as Taj Gibson was good for 16 points. Another bench player, D.J. Augustin, was good for 10.

Jackson battles Taj Gibson for the lose ball. Gibson was actually the Bulls' leading scorer, dropping 16 points off of the Bulls bench.

Jackson battles Taj Gibson for the loose ball. Gibson was actually the Bulls’ leading scorer, dropping 16 points off of the Bulls bench.

Another back-to-back looms starting tonight. 6pm CST will denote tip-off for the Thunder-Cavaliers game, emanating from Quicken Loans Arena. The Thunder look to even the score, as the Cavs took Round 1 by a score of 114-104 at The Peake on Feb. 26th. The Cavs, on the other hand, are looking for the series sweep. Tomorrow night will have the Thunder traveling to Air Canada Centre for another revenge game, this one against the Raptors, who claimed the first match-up 104-98 at The Peake. Therefore, the Thunder are looking to avoid two potential series sweeps in road games to “lesser teams” on back-to-back nights. Not only do both games feature the same 6pm CST tip-off time, but you can also catch both games via the usual suspects: Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.

Not Much “Thunder” Since All-Star Weekend

Not Much “Thunder” Since All-Star Weekend

When you lose to a Laker team coming off of its worst loss in franchise history, it’s time to get concerned. When you allow a career performance for the second-straight contest, it’s time to get concerned. When you not only lose an 18-point lead, but then proceed to give up one yourself, it’s time to get concerned.

Jodie Meeks looks to drive past Reggie Jackson. Meeks' 42 points marked a career performance, while Jackson posted 14 from the Thunder bench.

Jodie Meeks looks to drive past Reggie Jackson. Meeks’ 42 points marked a career performance, while Jackson posted 14 from the Thunder bench.

Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins weren’t the only missing pieces, as it looked as though the Thunder’s heart didn’t even bother to take the two-game road trip either. Both games were plagued by not only a lack of communication on the court, but an overall lack of effort that suggested complacency, as though their 43-13 record before NBA All-Star Weekend made them entitled to an NBA Finals appearance. As Sekou Smith writes in his blog at NBA.com, the small market fantasy NBA Finals between the Thunder and Pacers looks to be more of a long shot as the All-Star weekend gets farther in the rear-view mirror.

42 points isn't as hard to achieve when you're given this amount of room to shoot.

42 points isn’t as hard to achieve when you’re given this amount of room to shoot.

http://hangtime.blogs.nba.com/2014/03/11/clear-and-present-danger-for-the-elite/?ls=iref:nbahpt13a

Of course Pau Gasol can get an easy basket when Kevin Durant doesn't even bother to put his arms up. Durant may have notched a 27-point, 10-rebound double-double, but lack of effort like this certainly didn't hurt Gasol's 20-point, 11-rebound double-double performance.

Of course Pau Gasol can get an easy basket when Kevin Durant doesn’t even bother to put his arms up. Durant may have notched a 27-point, 10-rebound double-double, but lack of effort like this certainly didn’t hurt Gasol’s 20-point, 11-rebound double-double performance.

The Thunder’s 114-110 loss to the Lakers now has them officially a half-game behind the Spurs for #1 seed in the West at 46-17. Although despite a big win, the Lakers only improve to 22-42, which still has them tied with the Jazz for the West cellar. The Rockets will be looking for their sixth straight victory at “The ‘Peake” tonight, as they are only two games behind the Thunder, and are neck-and-neck with the Clippers for the Western Conference’s 3rd seed. There is a lot more than just bragging rights riding on tonight’s game, as the Rockets pull within a game of the Thunder with a victory. If losing the number #1 slot, potentially losing their footing on the #2 seed, and suffering a morale-crushing defeat on their home court isn’t enough motivation to yield an inspired performance from the Thunder defense, then this Thunder team may not be the championship contenders I had them pegged for heading into the All-Star break.

Gasol stares down Serge Ibaka. Ibaka was another man who double-doubled with an impressive 21 points and 15 rebounds.

