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What does the Oklahoma Thunder have to do to win a Championship? (1 comment)

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NBA News

NBA BasketBall Betting, the Top Teams and their Prospects for 2013, 2014 Season posted by NBA News

In the 2012, 2013 prediction of the NBA game seven, Miami Heat were the favorites to win according to basketball sports betting sites. They went ahead to win against the spurs. Miami Heat were defending their title for the second time. Spurs were not the favorites but they had raised hope in many people that they had a chance to take the title. Most odd makers had put odds in the fact that the game will be close. This prediction also came to be true with the final 95, 88 score. There are those that are looking for Miami Heat’s prospect for the 2013-2014 season.

Defending the Title

Miami Heat are favorites to win again in early predictions for this season. The Lebron James magic is expected to play out again as he leads his time to another victory and defend their title. Some predict that Lebron may retain his Most Valuable Player of the year title this coming season. He has consistently shown his skills in shooting, defending and attacking.

On the other hand it may be too early to judge. What are the real prospects of defending the title? Defending the title for the third time will not be that easy. There is talk of Dwayne Wade’s knee injury. Whether he will be part of the action next season and whether Lebron can do without him, is another important factor that will determine the prospects for the team this coming season.

Westbrook’s Return to Oklahoma City

Another team to watch is Oklahama City Thunder. Some odds place it second for the title after Miami Heat. Their prospects are also good. The team up of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is going to be interesting to watch this season. The two are expected to help lead the team towards the title. However Russell has been on crutches and is widely expected to recover in time but how well he recovers and the level of his game remains to be seen.

Continue reading "NBA BasketBall Betting, the Top Teams ..."


Randolph Charlotin

Refreshed Bench posted by Randolph Charlotin

Focus on the last names:

 

Jeff GREEN.

 

Troy MURPHY.

 

They were meant to be Celtics.

 

If Danny Ainge stopped his trade deadline dealings at the two-for-two swap that sent C Kendrick Perkins and G Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City for Green and Nenad Kristic, then fan dread over Boston’s chances in the playoffs would be understandable.

 

But Trader Dan was far from done. Often with Ainge, he makes a deal with complementary moves in mind. The two trades that followed Perkins’ departure cleared room for productive veteran players on the bench and improved versatility.

 

Celtic fans have a tough time accepting change from a winning formula. Perkins was the anchor in the middle of the defense, an intimidator that protected the paint from intruders. The Celtics hung their hat on being a physical defense-first team and was the cornerstone.

 

Health permitting, Boston could had claimed their NBA-record 18th championship. But health hasn’t been on the Celtics’ side this season. Already down are the two O’Neals (Jermaine and Shaquille) and G/F Marquis Daniels. Ainge decided not to wait and hope for modern medicine.

 Upon arrival Kristic was in the starting lineup and Green came off the bench. Regardless of their performance (they helped the Celtics win against the Los Angeles Clippers), they were available to play, which is something Perkins and Daniels can’t do right now. Perkins is expected to miss his first two to three weeks while Daniels might not play another game this season.

Continue reading "Refreshed Bench"


john howard

Thunder Go Green on Pistons posted by john howard

With 7 seconds left who would you go to?  Kevin Durant no doubt.  If not, the blazing quick Westbrook.  Last night, the Pistons took both those options away, leaving Jeff Green one on one with Maxiell.  Green layed it up.  Oklahoma City took a one point lead with 2.5 seconds left.  What was more impressive is what Westbrook did next.  No one talked about it.  There was no post game interview, but Westbrook did something that every high school coach dreams of.  He turned his the dribbler not once, but twice in 2.5 seconds.  Ben Gordon got the ball on the in bounds and Westbrook forced him to change directions twice.   Every time you turn your defender, the defense has many advantages.  One, you can double team with his back turned. Two, as in this case, they don't make much progress up the floor.  And, three, it eats up clock.  He may be the best defensive point guard in the league.

Oklahoma City shot a terrible 38% from the floor and only hit 2 three pointers.  They made for it with 14 steals and 44 free throw attempts.  Durant ended up with 30 points and 13 trips to the line.  Westbrook had 17 points and 10 free throw tries.  The shooting must improve and someone has to hit 3's.  They acquired sharp shooter Dequan Cook who has yet to hit a 3.   Cook and Harden where a combined 0 for 7.  Both can shoot, so they will change.  But, Cook's defense is going to have to improve to earn a spot in the rotation.  He gave up an easy bucket at the end of the 3rd quarter.  Cook's has gotten close to 15 minutes each game and they may fall if he doesn't start hitting shots.

Continue reading "Thunder Go Green on Pistons"


john howard

Oklahoma City Thunder run with the Bulls posted by john howard

The Thunder open the season with a victory over the Chicago Bulls.  The defensive pressure led by Thabo Sefaloosha was too much for the Derrick Rose and the Bulls.  He had 4 blocks and 2 steals.

Russell Westbrook is on the fast track to becoming a premier player in this league.  He got to the free throw line 13 times, had 10 rebounds, 28 points, and only 3 turn overs.   Talk about production at the point, Eric Maynor came off the bench and added ten points with perfect shooting.  38 points from the pg and only 3 turnovers is incredibl.e

 Kevin Durant landed on his tailbone in the 3rd qtr but appeared to be ok when he returned.  He didn't shoot it great, but led all scorers with 30 points and added 7 rebounds.

Jeff Green, as usual, did a little bit of everything and was the Thunder's 3rd scorer over twenty with 21.  Serge Ibaka had 8 points and 9 rebounds. 

The only dissappointment of the night was newcomer Dequan Cook who went 0 for 4 beyond the arc.  If he is going to stick with the team and earn a spot in the rotation, he must stick shots.

This team got off to a very good start.  Go Thunder!!!

Continue reading "Oklahoma City Thunder run with the Bulls"


john howard

Summer League Scare for Thunder. posted by john howard

New comer Cole Aldrich did not play in OKC's first summer league game of the year.  in fact, the Thunder did not start a single rookie. 

James Harden did not make a single 3pt shot, but attempted 18 free throws and had 19 points for the Thunder. 2nd year player Eric Maynor had 5 assists and 15 poinsts.   DJ White continues to show he can score with 13pts on 29 minutes and 6 rebounds.  He may be needed this year if Serge Ibaka's injury is significant.  He went down with a knee injury but walked off the floor.  There is no word yet on what his condition is. 

The star of the night was Byron Mullins who had 24 points and 7 rebounds with 2 blocks.  He played a lot in the developmental league and saw limited time with OKC last year.  He is a good pick and pop player that can allow Durant and Westbrook to exploit one on one matchups.  Should he continue to develop, he could allow the Thunder to let Krstic go and simply replace him with Mullins.  I think that is the plan for now. 

Continue reading "Summer League Scare for Thunder."


john howard

The Thunder keep getting better. posted by john howard

Two of the biggest needs for the Thunder are inside presence and outside shooting.  They got the shooter by trading the 32nd pick to Miami for sharp shooter D. Cook and the 18th overall pick.  Wow!  The move helps Miami trim the cap space they are fighting while acquiring a very high second round pick to go along with the other 3 second rounders they already have.  Second round picks are not guaranteed like first round ones are. So, Miami doesn't have to keep the guys they draft. 

