Author - Ed Kleese

4 Thoughts (Game 1; 4-14-19) Blazers 104, Thunder 99

1. My predictions, gut feelings, and premonitions generally do nothing to effect my emotional state as a fan. Meaning if I expect them to a lose a game, that expectation doesn’t necessarily make it any less frustrating or painful when they do. But every now and then I have a certain sense of calm about a situation. That is where I was today. While I was very excited that the playoffs are here, I wasn’t on pins and needles for this game and while it was taking place I was not much more emotionally engaged than I would have been for a regular season game. Most importantly, afterwards I didn’t have any feelings of dread or worry or disappointment. I said in the preview blog that I expected to lose game 1 and still win the series in 6. I didn’t see anything today that makes me want to alter that prediction. I can’t stress enough how big of a game this was for Portland. They HAD to win this game. Even if they ultimately lose this series they absolutely could not get obliterated again like they did the last two years— if they did it could very well cost people their jobs. And their guys were well rested and playing at home while the Thunder have been grinding for two weeks. Then considering how poorly the Thunder shot the ball, it became a game Portland REALLY had to win. To me, this loss was the last bit of punishment for our second half swoon. This game set up very favorably for the Blazers and we helped create it by having to exert so much energy just to get here. I think it’s funny, people will make predictions on a series and then still flip out after Game 1. Most people I have seen picking the Thunder had them predicted to win in 6 or 7 games. Well, it’s pretty basic math. If the Thunder win in 6 or 7, that means the Blazers are going to win 2 or 3. I always figured Game 1 was going to go Portland’s way. The game didn’t really play out the way I thought it would, but the result was what I expected. As far as playoff losses go, this was an easy one to swallow. 

2. Look, no one really knows how hurt PG is right now. At least no one I know. I’ll say this: from my standpoint I was actually a little encouraged by what I saw today. I have no doubt the guy is battling soreness and some pain. But nothing he was doing today indicated to me that he was favoring it or shying away from anything because of it. It’s easy to say, his shoulder hurts and he missed shots so therefore he missed shots because his shoulder hurts. But it’s also possible he just had a bad game. It’s been a little bit of a wacky week for him and the team. The wild win Tuesday against Houston, then a plane to Milwaukee, treatment on his shoulder, sits out game, flies back to OKC, more treatment, then a plan to Portland. It’s out of balance from a normal routine and he looked a bit scrambled. Very late in the game he hit a couple and looked like maybe he was settling in a bit. If we find out he can’t play Game 2 for some reason then I’ll be really worried, but my guess is he just had a lousy shooting night-a VERY lousy shooting night. It’s somewhat encouraging to know that we can stay that close with the Blazers with PG creating a negative effect offensively. I didn’t think that would be possible. And make no mistake, the Thunder can’t win this series with PG shooting the ball like that— he MUST be better. I’m confident he will be. Game 2 will show me a lot. If he lays another egg then you have to start to wonder if the shoulder is going to prevent him from being anywhere close to what he normally is. But my gut tells me he plays much better and everyone starts to chill out.3. Hats off to Kanter. He played a tremendous game today. I wasn’t even mad watching it unfold, I didn’t think we were necessarily doing anything “wrong”— he just played really well and got the best of us today. Early in the game we attacked him with Adams. We put him in the pick and roll. Russ and PG and Dennis all tried to drive at him. For the most part, he held his own. On the other end he had some big offensive rebounds and second chance points that really hurt us. If he continues to be this effective the series will look a lot different than I thought it would. I am going to play the law of averages and say he won’t be this effective all series. I don’t think he is going to crash and burn after this, but I kind of think maybe we saw his best game of the series already. Overall, I liked what we did defensively. After a terrible start where we lost Lillard and CJ far too often, we really clamped down on them. We played the pick and roll beautifully and did exactly what I wanted them to do— make life tough on their guards and you make life tough on the Blazers. No one else creates for them. The one thing I didn’t like was that CJ got loose more than I would like to see. TFerg defended him very well this season, but struggled today and got in foul trouble to boot. I want to see us make this series ALL about Lillard. I don’t want him to feel like he has a Robin he can count on out there. I want the weight of the world on Lillard’s shoulders. Today, Kanter and CJ did enough to give Lillard room to play what was probably a so-so game for him. One thing we did see was that it’s very dangerous to get into a shooting contest with Lillard late in a game. He is absolutely a money shot maker. We need those hero shots to come when Portland is down by 6 and he feels desperate to save them as opposed to when he can drop them as daggers.

