UNDEFEATED! I’ll gladly admit that I overestimated the coolness of D’Angelo Russell’s veins and underestimated the “HOW DOES HE DO IT?” ability of Russell “MVP” Westbrook in my first piece. The Oklahoma City Thunder were able to come out of the first week of play unscathed and currently one of six teams that have yet to lose a game this season.
However, last week’s schedule (the Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, and Los Angeles Lakers are a combined 1-8) wasn’t exactly a murderer's row of opponents.
That would be this week’s slate.
While Westbrook doesn’t care who the Thunder face off against, unless the team is unable to raise its play to another level, this week could be a sharp crash down to Earth for OKC after a promising start.
THUNDER RECORD: 3-0 — BRANDON’S RECORD: 2-1
*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.*
11/2 AT Los Angeles Clippers
FORECAST: Overcast With High Chances of Thunder and Lightning
In a clash between two undefeated teams, the Thunder get their first look at the same-old Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday night.
Blake Griffin looks to be back to his high-flying self after multiple injuries sidelined him for the better part of last year. Chris Paul is still the “Point God” and DeAndre Jordan’s hair still looks like a tumbling weed.
However, the success (or more likely predictable failure) of this team rests largely on Doc Rivers’ shoulders. As coach and president of basketball operations, Rivers has yet to find a fifth player that can fit best with the foursome of Paul-Redick-Griffin-Jordan. The options now are still Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, Luc Richard Mbah A Moute, or a Rivers-Child-To-Be-Named-Later.
These teams used to tussle for the head of the Western Conference’s second tier, and now with Kevin Durant gone, it looks like they still will be battling for second banana status behind the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors.
PREDICTION: Thunder 106, Clippers 115
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: Blake Griffin
Oklahoma City’s own is facing his first ever run at unrestricted free agency following this season. Naturally, the lines have been drawn and the dots connected to make Blake Griffin return home one of the most popular rumors of the 2016-17 season. Griffin is a dynamic and versatile athlete and a clear 2nd tier superstar. He can put you on a poster one play, break your ankles the next, and then drain a three right after that. Griffin had a down year last season, mostly due to injury, but when healthy he’s one of the ten best players on the entire planet. With Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant gone, the task of guarding Griffin is likely to be split amongst Domantas Sabonis, Ersan Ilyasova, Joffrey Lauvergne, and Nick Collison. That isn’t ideal for the Thunder. Keeping the other two parts of the Clippers three-headed monster (Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan) in check will be necessary too, but Griffin will be the most difficult task for OKC.
11/3 AT Golden State Warriors
FORECAST: FIRE AND BRIMSTONE SHALL RAIN FROM THE HEAVENS
There really aren’t any words that can adequately describe the attention, drama, focus, hype, etc. that will surround this game from the morning through the night on Thursday. I will say this much: Russell Westbrook will dunk on Kevin Durant. Take that to the bank.
PREDICTION: Thunder 111, Warriors 120
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: Kevin Durant
I think the entire Thunder contingent enjoyed the shellacking that the San Antonio Spurs put on the Warriors Opening Night. However, lost in all the hot takes was the fact that KD has fit seamlessly into the Warriors offense. His 24-10 double-double was the least taxing double-double of his career. This team is going to figure it out and it’ll be truly scary when they do. Thankfully, the Thunder get their first crack at this juggernaut early in the season. RUSSELL WESTBROOK’S SCORCHED EARTH TOUR will definitely feature a Kanye West style mosh pit specifically for the Oakland stop. OKC knows Durant well and it’ll be interesting to see how they choose to defend him. However, the defensive end is where KD could cause the biggest problems for the Thunder. He has been everywhere for Golden State in their first few games--he leads the team in blocks--and if he continues to put a full effort on that side of the court, he could have a Kawhi Leonard-level impact.
11/5 vs Minnesota Timberwolves
FORECAST: Ice Cold with Brisk Winds
Minnesota has gotten off to a slower than expected start to begin the Tom Thibodeau era. Zach LaVine looks even more confident in himself, Karl-Anthony Towns is starting to understand the subtle nuances of defense that only Thibs could instill in a player, and Andrew Wiggins still doesn’t pass or get steals.
There has been one noticeable change for the Timberwolves, though. Kris Dunn is now the starting point guard. Ricky Rubio--who miraculously knocked down a game-winning three-pointer against OKC last year--is sidelined indefinitely with an elbow injury.
It was only a matter of time before Dunn supplanted Rubio, but it wasn’t supposed to be this early into the year. Dunn is a fierce competitor and watching him and Westbrook go at each other will be must-see television.
PREDICTION: Thunder 98, Timberwolves 108
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: Karl-Anthony Towns
Karl-Anthony Towns, to steal a Fran Fraschilla phrase, is two years away from being two years away from the title of the best basketball player on Earth. After turning the NBA world on its head as a rookie, Towns has somehow managed to get even better in his second season. The 20-year-old can do everything well and with the teachings of future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett still ringing in his ear, Towns’ ceilings grows higher and higher. For the Thunder, this is the second consecutive week that Steven Adams will have his hands full with an uber-talented young big. He was all right against future Rookie of the Year, Joel Embiid. Embiid scored 20 points in 22 minutes via an array of post moves and jump shots, but his costly offensive charge late in the game sealed the 76ers fate. If Adams can repeat his performance defensively--Embiid needed 16 shots to score 20--again then OKC should be in for another close game. If Adams can do a better job of holding his own against Towns, this could be a game the Thunder win handily.