Gasol stares down Serge Ibaka. Ibaka was another player who double-doubled with an impressive 21 points and 15 rebounds.

There were six Lakers who scored double-figures, led by Jodie Meeks’ career-high 42-point performance. Pau Gasol even double-doubled, as he added 11 rebounds to go with his 20 points. Ryan Kelly posted 12 points, and Wesley Johnson added 11. Even Jordan Farmar and Kent Bazemore got in on the score-fest, combining for 23 from the Lakers bench (Farmar: 12, Bazemore: 11).

Kent Bazemore, who finished with 11 points off of the Lakers bench.

Kent Bazemore, who finished with 11 points off of the Lakers bench.

The Thunder’s big three of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka all managed 20 or more points, with two of them even registering double-doubles (Durant: 27 pts, 10 rebs. Ibaka: 21 pts, 15 rebs. Westbrook: 20 pts.). Reggie Jackson even posted 14 points off of the Thunder bench. But despite scoring 232 points over the last two games, including 110 at Staples Center, the offense still has its issues. Not only are untimely turnovers killing momentum, but shooting entirely too many 3-balls, as opposed to setting up easy buckets can often spell the difference between a win and a loss. The Thunder have lived and died by the 3-ball throughout the OKC era, but they are built to drive the lane at this point.

Jordan Farmar finds his way around Russell Westbrook. Westbrook finished with 20 points, while Farmar added 12 points off of the Lkaers bench.

Jordan Farmar finds his way around Russell Westbrook. Westbrook finished with 20 points, while Farmar added 12 points off of the Lakers bench.

Even Westbrook’s numbers at Staples Sunday afternoon somewhat reflect the argument (5-of-13, or 38.5% inside the arc vs. 2-of-10, or 20% outside) that the Thunder take more 3s than they really need in games. The difference in Durant’s numbers show it better than anyone else’s (4-of-8, or 50% inside the arc vs. 4-of-11, or 36.4% outside.), yet the front-runner for the NBA scoring title played as though he either didn’t notice, or didn’t care at all (and at times it really looked like the latter). I can simply use these two to make my point.

Durant opting to shoot through defense like this most of the day certainly didn't help his numbers any.

Durant opting to shoot through defense like this most of the day certainly didn’t help his numbers any.

In this argument, we’ll assume that both players would have shot similar inside-shooting percentages if every one of their shots were from inside the arc. Westbrook would have gone 9-for-23, or 39.1%. This nets him 4 additional points, which alone would have forced overtime assuming there is no change to the Lakers’ final score.  This means that Durant hitting just below at 9-for-19, or 47.3% would have ended in a 116-114 Thunder victory. But even with that argument, allowing 242 points over a two-game road trip makes the real problem not only very obvious, but rather glaring as well.

Wesley Johnson and Ryan Kelly sharing a well-deserved celebratory high-five. Kelly dropped 12 points, while Johnson finished with 11 of his own.

Wesley Johnson and Ryan Kelly sharing a well-deserved, celebratory high-five. Kelly dropped 12 points, while Johnson finished with 11 of his own.

And the Rockets are hoping the Thunder bring their defensive woes back home, as they’re down 2-0 in the season series, with a 2-2 split now being the best they can achieve. The Thunder took a 117-86 victory sans Westbrook on Dec. 28th, and also managed without him at Toyota Center on Jan. 16th, where they claimed a 104-92 victory. But both games were before All-Star weekend, which prompted the Thunder to lose 5 of their last 8. The Rockets’ current 5-game winning streak includes victories over the Heat, Pacers, and most recently the Blazers, which at least helps the Thunder on their quest for another Northwest Division Title. Fortunately for the Thunder, all 5 of those Rocket victories came within the confines of the Toyota Center, so the Rockets have yet to prove they can take this impressive winning streak on the road. Also, despite being 3-5 over the last 8 games, the Thunder’s 3-game home winning streak is currently active, so the Thunder are actually looking at a 4th straight home victory if they just left their heart here, and hit the court tonight with a sense of urgency and purpose. Will they get it done? Find out tonight at 7pm CST via Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, or NBA TV.