Preview & Chat: The Oklahoma City Thunder

Kurt —  December 22, 2009

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Records: Lakers 22-4 (1st in West) Thunder 13-13 (9th in West)
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 107.8 (14th in league), Thunder 105.3 (21st in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 98.7 (1st in league) Thunder 104.7 (7th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Thunder: Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Jeff Green, Kevin Durant, Nenad Krstic

The Lakers Coming in: Bill Bridges made a great point in the comments regarding the Kevin Pelton story on the Lakers defense.

What he doesn’t mention is that for the first time in this Lakers stint, Phil has taken over the direct management of the defense. Kurt Rambis was previously the defensive coordinator.

Much as Phil is not given credit for the offense, as the triangle is the product of Tex’s genius, he is given little credit for his defense*. His defensive schemes transformed the Bulls to be the best defensive team in modern history. The last 3 peat Bulls team were the best defensive team over the 3-year stretch.

This team’s defense is less robotic and pre-programmed as last year’s SSZ looked. This team, much like on offense, reads the offense and reacts. Much like the legs of an octopus that extends and contracts, it really does look like there are more than 5 players on defense at times.

If they keep this up, their defensive rating of 98.7 will be the better than any of the Bull’s team’s and the best the league has seen since the 94/95 Knicks who basically mugged the opposition. (Their rating was 98.2)

While we like Kurt Rambis, Phil Jackson is a defensive genius and his touch on this team shows.

*10 titles. Offensive innovator. Defensive genius. Best W/L % in history – by far. And 1 coach of the year.

The Thunder Coming in: Thunder GM Sam Pristi is killing it. The Thunder have one of the best young rosters in the Association and today added rookie point guard Eric Maynor from the Jazz (plus Matt Harpring’s contract, which will save the Jazz a lot of tax money, which means not having to look at trading Boozer for economic reasons). What did the Thunder give up? The rights to a Peter Fehse, a European player drafted in 2002 but who has never set foot on these shores (save for a vacation).

Think about it: The top concern with the Thunder roster is that Russell Westbrook is not really a point guard, that he should be a two. That has been evident in recent Thunder losses. Maynor is a true point guard with a lot of potential — he had a 3-1 assist to turnover ratio in Utah, was playing about 15 minutes a game and playing smart, steady basketball for a rookie. His outside shot needs work, but this is a great fit that gives the Thunder a lot of options.

However, that does not help them tonight, as he will not suit up. As of today, the Thunder are at .500 and sit two games out of the last playoff spot in the West. This will be pretty much how it goes for this young team all season, as it scraps to get one of the bottom playoff spots in the West. It’s part of the growing process for the young team. (Of course, if they were in the East with that record they’d be the 5 seed.)

Tonight is the first of a back-to-back for the Thunder, who get the Suns tomorrow night. They are struggling right now, having lost four of five.

Blog and a request: Check out Daily Thunder.

Also, reader here Albert emailed me saying he is looking for a authentic yellow Kobe #8 jersey. Not signed, just an authentic throwback. Ideas? Put them in the comments or email me.

Keys to game: This is the third meeting this year between the teams, with the Lakers winning the first two. In the first game the Lakers were a turnover machine and that kept the game close and sent it to overtime, where the Lakers won. In the second game the Lakers dominated from the first quarter on and could seem to do no wrong, with Kobe even hitting a H-O-R-S-E shot.

One lesson there is that the Lakers need to take care of the ball — the Thunder create turnovers on 17.1% of opponents possessions, fifth best in the league. They are long and athletic and can jump the passing lanes, then when they get the steal they are hard to stop in transition. But take away those easy baskets from them and they struggle to score.

Ron Artest and his defense have been a thorn in the side of Kevin Durant the last two meetings (although Pau Gasol may get some time on him tonight). The Lakers got Durant in foul trouble early last meeting and that was a key. Durant is 17 of 53 (32%) in his last three games. The stat to know is this: When Durant is held to under 20 points, the Thunder are 0-5.

