Preview & Chat: The Oklahoma City Thunder

Kurt —  February 10, 2009

NBA: NOV 07 Thunder at Jazz

Records: Lakers 41-9 (1st in the West) Thunder 13-38 (14th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.5 (1st in league) Thunder 103.4 (27th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.5 (7th in league) Thunder 109.4 (21st in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Thunder Russell Westbrook, Kyle Weaver, Kevin Durant, Nick Collison, Jeff Green

Saving Adam Morrison: While the trade of Clipper killer Vladimir Radmanovic (did you see the game last night?) for Adam Morrison and Shannon Brown was primarily a salary cap move, it also has some possibilities for the Lakers. I haven’t seen much of Morrison this year, so I asked Anthony Macri (coach at IMG in Florida and writer for Basketball Prospectus) for his thoughts on Morrison.

1.) Morrison can make shots. He did not magically forget how to do so in between college and the NBA. I think so much of an individual’s success in the NBA depends very heavily on fit that it is pretty impossible to write a player off after one stop and a few bad years.

2.) The Triangle could be a great fit for Morrison. We will have to see if he “gets it”–if he understands how to operate in that offense. If he does, he could make an impact quickly just by making shots. Because the Triangle is at its best when the ball is shared via the pass and not pounded into the ground, Morrison will not be asked to dribble, but rather to pass, cut, and flash. He can operate out of the high post and from the key spot (the wing).

3.) I’m not sure he has to do much of anything, anyway. This is not the move to put the Lakers over the hump, it is insurance and roster-related (read salary move). It may turn out to be a pleasant surprise for Los Angeles, but if not, there is no real loss for the Lakers.

If there is one guy Adam Morrison should be excited about playing for, it is Phil Jackson. Not this year, because this year he’s going to wear a suit a lot and try to chat up the Laker Girls. But he is the kind of guy Jackson and his system can really help find a niche. Through it all, everyone still thinks Morrison could be a good NBA shooter. What he needs is confidence, the confidence that comes with success in the game. Jackson (and this is what Radmanovic never grasped) asks role players to fit in very tightly-defined roles for the team — but within that role is where you can succeed. The Lakers don’t want Sasha Vujacic as a playmaking PG — that’s not what he does well. But as an energy defender and guy who can spot up the three, he is good. So stick to those things your good at. That is how the Lakers got decent production out of Smush Parker and Kwame Brown — tightly defined roles. Jackson will eventually ask Morrison to do just what he is good at, but that may be something useful.

Quick thoughts: Thoughts on a few things today:

• This got brought up in the comments by Mark Sigal and I mentioned it as key at that other gig — Maybe the most impressive part of the road trip was the start of the Fourth Quarter against Cleveland. The Lakers had battled back in the third quarter and were up five to start the fourth. Phil Jackson did what he does every game and played four bench players with Pau Gasol. The Cavaliers, in a little bit of a panic, played LeBron James, Mo Williams and their best lineup. It didn’t matter, the Lakers pulled away — stretching the lead to 10 and holding it there until halfway through the quarter when the starters returned. The Lakers bench was better than the Cavaliers starters, because they had a plan and stuck with their system even under pressure. Last season’s Lakers did not always do that.

• Derek Fisher has a new Web site up that is worth checking out.

• About Jamie being eliminated from Top Chef, it took me a few days to get over it, but she screwed up and had it coming. Forced out of her comfort zone, she floundered. What can be frustrating about that show is to watch someone like Leah coast through. She is not going to win, better chefs than her have been eliminated, but because she plays it safe she never gets in too much trouble. She doesn’t win, she just tries not to lose. Jamie had a chance to win it, now it’s just Stephan. Really, if he doesn’t win it that will be a miscarriage of justice.

• My latest idea for improving FB&G: Bacon!

The Thunder Coming In: Oklahoma City has actually been playing pretty well of late, having gone 5-5 in their last 10 games. What’s more, if you watch them, this is no fluke. This is a team that is young, but in a couple of years (with some smart drafts) could be very good.

Leading the way is Kevin Durant, who has been playing All Star level basketball. Let’s let the Daily Thunder take it from there

In December, Durant mounted an impressive stat line: 25.1 points and 7.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 6.5 free throw attempts per game while shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 41.9 percent from behind the arc. Then in January, he showed it was no fluke, notching 27.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 8.7 free throw attempts per game while shooting 49.4 percent from the floor and 39.6 percent from deep.

The Thunder also have been getting solid play the last 10 games from Jeff Green, who is shooting 56.4% eFG% and 47% from three in that span. Also, Russell Westbrook is showing why some of us fell in love with his game at UCLA. How about some David Thorpe on Westbrook:

As I’ve written before, one of the things I love about Westbrook is his willingness to get things done in the paint, usually crashing for offensive rebounds and finishing in transition. But now he’s more comfortable getting inside in other ways.

He’s been using his explosive crossover or hesitation dribble move to get in the paint, where he lowers his hips and drives right through defenders. And sometimes he uses his length and strength to back guys down in the post. In other words, he’s become a nightmare matchup — he’s too quick for shooting guards to stay in front of when he’s matched up with them, and he’s too powerful for point guards to stop.

He’s averaged 18.8 ppg in his last five games, with 5.4 boards and 4.4 assists. He’s No. 5 in PER for all rookies, and No. 1 for guards and for rookies playing 30-plus minutes a game. Imagine what he’ll be like when he improves his outside shooting.

Keys To The Game: It sounds like a broken record, but here goes — they key to this game is in the paint, and the Lakers should pound the ball there. Nobody on the Thunder can stop Gasol or Odom on the block, the Lakers need to establish that and other things will open up. Also, to counter their size issues, the Thunder are willing to front the post — the Lakers have struggled with this when they don’t rotate the ball quickly. If there is fronting the ball has to be reversed to the weak side, and things will open up.

It’s an interesting case because while the Thunder are smaller along the front line (6-9 is the tallest the starters go) they are a good team on the boards, at both ends. They scrap. Giving up offensive boards is one of he flaws for the Lakers (they are tied for 17th in the league). The Lakers need to be focused, particularly on the defensive glass, not to give up the easy second chance points.

Easy baskets are the way the Thunder can hang in this, which brings us to transition defense. The Thunder do not play at a fast pace but Westbrook and Watson are good in transition, and Durant can close in the open court. The Lakers simply have to get back and take this away.

If the Lakers can take away transition, what they will find is a young team that wants to “out athlete” you in the half court, sort of 90s isolation basketball not a lot of consistent team play. Force them to execute in the half court, play good help defense and you can stymie this team.

However, the Lakers, particularly the bench, should be able to get points in transition and run on the Thunder.

Personally, I want to see the Lakers crush this team because I’m not over the Seattle thing yet.

Where you can watch: Back home, it’s a 7:30 start out West on Fox Sports and online at your favorite locations.