4. The story from this game is pretty damn easy to write. After 82 games we made fewer three’s today than in ANY of them AND we shot a lower percentage than in ANY of them. So even if you acknowledge we are a bad/streaky shooting team, we aren’t THAT bad and it’s unlikely we will be again. Now, Portland fans can turn around and say that Lillard wasn’t really all that great and Portland won’t go as cold as they did from range after their hot start. They can also probably say they can reasonably expect more from Harkless and Aminu in the games to come. While OKC put forth arguably their worst offensive outing of the entire season, I don’t think we saw Portland at their best either. That said, I do think for the balance of the game that OKC looked like the better team. And I do think the Blazers are going to have a very hard time once the series shifts to OKC. However, if they carry a 2-0 lead to OKC, that will be a much lighter load to carry for them. I said prior to the series I think we could go down 0-2 and still win. I’ll stick to that. Even if we lose Tuesday, I won’t go into panic mode. But I will go into “will be nervous for two days prior to Game 3” mode for sure. And I’d rather not enter that mode because that mode is no fun. I wasn’t stressing about Game 1 before, during, or after. I don’t think I’ll stress much about Game 2 before, but I do think I’ll be pretty anxious during, and I sure as hell will have a different reaction after. There was never a doubt in my mind that that Thunder wouldn’t do this the easy way— that simply isn’t who they are or how they operate. It’s going to be a grind. Down 0-1 seems an appropriate place to be. Seems like we’ve been “down” in almost every game/situation all year long. It has netted some great comebacks and some disappointing defeats. But it’s who we are. Had we won today I think this could have turned into an easy series win for us. So therefore I never had any doubt we’d lose.

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4 Thoughts (1-2-19) Thunder 107, Lakers 100

1. I’m old and it’s 12:16am so I’m gonna make this shorter and sweeter than normal… The Thunder got away with one tonight. You don’t win many NBA games shooting 38% from the field, 22% from three, and 64% from the line. That is really, really bad. To their credit, they relied on their identity (defense, hustle, playmaking) to pull away late, but they also caught the Lakers at the right time sans Lebron and Kuzma for the second half. This was a hard-fought, but ugly game and it’s one you sort of feel the Thunder were lucky to stash in the win column. That said, there was a lot of emotion in the building and it was on the road. Seems no one else in the West is winning on the road so I’m not going to lose much sleep apologizing for this victory.

2. In the blog following the loss to Dallas on Sunday night I said I thought Donovan should have left the bench in longer during the fourth quarter when they were bringing us back. He stuck pretty tight to the rotation and I thought it altered the momentum a bit. It was interesting to see him stick with the guys longer tonight under almost identical circumstances (yeah, he probably reads the blog). Start of the fourth quarter is where this game turned. Lakers missed shots, but our defense was sensational— Noel in particular was doing some real work out there. PG was obviously the star of the game, but the guy that hit the biggest shots? Nader. This guy is really making the most of his opportunity. He made a great drive and dish for a layup to start the quarter and then hit a couple of huge shots to put us on top. Sample size is still very small, but he has flashed more with his opportunity that anyone else this year. He has earned the right for more time. I’m intrigued to see more. Hats off to that bench crew that sort of flipped the script of this game— PG put it away, but they teed it up for him.

3. Nothing Russ can do except continue to shoot. I think he’s more or less being smart about it. He was 3-20, but I think he only took about 8 shots over the final three quarters. He recognized he was ice cold and focused on other areas. But he can’t just TOTALLY stop shooting. When the shots are there, he has to continue to take them. When the lane opens he has to continue to attack. I’m convinced this is a mental block/yips type of situation and it’s awkward much of the time. But he has to just keep firing away. The last four games he’s had two solid outings and two dreadful ones. As long as the offense is running through PG first (which it is) Russ needs to keep trying. It will eventually come around. Surviving 3-20 from Russ, 4-13 from Dennis, and 1-7 from TFerg is a pretty unique accomplishment.

4. Sometimes you have a good win and sometimes you have a good non-loss. This was an example of the latter. Tonight was good because they didn’t lose, period. They played hard, hunkered down on D, and got it done. Lakers were short handed and the Thunder get out with the W. Hopefully they got a clunker out of their system because that will almost certainly not cut it at Portland on Friday night. Thunder really struggled with the Blazers last year; would be nice to see a little reversal in their first meeting this year.

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4 Thoughts (12-28-18) Thunder 118, Suns 102

1. Funny how one quarter can change things. During the games I’m always taking mental notes trying to come up with my thoughts for that particular game. Tonight, I had some not-so-nice things to type through three quarters. I had already decided to dedicate one thought to how much I detested the way Dennis played. I was highly frustrated with not only his performance, but his general body language and all around effort. Well, I learned awhile back to NEVER start writing the blog until the game is over. Tonight was case in point. By midway through the fourth, I was completely relaxed, completely content, and quite pleased with Dennis in particular. Russ had a monster game (more on that later) but with PG (among others) missing, he really needed Dennis to help push them over. It took awhile, but Dennis responded. He’s the one that made the big shots when the game was still in the balance late in third/early in the fourth.