As for the Thunder, Cook will help spread the floor and give them more punch off the bench.  He is only $2.2 against the cap. So, he is a very inexpensive shooter that helps fill a need.  But more impressive in this deal is the 18th pick to go along with the 21st and 26th.  With 3 picks, the Thunder could trade up and try and take a good big man.  But, I don't know who will trade down.   Rumors have it that Indiana wants a point guard, but not at the ten.  Epke Udoh from Baylor may be available at the ten. 

They may simply draft and then deal one or two of the players for future picks.  They should get somebody that will help with the 3 picks.  Nick Collison is in final year of contract and BJ Mullins doesn't look like the answer.  DJ White has had moments and I think he can score inside.  But, there is one thing that makes all players better: competition.  Bring in people to challenge White and Mullins for a spot not only in rotation, but on the team, and you will get better.

From the mocks I've seen, Daniel Orton's name has been popping up at both the 18th and 21st.   James Anderson may possibly fall to 18th and Damion James could be available at 18th.   Both could give a slasher, playmaker type to sub in for Durant and play with the second unit.    Then, they have the 26th pick to gamble on a foreign player.  Like they did with Serge Ibaka.  He didn't come to play untila full year after he was drafted. 

Continue reading "The Thunder keep getting better."


john howard

NBA draft, Who Drafts the Best? posted by john howard

There are three ways an NBA team can improve:  1) Draft  2) Trades  3)  Free Agency.

 I've taken a look at how well teams have drafted since 2003.  I used the number of rebounds, points, assist, steals, and blocks to help me rank the teams on their ability to draft.  If a player was acquired via a trade, he counts towards the team that received him in the trade.  Also, the statistics that count are only the ones that the player acquired while with the team that drafted him.  So, if a player was traded and then became a good player, that team lost out.  Let's see the results.

The first list is the most simple.  It is how teams rank by just counting all the points, rebounds, steals, blocks and assists:

1)  Chicago

2)  Portland

3)  Oklahoma City

4)  Atlanta

5)  New Orleans

6)  Toronto

7)  Boston

8)  Orlando

9)  New York

10) Miami

11)  Cleveland

12) Sacramento

13) Charlotte

14) Philadelphia

15)  Denver

16)  Memphis

17) LA Clippers

18) Utah

19)  Washington

20) Indiana

21)  Golden State

22) Minnesota

23)  La Lakers

24) Milwaukee

25)  New Jersey

26) Detroit

27) Phoenix

28) Houston

29) Dallas

30) San Antonio

This is a pretty good look at how well teams have been drafting.  Portland is really high on the list, but has 15 picks since 2003.  Oklahoma City had 12, while NY and Memphis each had 10.  On the flip side, other teams had less than one per year.  So, stockpiling picks has a positive effect. 

Continue reading "NBA draft, Who Drafts the Best?"


Joe Franciosa, Jr.

Congratulations OKC !!! posted by Joe Franciosa, Jr.

I just wanted to congratulate Oklahoma City Thunder fans. Now you too know the joy of a "Beat L.A." chant that comes to fruition.

To be clear, I don't believe OKC has any hope of winning their seven game series. However, every game the Lakers lose is another they have to play to advance, and with their players advancing ages, one can hope that the Thunder's tenacity is taking its toll on the Laker team. So, while the celebrations are likely to be short-lived, I'll congratulate OKC and their fans one last time. "Beat L.A."!!!

Continue reading "Congratulations OKC !!!"


Johnny Matheis

Spot plays 04/03/2010 posted by Johnny Matheis

Before getting to the big races, most people like to wager on the races leading up to them. Here are some nice spot plays for 04/03/2010:

For each race, there will be a projected order of finish, listing, in order:

PROGRAM NUMBER-NAME OF RUNNER-PROBABLE ODDS-COMMENTS:

Then good bets, exactas, 50 cent trifectas and 10 cent superfectas will be listed:

2nd RACE GULFSTREAM 1 MILE Maiden claiming:

6 RUTH WONDERS 7-2 -Looks to be a sure thing, but anything is possible with young runners 

9 INTERCOM 8-1 Consistent, not likely to win, but hard to keep off board here

7 COUNTRY GREEN 20-1 Addition of Lasix may be all that's needed to hit board here

12 DANCE OF THE TIGER 4-1 Big class drop makes it a "must use" in exotics

2 I CAN SEE A GENIUS 20-1 Ran poorly as a 2 year old in September, has time to grow, and good jockey change

13 KINDA KINDA (Also eligible, not likely to get in)

11 CONSOLACION SUR 20-1 -passes some in stretch, but hitting the board still a challenge

1 KILLARNEY MIST 5-2-We've seen her best, and it isn't impressive

10 JEANNIE S 20-1 -a bit of a class drop may help here

3 LYNN'S PRINCESS 20-1 -already has 22 lifetime starts in April of 3 year old year.

5 DOINITWITHSTYLE 20-1 Fades

4 SHAHADAROBA 20-1-Also fades in stretch

8 SEXY THUNDER 20-1 -just nothing to like

BEST BETS: WPS on 6, Show on 6,11,12: Trifecta Box 6,7,9,12: Superfectas Wheel 6 with 9,12 with 1,2,7,9,11,12 with All, Wheel 9,12 with 6 with 1,2,7,9,11,12 with 1,2,7,9,11,12, Wheel 6,9,12 with 6,9,12 with 1,2,6,7,9,11,12 with 1,2,6,7,9,11,12

Continue reading "Spot plays 04/03/2010"


john howard

The Thunder playoff chances. posted by john howard

The Thunder needed to go 2 and 2 last week and that is exactly what they did.  They lost to San Antonio which put them into a tie for 6th. Then, they defeated Houston with an impressive comeback performance by James Hardin. They followed that with a romp of the Lakers.  Sunday was a defeat to Portland. 

The bad news is that they are in a 3 way tie for 6th,7th, and 8th with the Spurs and Trailblazers.  Phoenix also pulled away for the 5th spot.

The good news is they lowered the magic number to reach the playoffs to four. And, they sent a message to the league that they can play with anyone when they routed Los Angelos.

The Thunder end the month with back to back games at Philly and Boston.  It will be hard to be the Celtics on their floor as a second of a back to back series so, beating the 76ers is a must. This is a very tough end to a good season.  After a couple of days rest, they have another back to back at Dallas and home against Minnesota.  Another win and loss most likely. 

If they win all four games, OKC will have clinched the playoffs.  Most likely they will go 2 and 2 and Memphis might do the same, which would also allow OKC to be in the playoffs.

There are ten games left and the last one of the season is against Memphis, who is in 9th place right now.  Things are looking good!!

Go THUNDER!!!

Continue reading "The Thunder playoff chances."