One other guy to watch, in part because the Thunder are using him more, is James Harden (ASU Shoutout Ty!). With the second unit he gets a lot of looks in the halfcourt sets, coming off screens or in pick and roll situations on the wing. The guy has a well-rounded game and can do a lot, the Lakers need to control him when he enters.

This could be a sandwich game for the Lakers — first game back after a long road trip, with the hype of Christmas day and Cleveland two days away. OKC is too good to just look past, if the Lakers do that they will get burned.

Where you can watch: Fox Sports here in So Cal, NBATV nationally, tip off at 7:30, and don’t forget ESPN 710 radio for those of you in your car (or those who don’t believe that new fangled television fad is going to last).



150 responses to Preview & Chat: The Oklahoma City Thunder

  1. A good, but not-yet-successful young opponent that’s already tested the Lakers this season. Check.

    First game at Staples after a long and successful road trip. Check.

    Big game coming up later in the week vs. Cleveland. Check.

    Fast, athletic guard who can break down the D. (Oh, and one who happens to be making a homecoming after playing for UCLA.) Check.

    Lastly, one of the game’s best young players who should be looking to put on a show in Hollywood. Check.

    There are some big elements suggesting a Lakers letdown tonight. Let’s hope the guys treat this team with the respectful effort that’s due should L.A. want win No. 23.

  2. Kurt, you can also watch the game on NBA TV tonight as the fans have voted it in for ‘fan night’.

  3. To late to get this one for Warren…

  4. (2) funny, I thought about that… Shall we delete our responses?

  5. 3. Oh-oh.

    This should be fun… if only for the jinx…

  6. Really hoping Bynum has a bounce back game tonight and is no longer ill as PJ stated. Drew had two great games vs OKC so here’s hoping that continues with tonights game.

  7. OT-NBA TV fail: they had a live look-in to the Memphis-Golden State game for a few minutes. Unfortunately, while the video feed was from Memphis, the audio feed was of the Knicks-Bulls game from the Garden. They never corrected it, and the studio guys didn’t comment on it. Pretty funny stuff.

  8. I too worry about this game. The Thunder are an extremely talented team capable of putting it together for 1 game (especially against a team like the Lakers which they will “get up” for) .

    Hopefully we will not take them lightly and look to get a lead early. Young teams can get demoralized.

  9. I had to add this. As much as I appreciated Hot Rod filling in for Stu, I’m really glad to have Stu back next to Joel calling the game.

  10. Chris J, I would have preferred if it was the other Chris to have posted 1st… now its up to the basketball Gods for us to win. And no, deletions don’t count.

  11. Jeannie’s awesome. She just referred to Phil as “my common-law.” 😀

  12. Just checked out the “Dunking on Reindeer” by Nike, with the Lebron and Kobe puppets. It was really funny to see Santa rapping and schooling those reindeer on the court. It kinda reminded me of the early 90’s when Puff Daddy was all over MTV.

  13. Very interesting comment from B Bridges.

    No question that as the head man, he deserves much more credit for his attention and emphasis on defense. I had plenty of arguments a couple of years ago with ignorant loudmouths claiming “Phil hates D.”

    I just think it may be much to call Phil a defensive genius. In his first threepeat, he had Johnny Bach as D coordinator and after that I recall the Bulls ran variations of that D (mainly lots of pressing and high ball-pressure from people like Pippen on-ball and Jordan hawking the lanes. The first(!) Laker threepeat was not a top defensive team, though I acknowledge they improved a lot under Phil. The second Laker era has not before this year been elite, and it’s been Artest’s arrival that has allowed the Lakers to play solid man-to-man D.

    One could even argue that Phil has been slow to adjust to the zone since they were allowed in 2001. Last year was the first time they tried the strong-side zone gimmick, which helped them put more emphasis on D, and this year they’ve gone away from zone-ness.

    I don’t know if anyone nowadays really counts as a defensive genius — some people like Skiles or Mike Brown really emphasize it, but genius? The closest would probably be Tom Thibodeau whose zoney/packline type schemes combined with aggressive cheating (systematic grabbing, fouling, etc.) have been game-changers.

    • Apricot, when Phil came to the Lakers the first time in 1999, the Lakers offensive production was nearly identical to the year before (both years in the top 5 in the league). However, the Lakers jumped from 23rd defensively to first, getting better by 6 points per 100 possessions. That is why they won a title. And it was Phil.

