|2012-2013 NBA PLAYOFFS!|
|April 27th, 2013|
|Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma|
|8:30 PM Central Daylight Time|
|Entertainment Sports Programming Network , Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Comcast Sports Network Houston|
|WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1), SportsTalk 790|
|The Dream ShakeRed94|
|Playoffs: Game 1, Game 2 (Thunder Lead Series 2-0)|
|Regular Season Series: Nov 28th, Dec 29th, Feb 20 (Thunder won Season Series 2-1)|
|Injury Report: Russell Westbrook (Out), Jeremy Lin (Questionable)|
|Reggie Jackson or Derek Fisher||PG||Jeremy Lin or Patrick Beverley|
|Thabo Sefolosha||SG||Patrick Beverley or James Harden|
|Kevin Durant||SF||James Harden or Chandler Parsons|
|Serge Ibaka||PF||Chandler Parsons or Greg Smith|
|Kendrick Perkins||C||Omer Asik or Omer Asik|
The Thunder are pretty much going to roll over the Rockets. They'll provide a stiff resistance at home, but they're just too gimmicky to compete night to night. Thunder by 10.
That's what I would have liked to write tonight. But the events of the past few days have been too powerful to ignore. First, the Rockets go small. By going small, they were able to bring the Thunder's bigs to the perimeter and routinely dominate the post. James Harden was able to avoid pressure, and the Thunder were forced to the absolute brink. Fortunately, their superior offensive firepower somehow pulled them through.
Unfortunately, that superior offensive firepower has taken a major hit. Without Russell Westbrook, the Thunder are missing 23.2 points per game of production, not to mention the main catalyst of their offensive ball movement, a great defensive pressure guy, and a huge part of the team's heart and soul. Many have written off the Thunder before they've even played another game.
Still, without any hard evidence, all that analysts can provide is conjecture. We really don't know how the Thunder will do without Westbrook, or how well other guys can handle larger offensive roles. We can't even really be sure how Scott Brooks will adjust his rotations, much less who's going to start filling what role. (For more on that, check out my other article.)
But, as an analyst myself, I've got to contribute to the great pool of conjecture that currently exists. My best guess is that Scott Brooks' new rotation will consist of something like Reggie Jackson at point, with Derek Fisher heading up the bench. Ronnie Brewer will step in to take the 9th man's minutes, because he provides the most experience and a defensive presence.
As a result, the starters will be nearly as powerful as they once were. They definitely take a hit in terms of scoring power, because Reggie Jackson just isn't as dynamic or athletic as Russell Westbrook is. But they'll also gain a little bit from Reggie Jackson's attentiveness on defense and cool head on offense. I'm not trying to knock Westbrook, but he's definitely guilty of losing his man in transition and bad shot selection. In the end, as long as Reggie Jackson can provide 10-12 points a game and not take too many threes, the Thunder's starters shouldn't suffer too much.
The bench is more of a problem. Derek Fisher wasn't skilled enough to be the primary ball handler in his hey day, much less when he's 38. Moreover, Kevin Martin doesn't really have the court vision or intuition to be a ball handler, mostly working best as a shooter out of set plays. Ronnie Brewer could provide some ball movement, but in the past Scott Brooks has used him as mostly a corner three shooter, which is a huge waste of his abilities. As a result, the bench will probably start to become a problem. I could see them being productive whenever Kevin Martin gets hot, but they just don't have that defense-sucking presence that gets players open on a regular basis. Plus, the defensive black hole of Derek Fisher and Kevin Martin may become even more apparent.
What does this all mean against the Rockets? Well, we're probably going to be seeing a lot of ebbs and flows. I still firmly believe that the Thunder are tooled to beat the Rockets, and as long as they can control the paint they should be able to win by a sizeable amount. Yet, the bench will probably be playing small, and probably not scoring anything. Thus, I have no doubt the Rockets will be able to close out on a few leads that the Thunder get during the game.
Still, this is all conjecture, and how Scott Brooks decides to tool his lineup will be very telling. In any case, the player to watch will be Serge Ibaka. He emerged as the Thunder's third scorer this season, sinking a ton of mid-range shots and grabbing a ton of offensive boards. But it remains to be seen if his game is varied enough to take on additional scoring responsibility. Kevin Martin certainly can, having scored 23.5 PPG just two years ago. Ibaka, on the other hand, is still developing his game. He never takes a bad shot, and doesn't really have the ability to face up a defender and draw the defense. He can certainly survive without Westbrook feeding him the ball, but it's hard to know whether he can score when the defense isn't arranged a certain way, or when he's not given a lot of space.
At the end of the day, this matchup is totally up in the air. That's a bit scary when we thought we had a championship run, but it's the reality. All we can really do is hope that Reggie Jackson is ready for the big time, and hope that Scott Brooks can structure the team accordingly. Because if they're not ready, it's going to be a long summer.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 109, Houston Rockets 100.
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