Weekly Rumbles 2: Electric Boogaloo
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 13-March 19):
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 Thunder 116-107.
March 20th: 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.
March 22nd: 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.
March 25th: 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 Collison
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 Seeding…?
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 Donovan
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 City:
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.