Weekly Rumbles

March 12, 2019 Columns, FeaturedContent, Sports, Sports Print Print
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BY RYAN CHAPMAN
Pioneer Staff Writer

Weekly Rumbles: Volume 1

Hey there everybody and welcome to our first edition of
Weekly Rumbles. Here we are going to shoot the moon with all things Oklahoma
City Thunder, from game recaps, to upcoming previews, to things that are just
plain fun from around the league. So strap in as we head out on this journey
together for the rest of this NBA season.

Week in review (March
5-March 12):

The Thunder navigated a four game road trip this past week,
splitting the games and posting a record of 2-2. This leaves Oklahoma City just
one game out of the three seed in the lose column. Most importantly, the road
trip saw the Thunder complete season sweeps of Portland and Utah, giving them
the tiebreaker over both teams which could make all the difference in a once
again packed Western Conference playoff picture.

March 5th:
Oklahoma City Thunder 120 Minnesota Timberwolves 131

Paul George’s anticipated return to the Thunder lineup was
spoiled as the Timberwolves defeated Oklahoma City for the third time in three
tries this season. The Thunder once again dug themselves a hole in the first
half, trailing by 14 points at the intermission. Though fans were pleased to
see George back on the court, he struggled from the field, knocking down just 8
of his 25 shots (including shootings 4-of-14 from behind the arc) and notching
only 25 points. Karl Anthony Towns’ 41-point performance will have Thunder fans
worried as the team’s streak of poor defense continued in Minnesota. One
positive aspect Oklahoma City will take out of Minnesota is Russell Westbrook’s
shot appears to be here for good, as he shot an efficient 15-of-28 for 38
points, while shooting 50 percent from three-point land.

March 7th:
Oklahoma City Thunder 129 Portland Trail Blazers 121

Oklahoma City got back on track posting an impressive victory
over Portland in overtime. The Thunder withstood a 51-point barrage from Trail
Blazers all star Damian Lillard to secure their second win in Portland this
season after not having escaped from Portland victorious since 2014. Westbrook
led the team again with 37 points on 14-of-28 shooting, adding 8 points in the
decisive overtime period. Though George finished with 32 points, he was greatly
aided by his 17-of-20 shooting night from the free throw line. He only shot 30.4
percent from the field and was a dismal 1-of-9 shooting from three, continuing
his concerning shooting stretch of late.

March 8th:
Oklahoma City Thunder 110 Los Angeles Clippers 118

On the second night of their road back to back, Oklahoma
City fell to the Clippers in a game that saw them spend the entire night in
dire foul trouble. The Thunder were whistled for 36 fouls. The team finished
with five players called for four or more fouls, including seeing Westbrook,
George, and Steven Adams all fouling out. Lou Williams and Danilo Gallinari
torched Oklahoma City, combining to score 74 of the Clippers’ points. Perennial
thorn in the side Patrick Beverley also reared his ugly head for the Clippers,
thoroughly frustrating George and holding him to just 15 points for the
Thunder. Despite all of this, Oklahoma City put themselves in a position to win
the game as Westbrook connected from three to pull the Thunder within one point
with 1:24 left in the game. However, the foul trouble, paired with the tired
legs, as a result of being pushed to overtime in Portland, were too much to
overcome. The Thunder ran out of gas, and ultimately failed to close out the
game.

March 11th:
Oklahoma City Thunder 98 Utah Jazz 89

Oklahoma City completed the season sweep of Utah and capped
off their brief road trip with a win. The story of the night, of course, was
the performance of Dennis Schröder who led the team in scoring with 25 points.
No? Anybody? Okay so history repeated itself, as once again the headlines
coming out of Salt Lake City are Russell Westbrook being filmed in a heated
verbal altercation with a fan. After the game Westbrook said the fan told him
to “get down on my knees like I used to.” The fan denies these statements, but
the Utah Jazz released a statement saying “players and fans have a shared
responsibility to create a safe and respectful environment,” and they would be
conducting an investigation into the incident. Lost in all of this chaos was
one of the better performances from Oklahoma City as of late. The Thunder led
the way with stingy defense in the first half, including only allowing 16
points in the second quarter. Schröder really was key down the stretch too, as
it seemed when every time the Jazz appeared to be poised to make a run,
Schröder killed off any momentum with a huge bucket. Oklahoma City will hope to
continue to put their best foot forward on the defensive end while George works
through the shooting funk he is in.