  14. dave in hillsboro December 22, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    Ernie’s shoes are breaking my television.

  15. guys, just sharing a streaming link for the game againts Thunder:
    password: indah

    it’s pretty good

  16. Link for those of us who do not have NBA TV (AT&T-holes):

  17. Can one of the bigs make a layup please?

  18. Everybody but Kobe missing gimmes, not good.

  19. For everyone looking for a good link:

  20. so far, TBH is living up to his name. why does Bynum keep jumping on the defensive end?

    Pau is too good to be mop up guy, but he’s doing the job.

  21. If the effort is there, I don’t mind so much our bigs missing contested chippies. Both Drew and Pau have been beasting it down in the block so far. In the second half, the height-challenged OKC bigs won’t be jumping quite as high to contest those chippies, while Drew and Pau will still be tall.

  22. OT: more bad news for Portland, looks like Joel P might be out for some time with a new injury. Just some bad luck lately for that team.

  23. OK, now I’m starting to mind.

  24. Bynum with 5 boards so far fwiw. I’d say at least 3 of those just fell into his hands though. Still, I think people have been way too hard on him.

    Drew trying the Moses Malone move for more boards. Got to get the basket though.

  25. Cannot stop 24

  26. #22, you’re picking the wrong game to harp on Bynum living up to that nickname. He’s got two assists already and didn’t get a third on a sweet pass to Pau that Pau missed a bunny.

  27. Sasha is in the game before Taco time. Hopefully we can tie the game up before the quarter is over.

  28. How many times can Meyers use the word ‘break’ in one quarter?

  29. LO and Sasha killing us right now. Both have such low ball IQs

  30. If we lose this one, it will be on Chris J…j/k.

    OKC’s problem is lack of structure on offense. It seems like they just want to rely on Durant almost all the time. Then with the shot clock winding down, Westbrook tries to create something. If we bottle up those two, we should be fine…

  31. I just spoke with Tommy Lasorda and he said that Sasha couldn’t hit water if he fell out of the boat…

    I agree.

    When you get those wide open corner threes you have to knock them down if you are describing yourself as a shooter…

  32. i really wish we had a reliable 3 point shooter

  33. looks like phil is experimenting with lineups again

  34. Odom has been atrocious so far.

  35. lamar is killing us.

  36. Stu said that he thought that Ron should have dunked on that fast break but I don’t think Ron had the momentum to get up high enough. Also, I was thinking about when Durant doped artest into fouling on a pull up J’ and remembered that Kobe was the first to start doing that in the Modern NBA. I remember back in the dynasty days, my dad and I would watch the games and he would say, “the last time I saw some one create contact like that on a jumper was back when Frazier used to do it exactly the same way (lean in to them in the air).” Now that every other skilled back court player uses the move I forgot to appreciate the pioneer/inovative moves kobe has introduced/ reintroduced to the game.

  37. cant we call lamar the space cadet awful so far

  38. That corner three that Sasha missed wasn’t so wide open. One of those long, athletic OKC defenders flew out of nowhere to contest it. The reason we’re down is all the chippies the bigs have missed. Perhaps a combination of fatigue and athletic defenders.

    Edit: also, OKC’s defenders really get their hands on a lot of passes

  39. let’s hope that we find our switch before it’s too late.

    at least it’s good to know that we have such a switch to turn it on.

  40. please take lamar out…thank god

  41. I like the current lineup: Brown, Artest, Bynum, Gasol and Kobe. As I write this Fisher comes in and knocks down a must needed trey.

  42. Bynum!

  43. never ever ever give the ball to fish on the fastbreak

  44. our most dependable weapon thus far has been Kobe’s falling-outta-Staples-Center-jumpers off the back leg. 🙁

  45. I would much rather have Pau take the layup on a 2-1 fast break than Fish. Not a good decision by Pau to give it up, but the continuation of the play at the other end sure got the crowd going. Block by Drew, missed layup by Fish, block by Drew, block by Pau, block by Ron, defensive rebound by Kobe, bucket by Fish.