2. Not having PG may have been a blessing in disguise for Russ. It gave him more wiggle room tonight. He responded from the opening possession— he looked for his own offense early and often and got off to a hot start. He cooled briefly, but during that aforementioned critical stretch he did not force the issue. He recognized that Dennis was hot and got him the ball. He also had some great assists in the open floor. We’ve been watching Russ transform his approach for weeks now, but tonight was the first time we saw that transformation coupled with a highly efficient shooting night as well. If he is able to settle somewhere around where he was tonight, the Thunder backcourt duo will be completely unstoppable. I know some have questioned whether Russ’s recent shooting struggles are a sign of physical regression, but I really don’t see any evidence to support that. I think it’s been more of a mental/transformative process that has left him a bit off-kilter. Tonight, he was on-kilter and he looked fantastic. If this is physical regression, I hope I suffer the same level of “regression.”

3. As you might imagine, I consider myself quite the Thunder guru. I don’t think there is much of anything about the team that I don’t know. But I’ll admit to not knowing much of anything about Abdel Nader. I saw they acquired him over the summer, but I didn’t even bother to look him up because I figured he was just roster fodder. They had a couple of spots open and Presti routinely snags younger guys that fit a certain mold to fill those spots. Sort of a “why not?” type of move that I suspected would result in some guy named Nader either wearing skinny slacks and a suit jacket every night or some dude named Nader waving a towel at the end of the bench every night. Either way, I didn’t think we’d ever be talking about some dude named Nader helping them win an actual game. But some dude named Nader did just that tonight. This is really all we’ve seen of him. Early in the year he got a few minutes here and there in non-garbage time situations, but the sample was very limited and he made no impression on me either way. Tonight, well, he looked pretty darn good. I think the biggest thing that stands out is that it looks like he can shoot. His three stroke appeared solid and he looked smooth at the free throw line. I was playing close enough attention to see if he was contributing much defensively, but he did have some nice drives/finishes. No PG, no Abrines, no TFerg… this was obviously a night of opportunity for Nader and not sure if he will get many more. But he really took advantage tonight and I would think Donovan is at least curious to perhaps want to see more.

4. The standings are bananas. Consider this… the Thunder are the ONLY team in the West above .500 on the road. The ONLY team. They are 10-8 which seems pretty “meh” but in context of the rest of the conference it looks pretty solid. I never recall seeing the standings this bunched up to this level this deep into a season. There is basically no true separation 1-8 and you can actually go all the way to the current 14 seed (Wolves) to find a team that can still reasonably consider making a playoff run. The Suns are literally the only team in West that should already have an eye on next year. So the door is both wide open for the Thunder and simultaneously close to slamming in their face. I bet we will slowly begin to see some separation being to form and with the Warriors struggling and Lebron out for awhile with his groin injury, now might be a good time for OKC to make a move. Weird scheduling ahead with the back to back home and home with Dallas Sunday/Monday. The Mavs are an extreme example of what I mentioned earlier— they are 14-3 at home and 2-13 on the road. That’s absurd. Hopefully PG is ready to go Sunday night; it would be hard to like their chances at Dallas without him.

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4 Thoughts (12-22-18) Thunder 107, Jazz 106

1. Classic Russ at the end of the game. He made a poor decision on the last offensive possession and then makes a big play coming off of his responsibility on defense to challenge Mitchell at the rim. I actually didn’t have a problem with how George defended Mitchell on that play. You are up by two and don’t have any timeouts. You CANNOT give up a clean look from three there. I’m glad PG crowded him; I’m sure he would have preferred to do a better job staying in front, but in that situation I’d always prefer giving them something inside the arc as opposed to outside. Russ made a great play to get over to Mitchell before he was able to hammer it home. Of course Mitchell then made it look like a REALLY great play by missing the free throw. The greater point is that Russ is really beginning to find his new role. He is struggling BADLY from the field right now. His jumper is off and he is not finishing at the rim. He was 3-17 tonight which is obviously not good. But in the past, that would have been 5-25. He is making much better decisions and finding ways to positively impact games even when he’s not hitting shots. He is clearly deferring to PG (as he should be). Tonight in particular, the Thunder made their biggest run with Russ on the bench— and that wasn’t a total coincidence. But overall you can see the transformation taking place and it’s going to be a real benefit to the team.

2. Last year I lamented bad luck in the blog on a regular basis. Players, coaches, and even fans don’t often like to admit how much of a factor luck can play in a game or a season, but it is a real thing. I generally think it evens out over the course of a season, but last year was an exception. Last year there were so many bad bounces, so many instances of bad timing, so many miracle shots from opponents that went in. This year, the worm had turned. The Thunder are the ones catching breaks. Utah was hot early, but they missed a TON of shots down the stretch. Thunder ran out of gas tonight. They kept clawing away, but their shots started clanging and they looked a step slow. Utah had all of the momentum. Thunder were sort of allowing that game to wash away from them…. but Utah wouldn’t take it. They missed a bevy of open three’s late which allowed the Thunder to continue to plod along and hold on. There was also a play midway through the quarter on a Mitchell breakaway where Russ easily could have been called for his fifth foul. And then of course, Mitchell missed the free throw. Luck helps. And you should never apologize when it rolls your way.

