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Tag:Thunder
Posted on: October 28, 2010 12:03 pm
Edited on: October 28, 2010 12:28 pm
 

Young, smart and hungry: Westbrook leads Thunder

The Thunder are young, but don't overlook the smart, efficient way they play and how that helped them to a big opening night win over the Bulls on Wednesday.
Posted by Matt Moore


Kids these days. One minute they're struggling to win games against bottom-feeders and the next they're rolling out a huge win in front of a raucous crowd with a combination of stout defense and efficient offense. If there was any question about whether the Oklahoma City Thunder were really grown up; last night they answered that question with finality in their 106-95 win over the Bulls. It wasn't just the win over a tough, gritty, talented Bulls team that even without Carlos Boozer is loaded with talent and expected to contend in the East, it was the way they did it. And that started with Russell Westbrook.

While Kevin Durant led the team with 30 points, as he will nearly every single night, he did it on just 9-of-24 shooting. On the other side of the aisle, the Bulls' leading superstar, Derrick Rose, was even less efficient, launching 31 shots with only 12 makes. That's 39% for a player who was expected to have a much-improved jumper. For Westbrook? Try 28 points on 8-of-15 shooting and 12 of 13 from the stripe. Throw in 10 rebounds, six assists, three steals, and a block (and an acceptable three turnovers considering his usage)? You've got a masterful performance that should put Westbrook in the talks of the elite point guards in the league.

Westbrook wasn't just blinding with his speed, he was patient and deliberate when the situation called for it. It's been this progression since his rookie season two years ago that has brought him to stardom. Well, that and his insane athleticism and uncanny ability to both see the floor and attack opportunities to get his own buckets. It's the complete nature of his game, including his spacing defensively and intensity that makes him so dangerous ... and at such a young age (Westbrook turns 22 next month).

Coach Scott Brooks spoke strongly about Westbrook's performance after the game (as told to CBSSports.com's Royce Young): “I hoped we would start making some shots and we did, but I thought Russell did a great job of leading us, controlling the game, picking his spots and figuring out where they needed the ball. He filled up the stat sheet and that’s what we like about Russell. He’s not a one-dimensional player.”

But of course, Westbrook, forever the second fiddle to Durant, will be looked over. Just as some will continue to look over the Thunder, even as conversely the hype continues to grow and they thrive as one of the most fun teams in the league. Don't believe me? Watch the Thunder in transition. According to Synergy Sports, the Thunder were 10 of 13 in transition last night, getting points 78% of the time. It's a high efficiency opportunity but the Thunder took it to its furthest extent. And they were just as good on the other side of the ball.

While Westbrook and company were harassing Rose into a 12-of-31 shooting night, Oklahoma City poured it on defensively across the Bulls. While an 11-point win doesn't look overwhelming, the Thunder held the Bulls to a 96 efficiency (96 points scored per 100 estimated possessions; need to be above 100 to be "good" in this category) while logging a 107 themselves. The Thunder got to the stripe by forcing the issue (47 free throws to only 22 for the Bulls: thanks home-court advantage!), and held the Bulls to 14% shooting from the perimeter.

Those are numbers. In execution, the Thunder were always attacking and then pulsing back on defense. With the Bulls missing Carlos Boozer, there was no need for the frontcourt depth of OKC to rear its head. Coach Scott Brooks only went to a nine-man rotation, and Serge Ibaka was the only real "big" off the bench. Then again, with Ibaka bringing 8 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocks in 31 minutes, Brooks didn't really need to turn to Cole Aldrich or Byron Mullens (Nick Collison is out with an injury).

For the Bulls, things looked eerily similar to last season. Unable to spread the floor with shooters, Rose was harassed by multiple defenders, Noah a beast but the bench a no-show. Each team shot exactly 45 jumpers, and the Bulls actually had a higher effective field goal percentage (eFG%, weighing 3-point attempts), and were better on the offensive glass. But the Thunder turned transition opportunities into layups and got to the line at will. With the Bulls aiming for long jumpers and a silent 3-point attack, this is the result.

