6 min read

Tuesday Bolts: 4.9.19

Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) previews tonight’s game against the Rockets: “Against a Houston team that ranks first in the NBA in 3-pointers attempted and made, along with fifth in steals and second in 3-point defense, including fourth in 3-point attempts allowed, the Thunder aims to get off to a strong start. While Donovan’s club did complete an incredible comeback down in Houston back in February, it can’t rely on those type of late game heroics again. Since the All-Star Break, slow starts have been an issue for the Thunder, shooting just 43.8 percent while giving up 51.7 percent shooting, including 42.3 percent from the 3-point line for a whopping 31 points per quarter. During the its current three-game winning streak, however, those numbers have dipped a bit, and the offense has returned to form, shooting 51.2 percent from the field and 40.7 percent from behind the arc while forcing five turnovers per first quarter. Having the right approach right out of the gates can make a substantial difference in the final outcome. Leaders like Russell Westbrook and Paul George take on the onus of responsibility. “My job is to make sure everybody is rolling,” Westbrook said. “Regardless of what’s going on, make sure all my guys have confidence to get the shots that they want.”

Armin Khansari (Dream Shake) previews the game from the other side: “This game is huge for both teams. A Houston win gives the Rockets a guaranteed top 3 seed and puts pressure on Denver to win out to avoid Houston leapfrogging them. The Thunder need the win to try to get to the fifth spot. It’s an odd choice here for OKC, as a win means they might get Houston in a 4-5 matchup (which they will believe they can win, since they will have just recently beat Houston to complete a 3-1 season series win), or if they lose they could end up at 6 or 7 and get the Rockets that way. Oklahoma City has struggled since the All-Star break (10-13), mostly due to injuries to Paul George and an inconsistent defense. However, the Thunder have won three straight and are coming in feeling much better about themselves than they did last week. For whatever reason, this is the team in the 5-8 group that gives Houston the most trouble and that means the Rockets would probably see anyone from the Jazz-Clippers-Spurs trio rather than OKC. The Thunder are going for the game for sure. They know that with a win they could lock in the Blazers in the first round, a team that OKC swept this season. A win would give OKC a realistic shot at a 4-5 or 3-6 matchup against a Portland team that won’t have the interior defensive presence to handle Russell Westbrook forays into the paint. Oh, and Russ is going to pissed tonight because like 8 NBA players said that he’s overrated in a poll conducted by The Athletic.”

Cody Taylor (Thunder Wire) on Russell Westbrook winning Western Conference Player of the Week: “Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook has been named the Western Conference Player of the Week, the NBA announced Monday afternoon. In three games, Westbrook averaged 22 points, 17 assists and 12.7 rebounds to lead the Thunder to a 3-0 record with wins over the Los Angeles Lakers, Detroit Pistons and Minnesota Timberwolves. Of course, Westbrook recorded the second 20-20-20 game in NBA history last week, in a win against the Lakers with at least 20 apiece in points, rebounds and assists. Specifically, Westbrook recorded 20 points, 20 rebounds and 21 assists.”

ESPN has Golden State as OKC’s most likely first round opponent: “What’s at stake for the NBA playoff race and draft lottery during the final two days of the NBA regular season? Three teams are competing for the final playoff spot in the East, and it should go down to the wire. Only one playoff matchup is set in either conference, with plenty of movement still possible throughout the West. The tank race has heated up, especially with traded and protected picks still very much up in the air. Here are the games to follow, what they mean and how ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI) projects everything to shake out.”

Khadrice Rollins (SI) on the best and worst case playoff scenario for the Thunder: “Best Case: After getting a favorable first-round encounter against the Blazers, who the Thunder swept in the regular season, they luck into a meeting with the Spurs or Nuggets and advance to the conference finals. There, Russell Westbrook uses every bit of juice in his turbo bar to do the impossible and finish off Golden State to win a defacto championship by beating Kevin Durant. At that point, the Finals is a toss-up and the people of Oklahoma City barely even care cause they can say the were the team from the West that ended the dynasty.Worst Case: The Thunder fall to the seven or eight and then get swept by the Nuggets, who swept the regular-season series, or the Warriors, as Kevin Durant closes out the series in Oklahoma City. “

Maddie Lee (Oklahoman) on the Thunder using potential assists to measure ball movement: “As an offense that relies on fast breaks, the Thunder’s style naturally cuts down on the number of passes in a possession. Of course, pace and passes aren’t perfectly correlated. The Hawks average over a possession per 48 minutes more than the Thunder, and they make 35 more passes per game. OKC could increase its passes per game without hurting its pace. But more passes doesn’t necessarily mean more good shots. That, for Donovan, is where potential assists come in. For a team whose field goal percentage dipped below 40 percent against Dallas a week ago and surpassed 50 percent at Minnesota on Sunday, potential assists remove the Thunder’s inconsistent shooting from the equation. With 23.3 assists per game, OKC sits in the bottom 10, but when it comes to potential assists, the Thunder (44.7) moves up to No. 18. That isn’t, however, how the Thunder analytics department breaks it down for the team. “It’s not necessarily us comparing to the rest of the league,” Donovan said, “it’s more gauging us over (the season). You can look at what’s a high percentage, what’s a low percentage, what’s a middle percentage, and we can kind of gauge how good we’re trying to move the basketball. “

Zach Harper (Athletic) has the Thunder 11th in his latest power rankings: “We still have no idea what to expect from this team. In the first half of the season, this was the best defensive team in the NBA. Paul George was trying to kick down the door to his first MVP award. Russell Westbrook wasn’t shooting well, but he was deferring perfectly to let PG13 shine. The bench was giving them really good production with Dennis Schroder as their answer at backup point guard. Things were going swimmingly and at times, maybe hints of giving Golden State a little trouble in the playoffs seemed possible. Then the second half of the season came and all of this seemed to go out the window. George fell off a cliff, likely due to a shoulder injury. Or maybe it was just the typical second half swoon for him. The defense didn’t just stop being elite. It’s pretty much just average at best over the last couple months. The Thunder aren’t deadly enough offensively to make up for it on a nightly basis, and they just have to hope their opponent makes more mistakes than they do. The Thunder continue to be a conundrum.”

Jonathan Tjarks (Ringer) picks Patrick Patterson as this season’s “most washed” NBA player: “Everyone in the media thought the Thunder were getting a huge bargain when they signed Patterson, one of the linchpins of the Raptors’ bench, to a three-year, $16 million contract in the summer of 2017. It turns out that the league knew something we didn’t. Patterson can’t play anymore, and he’s part of a limited bench that has hamstrung OKC all season.”

Lesley McCaslin (Fox Sports) says goodbye to OKC: “So, here’s the hard part, it’s time for me to say goodbye. Sometimes you just know that you are ready for a change, and that’s the basis for my decision. I have enjoyed every minute of my time in Oklahoma City, but over the past few months, I feel like God is calling me to do something different – to take on a new challenge – and be closer to home and my growing family. Dr. Suess wrote “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” As I count down the days until my final broadcast on the court with the OKC Thunder, I will do both. I’m incredibly sad that it’s over – these were some of the best years of my life! However, I will always be happy when I think of this great journey and the things I got to experience along the way. I like to think that I’m a better person because of my experience in the NBA.”

Around the League: Thank you, D-Wade…. Kyle Korver takes on white privilege in a piece for the Players Tribune…. Mike D’Antonio was hospitalized with a virus…. Why the NBA is no longer buying what LeBron is selling…. NBA players react to Virginia’s national championship win…. How retired players are escaping post-career financial troubles…. The Minnesota Direwolves are a thing.