Oklahoma City Thunder News

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Ball Don’t Lie’s 2013-14 Playoff Previews: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Golden State W

The playoffs begin on Saturday, thankfully, which means it’s that lovely time of spring (and it is spring, right? It’s not going to snow again, is it?) for the minds behind Ball Don’t Lie to offer you their thoughts on the upcoming pairings in the first round of the NBA’s postseason. Kelly Dwyer’s Old Grey Whistle Test It’s sad and more than a little enervating the Golden State Warriors’ chances at a championship are exactly where we pegged them a year ago. They’re the same as when we left them following their second-round loss to San Antonio, and last autumn when 2013-14 sparked up. The team is only going as far as the relative health of Steph Curry and Andrew Bogut will allow, and no amount of bench woes, coaching intrigue and dodgy shooting can drag the narrative and scouting report from where it belongs. It needs Curry to dominate offensively, and Bogut to do the same on the other end, and while this may come off as too simple, one would have a hard time arguing otherwise. This is why the revelation of Andrew Bogut’s most recent significant injury is such an absolute downer, such a killer for a team that truly could have made some postseason noise had the matchups been in place, and the threes-and-defense philosophy fully executed. Bogut may not even be his team’s best defender, all-around demon Andre Iguodala probably takes that prize, but in spite of some intriguing defensive depth in the pivot and the possibility that the team’s brilliant shooting backcourt could still make wonderful work out of April, May and June, the Warriors’ hopes were just about dashed when it was announced that the big man would be out indefinitely with a rib injury. The Los Angeles Clippers don’t have their own injury woes, not to that extent, but it is always worth biting a nail or two when discussing the durability of all-world point guard Chris Paul. CP3 isn’t exactly a ligament-tearing charity case, but he has missed solid chunks of some of his NBA turns. This season’s 20-game interruption was his longest since 2010, and with the flighty Darren Collison replacing Paul in the lineup and forward Blake Griffin still working past criticism about his supposed stasis as a contributor, there was significant worry when Paul went down with a separated right shoulder over the winter. Famously, the Clippers went 12-6 in Chris’ absence, with Blake leading the way while boasting a fantabulous mix of point forward-isms and potent finishing from just about everywhere within that 3-point line. Los Angeles didn’t seem to miss a beat following Paul’s return, reeling off a 12-2 run that saw the league’s best point guard happily passing on dominating the ball, allowing Griffin and his cohorts to run the show at times while still somehow maintaining the same assist and usage percentages. This is why the Doc Rivers-led crew is a championship contender. The former Celtics title-winning coach somehow found a way to eliminate the previous era’s glaring weaknesses – Griffin’s short-armed missteps, DeAndre Jordan’s clueless defensive work some 19 feet away from the goal, Paul’s ball domination – in the span of a year, and the returning Pacific Division champs have a genuine shot at something special this spring, and possibly summer. Golden State shouldn’t boast that same confidence, not without Bogut in place for an extended period of time. New starter Jermaine O’Neal has been a revelation in his 18th season, but even the NBA’s best potential defensive backup pivotman doesn’t approximate what Bogut provides, and rookie Ognjen Kuzmic is just too raw to be counted on in nationally televised games. The team with the ill-gotten stereotype as an offense-only squad may have to act as much against Los Angeles, ignoring the Kent Bazemores and Iguodalas in favor of something desperate. Usually pitched from 25 feet away. Toss in the clear enmity between the two squads, and you just have a huge disappointment. The Warriors may annoy at times, but the team’s roster is also filled with all manner of respectable characters, and there genuinely was second- and third- and perhaps fourth-round potential with this lot. Bogut’s absence doesn’t completely decimate Golden State, and the man could still return before his team’s season ends, but those chances have been hamstrung. From there, it’s up to the Clippers. After years of prattling around with former administrations in charge, it’s time for this squad to follow through on what could be theirs. It has to start with a swift take down of a team it hates. Prediction: Los Angeles in 5. Dan Devine's One Big Question Every postseason matchup has its own unique set of variables for each team, and prognosticator, to attempt to solve. Here's one that BDL's Dan Devine has been mulling over. Do the Warriors stand a chance without Andrew Bogut? Forgive me for being obvious, but after learning that the bruising Aussie is out indefinitely with a fractured rib — a break that Bogut told reporters has him "looking at a punctured lung," and that head coach Mark Jackson "all but confirmed" will keep Bogut out for the full postseason, according to Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News — it seems like the most relevant question. Bogut played arguably his best ball of the season against the rival Clippers, averaging just under 12 points, 11 rebounds and two combined blocks and steals in 27.5 minutes per game, shooting 67.7 percent from the field and setting a physical tone that helped keep high-flying Clippers stars Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan a bit more grounded. Willingness to push and shove aside, Bogut also stood as Golden State's best interior defender and rim protector this season; his absence figures to be a problem against a Clippers team that shot a scorching 67.7 percent in the restricted area this season, second-best in the NBA behind the LeBron James-led Miami Heat. Bogut held opponents to 45 percent shooting on at-rim attempts when he was in the defensive neighborhood this season, according to the NBA's SportVU player tracking data , an elite number among paint-protecting regulars. Warriors opponents took a lower share of their shots inside the paint with Bogut guarding the yard (46.4 percent of total field-goal attempts) than with him resting (47.3 percent) and connected on a lower percentage of them (49.8 percent with Bogut, 52.8 percent without). While Jackson has several other strong defenders on his roster — perimeter ace Andre Iguodala, versatile forward Draymond Green, point-checking two-guard Klay Thompson, veteran backup center Jermaine O'Neal, etc. — he doesn't have another paint deterrent of Bogut's caliber, and if the numbers from the regular-season series against the Clippers are any indication, that's a major issue for Golden State: • With Bogut on the floor, the Warriors outscored the Clippers by 17 points over 110 minutes in four meetings this season. Without him, L.A. was +20 in 82 minutes. • With Bogut on the floor, the Clippers scored an average of 105.7 points per 100 possessions, which would've ranked 10th in the NBA over the course of the full season. While that mark would be the envy of plenty of NBA teams — 20, according to my advanced math — it represented a steep drop-off from the Clippers' top-of-the-pops offensive efficiency of 109.4-per-100. When Bogut sat, the Clips shot right back up to their customary rate of scoring brilliance, pouring it in at a 109.3-per-100 rate. • With Bogut on the floor, the Clippers grabbed just 45.6 percent of available rebounds. When he sat, that number rose to 53.8 percent. To put that in perspective: when facing Bogut, the Clips rebounded like the dead-last-in-the-NBA Los Angeles Lakers, and when they didn't have to face him, they scarfed up caroms at a clip that would have been No. 1 with a bullet during the regular season, head and shoulders above the league-best Oklahoma City Thunder. • With Bogut on the floor, the Warriors were much better at defending L.A. without hacking, committing 46 personal fouls in 110 minutes. With Bogut on the bench, the Clippers drew 53 personal foul calls in 82 minutes, leading to an obscenely high free-throw rate that kept the Clipper offense humming along. It's worth remembering that we're only talking about a couple of hundred minutes over the span of four games, but if those trends hold up, the future looks grim for Golden State. A version of the Warriors that can't keep Griffin and Jordan off the glass, can't keep the Clippers off the foul line, and can't slow down an elite offense now firing on all cylinders thanks to the return of shooting guards J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford is a version of the Warriors that doesn't appear to be long for the postseason world. The Warriors are not utterly bereft without Bogut, of course. The 17-year veteran O'Neal has played well when pressed into duty as a starter, averaging 10.5 points on 57.7 percent shooting, 7.1 rebounds and just over one block in 25 minutes per game, and he's certainly more than willing mix it up with Blake and company . But he's just one man, and there's not much behind him on the Dubs' depth chart. Sophomore Festus Ezeli isn't yet back to 5-on-5 action after missing the entire season following right knee surgery. Jackson likely won't turn to end-of-the-benchers Ognjen Kuzmić and Hilton Armstrong in the playoffs. And past MVP chants aside , I wouldn't want to hitch my wagon to Marreese Speights' defensive prowess against Chris Paul in the pick-and-roll. The best solution might be one that Jackson has said he'll now give longer looks: smaller lineups featuring David Lee at the five with some combination of Green, Iguodala and Harrison Barnes up front alongside Thompson and Stephen Curry in the backcourt. Such units have largely roasted the opposition offensively this season, albeit in relatively limited burn (none have seen more than 105 minutes of floor time) and could pose problems for the Clippers defense by creating gobs of space for Curry-Lee pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops, Curry's unique brand of dribbling improvisation and ball swings that lead to open 3-pointers, much as they did against the Denver Nuggets in the first round of last year's postseason. But these Clippers are not last year's Nuggets, this Barnes is not last year's Barnes, and last year's injured Lee isn't this year's injured Bogut. It ought to be sensationally fun to watch Steph try to Human Torch his way past the Clips. Enjoy it while it lasts; unless Bogut winds up pulling a miraculous Lee-like recovery sooner rather than later, I don't think it'll last very long. Prediction: Clippers in 5. Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability Over the next two months, basketball fans will hear all manner of insights into key matchups, x-factors, and other series-deciding phenomena. For most people, though, watching so much basketball is a luxury or bizarre form of punishment, not a fact of life. These brave souls must know one thing: is this game between 10 men in pajamas worth the time? Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability attempts to answer this difficult question. The basketball world has awaited this series for several months. Way back in the first week of the season, the Clippers snubbed the Warriors by declining to share pre-game chapel services , a rare snub in a league where most players stay friendly when not on the court. That moment ran alongside several hotly contested games, including a Christmas barnburner that featured several scuffles and ejections . A seven-game series promised all that drama, plus the purer pleasures of watching so many exciting, athletic players in one place. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, et al. — it was almost too much to handle. Up until this past weekend, that excitement was still palpable. However, the broken rib recently suffered by Andrew Bogut, the Warriors’ chief antagonist, has thrown all that into flux. If Bogut is out for the entire series, which seems likely, the Warriors will be forced to go small. That could be very watchable, particularly given their arsenal of three-point shooters, but Doc Rivers already starts two hyper-athletic frontcourt players and has many perimeter options at his disposal. More than perhaps any other team in the league, the Clippers can adjust to smaller lineups without sacrificing much at all. To be clear, this series figures to be very watchable, if only because these teams offer so much potential in the way of stylistic basketball. Yet, with Bogut out, it also figures to be somewhat one-sided. Tune in only if you’re more concerned with fun stuff than the final score. Rating: 6 out of 10 Recitations of Philippians 4:13 Prediction: Clippers in 5.   [read full article]