3. West is chaos this year. It’s pretty cool and is adding a lot of intrigue and excitement to the regular season. It’s crazy that the current 14 seed is Minnesota and they are only 7.5 games out of first place. We might be starting see the Thunder create some separation amongst a few other top teams, but it’s still way to early to develop rooting interests or spend much time looking at scenarios. But this blows me away… The Thunder are 9-7 on the road, which is the best road record of any team in the conference. It is going to be a bloodbath for road teams this year so you should pounce any time you get an opportunity to steal one. And the Thunder for sure got away with one tonight.

4. It’s late, I’m tired, and we need to do this again tomorrow. I’ll just say tomorrow’s game with the Wolves sets up as a perfect trap for the Thunder. Second night of a back to back coming off an emotional win playing a rested team coming off a blowout loss. Beware of this situation.

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4 Thoughts (12-19-18) Thunder 132, Kings 113

1. The story entering this game for me was how the Thunder would adjust based on how they lost the first two times to the Kings. In both games the Thunder allowed the Kings to dictate pace and style. They were baited into a finesse, open floor game. They were content to get into a shooting contest with a team that wants nothing more than to get into a shooting contest. Most importantly, they nullified their greatest advantage by not committing to attack the paint. So I was very interested to see how they’d come out tonight. Well, they “came out” looking lazy. But it only lasted 90 seconds. Donovan took a timeout before the clock had even hit the 10:00 mark of the first quarter. From that moment forward the Thunder dictated the terms. There were several moments throughout the game where the Kings momentarily got hot, but at no point did the Thunder take the bait. There were a few defensive lapses tonight that the Thunder should look to clean up, but their offensive approach was excellent. This was an impressive performance.

2. One guy had 20 points and 23 rebounds on 8-12 shooting. Another guy had 43 points on 15-27 shooting. Another guy had 22 points on 9-11 shooting. Another guy had 19 points, 17 assists, and 11 rebounds. Another guy had 14 points. That’s your staring five. All of that went down IN THE SAME GAME. That’s pretty nuts. This is the result of a team where everyone knows their role. They know where to be, what to do, and the understand the hierarchy of the team. I still think Russ is finding his perfect spot on the team and that will remain a work in progress. Along the way though, he is helping others find their spot. PG couldn’t look more comfortable. Neither could Adams. Same with Grant. It honestly looks easy most of the time. Pitch and catch type stuff. We know it’s not easy though because we’ve seen as recently as last year how ugly it can be when guys aren’t at that comfort level. Some may want to stubbornly cling to negative views of the coaching staff, but I’m not sure how you can watch this team play basketball through 30 games and not think this is a very well coached team.

3. I thought Russ looked a little more himself tonight. He had the mid range jumper going a little bit. He was REALLY explosive at the rim and was finally finishing strong. And the streak of 5+ steals per game is incredible. He was sensational in the first half and PG closed the door in the second half. Now, the free throw thing with Russ is real— and it’s a real problem. At this point I am convinced it’s a case of the yips. That’s uncomfortable to talk about and there is no way Russ or anyone else will acknowledge it, but that looks like what it is. It’s a mental block— and when it gets to this level it isn’t all that easy to shake it. We’ve seen it from athletes before and it can unravel on them. Russ is such a strong personality that I’m sure he’d be beyond insulted that I would even hint that this could be the issue, but I doubt it’s a technique or practice issue at this point. What he probably needs is one game where goes 10-10 or something and maybe he can just bury it. But it’s getting awkward and it will only get worse if he can’t break out of it soon. But that shouldn’t overshadow his performance tonight or the fact that Russ was full Russ.

4. Thunder have responded well to the back to back losses last week. They’ve won three in a row and have done so in pretty resounding fashion. Bit of a weird schedule this week with the game tonight then two full days off on the road followed by the road/home back to back on Saturday and Sunday. Utah will be a test Saturday night. They’ve been disappointing thus far, but they started slow last year too. They beat the Warriors tonight and we know all about them and what they want to do. There have been almost no changes with the Jazz since last season. I’d say they owe us from the loss we handed them at The Peake last week, but I’d say owing them for our playoff loss last year trumps that. I for sure wanted one of these two road games and now it’s OK to get greedy and take both.

