Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) previews tonight’s home game against the Sixers: “There are some specific things within the game that will be important for the Thunder to execute on in addition to having the right mental approach, starting with knowing personnel. All-Star point guard Ben Simmons is a matchup problem for most guards, JJ Redick is an elite shooter who flies off of endless screening actions to fire three-pointers and Philadelphia has a pair of dynamic forwards in Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris that can give opponents fits with their versatile manner of scoring. Yet there are even more detailed aspects of the game that will be vital to success. Avoiding situations where the team is over-helping would be an excellent start, ensuring that each man is close enough to a Sixer to provide a solid box out when a shot goes up. While attempting to come over and help out a teammate, the Thunder has sometimes put itself in precarious positions by putting two players on the ballhandler or shooter. “We had some guys leaving to go block shots that probably wasn’t necessary to go block shots,” said Head Coach Billy Donovan after the Thunder’s loss on Tuesday in Denver. “When you leave to pull across when there’s a guy on the ball to go block a shot, if you don’t block it, you leave yourself vulnerable to offensive rebounds.”
Ed Barkowitz (Philly.com) on OKC’s consistent torturing of the Sixers: “The Sixers on Thursday night will try to snap a 19-game losing streak to Oklahoma City, an epic skid that spans almost 10 years, four coaches, and one very long Process. They still have a way to go to reach the NBA record of dominance by one opponent over another. The previous version of the Thunder’s franchise, the Seattle SuperSonics, beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 26 consecutive times from 1991-97. With Joel Embiid not playing Thursday at Oklahoma City (TNT, 8 p.m.), it would take a Sixers upset for the streak not to reach 20 games. Here, however painful, is a closer look at the skid (home teams in all caps).”
Paul Hudrick (NBC Philly) on who will need to step up for Philly with Joel Embiid & Boban Marjonovic on the sideline: “Desperate times may call for desperate measures. With Joel Embiid (knee soreness) and Boban Marjanovic (knee sprain) both ruled out in Oklahoma City Thursday, the Sixers on Wednesday recalled center Justin Patton from the Delaware Blue Coats. Patton, acquired from the Timberwolves in the Jimmy Butler deal, played in just one NBA game in Minnesota last season. The 21-year-old suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot in September and has spent the last month in the G-League. The former first-round pick has flashed some of his abilities. He’s playing just 18.2 minutes a night but is averaging 11.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in seven games with the 87ers. Selected 16th overall by the Bulls out of Creighton, Patton has a lot of the skills you’re looking for out of a modern NBA big.”
Royce Young (ESPN) on how conflict elevates Russell Westbrook and the Thunder: “Westbrook loves talking to the opposing bench. He hears everything, and the moment someone says something — often a “hell no!” when he’s taking a jumper — well, then it’s on. Each bucket from there on out, that bench is getting a look — and many times, something more. “Me, personally, I don’t just start talking trash out of nowhere, randomly,” Westbrook says. “I may scream or, you know — that’s how I play. But normally I’m not talking crazy. But if somebody’s talking crazy to me, that’s fine. We can do that.” Westbrook’s public beef list is long — Joel Embiid, Ricky Rubio, Damian Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, Kevin Durant and on and on. The reality is everyone is an enemy — sometimes real, sometimes manifested. Along with that come the staredowns, the snarls, the glares, the gestures, the taunts, the prodding looks and, eventually, the trash talk. One NBA scout says Westbrook is his least favorite player to watch: “He just never shuts up.” The recent beefing has led to questions about what Westbrook’s big problem is and why he is the way he is. He has no chill, to be sure, but there’s also a method to the madness. “The greats at everything,” Lillard says, “they’re all a little bit crazy.”