From Yahoo Sports


Ball Don’t Lie’s 2013-14 Playoff Previews: Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Bobcats (Bal

The playoffs begin on Saturday, thankfully, which means it’s that lovely time of spring (and it is spring, right? It’s not going to snow again, is it?) when the minds behind Ball Don’t Lie to offer you their thoughts on the upcoming pairings in the first round of the NBA’s postseason. Kelly Dwyer’s Old Grey Whistle Test For those just hopping to the NBA season, understand the Charlotte Bobcats didn’t luck or back their way into their second (and final, considering the franchise’s imminent name change) playoffs. Sadly for Charlotte, the Miami Heat didn’t, either. You didn’t hear much about the Miami Heat this year, comparatively, because a lack of a 27-game winning streak will do that to a nation’s fancy. The Indiana Pacers held the Eastern Conference’s best record for nearly every day of the 2013-14 regular season, the San Antonio Spurs finished with the league’s best regular season record yet again, and Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant will likely and rightfully lope away with the NBA MVP award, ending LeBron James’run with the hardware. The Heat are the champs, though. And not in the “we’ll-call-them-the-champs-until-someone-knocks-them-out”way. That doesn’t mean that 2013-14 was a triumphant regular season turn, however. The team won only 54 games, fewer than the Chicago Bulls (57) and Los Angeles Lakers (58) did during their three-peat conquerings in 1993 and 2002, and with Miami mostly working in an embarrassing Eastern Conference that saw the Heat lose twice to the Philadelphia 76ers and twice to the Boston Celtics. Dwyane Wade missed 29 games not just because he sat out on the second night of back-to-backs, but also because of a worrying late-season hamstring pull. Ray Allen shot, gasp, just about an average mark from 3-point range. This is also a team that may just have 15 or 16 games between now and the start of the Finals. This is a team that can run James for huge heaps of minutes, while Wade works at his leisure, with Chris Bosh fitting in wherever needed. Allen’s 3-point percentage starts over on Sunday. Shane Battier grows angel wings. Erik Spoelstra gets to hammer out a game plan against the same opponent, over and over, rather than working against four other coaches in five nights. Pity those poor Charlotte Bobcats. Kind of. These Bobcats earned this. “Rookie”head coach Steve Clifford should be a Coach of the Year candidate, and had his team been on national television more often he’d probably have won the damn thing. The Bobcats have evolved into a team with solid depth, and most importantly to a playoff drive, the group defends like mad in spite of the presence of Al Jefferson on the floor. Of course, the Bobcats wouldn’t be nearly where they are currently with Jefferson, who turned in a career year some six years after tearing his ACL, working in a new environment with a (damn good) point guard in Kemba Walker who isn’t exactly what we’d call “pass-first.”If you haven’t seen Big Al, prepare for a throwback. Over 22 points and 11 boards in 35 minutes a game, despite needing the season’s first two months to work his way back (mostly on the court) from an ankle sprain. Low-post goodness, in a league that frowns on such things. Touch and footwork and a needed go-to option after a play breaks down for a team that ranked just 24th in offense. He should have made the All-Star team, but in a lot of ways it was best that he missed it. The All-Star Game wastes talents like Jefferson, and those few days off in mid-February likely helped the player that led Charlotte to a 20-9 record following a showcase that tends to exclude players of a Bobcatian nature. The ride is likely over. James is basically as tall as Jefferson. Walker had a very good year, but he shot 39 percent to Wade’s 54 percent. Bosh is floating, and the other Heat veterans have been through this before. It’s true that, somehow, Charlotte runs deeper than Miami, but none of this will likely matter when James spies Josh McRoberts’too-cute entry pass from a mile away, swipes it and turns it into two points before Bobcat fans can even recall they’ll become the Hornets again this fall. Fair-weather NBA fans? Happily introduce yourself to the Charlotte Bobcats, because this is a team worth watching. Also, re-introduce yourself to the Miami Heat, because this is a team worth fearing. Prediction: Miami in 4. Dan Devine's One Big Question Every postseason matchup has its own unique set of variables for each team, and prognosticator, to attempt to solve. Here's one that BDL's Dan Devine has been mulling over. How much energy will Miami have to expend in Round 1? LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh begin their bid for a fourth straight trip to the NBA finals against a Bobcats team that looks to be heavily overmatched and whom the Heat swept during the regular season. A closer look at the season series, though, suggests that what appears to be a squash might not be quite as breezy as Erik Spoelstra might like. While the Heat did go 4-0 against the Bobcats, two of those games were nail-biters. There was a one-point Dec. 1 win in which the Big Three all played, but Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker (27 points on 10 for 22 shooting, six assists) largely got where he wanted, and a mid-January overtime victory that saw James (34 points, eight rebounds, six assists) and Bosh (25 points, seven rebounds) carry the day for a resting Wade to come back from a seven-point halftime deficit. One blowout came while All-NBA-caliber Charlotte center Al Jefferson was sidelined with an ankle injury, which represents a sizable asterisk. The other happened when James became Death, Destroyer of Worlds . (That one still holds up.) Still, while the Heat stumbled to the finish line by going 13-14 after March 1 -- including some games, to be fair, where they weren't exactly going all-out for the W -- Charlotte played perhaps their best ball of the year. The Bobcats won three straight to finish the regular season and nine of their last 11, including three tough overtime wins against fellow Eastern playoff squads (the Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls). The Bobcats went 16-9 after the February deal to import Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour from the Milwaukee Bucks, a move that added (some) long-range shooting and secondary ball-handling, and helped boost the Bobcats' offense from a dreadful 25th in points scored per possession pre-trade to a middle-of-the-pack 16th afterward. Another key helper: Josh McRoberts, the beautifully coiffed power forward whose