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4 Thoughts (12-17-18) Thunder 121, Bulls 96

1. Picking up the option on Donovan’s contract was a no-brainer. Even if you aren’t fully sold on him I’m not sure what argument you would use to justify not retaining him. Obviously there is a lot of season left, but the decision needed to be made aniuhd it was the right one. For almost two years the Thunder operated under a cloud of uncertainty; the fate of the entire direction of the organization hanging in the balance. Donovan rode that out and it wasn’t always smooth. But he clearly did something right as both Russ and PG were willing to commit knowing Donovan would be their coach. And now that things are finally settled and the direction set, it is equally clear that the players are now playing the preferred style of the coach. Thunder are tenacious defensively and they play very hard whistle to whistle. Donovan is hardly flawless, but the fit appears to be right. There would have been no real logically reason to decline the option and it only would have allowed another cloud to form had they let it go. Easy move. Smart move. 

2. Thunder avenged their worst loss of the year tonight. They did exactly what they should have done and turned up a really bad Bulls team (who did win their last game at San Antonio by the way). PG got things rolling early and I thought Russ looked a little sharper tonight. They all looked like they were having fun and that wound up being about as easy of a night as you will ever see in the NBA. Most interesting thing was the “fight.” I think the Thunder might wind up leading the league in skirmishes when it is all said and done. It makes sense. Russ is a walking skirmish. He starts plenty on his own with virtually no instigation (like we saw Friday in Denver). And due to his style and his rep he will also attract others looking to skirmish. Adams can create skirmishes despite his “aw shucks” demeanor because he is a brute monster in the paint. He is also pretty “sneaky” and finds ways to get subtlety over on his opponents. He can be frustrating I’m sure. Then overall the team is very physical and athletic. There will be contact when you play the Thunder. Contact often leads to…skirmishes. Tonight I couldn’t tell if Lopez was really mad about something or if he just wanted to get out early. Don’t think I can blame him.

3. As Diallo flashes his insane athleticism and ability to finish you will continue to hear calls for him to get more minutes; or possibly even start. I think he should stay right where he is. He is so young and still quite raw. He is having success in his current role and I see no reason to put more on his plate at this juncture. He is currently in a pretty low stress position and it is allowing him to grow up at a slower pace. As a fan I’d like to see a bit more because he truly is electrifying to watch. But small doses works for me right now.

4. Solid reply to the back to back losses. Thunder have established themselves as pretty dominant at home. They’ve gone 12-1 since the 0-2 start. And more often than not it’s been easy. They hit the road for the majority of the remainder of the month, starting Wednesday at Sacramento. This is an interesting game because the Thunder are already 0-2 against the Kings and in both losses fell victim to allowing Sacramento to dictate pace and style of play. Circling back to Thought #1, this is a spot where you’d like to the coach recognize what’s going on and come out with either a new plan or better execution of a previous plan. Extending Donovan was the easy choice; and now it’s time to continue to earn it.

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4 Thoughts 12-12-18 (Pelicans 118, Thunder 114)

1. I’ll start by saying that it’s easy to get lost in always viewing the games through the lens of your own team. I believe in sociology they call it “ethnocentrism.” In the NBA we can probably call it “Thundercentrism.” The ultimate point being that sometimes the outcomes of games aren’t always decided by what YOU do, but by what the other team does (or doesn’t do). Anthony Davis is unquestionably one of the best players in the league. He’s basically an impossible match up when he’s at the very top of his game. The issue for NOLA is that there just isn’t much around him, so it’s hard for them to win whenever he is a A- as opposed to an A+. But in individual game situations, he is fully capable of winning for the Pelicans essentially on his own. That’s what he did tonight. I didn’t think the Thunder had a flawed plan or didn’t play with enough energy or anything like that. Davis was simply too much. He was the best player on the floor tonight and the Pelicans needed every bit of it. Thunder play the Pelicans four times. I think it’s reasonable to assume of the four, Davis is good for one win for them on his own. Thunder won the the first meeting. So with two left, hopefully NOLA and Davis got it out of their system. For tonight, hats off to a great player.

2. I’ve talked a lot this year about the Thunder ability to win even when shooting poorly from three point range. One of the reasons they can get away with this is because they are so good in other areas— namely on the defensive end. But one reason things have been better this year is that they are also much more efficient offensively— even on nights where shots aren’t falling. They take care of the ball better this year, move it better, finish stronger. They also generally out-rebound the opposition. Which sort of makes tonight stand out. They did not shoot the three well. They did not shoot free throws well. They did not rebound well. They did not take care of the ball. And Davis was going off on them. So if I’m a lawyer in a court of law making a case for the Thunder as an elite team in the league, I’m pointing to the fact that they really didn’t do anything particularly well tonight and still wound up with a chance to win the game with less than five seconds remaining. I was fine with the final possessions. I thought their best chance was after the got the stop with about 30 seconds left— they had an open floor opportunity but PG lost the ball.. he got it back and called time out but they missed an opportunity there. The next possession totally broke down, but the concept was fine. Russ tried to get the ball into the lane but fumbled it.. it then went from Dennis to Adams without either of them really looking at the basket before kicking it back out to Russ. At that point he sort of had to take a three. It wasn’t a good look by any means, but it also wasn’t the designed play and it wasn’t really Russ’s choice either. Just became a scramble and someone eventually had to shoot. On their final attempt it looked to me like they tried to run the same play they ran to PG in Brooklyn. But this time the defense stuck with PG and Russ instead found Abrines who missed a pretty good look. That was a really solid play and Russ did a nice job exhibiting patience and trust there. Just needed Alex to make it and he didn’t.

