In preparation for today's critical Thunder rematch with the Chicago Bulls, we had a chance to talk with ABC and ESPN veteran play-by-play commentator, Mike Breen. Breen has been calling NBA games for close to 2 decades and has had the privilege of sitting along side some of the most memorable on-air personalities. He has just about seen it all, and since he will be calling today's game between the Thunder and Bulls along side NBA sage Hubie Brown, we asked him a number of questions about his perspective on the NBA this season and how the Thunder are shaping up with less than a quarter of the season left to play.
Joey Conger: What are your general impressions this season of the league and the Thunder as we now only have about a quarter left to go?
Mike Breen: Well, it’s been a wild year from a number of perspectives. Teams that you thought would be pretty good have been great, talking about Golden State and Atlanta. Those teams have taken several steps forward. Injuries have had a big effect on a lot of teams. Teams have had their title chances and playoff chances greatly affected by injuries. That’s part of the game, though. Really, the team that doesn’t get as struck by injuries will definitely be one of the favorites to win the title.
Joey: Injuries have plagued many teams this year, with the Thunder being hit especially hard. How do you think this has affected the games this season?
Mike: The injuries this year have affected some of the league’s best players, best teams. Some, like Kevin Durant, and Derrick Rose will be back, but there’s also a lot of really good players out for the year. That’s part of the NBA, though. You know, it seems like there’s been more injuries this year than past years, but I recently read something that said that the injuries this year have been basically the same as years past.
Joey: Well, maybe some of that concern from a fan perspective about injuries is that there’s been so many star players being injured. Kobe, Kevin Durant, Paul George, and even LeBron took a little two week break there.
Mike: Yeah, we've really seen some guys resting this year. We've seen for years the Spurs resting guys to have them ready for the playoffs, and they've won championships. A lot of players just need the rest.
Joey: The NBA has established itself as having outstanding announcers like yourself who are knowledgeable and conversant about the game, but they don't overshadow it. How do you strive to accomplish this?
Mike: Well, Joey, I just try to be as informed as possible before I go on air. I try to be really prepared. You know, doing research and watching as many games as possible. Really, though, what we try to do is let the game dictate what we talk about. If it’s a thrilling, back and forth game, you don’t tell as many side stories. Where if it’s a 20 point game in the third quarter, you have to improvise a little bit.
Joey: The game you're calling on Sunday is with Hubie Brown. What is it like working with him, who as they say, "he's forgotten more about basketball than most of us will ever know?"
In my broadcast family, Hubie Brown is a father figure.-Mike Breen
Mike: It’s really an honor and a privilege to work with Hubie. Yeah, he knows as much about basketball as anyone who has ever lived. One of my favorite parts of working with him is having dinner with him the night before. Just to hear the great stories he tells as a coach, and as a broadcaster, it’s amazing. He’s as prepared as anyone. When we sit down with coaches and he asks questions, he’s as energized and prepared as anyone. I never take for granted a chance to learn something when I work with Hubie.
Joey: What is your favorite Hubie moment?
Mike: Well, my first NBA finals I ever worked was the 2006 Finals between the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat. Just being able to have that moment with him, it was really special. In my broadcast family, he’s a father figure.
Joey: What are your thoughts on Russell Westbrook's season so far, and can you think of any other players that he reminds you of?
Mike: Well, his season right now is historical. His February was absolutely unbelievable. He’s being mentioned up there with Oscar Robertson, and Michael Jordan. To do all of that when his team desperately needs him. Every game is so important for them right now, and he brings that energy and force every night. I always say that he’s the most dynamic player right now. All due respect to LeBron, but Westbrook is just on another level right now. What’s even more unbelievable is that, even though is usage has gone up, his efficiency has gone up too. Right now, I have four guys and don’t know who I’d vote for, but he’s right up there with the other three guys in the MVP race.
Joey: Where do you think Westbrook falls within the MVP conversation?
Mike: Well, they’re all pretty even right now. James Harden and Curry have played from opening night, but Russ is doing all of this without Kevin Durant, so I think it evens out. LeBron started the season not playing as well as he normally does, which I’m sure 99% of the NBA would still take.
Westbrook is being mentioned up there with Oscar Robertson, and Michael Jordan. -Mike Breen
Joey: Do you penalize LeBron and Russ for missing games?
Mike: Oh, I don’t think that they should be penalized. Injuries happen, and they’re part of the game. Obviously Russell couldn’t help being out for the first month. I don’t think it’ll have an effect; Bill Walton won MVP and he missed 25 games. It’s really not fair to penalize the guys, in my opinion. If it comes down to the final few games, and it’s really close that might sway my vote if someone’s been performing for 80, 81 games, but others might not feel the same.
Joey: Durant's injuries this season have had an obvious impact on the Thunder's playoff hopes. If they get him back at full health this season, what impact do you think it will have on the playoff picture?
Mike: Well, obviously Scott Brooks would love to have Kevin Durant back as soon as he can. They really need to get adjusted, and used to playing with the new guys before the playoffs. Players really play differently when they have a superstar like Kevin Durant in the lineup. Russell will have to adjust. But Kevin will have to adjust, as well because of how Russell is playing.
Joey: What is your opinion on the Kevin Durant trade talk?
Mike: That is totally ridiculous. I actually think it’s ridiculous to talk about trading a guy with another year on his contract, but that’s the NBA coverage landscape nowadays. You know, I’m seeing stories on the 2016 free agency class, and we still have the 2015 playoffs! I certainly think that rumor doesn't have anything to it.
Joey: Regarding today's game between the Thunder and Bulls, we witnessed a great ending the last time the teams faced. How do you think each team will adjust this time around?
Mike: Well, with Chicago having Jimmy Butler out. They've really dealt with a ton of injuries. Taj Gibson, who’s an excellent 6th man, they’ll have to make up for him being gone. You know, the Bulls are really just trying to hang on and compete with all of their injuries. Trying not to drop too far in the playoffs before they get their guys back.
With OKC, every game is so important. They’re trying to sneak into a playoff spot. They’re also still trying to get all these new guys from their trade comfortable, though they'll have to do it again once Kevin Durant comes back, They just desperately need victories.
Joey: What is your opinion on Oklahoma City’s trade?
Mike: I thought it was a terrific trade, You know, Reggie Jackson is a terrific player, but he just didn't want to be there. They got Enes Kanter, who I think gives them something they've never had before. DJ Augustin is a really nice backup point guard. And Kyle Singler; I like that pick up too. They got all of those guys for someone who was leaving at the end of the year anyway.
Joey: What is your prediction for the game's outcome?
Mike: You know, Joey, I don’t really do predictions before a game. I don’t think it’s right for a broadcaster to predict the outcome of a game. I just hope for a close game that ends on a buzzer beater, or something.
Many thanks to Mike Breen for taking the time to talk to us and be sure to tune in to the Thunder vs Bulls at 12PM CDT on ABC.