fantastic touch as a high-post passer (five dimes per 36 minutes, assisting on nearly 22 percent of his teammates' buckets while he's on the floor) has paired perfectly with Big Al's left-block mastery, and whose long-range shooting (36.1 percent from 3-point land) has helped give Jefferson room to cook. Gerald Henderson's production has dipped virtually across the board this season, but the versatile wing tends to be a bellwether; he's shooting 45.4 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from 3 in Charlotte wins, and just 41.3/32.2 in losses. When he tries too hard to create his own offense, he can hurt more than he helps, but when he simply plays his role -- making smart cuts to take advantage of the attention Jefferson draws, or finding openings on the perimeter to be available for spot-up shots off kickouts -- he can threaten. Rookie Cody Zeller has come on since the All-Star break , shooting 50 percent and averaging nearly eight points and five rebounds in 18 1/2 minutes per game by crashing the offensive boards, running the floor and ducking in off the weak side to dunk dump-off passes. Chris Douglas-Roberts has gone from scrap-heap signee to valuable piece in head coach Steve Clifford's rotation, adding complementary scoring and rebounding while providing defensive versatility on the wing and making some big shots . Charlotte is a patient, careful team that turned the basketball over on a league-low 12.9 percent of offensive possessions, and allowed the league's fewest fast-break points and points off turnovers per game this season. They're great at limiting opponents to one shot, leading the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage and finishing seventh in second-chance points allowed. There's real talent and toughness here, actual players who do things; these aren't the Bobcats you remember. They're still not going to spring an upset, though. Even dropping out LeBron's outlier 61-point explosion, Miami still hammered the Bobcats' No. 6-ranked defense in their other three games, scoring at a rate (109.1 points per 100 possessions) commensurate with their second-best-in-the-NBA full-season mark. The Bobcats' pack-the-paint scheme did reduce in the share of shots Miami took in the lane -- 44.7 percent of Heat field-goal attempts against Charlotte came there, down from 47 percent on the season as a whole -- but Miami converted the exact same share of them (62.9 percent) while shooting even better than their full-season mark on the midrange shots Charlotte concedes with its coverage. With James' ability to prosper against any defense, Bosh's elite midrange shooting and Wade presumably ready to rock after having his workload managed all season, Miami has the right weapons to attack Charlotte's defense. While Jefferson will likely continue beasting on Miami's small front line -- Big Al's averaged a shade over 25 points and 15 rebounds against the Heat this season, shooting 57.4 percent -- Charlotte doesn't figure to get reliable enough deep shooting to keep Miami from swarming the interior. And even if the Cats can knock down some pressure-relieving 3s early, that'll probably just remind Miami that it's late April, and that it's now time to flip the now-infamous switch that turns their closeouts and rotations from solid to terrifying. The key to this postseason could be whether Charlotte forces Miami to flip that switch early. If Miami's offense hits the ground running smoothly enough for the defense to get away with just-good-enough effort, then the Heat will be in good shape moving forward. But if the Bobcats can keep their late-season form going and land some shots on Miami early, and if Jefferson can dominate enough to steal a game in Miami, the Heat may find themselves having to put in work that could come back to bite them during the grueling rounds to follow. The 'Cats won't go easily, but I think the resolution will skew closer to the former than the latter. I respect what Jefferson and Clifford have done enough to think they'll notch the first (and last ) win in Bobcats postseason history at home, but Miami should be able to keep its powder dry with stiffer challenges ahead. Prediction: Heat in 5. Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability Over the next two months, basketball fans will hear all manner of insights into key matchups, x-factors, and other series-deciding phenomena. For most people, though, watching so much basketball is a luxury or bizarre form of punishment, not a fact of life. These brave souls must know one thing: is this game between 10 men in pajamas worth the time? Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability attempts to answer this difficult question. The Heat have been one of the league’s most exciting teams during the Big Three era, regularly putting forth amazing showcases of the best contemporary basketball has to offer. However, this team cannot escape narrative. The best Heat moments, either good or bad, have involved games and series that appear to serve as referenda on LeBron James’s place in basketball history, or the moral rectitude of building a team around stars obtained in free agency. In other words, the Heat need the right context to reach their full watchability potential —otherwise they’re just a garden-variety group of generationally unique stars. It’s safe to say that the Charlotte is not the team to bring out Miami’s full possibilities this series. Like the Milwaukee Bucks in last spring’s first round, the Bobcats are a team of limited talent. What head coach Steve Clifford has done this season is quite amazing —the Bobcats are a genuinely effective squad with with the East’s third-best defense by points-per-possession and a big man in Al Jefferson who could ravage the Heat’s interior defense. But they’re not a sexy team by any stretch. Sunday’s Game 1 will mark their first national TV appearance of 2013-14, and many casual fans may still consider them fodder for late-night TV monologue jokes. That’s not to say that this series is wholly unwatchable. The Heat won’t rise to their peak watchability until later in the postseason, but viewers are likely to see one or two unbelievable plays from LeBron and Co. Plus, despite not being world-beaters, the Bobcats do have a lot to offer. At the very least, they will provide something new to discover for all but the most committed League Pass devotees. The playoffs last a pretty long time, so seek out the unfamiliar while you still can. Rating: 4 out of 10 Angry Tweets About LeBron Being a Loser Prediction: Heat in 4. [read full article]

From Yahoo Sports


Ball Don’t Lie’s 2013-14 Playoff Previews: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Golden State W