3. The one issue that is obvious right now is the hole being burned on the bench by Patterson/Abrines. The bench overall is much improved with Dennis and Noel, but the team is also relying on PP and Alex to be reliable shooters. It’s a team weakness and those are two guys that can reasonably be asked to help remedy it— instead they are making it worse. I have no issue with Donovan giving them plenty of rope here. We don’t have great alternative options. The only real option would be to extend the minutes of the young pups (Ferg, Diallo, Burton) and/or start giving Nader some chances. The problem with that is that the Thunder are trying to compete with the Warriors here. The goal is to build a team that can win the playoffs and relying on guys between the ages of 19-22 none of whom have any real playoff experience is far from ideal. For their own development, keeping them in lower stress situations may also be a good idea. They NEED veteran guys they can count on. Guys that have been around a bit and are capable of playing both ends of the floor. Patterson and Abrines fit that mold, but both of them are giving the team absolutely nothing right now. PP looks like his confidence is shot. This is becoming a them and it’s coming to a head. The irony is that if they decide to try and fix it via trade, they’d almost certainly have to trade one or more of the young guys in order to get it done. I’m not ready for that yet. I’d continue to give them chances. But it’s coming to a head soon.

4. I wanted one of two on the NOLA/Denver trip. I still do. I view the game at Denver as being the first really “big” game of the year. They beat us here once and they handled us pretty well last year too. It’s the toughest game on paper we’ve played in weeks. Before the Thunder can officially take the next step of establishing themselves as the #1 challenger in the West, they must first distance themselves from the middle of the pack. Denver is really good, but they aren’t elite. It’s time to show them that we intend to first win the division and then take aim at bigger fish.

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4 Thoughts (11-21-18): Thunder 123, Warriors 95

1. Start with the only bad news from the night. The Diallo injury is a real bummer. As of this moment no news has come out as to the extent, but it obviously didn’t look good. You don’t see guys go off on a stretcher all that often in basketball— this is now the second Thunder shooting guard to leave the floor via stretcher in less than a year. Brett Dawson reported that Diallo was seen in a wheelchair post game entering the locker room. To me, that is actually slightly promising news. Heading to the locker room beats heading to the hospital. In any event, I’d assume Diallo’s season is in jeopardy. That really stinks because he is a super interesting and exciting player. His confidence meter is already tapped out— kid is a whirling dervish and impacts the game (for better or worse) immediately upon entering each night. The fact that TFerg also went down tonight (with what I assume is a far less serious injury) really hurts the overall depth of the team. That said, TLC can play a little bit and I am also impressed with Burton. Will be interesting to see how the rotations will change if TFerg and Diallo are both sidelined for awhile. Fingers crossed that the injury looked worse than the reality.

2. In the first half, I really liked what everyone was doing except for Russ. He seemed to be doing something different from everyone else and just looked off. I thought his response in the second half was the most important development of this game. The Warriors cut the halftime lead down to three WAY too quickly. Thunder did a poor job out of halftime being ready for that run. KD and Klay both came out hot and Thunder seemed a little stunned. It didn’t take long for that lead to go from 14 to 3. But at that very moment, the Thunder were able to re-take control of the game. They did it with Russ reading the game properly. Down three, he stopped the bleeding by scoring on a drive. After that, he kept it cool and started distributing to the hotter hands. He stayed active on both ends but wasn’t forcing his shot or playing out of control. He got the ball to PG and Adams and didn’t try to do too much. Zero panic tonight. Quite the opposite. Team was totally cool and composed and didn’t get rattled by the Dubs quick run. In the fourth quarter, Russ clearly recognized Dennis was having a night and made sure he deferred to him (which was absolutely the right move). This will be an ongoing challenge for Russ. Some nights they will still need him to go bananas, but they won’t need him to do it nearly as often. It will be up to him to read the game and situation and know when to down shift and when to rocket to the moon. It’s not an easy thing to do, especially for a competitor like Russ. Tonight, he played it perfectly. He didn’t allow a subpar first half to snowball into a bad second half. He made the shift in approach and it was exactly what his team needed from him.

3. I said after the Kings game that the Thunder will struggle to win when Dennis is REALLY bad and they will probably almost never lose when he is REALLY good. I just didn’t expect we’d get the extreme examples back to back. This was still very much a game early in the fourth quarter. Had Dennis not taken over things could have gotten really tight down the stretch. But he took the life out of the Dubs in the early part of the fourth quarter. By the time PG and Russ came back the game was already in hand. It wasn’t over, but Dennis had done the heavy lifting. It’s funny, if you would have told me right after last season that the Thunder would win at Golden State and the MVP of the game wouldn’t be Russ, PG, or Adams… I would have wondered what apocalyptic event took place to alter the NBA landscape so drastically. I just still can’t believe that somehow Dennis wound up being the outcome of the Melo trade.

