Monday Bolts: 3.25.19
Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) previews tonight’s game in Memphis: “One win does not make a road trip. At least that’s what the Thunder’s attitude displayed even in the aftermath of Friday night’s high-intensity victory over the Toronto Raptors. On this two-game trip, the final multi-game road swing of the season, the Thunder wants to come back home with two in the win column. In order to do that, the Thunder will have to play with the same type of focused effort that it displayed against the Raptors, yet tooled towards a Grizzlies team that has been pesky all season long, particularly at home, despite not boasting a strong record. “Memphis in general is a tough place to play and pick up a win,” said Thunder forward Paul George. “Just because we got one win doesn’t mean it’s a parade. We have a lot more work to do. We have standards and we just have to ourselves accountable to it.” At 29-44, Memphis is eliminated from playoff contention, but after some trade deadline deals, has talent on the roster with Jonas Valanciunas and Delon Wright joining Mike Conley as catalysts for the group. Where the Thunder will be most challenged, however, is actually on the offensive end, given that Memphis ranks 2nd in the NBA in points allowed per game and has a defensive rating of 105.6, 9th-best in the league. In order to be efficient and give itself a chance for a second straight win, the Thunder will have to be sharp with the ball.”
Maddie Lee (Oklahoman) on the Thunder previewing their 7-man rotation in Friday’s win over the Raptors: “The second half of the Thunder’s 116-109 win over the Raptors Friday provided a preview of what a shortened rotation could look like for the Thunder in the postseason. Aside from the 33 seconds Thunder wing Abdel Nader played after the intermission, OKC went to a seven-man rotation, with Markieff Morris playing backup center. The Thunder began the game with center Nerlens Noel and Morris playing together, but Thunder coach Billy Donovan said he planned to play just one of the two as the game progressed. “They’re both important,” Donovan said after practice Sunday, “but I wanted to go with Markieff because I felt like him at the five spot would give us some stretch-shooting at the five spot, it would be a little more difficult (for Toronto) to switch and to trap.” That doesn’t mean Noel will be left on the bench during the playoffs. Donovan said he could also picture matchups that would favor Noel over Morris.”
Back to sixth in the West for the Thunder: Today’s playoff picture isn’t as pretty as yesterday’s.
ESPN has the Thunder 11th in their latest power rankings: “The Thunder’s week bottomed when they fell to the eighth seed in the West after a home loss to the Raptors, but they bounced back with a win in Toronto and currently sit sixth inside the West’s 5-8 logjam. The Thunder play in Memphis on Monday, then have a five-game home stand that they need to dominate to secure more advantageous seeding. News of the week: Paul George showed signs that he’s finding his shot, shooting 49.0 percent from the field in three games after having shot 36.2 percent in his previous seven outings.”
Scott Cacciola (New York Times) on Paul George reeling in a career year while at peace in OKC: “Paul George has a small freshwater pond behind his house in Oklahoma City that he stocks with bass, crappie and bluegill. Whenever he has a couple of hours to spare from his responsibilities as a do-everything forward for the N.B.A.’s Thunder, he heads out back with his fishing rod. He releases what he catches — for now, anyway. “Waiting for them to get a little bigger,” he said. George has time. Last summer, on the first night of free agency, he agreed to re-sign with the Thunder on a four-year, $137 million deal. The news emanated from a house party that Russell Westbrook, his superstar teammate, was hosting for George, who did not even entertain meetings with rival teams. He was sticking with the Thunder. In doing so, George made clear that he was banking on his partnership with Westbrook while offering endorsements of the organization and of Oklahoma City’s leisurely pace. He can fish. He can raise his two young children in a quiet neighborhood. And he can focus on basketball, knowing that his future is with the Thunder.”
Michael Shapiro (SI) on why Russell Westbrook’s jump shooting could decide the Thunder’s playoff destiny: “Russell Westbrook looked destined to take a back seat in Oklahoma City through much of 2018-19, firmly entrenched in a secondary scoring role behind Paul George. The Thunder’s offensive inversion from year one of the arranged marriage made sense. George was entrenched as a legitimate MVP threat through the first two thirds of the season, while Westbrook worked through a disastrous shooting stretch. Oklahoma City’s nominal alpha dog morphed from headliner to elevated sidekick. Circumstances have changed in the past month. A hurt shoulder caused George to miss three games as the calendar turned to March. His production has dipped since. George is averaging to 25.1 points per game in his last nine contests, down from 28.8 in his first 59 games. George is making just 32.8% from three since March 1, tallying just 34 assists as he’s coughed-up 30 turnovers. Perhaps its fatigue before the postseason, but George’s dampened production created a vacuum in the Thunder’s offense. Naturally, Westbrook has assumed a greater role, and the results have been better than expected after his troubling first four months. George and Westbrook have shifted back to a more sustainable offensive equilibrium, and the balanced usage should pay dividends as we approach the postseason.”
Nick Crain (Forbes) on how Carmelo Anthony is still benefiting the Thunder this season: “Presti was able to negotiate a trade with the Atlanta Hawks that would send out Anthony’s massive contract, making Atlanta responsible for the $27.9 million owed. The Hawks would, in turn, buy out Melo’s contract making him a free agent. Carmelo was willing to waive his no-trade clause for this transaction, as he would be paid all $27.9 million he was owed and would then have the flexibility of signing with any team in the NBA and even get a brand new deal on top of the $27.9 million he would be paid. Not only were the Thunder able to get his money off the books, but were also able to get a valuable young asset in return. The Hawks would send Dennis Schroder to the Thunder in this trade, filling the backup point guard void the Oklahoma City Thunder had been looking to fill for several years. Schroder’s contract was economical for the Thunder, with three years remaining at $15.5 million per season. In his first season on the Thunder, Schroder currently averages 15.5 points, 4.2 assists, and 3.6 rebounds in 29.1 minutes per game. The 15.5 points per game spark he is producing off the bench is good for third on the entire Thunder roster and is just shy of the 16.2 points per game that Anthony scored for the Thunder last season.”
Around the League: LeBron isn’t here to cheat the game…. The Warriors have won 50 games for the sixth straight season…. The Celtics are acting confident but probably shouldn’t be…. Jeremy Lamb sank a half-court game-winner to beat Toronto…. Kristaps Porzingis isn’t a fan of all this sitting…. Introducing the NBA’s “Cookie Mom”…. Trae Young’s case for ROY is growing.