A tough way to end a rough week. Serge Ibaka’s return to Oklahoma City saw him net a career-high 31 points, including the game-winner (a baseline jumper over former teammate Steven Adams--Ibaka had Adams’ number all night it seemed) to lead his Orlando Magic to an upset victory over the Thunder.
OKC has cooled off since its blistering start to begin the year. The increased strength of schedule might have something to do with the slow down as well.
This week we are treated to another four-game stretch, but this time it’s split between the number of home and away games. These games also feature a former player coming back to town —James Harden on Wednesday. Therefore, it’s really important that the Thunder bring their A-game right out of the gate.
THUNDER RECORD: 6-5 BRANDON RECORD: 6-4
(counting DETROIT game)
*EDITOR’S NOTE: “On The Doppler Radar” section is undergoing a change. For this season it will be an allusion to the player on the opposing team to watch out for.*
11/14 AT Detroit Pistons
FORECAST: Crushing Winds and Low Temperatures
The Detroit Pistons feature former public enemy number one, Reggie Jackson. However, Jackson will be sidelined for this game as he recovers from an offseason injury. The Thunder should be familiar with the player replacing Jackson in the starting lineup, Ish Smith, as he was called upon by the Thunder in a similar situation a few seasons ago.
Detroit has been a steady team under Stan Van Gundy and that is again the case. The Pistons have the talent and confidence to square off with any foe on any given day. They have one of the league’s most versatile rosters and look to exploit any mismatches that they can create.
The post battle between Steven Adams and Aron Baynes will be two men trying to physically destroy each other and it probably won’t have a direct correlation to whichever one of these teams will ultimately win this game.
RESULT: Thunder 88, Pistons 104
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: Aron Baynes
He didn’t play and this post is late so we’re on to the next game! But Aron Baynes’ 20-point performance had a massive impact on Detroit’s victory. Oh well.
11/16 vs Houston Rockets
FORECAST: TRIPLE DOUBLES!
James Harden wished The Brodie a happy birthday on Saturday. But come Wednesday the pleasantries between the two will not extend onto the court. Ever since Harden’s departure it seems like Russ has a little extra in the tank when these two square off.
Westbrook would not likely be categorized as a defensive stopper by anyone, but against Harden, he’s always up to the task of trying to defend the best all-around offensive player in the game today. Harden has an array of fakes and hesitations that should be successful against an aggressive defender like Russ.
What’s most likely to happen is that these two really fight it out in the box scores. Harden is already one 30-point, 15-assist game away from tying the all-time record for most in one season. Westbrook hasn’t been lagging far behind. He’s second in points per game (31.9) and right behind Harden for the lead in assists per game (13.0 to 10.1).
In a high-paced shootout, it’s going to be a treat to all of those within the basketball world to witness these two superstars battle head-to-head.
PREDICTION: Thunder 132, Rockets 128
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: James Harden
No singular player has experienced a bigger leap in their level of play from one year to the next as James Harden has throughout his career. He went from spot minutes as a rookie to perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Then from that creditable perch to Most Valuable Player candidate when he was sent to Houston. This year he’s cemented himself as a franchise cornerstone with his historic start to the season. Harden has always been a very good passer--us OKC folks should know--and in Mike D’Antoni’s system Harden can make simple passes to great shooters. It’s as easy a recipe as Ramen Noodles. Harden’s offensive acumen is second to none in the league and he still finds a way to create contact and earn free throws at an insanely high rate. It takes time for a player to truly leave their imprint on a team and it seems like we are now getting to see what type of impact Harden is having for the Rockets.
11/18 vs Brooklyn Nets
FORECAST: Overcast with Potential Showers
The Brooklyn Nets have been much better than advertised to begin the year. New Head Coach, Kenny Atkinson is doing all he can to get the most from his roster. Even with Jeremy Lin injured and Brook Lopez playing only 25 minutes a game, the Nets have found ways to hold their own against teams that are decidedly more talented than them.
A day off following what is sure to be a track-meet style of game against Houston might not be enough rest for the Thunder. OKC need not overlook this game as it could very easily result in a head-scratching defeat.
If Lin is still out when these two teams face off look for Russell Westbrook to feast on Brooklyn’s rookie Isaiah Whitehead.
PREDICTION: Thunder 110, Nets 106
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: Brook Lopez
Brook Lopez had been a rumored Thunder trade target before the team ultimately opted to bring in Enes Kanter. Kanter has been nothing short of phenomenal in his adaptation to his new role in OKC — but you can’t help to think “what if” when watching Lopez ply his trade. Would Steven Adams have become the key cog to this team that he is now? Would Serge Ibaka still be around?
Would Kevin Durant..who cares? Would the Thunder have been able to beat the Golden State Warriors? There are many more unanswerable questions that could be brought up, but none of them are any good to Oklahoma City now. What the Thunder need to concentrate on is getting a victory. Lopez is currently the Nets best player--yes I think Jeremy Lin is better and I also think Lopez doesn’t finish the year in Brooklyn--but with the motion and spaced offense new Head Coach Kenny Atkinson has implemented it would be foolish to focus all the defensive attention just on one player. The rest of the players that round out the Nets roster might not be common household names, but they’ve shown through the start of the year that when given the chance they can do damage to their opponents.
11/20 vs Indiana Pacers
FORECAST: Sunshine All Day
The Indiana Pacers were supposed to be a potential contender for home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference this year. The Indiana Pacers have yet to live up to those preseason expectations.
Paul George is a top-10 talent in the NBA, but the rest of Larry Bird’s small-ball Frankenstein roster has yet to gel into the team that it should be. There’s ample time for this team to get its chemistry together and even if it still is off, the talent is there, which means they can beat any team on any given night.
Games against the Pacers have stuck out over the past two years. There was the contest down the stretch of the 2014-15 season where Westbrook tried to do it all, but the Thunder failed to claim victory. There was last year’s post All-Star break debacle where Indiana ran OKC right off their home court. Let’s hope this time these two teams put together a memorable night with a much more favorable outcome.
PREDICTION: Thunder 114, Pacers 99
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: Paul George
A lot of folks in the realm of OKC fandom immediately clamored to bring Paul George to the Thunder once “He Who Must Not be Named” ditched us over the summer. It makes sense, George does all the things the former small forward did and might be a better on-ball defender — but in a six-foot-seven package instead of one that’s seven-foot. George has been hot and cold to start the year, and has voiced his frustrations with the lack of early focus he’s received from his team. If George continues to be disappointed by the Indiana Pacers’ performance, it wouldn’t be all that crazy for Sam Presti to try and pluck him away from Larry Bird if given the chance. George is locked into a five-year extension signed in 2014, which would mean he’s not hitting free agency until 2019 (a year after Westbrook, if Westbrook exercises his player option in 2018). Bringing in George would all but guarantee that Russ re-ups for another long-term deal with OKC. The outcome of this game could have a bigger effect on both these franchises than merely changing their win/loss records.