The Thunder are exciting. They've got highlights (like this one , good night, nurse). But they're also very smart, and that starts with Russell Westbrook. They play with emotion but they play with control. And if the Thunder are looking to take the next step in their rise to NBA championship contention, this was a solid first step. Teacher's pets, I suppose.

Posted on: October 21, 2010 1:26 am
Edited on: October 21, 2010 1:29 am
 

NBA Northwest Division preview

The CBSSports.com NBA Facts and Rumors team previews each of the NBA's six divisions. First up: the Southeast.  Posted by Matt Moore.

The Burning Question: Just how big is the Melo question in this division?

Will he be here? Will he be gone? Will Denver retool? Rebuild? Firesale everything but the walls and sell those for scrap? If he is there, will he be a distraction? Will it be business as usual? Are we confident the Nuggets can contend even if he's still in Denver? Are we sure? Are we confused? Angry? Hungry? Who's hungry? 

Last year Denver went 12-4 in this division. The other three cannibalistic playoff teams in this division went 25-23 combined. So Denver's got a lot to say about who wins this division. The problem is, of course, we have no idea what we're going to get when mid-November rolls around and teams have shaken off the early rust or shine and are revealed to be what they actually are.  If Carmelo Anthony is still in Denver at that time, as it appears he very well may be, this team could lead the division, further scuttling Melo's trade prospects. Conversely, if Anthony's gone and Denver's decided to go all Jericho and rebuild their society, then things could get pretty crazy in the rest of the division.

Melo was the biggest star in this division over the past several years, but now that Kevin Durant has eclipsed him as the next great scoring forward, there's more talk than ever about what exactly it is that Melo provides this team. And that question is going to be examined even closer this year as Kenyon Martin is out till January and Chris Anderson till December. The complimentary pieces that were brought in to surround Melo are injured and Chauncey Billups isn't getting any younger. Meanwhile J.R. Smith is still J.R. Smith for better or worse, and this team is always a half second away from going into full-on mental chemistry meltdown. 

The Thunder should be improved, but can they topple a veteran group that knows how to win night in and night out like Denver? Utah's got Al Jefferson, but can they overcome their injury issues to maintain a consistency like Denver has? And if we want to talk about injuries, take Portland's training staff. Please. Ba-dum, ching. No?

If Denver goes down the tubes, there will be a team to fill the void. The only question is if that team will simply be vacating an open spot or legitimately taking the spot Denver had been tagged for a year ago, that of de facto Western challenger to LA. 

What Berger Says: 


CBS Sports Senior Writer Ken Berger previews the Southeast Division.
Everything is in flux with the Melo situation still unresolved. So the spectrum of what could go right for the Nuggets looks like this: A) Clinging to the scant hope that Anthony can be persuaded to stay; or B) Getting the best possible deal for him. There's little reason to have any faith that A can happen. So the Nuggets will continue to explore trade possibilities, which will force them to decide whether it's possible to trade Melo in a deal that saves money and keeps them in contention (no), or saves money and sets them up for the best possible future. Either way, it looks to me like the Nuggets' ascent has ended before they reached their full potential.



And Now, A Non-Sequiter:

Anyone else feel like Kyrylo Fesenko would be the worst roommate in the world? Young, inexperienced, probably always asking questions. He's a jokester, which is fine when you're hanging out but gets old real quick.  Dude probably steals your toothpaste, too. No? Just me? Okay. Just checking. 

VIDEO OF SUPREME PREVIEW SUPREMACY: 
Posted on: September 8, 2010 5:56 pm
Edited on: September 8, 2010 9:50 pm
 

Pop Quiz: Which coach is on the hot seat?

Posted by Matt Moore

Fall is here, hear the yell, back to school, ring the bell ... The NBA season is right around the corner, and NBA training camp starts in just a few short weeks. To get you ready for the NBA season, we've put together 25 pop quizzes. Pencils ready? We continue our Pop Quizzes with this question...

Which coach has the hottest seat going into the season?


Scott Brooks.

