Author - Chuck Chaney

3 things that will lead to an OKC series victory

The Oklahoma City Thunder are the lower seed but you wouldn’t know it by how the two teams played each other in the regular season. The Thunder swept the Trail Blazers, in albeit close games. Oklahoma City has to do it again, but this time in the playoffs. One was a one-possession game, the other went to overtime. So, Oklahoma City didn’t exactly walk over the Blazers.

Here are three things that will lead to Oklahoma City beating the Blazers in the first round:

Attack Portland’s interior

The Blazers are without one of their best passers in Jusuf Nurkic. He went down with an injury earlier this month. What hurts the Blazers is his ability to pass the ball. When the ball went to the post, he was able to kick it out ot numerous shooters. However, his replacement, the lovable Enes Kanter, doesn’t carry that ability. He’s a guy who can score, sure but he doesn’t space the floor with his passing, nor does his find a way to limit his opponents defensively like an underrated Nurkic did.

Nurkic averaged 16.5 points and 13.5 rebounds per game against the Thunder. That’s a massive hole. He was often the most impressive person on the floor, causing fits for players like Steven Adams. Without him, the Thunder have to attack. They need to attack Kanter on the pick-n-roll. They need to attack him on the glass. Sure, the Blazers are going to chip him on the cut to the rim, trying to limit Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams on the glass. However, the Thunder have to show the massive liability Kanter is. It helps the Thunder had him for a few seasons, learning what those were.

Emotional IQ

This is more along the lines of Westbrook. Mr. Triple-Double. It’s no secret these two teams aren’t fond of each other. Westbrook had his run-ins with the Trail Blazers. Westbrook often gets in his head and plays certain ways against teams and players that appear to bug him. For his career against Portland, Westbrook is shooting under 44 percent from the field and only 30 percent from three. That’s where Westbrook has to keep his wits about him. He has to be smarter. If he wants to sit back, rock the baby and try to dominate the game in the post, Portland is going to be more than content to letting Westbrook do that.

Westbrook’s ability to funnel the game through his all around game play is what is going to fuel Oklahoma City to victory. If he’s sharing the ball, and playing within his game, that’s where he becomes lethal. When he’s forcing it into the post and making it about him and not the game, the Thunder could struggle. Don’t give the Trail Blazers what they want. Westbrook has to have a high emotional IQ in this series. That is not excluding his temper with the officials and dumb fouls. This isn’t the time for that. Team first.

Pick your poison

The Trail Blazers don’t have a real lockdown defender, let alone two. There’s no way the Blazers can defend Westbrook and Paul George. George averaged 38.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game in his four games against Portland. He shot 46 percent from three and shot 60 free throws. If the Blazers throw Moe Harkless or Al-Farouq Aminu at George, it’s Westbrook who should be able to take Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum. If they switch that to Harkless or Aminu on Westbrook, it’s George that has to go to work.

All of this point, goes back to the first point, attacking Kanter on the pick-n-roll and on mismatches. The Thunder have to give the Blazers all they can handle. and more with Westbrook and George. They have the best tandem on the court.

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Russell Westbrook becomes franchise scoring leader

Russell Westbrook found the bucket quickly in the first quarter against the New Orleans Pelicans but what was most important by the bucket was where it placed him on the franchise’s all-time scoring list.

Russell Westbrook passed Gary Payton for No. 1 all-time on the Thunder/Sonics scoring list.

Westbrook now has 18,208 points. Payton finished his Seattle career with 18,207 points. It took Payton 13 seasons to do it. Westbrook did it in 11 seasons.

In terms of Oklahoma City, Westbrook bypassed Kevin Durant earlier this season.

Westbrook is atop or near the top of many Thunder/Sonic leaderboards. He is fourth in total games played. Second in Minutes played, Field goals, Field goal attempts, Free throws, Defensive rebounds, Assists and assists per game.

Westbrook is only 12 free throw makes away from passing Kevin Durant for the most makes in franchise history.