  46. i think some layup practice is needed, things could not be gong worse

  47. how many open jumpers have we given up so far?

    how many layups have we missed?

    answer- too many

  48. link anyone?

  49. That’s a few games in a row I’ve noticed Pau with the overly passive aggressive hands in ready position staring hard at Kobe while Kobe is going into his wild gyrations and Pau is wide open for the pass.

  50. Why does NBA TV have to interrupt the game after every freakin’ commercial to go to CWebb and McHale in the studio? So infuriating.

  51. Lo does not equal Kobe

  52. bad shot by Lamar – gotta give that up

  53. 48 Not with you there, he made the best posible call considering the defender did a great job deniying him the path to the rim, if you’re at the wing and you get the path blocked the smart thing to do is give it back to the middle again, it’s not his fault if Fish wasn.t able to score an easy lefty lay up…

    By the way Pau is 0 asst, where he should have at least four if Fish or Bynum should have done their job…

  54. Sad start.

  55. Yeah, we are very lucky to only be down only 7 by the half.

  56. 61 points in the first half???? Guess the team didn’t read the post about them being the best deffense in the league right now…

    The 7 rebounds from Drew are a great thing, but that 0-5, considering the shots he’s missed so far it´s plainly awful…

  57. Hm – yeah, my livestream just up and died – it apparently has the ability to read my mind.

  58. Thanks guys!

  59. #18- Kurt, I agree that the Laker D was greatly improved when Phil first got there. (Didn’t I say that?) In 99-00, the Lakers had the best Defensive Efficiency. The next year they were 21st out of 29 teams. (The next years were 7th and 8th.)

    I think some of that drop can be blamed on Shaq’s general lack of motivation and decline of Grant and Harper (and maybe Kobe injuries). But 21st? I don’t think any other really elite defensive teams had such a big decline (quick checks off the top of my head: Jeff van Gundy teams, Riley’s thuggish Knicks, nor the Bad Boys suffer such a drop).

    We’re talking about a fine distinction between (1) Phil’s being a very good defensive coach who is sadly underrated and gets a lot out of his players defensively, versus (2) being a defensive genius. I completely agree with (1) and think the stuff about Zen and triangles distracts from Phil’s strength at details and diagrams. But to argue (2) it seems to me one needs to argue that Phil’s teams are unusually strong due to defensive scheming, and I am not certain the Lakers teams have a consistent body of defensive work that supports that.

  60. Norm Nixon with the clueless commentary: “Bynum was not active in the first half. He has to learn his place on the court with Pau and Kobe. The team needs to do a better job in getting him the ball where he can score.” Is he watching the same game everyone else is watching? Drew has 4 pts, 7 rebs, 3 blks, and 2 assists in the first half. He’s just missed five contested shots near the rim.

  61. That’s right Drew, dunk it!

  62. Order coming back to the universe.

  63. 3rd quarter haiku –
    Ill-advised Fisher PUJIT
    Bailed out by Bynum

  64. I’m hoping Drew is getting his legs back. The last couple of games seems to me he’s consistently higher when finishing off dunks.

  65. These two teams switched energy to start the half. The Lakers look like they want it.

    Maybe PJ promised he’d take the guys out for pizza and sodas if they won tonight.

  66. Artest, you know you are allowed to jump right? They won’t call a tech.

  67. Short Corner Three by Fisher!

  68. Fisher with the 3 and Lakers lead!!!

  69. I will say this – despite everything else that’s gone wrong, you gotta like our effort on the boards. +4 rebounding advantage for us, and even there we missed a ton of shots in the 1st half, thus giving OKC more rebounding opportunities.

  70. I’m so used to Kobe making FTs that I really get shocked when he misses.

    Pau having as many shot attempts as Artest and Fisher sorta bother me, and what happened to our rebounds? They seem very evenly distributed, and nobody really stands out…

  71. is it me or have we not posted up gasol once tonight, isen’t he being guarded by jeff green?

  72. 77. Finding teams to win sounds much more probable than finding ways to win 😉

    Speaking of finding things, Kobe needs to find his 3 point shot.