4. No doubt the Thunder caught the Warriors at a good time. They look dreadful without Curry— even though they probably shouldn’t. Things aren’t quite right in Oakland currently and the Thunder took advantage. I do think GS played hard tonight and took the game seriously. As mentioned above, KD and Klay came out pretty aggressive. Thunder D shut that down though and made them take tough shots all night. Adams dominated them in the paint on both ends of the floor. Clearly, the Warriors are going to eventually get things together. Once they get all their guys, they will likely lock in and go on a big run. That said, I do believe they are vulnerable this year. There is an emotional toll as well as a physically one for teams that go that deep so many years in a row. There is a fatigue that sets in. This year there are a LOT of good teams in the West— very few easy nights and teams will continue to slowly hack away at the Warriors. I don’t think any team is built for more potential success against them than the Thunder. GS has no answer for Adams and the Thunder D can force them into turnovers which slows down their attack. I like the way we match up with them, even when they have their full arsenal. Good road trip, I’ll take 2-1 with a win at GS all day long. The very rare home back to back awaits Friday/Saturday. After that they play two of the worst teams in the league next week (Cavs and Hawks). Door is open for the Thunder to make a move. Based on their performance tonight it appears they are ready to walk through that door.

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4 Thoughts (11-17-18): Thunder 110, Suns 100

1. The Thunder made that look easier than it should have been. You might wonder what I’m talking about considering Phoenix is arguably the worst team in the league. While that may very well be true, they are still an NBA team and they do have a few highly talented young players. The scheduling quirk that had us playing them 3 times over the first 15 games of the season set up for some law of averages-type stuff. Beating the Suns is not impressive. Not at all. On its own. Dominating the Suns three times in three weeks, twice without Russ, once without Russ, TFerg, and Abrines on the road? That’s pretty impressive. Or at the very least you could say it’s “mature.” Totally professional approach tonight; just like the previous two games this week. OKC was locked in from the outset and never allowed a young opponent to get any sort of emotion or momentum flowing. Bear in mind the Suns destroyed the Spurs in their most recent game prior to our arrival. This was good stuff tonight.

2. The chain of command tonight was perfect. Pretty much the ideal pyramid you’d want to see in this situation. Without Russ and two other members of the backcourt rotation the only prayer the Thunder really have is if it starts with PG. He was sensational tonight. So far this year he’s living up to my pre-season prediction that he will be in the MVP conversation this year. Right behind PG tonight was Adams. For the second time this week he just absolutely schooled the first pick in the draft. Ayton has a couple of moments tonight, but they were dwarfed by the dominance of Adams. The Big Kiwi has made the missed shot a top weapon in the Thunder arsenal. There was a prime example of this tonight… Phoenix trimmed the lead to 6 with a little over 3:00 remaining and it appeared as if the Thunder might be running out of gas. Out of the timeout, the Thunder missed a shot, but Adams was there for the rebound and put-back. Huge play. The next time down the floor he finished an and-one pick and roll from Dennis. That was really your game right there. He sucked any remaining life out of the Suns in back to back trips. PG put the final nails in their coffin down the stretch, but those two possessions by Adams were massive. So you had PG and Adams putting in top notch performances a 1A and 1B and then you had Dennis do enough as a third option— he wasn’t amazing tonight, but effective. After that, all they needed was one or two more guys do be decent. That came in the form of Grant and TLC (his first real action of the year). That was all it took. Lead from the top, trickle down, workmanlike win.

3. I’m glad Felton is back. I like him and I enjoy watching him play. He seems like a good dude and with so many young pups on the roster it has to be nice for the coaches to have a savvy vet voice on the bench. He’s kind of a marvel to me because, let’s face it— the dude looks like he should be the last pick at your local YMCA pick up game. His game is all street; he plays like a hustler would play and it’s unique and fun to see. That said, I’m also really good we changed the roster this year to the point where he is relegated to DNP on most nights. Yeesh, he has been BAD this year. Really bad. When Russ was healthy, Ray stayed on the bench. Without Russ, Donovan has no choice but to insert Felton to run the second unit. He’s never been much of a facilitator— always more of a guy who can go find offense for himself. Last year, he did that quite well. This year, he’s not doing it well at all. He isn’t doing anything well. He’s struggling in all aspects. The only real negative from these past few games has been the bench. As the dominoes fall with injuries and things roll downhill, the bench has been left pretty depleted— especially at the point guard position. Once Russ comes back it’s really a non-issue, but if for some reason Ray winds up factoring into the rotation more this year, he will need to be a whole lot better than he has showed thus far.