Westbrook for his career is averaging 22.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 8.4 assists per game.

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Westbrook waltzes into history as Thunder beat Blazers 120-111

A dish to Paul George and history was made. Russell Westbrook acquired a triple-double in 10 straight games and the Thunder rolled to a 120-111 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night.

Westbrook’s historic feat comes on the night where his co-all-star, Paul George, found himself en fuego. His arms were torches and the nets were the enemy. He lit up the ‘Peake with three-after-three. George also did a thing, you know, a stat-padding triple-double. The Thunder needed every bit of it but what Paul George is doing is on the verge of pushing James Harden off his Most Valuable Player leader pedestal.

Oklahoma City’s victory is their 11th game in their last 12 games. The Thunder are now 37-19 on the season. 18 games over .500 since Jan. 16, 2016.

Westbrook may not have shot the ball well but he did what he did best. He helped suffocated the Portland offense. He dished out nice looks to his teammates, putting them in prime position for buckets.

Westbrook broke a tie with Wilt Chamberlain, who had nine straight triple-doubles in 1968, by finishing with 21 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists. It was Westbrook’s 23rd triple-double of the season and the 127th of his career. He’s only 11 away from passing Magic Johnson on the triple-double career list.

“I just go play the game the right way,” Westbrook said. “It’s what I do. Go out and compete every night and leave it on the floor, and whatever happens, happens. I’m very, very blessed to be able to go out and play, and I don’t take it for granted.”

The Thunder trailed 1-0 and never again.

Oklahoma City closed the first quarter on a 10-2 run, giving them a 10-point lead after the first frame. They once again closed the half on 12-6 to give the Thunder a 68-49 lead at the break.

Portland would push back into the game in the third quarter, clawing to within five at the end of the frame but the Thunder did enough to keep the Blazers at bay. George hit an and-one. Then he hit a pull up three. Denote Burton hit a lay-up. Then, Westbrook hit a jumper, giving the Thundera 97-86 lead with 8:53 left to go in the game.

As the game was in hand, Paul George found Russell Westbrook for Westbrook’s only three of the game. It was Paul George’s turn to get the triple-double.

“Yeah, we talked about it right before that play,” George said. “We talked about it. I was clueless at that moment. But he told me the situation. So, it’s cool to be on the other end of the triple-double.”

George finished with 47 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. It is George’s first triple-double since March 21, 2014 with the Pacers. George continues to be on another tear. He’s now scored 30 or more points in 10 straight games.

It’s only the ninth time in NBA history a pair of teammates had a triple-double in the same game. It’s the first time it’s happened in the franchise’s history.

The Thunder did all of this tonight without Jerami Grant and Dennis Schröder. Raymond Felton and Burton stepped up. Burton was explosive throughout the game, scoring 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Burton is quickly finding himself in the rotation when he’s on his two-way contract. We’ll find him on a real NBA contract at this pace.

For Felton, it’s the first time he’s seen the court since Dec. 30 but he proved he was ready. The NBA savvy veteran returned against his former team and made them pay. Felton had 15 points, nailing three 3-pointers.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in Raymond,” Thunder head coach Billy Donovan said. “He’s done a great job from the bench when he has not been playing, in practice, working out, staying engaged. I’ve got all the confidence in him.”

The Thunder are now 3-0 against Portland this season. It’s the first time since 2012-13, the Thunder have won more three or more against the Trail Blazers. That season (2012-13), the Thunder swept the Blazers.

Oklahoma City takes their 4-game winning streak on the road to New Orleans to play the Pelicans on Thursday night. The game will be live on TNT as the Thunder will end the first half part of their roster.

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Thunder complete historic comeback in win over Rockets

James Harden was nailing threes and the Thunder were turning it over at a stupid rate. All appeared to be an old fashion, NBA blowout. Oklahoma City never quit and turned in the best comeback in franchise history as they came back to beat Houston 117-112 on Saturday night.