  73. does anyone have a non-nba tv feed?

  74. Loved the D on Westbrook’s final drive of the 3rd. Bigs standing up at the edge of the circle, others cutting off the passing lanes… if the Lakers play D like that, they will pull this out, no matter how many chippies they miss.

  75. Kobe will find the range, I’m confident. This game has been very sloppy…But man, that 100-23 W/L stat for the Lakers since acquiring Gasol is pretty incredible.

  76. Absolutely no one moved or cut when Drew held the ball that time and had his head up looking around. Everyone just froze and waited for him to make his move.

    • J. It’s kind of a chicken and egg thing. Guys don’t get rewarded for cutting, so they stop doing it. You don’t see that for Gasol. It’s not an excuse, the Lakers need to move, but I think that is part of it.

  77. Shannons needs to be benched for that pull up 3.. Did you see phils face?

  78. 83, could it be habituation?

  79. ShanWOW in the open floor is a thing of beauty.

  80. One thing I have noticed is Ron is often coming up the court as the last player running to get to his defensive position and he passes the point guard of the other team bringing the ball up who I am pretty sure doesn’t know he’s there and could probably get an easy steal. Ron seems so focused on getting in position though I haven’t seen him even motion towards the player with the ball.

  81. Kobe with the veteran flop!

  82. Durant with 5 now. A little more and OKC might implode for good, granting Tacos.

    Tons of fouls for OKC across the board…

  83. Kurt, I don’t disagree, but wanted to point that out. Too often people only want to see one side of the story.

    If Drew is to gain experience learning how to hit cutters, the team also has to help him out.

  84. Nice 3 Ron

  85. I love ron artest. True professional.

  86. 88, I think I’ve seen the opposite. There’s a lot of times when Artest seems too intent on bothering the dribbler that he’s out of position when running back to cover his man.

  87. Collison trying to guard Kobe out there reminded me of all the times McHale tried to guard Worthy on the same isolation. Same result, too [dunk].

  88. %^&$! Not good. Even my wife noticed right away.

  89. Close call.

  90. Oh man…that knee thing didn’t look good.

  91. Hyperextension of the left knee but I think the Mamba will be ok.

  92. No NO NO—KOBE Please be OK

  93. It’s not broken, he’ll be fine.

  94. holding my breath!…
    Large Exhale!

  95. I am not sure broken would stop him. Torn maybe…

  96. Yes hes up lets go

  97. Anybody else just think about that show flash forward right there? Almost had a heart attack and was going to never watch that show again for saying Kobe would hurt his knee.

  98. We’re inventing ways to have them win the game, but OKC is returning our good will as well.

    X-mas is surely in the air.

  99. wait, so Kobe got elbowed in the face, and the foul’s on him? What?

  100. Funny…Pau with blood but I didn’t see any check.

  101. Am I missing something? Kobe gets elbowed in the face, and he’s the one who gets called for the foul.

  102. Pau blowing on his fingers is why people call him soft.

  103. Reg- the foul call was a crock, but it was for reaching prior to the face-bow.

  104. I’m pretty sure it was rick fox or Kobe swinging an elbow into doug christie’s face against the kings and doug got called for the foul. (maybe its blocking? I dunno)

  105. Kobe reached on the drive and fouled Westbrook before his jaw fouled Westbrook’s elbow. Allegedly.

  106. whow, how is kobe doing? any signs this could be anything worse?

  107. man we’re being too generous

  108. You played well Durant, now drop your F-bomb and take a seat.

  109. Awesome, Durant out!

  110. #113, lol very true. I saw that and I had the exact same thought. Comment of the day.

  111. Kobe with 5 of our 16 TOs.

    3, if you let him negate it with his two steals.

    … and Pau with 6 blocks! He really is finding ways to win games for us. 11 rebounds are nice too.

  112. Vitti probably put some ointment or spray on his finger to stop the bleeding and Pau was trying to get it to harden

  113. Karl Malone would have said that’s what happens when you reach on Karl, Kobe. Cause Karl been known to throw them bows.