4. Another gratifying win and another step towards becoming a consistent and complete team that Russ doesn’t need to carry. No complaints winning 10 out of 11 and doing so in the manner that they have. Things get a little tougher starting Monday though. Kings might be a mirage so far this year (they’ve started to come back down to earth already), but they do appear to be improved and they certainly kicked the mess out of us in our home opener already. Sounds as if Russ could be back for that game Monday and it will be interesting to see how he integrates into things after sitting and watching for a couple of weeks. The Warriors loom on Wednesday and we don’t want to halt our own momentum by peeking ahead.

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4 Thoughts (11-14-18): Thunder 128, Knicks 103

1. Struggling a little bit to find four thoughts that differ from Monday because this game tonight was close to a carbon copy of the Phoenix game. First, it does need to be noted that the current Knicks (without Porzingis) are really bad. I actually think the fact that they came in with four wins is a bit of an over-achievement for them. New York has been woefully mismanaged for years and now they are suffering because the one true bright spot they have has been out for nearly a year now. They have a bunch of miscast parts mixed in with a few veterans like Kanter and Hardaway that can play, but are hardly cornerstone pieces. The Suns have a worse record than the Knicks, but Phoenix is absolutely a better (or at least more dangerous) team. Either way you can make the argument that the Suns and Knicks are the two worst teams currently in the NBA (Cavs raise their hand as well) and the Thunder just so happen to be playing the Suns twice and Knicks once this week. So I think it’s worth noting in a fairly loud manner that the Thunder are playing some truly crappy teams this week.

2. The above doesn’t necessarily take away from HOW the Thunder are playing though. The 25 point win tonight isn’t blowing me away as it stands on its own. What impresses me is watching the general identity of the team come together right in front of us. Last year, the Thunder laid a TON of eggs against bad teams. This year the entire approach is different. There was absolutely no messing around tonight. Thunder were ready to go from the get. Smart, efficient offense and tenacious, active D. It smothered the Knicks early and allowed OKC to cruise to an easy win. I’m happy PG chose to stay for all of the obvious reasons, but also relieved that everyone here is getting to see what a truly great player he is; it would have been a shame for him to just pass through town without Thunder fans ever getting to appreciate how he plays the game. While he is a laid back guy, he sets a tone defensively that forces his teammates to match. Sometimes he is too passive/unselfish on the other end, but he is a helluva playmaker as well. He’s been fantastic all season and tonight his all around contributions were easy to see. It seems he’s been around forever so it’s easy to forget that he is still just 28 years old and perhaps only entering the prime of his career right now.

3. The comparison and contrast with TFerg and Diallo is really interesting. They essentially play the same role/position. They are both getting an opportunity for significant minutes with Andre still out. And neither of them is old enough to order a beer at a bar yet. Early in the year I was a little critical of how Donovan was deploying them, but now I see why it’s smart— and why it’s working. TFerg is the more natural basketball player. He is a little more smooth, has a better looking shot, and has more experience having played two years professionally prior to this season. If you made me choose right now which player has more proverbial “upside” I’d reluctantly take TFerg. But Diallo is a live wire and there is something about that kid that just jumps out at you. He is a live wire. Whereas TFerg can disappear offensively, Diallo has yet to find a shot or drive he doesn’t like. One thing we know early in this season… when Diallo checks in, SOMETHING is going to happen. He might launch one into the stands or like we saw tonight, he might have the greatest looking missed windmill dunk ever. He might also score 7 points in like 30 seconds. He is a total whirlwind out there. I understand why Donovan is keeping him under wraps to a certain extent and keeping his minutes consistent. There is no need to rush him or get him TOO wound up at this juncture. Just to add a little extra spice into the mix, Deonte Burton has looked pretty darn good in his limited action as well. He’s the grey beard of the bunch at 24 with some G League and overseas experience under his belt already. But he’s also flashed enough that at least bears wanting to see more. Having youth to develop is never a bad thing—especially when they are already contributing. Not only will this help the team for obvious reasons, it also gives them more flexibility when discussing trades or being able to move people. Right now, the rotation and roles look spot on to me.

4. Easy win, easy week so far. Some bad luck with the Russ injury, but could be a blessing in disguise as he gets extra rest during a soft part of the schedule when his absence isn’t really hurting them in the W/L column. It is also allowing other guys more room to breathe and establish themselves. I also don’t think it’s a bad thing for Russ to sit and watch sometimes (especially considering there are quite a few new faces out there this year). The team is playing well and so many more guys are involved this year. I see it. Russ sees it. Everyone sees it. Things get a little tougher now… three game road trip ahead with first stop in Phoenix as mentioned previously. Suns beat the Spurs by 20 tonight; Phoenix isn’t good, they aren’t even average, but they also aren’t as bad as they’ve shown early this year. Thunder have also had recent issues playing in that building. I wouldn’t expect them to roll over especially after taking it on the chin twice in OKC already this year.

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