The playoffs begin on Saturday, thankfully, which means it’s that lovely time of spring (and it is spring, right? It’s not going to snow again, is it?) for the minds behind Ball Don’t Lie to offer you their thoughts on the upcoming pairings in the first round of the NBA’s postseason. Kelly Dwyer’s Old Grey Whistle Test It’s sad and more than a little enervating the Golden State Warriors’ chances at a championship are exactly where we pegged them a year ago. They’re the same as when we left them following their second-round loss to San Antonio, and last autumn when 2013-14 sparked up. The team is only going as far as the relative health of Steph Curry and Andrew Bogut will allow, and no amount of bench woes, coaching intrigue and dodgy shooting can drag the narrative and scouting report from where it belongs. It needs Curry to dominate offensively, and Bogut to do the same on the other end, and while this may come off as too simple, one would have a hard time arguing otherwise. This is why the revelation of Andrew Bogut’s most recent significant injury is such an absolute downer, such a killer for a team that truly could have made some postseason noise had the matchups been in place, and the threes-and-defense philosophy fully executed. Bogut may not even be his team’s best defender, all-around demon Andre Iguodala probably takes that prize, but in spite of some intriguing defensive depth in the pivot and the possibility that the team’s brilliant shooting backcourt could still make wonderful work out of April, May and June, the Warriors’ hopes were just about dashed when it was announced that the big man would be out indefinitely with a rib injury. The Los Angeles Clippers don’t have their own injury woes, not to that extent, but it is always worth biting a nail or two when discussing the durability of all-world point guard Chris Paul. CP3 isn’t exactly a ligament-tearing charity case, but he has missed solid chunks of some of his NBA turns. This season’s 20-game interruption was his longest since 2010, and with the flighty Darren Collison replacing Paul in the lineup and forward Blake Griffin still working past criticism about his supposed stasis as a contributor, there was significant worry when Paul went down with a separated right shoulder over the winter. Famously, the Clippers went 12-6 in Chris’ absence, with Blake leading the way while boasting a fantabulous mix of point forward-isms and potent finishing from just about everywhere within that 3-point line. Los Angeles didn’t seem to miss a beat following Paul’s return, reeling off a 12-2 run that saw the league’s best point guard happily passing on dominating the ball, allowing Griffin and his cohorts to run the show at times while still somehow maintaining the same assist and usage percentages. This is why the Doc Rivers-led crew is a championship contender. The former Celtics title-winning coach somehow found a way to eliminate the previous era’s glaring weaknesses – Griffin’s short-armed missteps, DeAndre Jordan’s clueless defensive work some 19 feet away from the goal, Paul’s ball domination – in the span of a year, and the returning Pacific Division champs have a genuine shot at something special this spring, and possibly summer. Golden State shouldn’t boast that same confidence, not without Bogut in place for an extended period of time. New starter Jermaine O’Neal has been a revelation in his 18th season, but even the NBA’s best potential defensive backup pivotman doesn’t approximate what Bogut provides, and rookie Ognjen Kuzmic is just too raw to be counted on in nationally televised games. The team with the ill-gotten stereotype as an offense-only squad may have to act as much against Los Angeles, ignoring the Kent Bazemores and Iguodalas in favor of something desperate. Usually pitched from 25 feet away. Toss in the clear enmity between the two squads, and you just have a huge disappointment. The Warriors may annoy at times, but the team’s roster is also filled with all manner of respectable characters, and there genuinely was second- and third- and perhaps fourth-round potential with this lot. Bogut’s absence doesn’t completely decimate Golden State, and the man could still return before his team’s season ends, but those chances have been hamstrung. From there, it’s up to the Clippers. After years of prattling around with former administrations in charge, it’s time for this squad to follow through on what could be theirs. It has to start with a swift take down of a team it hates. Prediction: Los Angeles in 5. Dan Devine's One Big Question Every postseason matchup has its own unique set of variables for each team, and prognosticator, to attempt to solve. Here's one that BDL's Dan Devine has been mulling over. Do the Warriors stand a chance without Andrew Bogut? Forgive me for being obvious, but after learning that the bruising Aussie is out indefinitely with a fractured rib — a break that Bogut told reporters has him "looking at a punctured lung," and that head coach Mark Jackson "all but confirmed" will keep Bogut out for the full postseason, according to Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News — it seems like the most relevant question. Bogut played arguably his best ball of the season against the rival Clippers, averaging just under 12 points, 11 rebounds and two combined blocks and steals in 27.5 minutes per game, shooting 67.7 percent from the field and setting a physical tone that helped keep high-flying Clippers stars Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan a bit more grounded. Willingness to push and shove aside, Bogut also stood as Golden State's best interior defender and rim protector this season; his absence figures to be a problem against a Clippers team that shot a scorching 67.7 percent in the restricted area this season, second-best in the NBA behind the LeBron James-led Miami Heat. Bogut held opponents to 45 percent shooting on at-rim attempts when he was in the defensive neighborhood this season, according to the NBA's SportVU player tracking data , an elite number among paint-protecting regulars. Warriors opponents took a lower share of their shots inside the paint with Bogut guarding the yard (46.4 percent of total field-goal attempts) than with him resting (47.3 percent) and connected on a lower percentage of them (49.8 percent with Bogut, 52.8 percent without). While Jackson has several other strong defenders on his roster — perimeter ace Andre Iguodala, versatile forward Draymond Green, point-checking two-guard Klay Thompson, veteran backup center Jermaine O'Neal, etc. — he doesn't have another paint deterrent of Bogut's caliber, and if the numbers from the regular-season series against the Clippers are any indication, that's a major issue for Golden State: • With Bogut on the floor, the Warriors outscored the Clippers by 17 points over 110 minutes in four meetings this season. Without him, L.A. was +20 in 82 minutes. • With Bogut on the floor, the Clippers scored an average of 105.7 points per 100 possessions, which would've ranked 10th in the NBA over the course of the full season. While that mark would be the envy of plenty of NBA teams — 20, according to my advanced math — it represented a steep drop-off from the Clippers' top-of-the-pops offensive efficiency of 109.4-per-100. When Bogut sat, the Clips shot right back up to their customary rate of scoring brilliance, pouring it in at a 109.3-per-100 rate. • With Bogut on the floor, the Clippers grabbed just 45.6 percent of available rebounds. When he sat, that number rose to 53.8 percent. To put that in perspective: when facing Bogut, the Clips rebounded like the dead-last-in-the-NBA Los Angeles Lakers, and when they didn't have to face him, they scarfed up caroms at a clip that would have been No. 1 with a bullet during the regular season, head and shoulders above the league-best Oklahoma City Thunder. • With Bogut on the floor, the Warriors were much better at defending L.A. without hacking, committing 46 personal fouls in 110 minutes. With Bogut on the bench, the Clippers drew 53 personal foul calls in 82 minutes, leading to an obscenely high free-throw rate that kept the Clipper offense humming along. It's worth remembering that we're only talking about a couple of hundred minutes over the span of four games, but if those trends hold up, the future looks grim for Golden State. A version of the Warriors that can't keep Griffin and Jordan off the glass, can't keep the Clippers off the foul line, and can't slow down an elite offense now firing on all cylinders thanks to the return of shooting guards J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford is a version of the Warriors that doesn't appear to be long for the postseason world. The Warriors are not utterly bereft without Bogut, of course. The 17-year veteran O'Neal has played well when pressed into duty as a starter, averaging 10.5 points on 57.7 percent shooting, 7.1 rebounds and just over one block in 25 minutes per game, and he's certainly more than willing mix it up with Blake and company . But he's just one man, and there's not much behind him on the Dubs' depth chart. Sophomore Festus Ezeli isn't yet back to 5-on-5 action after missing the entire season following right knee surgery. Jackson likely won't turn to end-of-the-benchers Ognjen Kuzmić and Hilton Armstrong in the playoffs. And past MVP chants aside , I wouldn't want to hitch my wagon to Marreese Speights' defensive prowess against Chris Paul in the pick-and-roll. The best solution might be one that Jackson has said he'll now give longer looks: smaller lineups featuring David Lee at the five with some combination of Green, Iguodala and Harrison Barnes up front alongside Thompson and Stephen Curry in the backcourt. Such units have largely roasted the opposition offensively this season, albeit in relatively limited burn (none have seen more than 105 minutes of floor time) and could pose problems for the Clippers defense by creating gobs of space for Curry-Lee pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops, Curry's unique brand of dribbling improvisation and ball swings that lead to open 3-pointers, much as they did against the Denver Nuggets in the first round of last year's postseason. But these Clippers are not last year's Nuggets, this Barnes is not last year's Barnes, and last year's injured Lee isn't this year's injured Bogut. It ought to be sensationally fun to watch Steph try to Human Torch his way past the Clips. Enjoy it while it lasts; unless Bogut winds up pulling a miraculous Lee-like recovery sooner rather than later, I don't think it'll last very long. Prediction: Clippers in 5. Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability Over the next two months, basketball fans will hear all manner of insights into key matchups, x-factors, and other series-deciding phenomena. For most people, though, watching so much basketball is a luxury or bizarre form of punishment, not a fact of life. These brave souls must know one thing: is this game between 10 men in pajamas worth the time? Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability attempts to answer this difficult question. The basketball world has awaited this series for several months. Way back in the first week of the season, the Clippers snubbed the Warriors by declining to share pre-game chapel services , a rare snub in a league where most players stay friendly when not on the court. That moment ran alongside several hotly contested games, including a Christmas barnburner that featured several scuffles and ejections . A seven-game series promised all that drama, plus the purer pleasures of watching so many exciting, athletic players in one place. Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, et al. — it was almost too much to handle. Up until this past weekend, that excitement was still palpable. However, the broken rib recently suffered by Andrew Bogut, the Warriors’ chief antagonist, has thrown all that into flux. If Bogut is out for the entire series, which seems likely, the Warriors will be forced to go small. That could be very watchable, particularly given their arsenal of three-point shooters, but Doc Rivers already starts two hyper-athletic frontcourt players and has many perimeter options at his disposal. More than perhaps any other team in the league, the Clippers can adjust to smaller lineups without sacrificing much at all. To be clear, this series figures to be very watchable, if only because these teams offer so much potential in the way of stylistic basketball. Yet, with Bogut out, it also figures to be somewhat one-sided. Tune in only if you’re more concerned with fun stuff than the final score. Rating: 6 out of 10 Recitations of Philippians 4:13 Prediction: Clippers in 5.   [read full article]