No kidding, you have to put Scott Brooks on this list. Even though he's been instrumental in taking a team with nothing but young players and turning them into a playoff team that looks every bit ready to challenge for a Western Conference title, Brooks has to be on this list. Why? Because he was so good last year he won the career death sentence: the Coach of the Year award. Let's take a look at the previous winners, shall we?

Mike Brown: canned.

Byron Scott: deleted.

Sam Mitchell: terminated.

Avery Johnson: gonezo.

Yeesh. Watch your back, Scottie.

Okay, besides the superstition, who's actually in danger of losing their gig this year? Here are four candidates.

Jay Triano: It's been stunning how Triano has managed to avoid harsh criticism for his squad's performance which helped lead to Chris Bosh's departure without so much as a consideration for staying in Toronto. Brian Colangelo takes all the blame for constructing a spineless defensive team with too many inconsistencies offensively, despite acquiring Amir Johnson and Reggie Evans and being willing to spend for Hedo Turkoglu (who despite all his problems, was a legit quality free agent last summer). Yet Triano's team wound up with the worst defensive marks in the league, falling out of the playoffs down the stretch, and he walked away largely unscathed. Now the Raptors are suffering with a significant lack of talent, and often, guys who underperformed with talent end up getting removed when they actually have good reasons for underperforming... much like Triano faces this season.

John Kuester: The offensive wiz of a team now considered to be one of the greater disappointments of the last decade had a rough opening season. Injuries and subpar play from their big free agents (which most people saw coming outside of the Pistons, though not to the degree) played a part, but this is a cold hearted business that very rarely provides reasonable responses to legitimate causes for losing. If Kuester can't get the Pistons turned around with that payroll, his reputation may not spare him from the axe of Joe Dumars.

Flip Saunders: If anyone in the entire league has an excuse for struggling through two seasons, it's got to be Saunders. Saunders was at the helm for one of the most disastrous seasons in league history last year, and had to preside over the meltdown, grin, and bear it as all his talent was shipped out in a rebuilding plan. John Wall was a Godsend, but Saunders has to deal with re-integrating Gilbert Arenas, containing the combustible Andray Blatche, and trying to move the franchise forward with John Wall. Throw in new majority ownership from Ted Leonsis, and Saunders may have too much stacked against him to survive a poor start, fair or not.

Jim O'Brien: Larry Bird has committed to O'Brien, has stayed by his side, and recently gave him a vote of confidence. But he's in the last year of his deal, which makes letting him go much easier to swallow. On top of that, the questions about talent are no longer going to valid this year. The Pacers now feature a legit center in Roy Hibbert, a legit star forward in Danny Granger, and a star point guard in Darren Collison. If O'Brien can't make this team work in a thin Eastern Conference, with at least some improvement, Bird may run out of patience for him.


Posted on: August 5, 2010 7:53 am
Edited on: August 5, 2010 10:54 am
 

Shootaround 8.5.10: Candy kids

Posted by Matt Moore

The Pacers continue to search for a point guard option . There comes a point where you just have to recognize you can't go forward without a positional upgrade and you have to commit the resources necessary to acquire one. The Pacers have hit that point, but now there aren't really many options. However, if Lance Stephenson can just show a baseline of point play like he did in Summer League, he could be an option. I never would have thought that a reasonable match, but Stephenson looked like a better combo point than several attempted hybrids have.

Consider this. With Shaq signing not only with Boston, but in Boston for a two-year deal , the odds are high that his last NBA game will be as a Celtic. Try and wrap your brain around that.

Almost everyone agrees that Mark Cuban, for all his antics, is a great owner. But after Cuban lost the bid for the Texas Rangers last night, one reporter thinks his heart wasn't in it to begin with, and has some harsh words . It's hard to imagine Cuban doing the bidding of anyone, and the fact is that Cuban has been one of the best stories in sports ownership over the past decade. Committed not only to winning, but not throwing out money to ridiculous personnel like New York.

The Suns signed Matt Janning who looked good in Vegas Summer League . This brings their total number of goofy looking white point guards to three.