With the victory, Oklahoma City improves to 36-19 on the season and are within a game of second place in the Western Conference. The Thunder now have won 10 of their last 11 games and are the hottest team in the NBA.

“We knew to get back into the game, we had to defend at a high level,” Westbrook said. “We got stops and won a big game on the road.”

Houston led 68-42 with 1:38 left to go in the first half. The Thunder would outscore the Rockets 73-44 over the final 25:30 of the contest.

If you really boil it down, it was about a full quarter, which spanned two quarters that put Oklahoma City in that situation. The Rockets outscored the Thunder 43-19 over 12:10, spanning the first and second quarter. Paul George struggled (0-of-3) and the Thunder only shot 32 percent over that time span.

“We just knew we had to have a better second half,” George said. “Being down that much at the half, that’s not the team we are. We know this team very well and we knew that wasn’t us. So we had to come in here and talk and just light a fire under this team and we did that.”

George came out and lit the fire. Oklahoma City hit their first 8-of-9 shots, fueling a 21-10 advantage. The Thunder continued to pour it on. They would hit their next seven shots, including a slew of free throws to tie the game up at the end of the third.

Oklahoma City shot 71.4 percent in the quarter, nailing 7-of-12 from three. They pulled down 13-of-18 total rebounds. They held the Rockets to 6-of-18 from the field in the quarter and 1-of-9 from three.

“We knew to get back into the game, we had to defend at a high level,” Westbrook said. “We got stops and won a big game on the road.”

The Thunder’s surge continued into the fourth quarter, leading by as many as six when Nerlens Noel put an alley-oop through, giving the Thunder a 98-92 with 9:19 to go in the game. Houston responded with an 11-0 run, giving them a five-point lead with 6:51 left to go.

George continued his onslaught, hitting shot after shot. The Most Valuable Player candidate showed why he belonged. On a national stage, George scored 28 points in the second half, 15 in the second half.

“Obviously, Paul with what he did tonight was phenomenal, the way he played,” Thunder head coach Billy Donovan said. “He was on (James) Harden a lot. He was unbelievable tonight on both ends of the floor.”

George fought through foul trouble to continually giving James Harden fits. Harden shot only 2-of-8 from three in the second half and battled over screens to contest shot after shot.

“I look forward to playing against the best,” George said. “That’s how I was taught the game — just enjoy matchups and have fun with it.”

Oklahoma City led 113-112 with 26 seconds left, George and Westbrook fought over screens, Westbrook ended up finding himself contesting a deep Harden three. Oklahoma City pulled down the rebound and sealed the victory.

George finished with 45 points on 12-of-22 shots and hit 6-of-14 three-pointers and made 15-of-18 free throws.

Westbrook had 21 points, 11 assists and 12 rebounds to match the record streak set by Wilt Chamberlain in 1968. Westbrook has 22 triple-doubles this season and 126 overall. He also had 10 turnovers and was 8 of 21 from the field.

“It’s really incredible,” Donovan said. “It took whatever it was, 60 years, until somebody did it just to show you how hard it is to do and how unique of a player he is to be able to do it.”

Oklahoma City now owns the season series lead over the Rockets (2-1). They’ll play one more time but the Thunder cannot lose the head-to-head against the Rockets this season.

The Thunder now will turn their minds to the Portland Trail Blazers. Oklahoma City is 2-0 against Portland this season and will look to go 3-0 as they host the Blazers on Monday night at the ‘Peake. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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Thunder waives Alex Abrines

In a bit of surprising news, the Oklahoma City Thunder have made the tough, but mutual decision to waive Alex Abrines prior to tonight’s game against Houston.

According to Royce Young of ESPN, both parties agreed to part ways as Abrines has dealt with a personal issue for some time.

Shams Charania of the Athletic was the first to report.

“Even though he’s not gonna be a part of our team anymore, we’re all still here,” Thunder head coach Billy Donovan said. “He’s still part of the family, and we’ll do anything we can to try to help him going forward.”