From Yahoo Sports


Ball Don’t Lie’s 2013-14 Playoff Previews: Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Bobcats (Bal

The playoffs begin on Saturday, thankfully, which means it’s that lovely time of spring (and it is spring, right? It’s not going to snow again, is it?) when the minds behind Ball Don’t Lie to offer you their thoughts on the upcoming pairings in the first round of the NBA’s postseason. Kelly Dwyer’s Old Grey Whistle Test For those just hopping to the NBA season, understand the Charlotte Bobcats didn’t luck or back their way into their second (and final, considering the franchise’s imminent name change) playoffs. Sadly for Charlotte, the Miami Heat didn’t, either. You didn’t hear much about the Miami Heat this year, comparatively, because a lack of a 27-game winning streak will do that to a nation’s fancy. The Indiana Pacers held the Eastern Conference’s best record for nearly every day of the 2013-14 regular season, the San Antonio Spurs finished with the league’s best regular season record yet again, and Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant will likely and rightfully lope away with the NBA MVP award, ending LeBron James’run with the hardware. The Heat are the champs, though. And not in the “we’ll-call-them-the-champs-until-someone-knocks-them-out”way. That doesn’t mean that 2013-14 was a triumphant regular season turn, however. The team won only 54 games, fewer than the Chicago Bulls (57) and Los Angeles Lakers (58) did during their three-peat conquerings in 1993 and 2002, and with Miami mostly working in an embarrassing Eastern Conference that saw the Heat lose twice to the Philadelphia 76ers and twice to the Boston Celtics. Dwyane Wade missed 29 games not just because he sat out on the second night of back-to-backs, but also because of a worrying late-season hamstring pull. Ray Allen shot, gasp, just about an average mark from 3-point range. This is also a team that may just have 15 or 16 games between now and the start of the Finals. This is a team that can run James for huge heaps of minutes, while Wade works at his leisure, with Chris Bosh fitting in wherever needed. Allen’s 3-point percentage starts over on Sunday. Shane Battier grows angel wings. Erik Spoelstra gets to hammer out a game plan against the same opponent, over and over, rather than working against four other coaches in five nights. Pity those poor Charlotte Bobcats. Kind of. These Bobcats earned this. “Rookie”head coach Steve Clifford should be a Coach of the Year candidate, and had his team been on national television more often he’d probably have won the damn thing. The Bobcats have evolved into a team with solid depth, and most importantly to a playoff drive, the group defends like mad in spite of the presence of Al Jefferson on the floor. Of course, the Bobcats wouldn’t be nearly where they are currently with Jefferson, who turned in a career year some six years after tearing his ACL, working in a new environment with a (damn good) point guard in Kemba Walker who isn’t exactly what we’d call “pass-first.”If you haven’t seen Big Al, prepare for a throwback. Over 22 points and 11 boards in 35 minutes a game, despite needing the season’s first two months to work his way back (mostly on the court) from an ankle sprain. Low-post goodness, in a league that frowns on such things. Touch and footwork and a needed go-to option after a play breaks down for a team that ranked just 24th in offense. He should have made the All-Star team, but in a lot of ways it was best that he missed it. The All-Star Game wastes talents like Jefferson, and those few days off in mid-February likely helped the player that led Charlotte to a 20-9 record following a showcase that tends to exclude players of a Bobcatian nature. The ride is likely over. James is basically as tall as Jefferson. Walker had a very good year, but he shot 39 percent to Wade’s 54 percent. Bosh is floating, and the other Heat veterans have been through this before. It’s true that, somehow, Charlotte runs deeper than Miami, but none of this will likely matter when James spies Josh McRoberts’too-cute entry pass from a mile away, swipes it and turns it into two points before Bobcat fans can even recall they’ll become the Hornets again this fall. Fair-weather NBA fans? Happily introduce yourself to the Charlotte Bobcats, because this is a team worth watching. Also, re-introduce yourself to the Miami Heat, because this is a team worth fearing. Prediction: Miami in 4. Dan Devine's One Big Question Every postseason matchup has its own unique set of variables for each team, and prognosticator, to attempt to solve. Here's one that BDL's Dan Devine has been mulling over. How much energy will Miami have to expend in Round 1? LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh begin their bid for a fourth straight trip to the NBA finals against a Bobcats team that looks to be heavily overmatched and whom the Heat swept during the regular season. A closer look at the season series, though, suggests that what appears to be a squash might not be quite as breezy as Erik Spoelstra might like. While the Heat did go 4-0 against the Bobcats, two of those games were nail-biters. There was a one-point Dec. 1 win in which the Big Three all played, but Charlotte point guard Kemba Walker (27 points on 10 for 22 shooting, six assists) largely got where he wanted, and a mid-January overtime victory that saw James (34 points, eight rebounds, six assists) and Bosh (25 points, seven rebounds) carry the day for a resting Wade to come back from a seven-point halftime deficit. One blowout came while All-NBA-caliber Charlotte center Al Jefferson was sidelined with an ankle injury, which represents a sizable asterisk. The other happened when James became Death, Destroyer of Worlds . (That one still holds up.) Still, while the Heat stumbled to the finish line by going 13-14 after March 1 -- including some games, to be fair, where they weren't exactly going all-out for the W -- Charlotte played perhaps their best ball of the year. The Bobcats won three straight to finish the regular season and nine of their last 11, including three tough overtime wins against fellow Eastern playoff squads (the Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls). The Bobcats went 16-9 after the February deal to import Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour from the Milwaukee Bucks, a move that added (some) long-range shooting and secondary ball-handling, and helped boost the Bobcats' offense from a dreadful 25th in points scored per possession pre-trade to a middle-of-the-pack 16th afterward. Another key helper: Josh McRoberts, the