  114. we’re not yet out of this folks

  115. Gasol’s not been playing well at all the last few minutes – gotten beat badly a few times, some TO’s and beaten for that last rebound – very uncharacteristic.

  116. #121, or maybe he was blowing his finger for the same reason 95% of human beings do – because it hurts.

  117. kobe with his 102nd?

  118. Kobe hits pressure FT’s
    now–NO Three pointers, Defend the 3

  119. whoo don’t know if this helps set them up for the cleveland game

  120. However ugly, we find teams to win.

  121. Good win and nobody got injured tonight. Fisher made clutch free throws huh?

  122. Elite teams find a way to win when their opponents play out of their minds. OKC is an up and coming team, and Sefolosha and Westbrook normally don’t make such a high percentage of their jump shots.

  123. We caught a break on that second tip-in attempt. Pau definitely fouled Sefolosha. It would only have been two shots, though, so OKC would have needed to make the first FT, miss the second intentionally and get a tip-in on the miss.

  124. The Thunder are a good team. This was an enjoyable win.

  125. One more thing: against a team like OKC, Drew’s presence around the defensive rim is huge. Whenever he was on the bench, OKC drove to the rim relentlessly. Pau did get a bunch of blocks, but he doesn’t have the same intimidation factor as Drew. Pau’s blocks are more of the tap variety as he’s backing up. A lot of Drew’s blocks are of the facial variety, and when he’s bringing it on defense like that, teams don’t take it to the hole as much.

  126. obviously things are going well now but do you think we would be better if we had included bynum in the trade for gasol instead of the rights for marc gasol, m gasol is certainly a great player and it would have been fun to see the brothers play together

  127. When can we get rid of the Magic Johnson rule? i.e. bleeding must be stopped before a player can continue. Fifteen odd years later it just seems ignorant and misguided.

  128. Norm piles on with the clueless analysis. Billy Mac asked him what was the biggest flaw in the Lakers’ game tonight, and he replied that Andrew still hasn’t gotten going. Um, that was not the problem tonight.

  129. Fish with 2nd highest point total for the team…

  130. this should make the lakers awake and kicking by christmas time.

    i really feel bad for portland right now. hope they turn it around even without oden on their team. now the only team perhaps with enough length to challenge us can’t even field a notable center to start.

    which makes the andre miller situation more interesting.

    go lakers!

  131. Last year we were complaining about the Lakers losing games they should have won – so far this year they have been taking care of business even if it was ugly. A tougher test coming up on Christmas.

    One concern is that we have to see more out of the bench. Maybe Luke coming back will help – but right now we seem to have a six man team.

  132. Judging by the right side of what the camera picked up during Derek Fisher’s interview during the post game show…Shannon Brown gives Serena Williams a run for her money in the derriere department…(seriously, I’m traumatized right now…how did the camera guy not realize he was filming a completely naked Shannon Brown off to the left?)

  133. Artest has been a great addition, but I’ve never seen an otherwise physically gifted NBA player who has so little leaping ability.

    He’s got as much lift as a dead hippo in a wheelchair carrying Oprah on its back.

  134. I was half way expecting a loss before tip off. We didn’t play well but I’m still happy with the victory. Oklahoma played out of their minds and we still managed to pull it out. That’s what great teams do.

  135. It was a trap game as Kobe admitted. For some odd reason, the first game after a long road trip always is a bit lackluster.

    This one, really, was poorly played all across the board, and even Pau made some gaffes that he doesn’t usually makes (Kobe is always a mixed bag, and as usual, still ends up a positive for us).

    What made this more ugly was that OKC actually played well – I went to their blogs and they had close to 0 gripes (other than Kristic 😉 ) about their teams’ performance. Officiating, on the other hand… 😉

    Me, I’m awful glad that we escaped with no injury to Kobe. I do think that he’ll be hurting and uncomfortable, but it surely doesn’t look like it’s in any way serious.

    Oh yeah, and the W. Our record is 23-4 now? Pretty darn amazing considering that we didn’t have Pau for the first part of the season. Or maybe it’s the 1-loss record after Pau’s return that’s amazing…

  136. Good game!

    Kobe for MVP despite Zephid and constant bashing of Anon 🙂