Early on, Abrines missed time due to an injury, many different reports on what the said illness was. There has been zero clarification from either side, so everything is just speculation. Since then, Abrines has been taking personal time to attend to matters that have remained unknown. Abrines has missed 19 of the last 22 games.

Abrines, 25, returned to the line up against Orlando and Miami but did not appear against Boston. Abrines scored three points, while going 1-of-3 from deep in his 15 minutes of combined action. Abrines was inactive against Memphis on Thursday night.

Abrines appeared in 31 games for Oklahoma City, averaging 5.3 points 1.5 rebounds per game. He shot 32.3 percent from 3-point range, which is a career low.

Abrines appeared to be a missing piece when drafted in 2013 at the age of 19. He finished time in Spain but never really developed into a consistency guy Oklahoma City would have liked, despite the constant position to be that guy.

Abrines finished his Thunder career with average of 5.3 points and 1.4 rebounds per game, and a 36.8 3-point field goal percentage in 174 regular-season appearances.

The Thunder now have 11 active bodies for tonight’s game against Houston. Deonte Burton did make the trip to Houston. Oklahoma City and Houston tip-off at 7:30 p.m. on ABC.

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Thunder 3-point shooting coming up big

This is a league where you live and die by the three. It started with the Warrior’s dynasty and it has finally filtered down to the rest of the association.

Oklahoma City, though, isn’t considered a “deep threat.” Sure, there’s Paul George… that’s about it. Shooters is something that always has been a question mark. With the absence of Alex Abrines, the Thunder’s three-point shooting woes have been glaring to say the least.

In the 2018 part of the schedule Oklahoma City ranked 30th in 3-point shooting (32.2 percent). Only George and Jerami Grant shot above 33 percent during that time frame. Folks like Russell Westbrook and Terrance Fergusons hot under 30 percent.

There’s been a large changing of the guard with the emergence of Ferguson’s deep ball threat and Patrick Patterson finding his groove. Since the start of the new year, Oklahoma City hits 41.1 percent of their threes, only second to San Antonio’s 42.5 percent.

Patterson leads Oklahoma City at 48.6 percent shooting. Dennis Schröder at 44.7 percent. In fact, there are five Thunder players who see at least 14 minutes per game shooting over 40 percent from three.

None of the three-point shooting was more evident than in the 2018 portion. They shot under 28 percent in losses and 35 percent in wins. In the 2019, They’re shooting almost 40 percent in losses and 43.5 percent in victories.

If the Thunder can add in Alex Abrines back into the fold whenever his personal issues are done, the Thunder will be adding another shooter who’s a career 37 percent shooter. It spreads the floor and provides people like Steven Adams space to work inside.

They’re not going to hit 41 percent for the remainder of the year. It just doesn’t fit the makeup of this team. Which is to score off their defense’s suffocating manner. It frees up a lot of opportunities, though. As we saw in the win over Memphis.

They played zone, they packed the paint,” Billy Donovan said. “They really were not concerned about matchups at all. Sometimes you have to take what the defense gives you.”

Oklahoma City finally forced the Grizzlies out of the paint after taking 44 threes and were able to explode in the second half.

If the Thunder are going to go far in the Western playoffs, it’ll be on the back of not just the superstars, but also the three-point shooting.

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Thunder take care of business, beat Grizzlies 117-95

Russell Westbrook had another triple-double and Paul George led everyone in scoring as the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the short-handed Memphis Grizzlies 117-95 on Thursday night.

Memphis, without a handful of players as they were very active at the trade deadline, only played eight players and suited 10. It was enough to scare the Thunder in the first half, but the second half, the Thunder’s depth and tenacity took over.

Memphis led 53-51 at the break and it almost felt as if the Thunder were going to once again play down to their competition. They were going to struggle in a game where they were favored by 13½ coming into the game.

The third quarter magic fixed that.

Oklahoma City outscored Memphis 32-19 and it was off to the races. They led by as many as 17 in the third quarter before Memphis would fight it back to single digits on two occasions. Westbrook and George did their magic and kept the Grizzlies at a comfortable distance for the remainder.