beautifully coiffed power forward whose fantastic touch as a high-post passer (five dimes per 36 minutes, assisting on nearly 22 percent of his teammates' buckets while he's on the floor) has paired perfectly with Big Al's left-block mastery, and whose long-range shooting (36.1 percent from 3-point land) has helped give Jefferson room to cook. Gerald Henderson's production has dipped virtually across the board this season, but the versatile wing tends to be a bellwether; he's shooting 45.4 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from 3 in Charlotte wins, and just 41.3/32.2 in losses. When he tries too hard to create his own offense, he can hurt more than he helps, but when he simply plays his role -- making smart cuts to take advantage of the attention Jefferson draws, or finding openings on the perimeter to be available for spot-up shots off kickouts -- he can threaten. Rookie Cody Zeller has come on since the All-Star break , shooting 50 percent and averaging nearly eight points and five rebounds in 18 1/2 minutes per game by crashing the offensive boards, running the floor and ducking in off the weak side to dunk dump-off passes. Chris Douglas-Roberts has gone from scrap-heap signee to valuable piece in head coach Steve Clifford's rotation, adding complementary scoring and rebounding while providing defensive versatility on the wing and making some big shots . Charlotte is a patient, careful team that turned the basketball over on a league-low 12.9 percent of offensive possessions, and allowed the league's fewest fast-break points and points off turnovers per game this season. They're great at limiting opponents to one shot, leading the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage and finishing seventh in second-chance points allowed. There's real talent and toughness here, actual players who do things; these aren't the Bobcats you remember. They're still not going to spring an upset, though. Even dropping out LeBron's outlier 61-point explosion, Miami still hammered the Bobcats' No. 6-ranked defense in their other three games, scoring at a rate (109.1 points per 100 possessions) commensurate with their second-best-in-the-NBA full-season mark. The Bobcats' pack-the-paint scheme did reduce in the share of shots Miami took in the lane -- 44.7 percent of Heat field-goal attempts against Charlotte came there, down from 47 percent on the season as a whole -- but Miami converted the exact same share of them (62.9 percent) while shooting even better than their full-season mark on the midrange shots Charlotte concedes with its coverage. With James' ability to prosper against any defense, Bosh's elite midrange shooting and Wade presumably ready to rock after having his workload managed all season, Miami has the right weapons to attack Charlotte's defense. While Jefferson will likely continue beasting on Miami's small front line -- Big Al's averaged a shade over 25 points and 15 rebounds against the Heat this season, shooting 57.4 percent -- Charlotte doesn't figure to get reliable enough deep shooting to keep Miami from swarming the interior. And even if the Cats can knock down some pressure-relieving 3s early, that'll probably just remind Miami that it's late April, and that it's now time to flip the now-infamous switch that turns their closeouts and rotations from solid to terrifying. The key to this postseason could be whether Charlotte forces Miami to flip that switch early. If Miami's offense hits the ground running smoothly enough for the defense to get away with just-good-enough effort, then the Heat will be in good shape moving forward. But if the Bobcats can keep their late-season form going and land some shots on Miami early, and if Jefferson can dominate enough to steal a game in Miami, the Heat may find themselves having to put in work that could come back to bite them during the grueling rounds to follow. The 'Cats won't go easily, but I think the resolution will skew closer to the former than the latter. I respect what Jefferson and Clifford have done enough to think they'll notch the first (and last ) win in Bobcats postseason history at home, but Miami should be able to keep its powder dry with stiffer challenges ahead. Prediction: Heat in 5. Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability Over the next two months, basketball fans will hear all manner of insights into key matchups, x-factors, and other series-deciding phenomena. For most people, though, watching so much basketball is a luxury or bizarre form of punishment, not a fact of life. These brave souls must know one thing: is this game between 10 men in pajamas worth the time? Eric Freeman’s Guide to Playoff Watchability attempts to answer this difficult question. The Heat have been one of the league’s most exciting teams during the Big Three era, regularly putting forth amazing showcases of the best contemporary basketball has to offer. However, this team cannot escape narrative. The best Heat moments, either good or bad, have involved games and series that appear to serve as referenda on LeBron James’s place in basketball history, or the moral rectitude of building a team around stars obtained in free agency. In other words, the Heat need the right context to reach their full watchability potential —otherwise they’re just a garden-variety group of generationally unique stars. It’s safe to say that the Charlotte is not the team to bring out Miami’s full possibilities this series. Like the Milwaukee Bucks in last spring’s first round, the Bobcats are a team of limited talent. What head coach Steve Clifford has done this season is quite amazing —the Bobcats are a genuinely effective squad with with the East’s third-best defense by points-per-possession and a big man in Al Jefferson who could ravage the Heat’s interior defense. But they’re not a sexy team by any stretch. Sunday’s Game 1 will mark their first national TV appearance of 2013-14, and many casual fans may still consider them fodder for late-night TV monologue jokes. That’s not to say that this series is wholly unwatchable. The Heat won’t rise to their peak watchability until later in the postseason, but viewers are likely to see one or two unbelievable plays from LeBron and Co. Plus, despite not being world-beaters, the Bobcats do have a lot to offer. At the very least, they will provide something new to discover for all but the most committed League Pass devotees. The playoffs last a pretty long time, so seek out the unfamiliar while you still can. Rating: 4 out of 10 Angry Tweets About LeBron Being a Loser Prediction: Heat in 4. [read full article]

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