Maddie Lee (Oklahoman) on the Thunder getting into early holes when Paul George isn’t scoring: “Thunder forward Paul George pulled up just before the Nuggets logo, almost as if it was the 3-point line. But of course, it was almost twice as far. Fans had already turned their attention from the court and the customary last-ditch heave that the buzzer at the end of a quarter often brings. But then the ball hit the backboard and fell through the hoop. Nuggets fans clapped, some even rising to their feet in appreciation for the unlikely shot. With that 45-foot make to close the third quarter, Thunder was following the same script as it had in its previous two games: fall behind and then claw back into contention late. OKC pulled off the comeback against Utah Friday, when George scored 17 of his 45 points in the fourth quarter. But on Wednesday, the half-court shot was one of just seven field goals George scored. Unlike that shot, the Thunder’s last-ditch effort wasn’t successful in a 121-112 loss at Denver.”
Adam Fromal (B/R) picks Russell Westbrook as the least valuable shooter in the NBA: “Russell Westbrook does plenty of good for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s a dominant rebounder out of the backcourt, a gifted passer who can find open teammates while bursting through traffic, a tremendous athlete with finishing skills around the hoop and a defender who can, when engaged, provide positive value against a number of different opponent archetypes. But he’s also been a miserable shooter in 2018-19. No one has provided less value from three to 10 feet than Westbrook (minus-36.618), who’s connected on just 14 of his 81 attempts (17.3 percent). Next up are Zach LaVine (minus-34.157), Willie Cauley-Stein (minus-29.236) and Justin Holiday (minus-26.697). No one has provided less value from 11 to 16 feet than Westbrook (minus-37.401), who’s connected on just 41 of his 145 attempts (28.3 percent). Next up are Andrew Wiggins (minus-21.874), Ben Simmons (minus-21.056) and Blake Griffin (minus-19.996). No one has provided less value from beyond the three-point arc than Westbrook (minus-66.164), who’s connected on just 68 of his 254 attempts (26.8 percent). Next up are Trey Lyles (minus-54.511), Stanley Johnson (minus-48.02) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (minus-45.649).”
Reggie Wade (Yahoo Sports) on how NASA inspired PG’s latest Nikes: “The PG 3 isn’t NASA’s first foray into footwear. While the famed 1969 Apollo 11 mission served as an inspiration for an entire generation to dream of reaching the stars, one person had dreams of filling sneakers with air. That man was former NASA engineer Frank Rudy. After Apollo 11, the agency used a process called “blow rubber molding” to create hollow shoe soles that could be filled with shock absorbing material. This technology was originally used to produce safer flight helmets, but Rudy knew it could be used to help runners. In 1971 Rudy contacted Nike and pitched them the idea of putting shock absorbing air cells in the soles of its running shoes — and the Nike Air was born. Here’s a look at other ways NASA tech and engineers have helped humankind take some giant everyday steps. And no, despite popular opinion NASA had no hand in creating Tang or Teflon.
Grant Hughes (B/R) picks Giannis for MVP — but gives Defensive Player of the Year to Paul George: “George is a long-limbed menace on the perimeter and is the key to the Thunder’s top-five defense this season. With him on the floor, OKC stifles opponents more effectively than the Bucks’ No. 1 defense. When he sits, the Thunder’s performance on that end falls outside the top 10. George ranks second in deflections and first in loose balls recovered. Pass or dribble in his vicinity at your own risk. Offensive stars tend to take breaks on D, but not George. He’s a consistent max-effort player, clogging passing lanes and materializing in open space to shut down a drive or snatch a steal. Capable of guarding four positions and just as dangerous as an off-ball helper, he’s been the most consistent, disruptive perimeter defender in the league this year.”
Around the League: Dwyane Wade beat the Warriors with an improbable buzzer-beater…. The Internet melted in the wake of D-Wade’s game winner…. Pause the goodbye tour — Dirk Nowitzki isn’t sold on retirement just yet…. Marvin Bagley III has a sprained knee…. The NBA needs to stop embarrassing the Pelicans…. Inside the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery…. How to counter defenses sagging off a non-shooter.