Oklahoma City shot a lot of threes in the win. They nailed 17-of-44 from the field, 38 percent. A large part of the threes came in the first half and it’s what Memphis was giving the Thunder. They would run zone, clog the paint and force the Thunder to beat them from deep. It’s what happened. The Thunder knocked down 11 in the first half and six in the second half. You don’t typically want a team like the Thunder to take that many threes but sometimes you have to take what the defense is giving you. The made threes opened up the paint and the scoring exploded in the second half.

Westbrook finished with 15 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds. He now has the longest triple-double streak of his career and is one short of Wilt Chamberlain’s NBA record of nine straight set in 1968. Westbrook’s career tally is now at 125 career triple-doubles. He’s done 21 this year alone, which is the 10th most in a single season.

Paul George scored 27 points, including six made threes. Jerami Grant added 20 for Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City now has won 9-of-10 and are one of the hottest teams in the NBA.

The Thunder improved to 35-19 on the year. It’s the most games they’ve been over .500 since Jan. 13, 2016. Oklahoma City found themselves in the Western Conference finals that season.

The Thunder will now travel to Houston for a Western Conference showdown on Saturday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on ABC. The Thunder will need a huge road win here to keep their streak alive.

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Paul George named All-Star Starter

Though it took some time, Paul George has been named a Western Conference All-Star starter. George finished third in the front court voting, booking him into the final starting position in the Western Conference.

In 46 games this season, George is leading the Thunder in scoring while averaging career-highs in points (27.0), rebounds (7.9), steals (2.33) and made threes (3.4). He currently ranks eighth in the NBA in scoring, second in steals and first in points off turnovers (5.0). He leads the league in loose balls recovered (2.3) while ranking second in deflections (3.8).

George’s All-Star selection is his seventh overall, second in the Western Conference. It’s the third time he’s been picked to be a starter, first in the West.

George has been the front runner for the Defensive Player of the Year and has been in the discussion for Most Valuable Player all season as well. George is one of five players in the NBA this season to hit a pair of game-winning field goals. On Dec. 5 in Brooklyn, George scored a team-record 25 fourth-quarter points, including the game-winning three in the final seconds to help lead Oklahoma City to their largest comeback victory in club history. Additionally, George completed a four-point play in the final moments of the Thunder’s 117-115 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers this past Saturday.

The 2019 NBA All-Star Game will follow last year’s format whereby LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo will draft rosters from a pool of players voted as starters and reserves in each conference, making their picks regardless of conference affiliation.
Fan voting accounted for 50 percent of the overall vote while NBA players and a media panel each accounted for 25 percent of the vote. Among frontcourt players, George received the third-most fan votes (3,122,346) in the Western Conference.
TNT will announce the reserves, selected by NBA head coaches, on Thursday Jan. 31 during NBA Tip-Off.
The 68th NBA All-Star Game will take place at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C., on Sunday, Feb. 17 at 7 p.m. CT. TNT will televise the NBA All-Star Game for a 17th consecutive year.
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Thunder lose to historic night

It took the best 3-point shooting night in NBA history and double overtime but the San Antonio Spurs were able to slip by the Oklahoma City Thunder 154-147 on Thursday night.

The Thunder fall to 25-16 on the season and have lost three straight. It’s second time this season Oklahoma City has lost three straight games.

“Obviously, we want the W,” Terrance Ferguson said. “So, it’s not sitting right.”

It almost didn’t seem possible. The Spurs drained three… after three… after three… after three. There’s nothing the Thunder could’ve done. Oklahoma City defended and San Antonio hit some wild shots and they continued to go in. The Spurs led by as many as 16 and the Spurs just never cooled off.

For all of the threes San Antonio hit, it was Ferguson of all people who responded with killer threes as well. He nailed a career high seven treys on 10 attempts. Oklahoma City needed every single point. Ferguson finished with 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Over his last two games, Ferguson is 11-of-14 from deep.

