By Ryan Chapman, Sports Editor
Well guys, somehow I wasn’t fired after our first edition so
we’re back and (hopefully) better than ever! Spring Break was indeed a tad
rough on your humble servant here, so we’re going to cover two weeks of Thunder
action here all in one take. Let’s get it.
Week in review (March
What a week to forget for Thunder fans. Three out of their
four games were at home, Russell Westbrook looked to be back to his old self, and
Paul George had been playing more like he had earlier this season as he got
back into rhythm. It was time for Oklahoma City to start their playoff surge, right?
Well… not so fast my friends. After a strong victory against Brooklyn on the 13th,
the Thunder blew a game the next night at Indianapolis. Oklahoma City’s 18-point
lead evaporated due to uninspired second half basketball and questionable
lineup decisions down the stretch. The Thunder were then run off their home
court by a Warriors team playing without Kevin Durant in a game where Oklahoma
City never looked to have a chance. To cap off the week, a surging Miami Heat
team came into the Chesapeake Energy Arena and topped the Westbrook-less
Toronto Raptors 123 Oklahoma City Thunder 114
Oklahoma City fell short in overtime on the front end of the
great Thunder-Raptors home and home of 2019. In what is becoming the Thunder’s
signature calling card this season, Westbrook and George spearheaded a furious
fourth quarter comeback to push the game beyond regulation. Unfortunately, it
appeared Oklahoma City expended what they had left in the tank in their late
game rally as they were outscored 13-4 in over time. Westbrook was dominant in
his return from his suspension, logging 42 points, 11 rebounds, and six
assists. He was responsible for nine turnovers however.
Also of note, Mr. Thunder Nick Collison’s No. 4 jersey was
raised to the rafters, as he became the first retired jersey for the Thunder.
Oklahoma City Thunder 116 Toronto Raptors 109
Five Thunder players scored in the double digits in Oklahoma
City’s return victory over Toronto two nights later. Though George led the way
with 28 points, it would be Dennis Schröder’s 26-point contribution from the
bench that proved the difference in the second matchup. It appears Oklahoma
City will go as far as Schröder can take the second unit. When he is on,
Oklahoma City can dominate any team on any night, but the Thunder struggle when
Schröder struggles shooting from the field. The Thunder stepped up defensively
as well, forcing the Raptors to commit 22 turnovers.
Oklahoma City Thunder 103 Memphis Grizzlies 115
Memphis opened the game on a 16-2 run and never looked back
as Oklahoma City dropped another road game. The loss sent the Thunder all the
way down to the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff picture by the
end of the night’s games. Westbrook was 6 of 20 from the field shooting, as
Oklahoma City dropped their fifth game out of the last six contests. A possible
silver lining for the Thunder could be the fortress the FedEx Forum has become
for the Grizzlies since their playoff elimination. They have beaten Houston,
Utah, Portland, and Oklahoma City on their home court recently. One bright spot
from the contest was George’s continued success. After a brief rough patch
coming back from injury, George looks to be back to his high level of play he
has maintained for most of the season. If Oklahoma City have any chance of
winning their first round matchup in the playoffs, they will need George,
Westbrook, and Schröder to all be at their best.
Stock Up: Nick
It’s time for me to eat some crow. When Sam Presti announced
Nick Collison’s number was going to be the first jersey to be retired in
Oklahoma City, I was disappointed. I felt retiring Collison’s number would be
fine in due time, but the franchise should wait on Westbrook to retire and
allow him to be the first jersey hanging in the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
However, considering the backslide the Thunder find themselves in currently,
Mr. Thunder’s triumphant return was a welcome distraction from the basketball
being played in Oklahoma City right now. As we’ve found time and time again, I
should just sit back and let Presti do his thing, for he obviously knows much
more than the rest of us.
Stock Down: Corporate
Sponsorships, “The Man”
The Thunder were the last holdout of the new league
legislation which allowed teams to feature a small sponsorship patch on the
front of their jerseys. When Oklahoma City and Love’s Travel Stops &
Country Stores announced a deal which would do just that, I was ecstatic. The
Thunder get some advertising revenue, and get to promote a local business, what
could go wrong? In short, everything. Since the debut of the Love’s patch on
the uniforms, Oklahoma City has lost four of five games, losing by an average
margin of 12.5 points in the defeats. Perhaps the Thunder should consider
tearing up the advertising deal for the playoffs for the greater good of the
franchise and Oklahoma City as a whole.
Stock Up: Playoff
Okay friends, let’s put on our tin foil hats here for a
moment. Are the Thunder having a bad go right now? Yes. Are we concerned for
the playoffs? Yes. But, perhaps there is hope. Oklahoma City could be
positioning themselves perfectly to play quite the spoiler role as a seventh
seed. Portland is just one half of a game back of Houston for the third seed.
Houston still has to play at Milwaukee, host the Nuggets, and travel to
Oklahoma City for their regular season finale. Portland’s toughest games left
are against Detroit and a home and home with Denver. If Portland close out the
season in the three seed, the Rockets and the Warriors would end up on the same
side of the Western Conference bracket on a collision course in the 1 vs. 4
matchup. Considering there are no easy outs once the playoffs come around,
since Oklahoma City likely won’t end up with home court advantage in the first
round, it makes sense to finish in the sixth or seventh seed and avoid a
potential matchup with either the Warriors or the Rockets in the Western
Conference finals. All part of the master plan.
Stock Down: Billy
Obviously with the recent form of the team, Coach Donovan is
going to end up taking some of the heat. The bottom end of expectations for
this team at the start of the season were to make it out of the first round,
and see what shakes out from there. Donovan could be feeling the pressure as a
first round matchup with the Warriors or Nuggets looms on the horizon. George
has raised his game to new heights this season, and it will seem a complete
waste if the season ends in another first round exit in the playoffs. Fair or
not, the blame will fall on Donovan’s shoulders who has been unable to capture
the magic of his first season in Oklahoma City which saw the Thunder push
Golden State to the brink.
Up Next for Oklahoma
Oklahoma City returns home Wednesday and kicks off a crucial
five game home stand with only eight games remaining in the regular season.
They will look to exact revenge on the Pistons, who they had dead to rights
before blowing their large lead in the second half in their previous meeting.
Friday, the Thunder will host Denver in what could be a preview of their first
round playoff matchup. Oklahoma City has had little success against the Nuggets
as of late, and will want to make a statement headed into playoff time. Sunday,
Dallas rolls into town in a game Oklahoma City desperately needs to win to have
any upward mobility in the Western Conference standings.
Take Us Home:
Predicting what version of the Thunder that will show up is
getting harder and harder, but I’m feeling a little frisky. I think Oklahoma
City will come out on top against the Pacers, righting the wrongs of their last
meeting. They will also roll the Mavericks as OKC looks to get locked into playoff
mode. I think Friday night, Paul George and Russell Westbrook will put
everything together and will the Thunder to a victory against Denver. Lately
the Thunder’s dynamic duo seems to trade off having great games, just missing
the best of each other. This game will be huge for the psyche of the team, and
I think we will see the best of both players and they will combine to take down
the Nuggets. All part of the tactical seeding plan we already covered, yeah?
Well, I’m out of time and out of hot air. We’ll see you next
week, where hopefully we have some more positives to talk about instead of the
doom and gloom, which has rolled in and sat on top of the Oklahoma City metro
area the past few weeks.