The Week Ahead:

Coming out of the all-star break, there were no allusions as
to the road ahead for the Thunder’s stretch run. Oklahoma City was slated with
one of the toughest run-ins to close the season, and this upcoming week is no
different. The Thunder returns home for the first game of a back-to-back
Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets who enter the Chesapeake Arena, winners of
four straight games. Westbrook and company then fly to Indianapolis to face the
Pacers on Thursday night in what potentially could be a look ahead spot before
returning home to host Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors Saturday
night. The Warriors have dropped six of their last ten games, and have a tough
road trip including visits to Houston, Oklahoma City and San Antonio to cap of
the week. Oklahoma City will close out the upcoming week by hosting the Miami
Heat who are currently holding on to the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

Stock Watch:

Stock Up: Russell
Westbrook

The Brodie of old appears to be back. Over the past week,
Westbrook shot 50-of-98 for an outstanding 51 percent from the field. Even
better than that, he shot 14-of-31 from three, punctuated by a ridiculous shot
where he drained a three from the “U” on the court in Utah. All season long,
everyone has said Westbrook is playing fantastic complimentary basketball with
George, and if he could only find his shot again, the Thunder could make some
real noise come playoff time. Well, good news everyone, his jump shot is no
longer missing, and it appears just in time for the home stretch, Brodie has
returned.

Stock Down: Paul George

Since his reinsertion to the lineup, George’s shooting has
been dismal compared to the MVP caliber season he has logged thus far. Over the
past four games, he is shooting just 30.5 percent from the field and 23 percent
from behind the arc. As always with George, shooting is only part of his game.
Thunder fans will be encouraged that his poor offensive performances have not
impacted his effort on the defensive end of the court, but they’ll be hoping
his shot returns soon. George is historically a streaky shooter over the course
of a season, but in the mean time, he has taken a back seat and is taking less
shots while he works through his funk.

Stock Down: Markieff
Morris

Morris was absolutely one of the best options in the buyout
market, and if we don’t consider Paul George re-signing this summer, he may
also mark the biggest free agent acquisition the Thunder have attracted. But,
he has not played up to such billing quite yet. Now there are a few reasons
that can account for this. First, Morris was coming off of a neck injury when
Oklahoma City scooped him up. He had not played since the end of December, so
he could still be getting back into the swing of things. Additionally, Morris
was thrown into the fire, taking most of Patrick Patterson’s minutes in the
rotation as soon as he was signed. He is still settling in with his new
teammates and learning Billy Donovan’s system. The biggest disappointment in
Morris likely stems from inflated expectations of what Oklahoma City was
getting off of the buyout market. Morris was touted as added muscle and
toughness to the defensive end of things, as well as the potential to get hot
from deep in a hurry. While the latter may be true, Morris did not flash much
of that defensive acumen in his previous stint with the Washington Wizards.
Fred Katz, the Wizards beat writer for The
Athletic
, wrote that Morris was “part of pick-and-roll discombobulation
numerous times, showing off a tendency to end up in no-man’s land when guarding
the back ends of ball screens.” This has been exactly the case so far, as
Morris has looked lost on defense when the Thunder engage in lots of off ball
switching.

Take Us Home:

Oklahoma City has a challenging week ahead. While George
continues to do some soul searching with his shot, Brooklyn and the Pistons are
not to be taken lightly, especially on a back-to-back. The big test of the week
will of course come in the emotional battle with the Warriors. Golden State has
looked as vulnerable as ever over the past ten games, and they will be
desperate to get back to their dominant selves on their three game road trip
this weekend. My prediction: Oklahoma City will pick up the win at home against
the Nets, and proceed to drop the next two games. Until the Thunder can show
they are committed to winning with defense like they had been doing to start
the season, I find it hard to trust the consistency of this team, especially if
George is going to continue to shoot the ball as poorly as he has over the past
week.

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