Russell Westbrook arguably had his best game this season with 24 points, 13 rebounds and 24 assists. Westbrook’s 24 assists are the 9th most in NBA history (since 1983-84). The 24 assist are the most in the NBA since Dec. 2017 when Rajon Rondo had 25 assists. Westbrook only turned it over three times, third lowest this season.

The Thunder powered back to tie the game with 6:03 left in regulation. However, Steven Adams would leave the game after stepping on the foot of LaMarcus Aldridge. Adams would come back by the end of regulation where the Thunder would use him sparingly. He was forced to come into the second overtime after Jerami Grant fouled out.

The loss is Oklahoma City’s seventh straight in San Antonio. Aldridge had a lot to do with it. Aldridge set a career high with 56 points to lead San Antonio. The last time Oklahoma City won in San Antonio was Dec. 25, 2014. Reggie Jackson was Oklahoma City’s leading scorer in that contest.

There’s so much you could say about the game. From Adams rolling his ankle to Grant’s career high of 25 points. Oklahoma City had their chance. They led multiple times in the first overtime session. However, injuries and foul trouble caught up to the Thunder. Had Steven Adams not gone to the locker room with an ankle sprain, they probably win this game in regulation.

The NBA’s officiating was super inconsistent. A questionable technical foul and a few other weird reversal calls that went in favor of the Spurs leads to fans questioning what happened. Even the announcers seemed a bit bewildered by the reversals.

Oklahoma City had a chance to get within a bucket after a made Paul George 3-pointer. However, the officials ruled Adams was fouled before the shot and Adams would shoot free throws. Adams made the first and missed the second, tipping it out to George who missed a three.

The two teams will throw down again on Saturday night at the Peake. It’s a rare back-to-back for two teams. They’ll tip-off at 7 p.m. As the season continues into the second half of the season, this is turning into a must win game. We’ll have your complete coverage on social media.

Keys to the Game

Force turnovers: B

Oklahoma City forced 17 turnovers, but took 58 minutes to do it. Usually, they do that within just the regulation. However, the Spurs take care of the ball and they forced Oklahoma City to earn every turnover. The Thunder scored 21 points off those 17 turnovers.

Make Free throws: F

The Thunder went 16-of-24 at the line. Westbrook was abysmal, going 2-of-5. Oklahoma City has to get better at shooting free throws. However, at this point of the season, do we really expect any significant improvement? Probably not. It will end up costing the Thunder a playoff game or two.

Need Good Russ: A+

Westbrook was electric all game long. He stepped up and shot well and distributed like a superstar. Sure, he needs to stop taking threes but for the most part, Westbrook embodied everything that is Good Russ. That’s the Westbrook Oklahoma City needs going into the second half of the season.

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Nerlens Noel is in Concussion Protocol

After Tuesday’s terrible accident, the Thunder have released a statement, Nerlens Noel is current in NBA’s Concussion Protocol.

Noel took an elbow to the head and then hit his head on the floor in The third quarter of Oklahoma City’s loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Noel would leave on a stretcher and was conscious hen he left the arena.

Per the NBA’s Concussion Policy, Noel will now begin the NBA-mandated Return-to-Participation Protocol. This process includes a series of steps designed to ensure an athlete exhibits symptom-free behavior before resuming basketball activities. There is no predetermined timetable to complete the protocol, as each injury and player is different and recovery time can vary in each case.

Its obvious the elbow wasn’t intentional from Andre Wiggins. Players have stated they don’t think Wiggins did anything intentionally. However, Dennis Schröder took exception to some T-Wolves players laughing and carrying on while Noel was being attended to. Jeff Teague and Schröder were later involved in an altercation, leading to the ejection of Teague on double technical fouls.

It’s unknown when Noel will be back. All of Thunder Nation continues to keep him in our thoughts as he recover.

In 39 games (one start) this season, Noel is averaging 5.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.44 blocks in 13.7 minutes.

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