Lamar Odom and Khloe Kardashian want to have children . Tremble for your world, ye children of men.

Bulls blog Bulls by the Horns points out that Joakim Noah has improved his jumper . That's a fairly siginificant step for a player just to become decent and another sign that Noah is still even better than we think he is, and at this point we think he's pretty good.

In a lot of ways, Ben Wallace is the anti-Shaq. Doesn't say much. Does his job. Re-signs with the team that he's loyal to . You know, those kind of things.

Shannon Brown thinks playing time, more money, and a system that fits his skills are all fairly useless things . Why be a prince in an upcoming neighborhood with tons of potential when you can be a lapdog in Bevery Hills? Wanting to stay where you had success is nice, as is the loyalty factor, if that really is part of it. But Brown is poorly suited for the triangle and has more value elsewhere than he does in LA, walking the ball up as a third stringer and sitting in a corner waiting for a three. He's a slasher, a driver, a creator. But hey, his career. And the rings are always nice.

Bill Walton is working with Roy Hibbert, which can only lead to good things . My question? Where's Rik Smits?!

Sharks + Thunder= Thundersharks .

Posted on: August 3, 2010 11:30 pm
Edited on: August 3, 2010 11:31 pm
 

NBA's 2011 MLK day is stellar as usual

Posted by Matt Moore

Along with the Christmas and opening day schedules released tonight by the NBA, the MLK Jr. Day schedule was also revealed. And just as in years past, the slate's pretty solid. If only we had a trusty NBA blog to run down the games that day.

Wait, we do have a blog like that! It's this one!

Okay, I'll stop. Here's the rundown.

1PM EST, Bulls at Grizzlies:

The Grizzlies had a huge win last year on MLK day over the Suns, a team much better than them in 2009-2010. And they'll find themselves in a similar situation this year. Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, and Ronnie Brewer make the Bulls a much better team than they were last year on paper. The Grizzlies, meanwhile, have only added a shooting guard they can't come to terms with despite the existence of a rookie pay scale. So they've got that going for them.

But still, this should be a good matchup, if the Grizzlies aren't on a back-to-back. Marc Gasol and Joakim Noah are very different but nearly equal players in terms of production and skill. Zach Randolph is the flip side of Carlos Boozer. More consistent, less injury prone, and continuosly hammered for his locker room cancerous behavior. Not that Boozer is a saint, he's just somehow been excused regularly despite his contract situation being a distraction for Utah the last two years. But their production is similar so that's nearly a wash as well. Rudy Gay is a better but younger version of Luol Deng, and O.J. Mayo's scoring punch and perimeter defensive speed counters Kyle Korver/Ronnie Brewer's specific but limited skill-sets. Unfortunately, that Derrick Rose guy exists. Advantage: Bulls.

Let's not even talk about the bench diffferential, which is considerable. Like I said, back-to-back for the Grizz would be a bad, bad thing here.

4PM EST, Kings at Hawks:

The Hawks got ran last MLK by an up and coming Western Conference team in the Thunder. So naturally the league scheduled them against a similar, and only slightly worse in the Kings. Joe Johnson versus Tyreke Evans should make for a good theater, and Al Horford versus DeMarcus Cousins could be one of the most bizarre conflicts of style and personality among players under 25 all season. And hey, what says Martin Luther King Jr. Day more than Omri Casspi and Zaza Pachulia?

8EST, Magic at Celtics:

You don't really expect me to provide you with a preview for the estimated 22nd meeting of these two teams in three years, do you? Because if you do, you expect way too much out of me.

Oh, hey, something-something, Shaquille O'Neal versus Dwight Howard. Boom.

10:30PM EST, Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Lakers:

This is likely going to be a back-to-back for the Thunder. That's generally how these things work. But in what could well end up being an MVP season for Kevin Durant, it still should be incredibly fun. As we saw in the playoffs, these two teams are extremely well matched, and even with the Lakers' upgrades off the bench, OKC's continued development should make for a strong foil to their heavily favored position.

Plus, Cole Aldrich versus Pau Gasol could be high comedy.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com