After six games, I’m ready to admit that I know nothing. The point where I stop believing in my own predictions varies from season to season, but this year we’ve reached that point fairly quickly. The Thunder—outside of a poor showing against the Golden State Warriors—have been one of the best teams in the NBA through two weeks.
Currently, they have the best record in the entire Western Conference, and the RUSSELL WESTBROOK SCORCHED EARTH TOUR is off to an absolutely amazing start. The walking triple-double is averaging 33.2 points per game, 9.7 assists per game and nine rebounds per game. His MVP-caliber play has helped this team remain among the elite of the NBA through six games.
This week brings us four home games and the return of one of the franchise’s most beloved players.
THUNDER RECORD: 5-1 — BRANDON RECORD: 3-2
*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.*
11/7 vs Miami Heat
FORECAST: WHATEVER WEATHER DION WANTS!
THIS IS NOT A DRILL! DION WAITERS IS BACK! SPREAD THE NEWS! WAITERS ISLAND HAS SURFACED ONCE MORE!
Forget last week—and any other future reunions with “He Who Must Not Be Named”—this is the game that all of Oklahoma City should have circled on their calendar. Dion Waiters would want it no other way and whatever Dion wants, Dion gets (at least in the form of my writing).
Waiters has found himself in South Beach, he is third in minutes per game (33.4), fourth in field goals attempted (60), fifth in points per game (11), number 11 in your program and number one in our hearts.
With Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade gone the Heat have transformed themselves into a rag-tag, Goran Dragic-Hassan Whiteside pick-and-roll, defensive team as Erik Spoelstra continues to prove that he is one of the best coaches in the NBA.
The Thunder are going to make sure there is no let-up, but that shouldn’t be a problem with Westbrook serving as the pulse of this team.
PREDICTION: Thunder 98, Heat 94
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR:
Dion Waiters Hassan Whiteside
Whiteside has gone from NBA afterthought to the highest paid player on one of the league’s most recognizable teams. However, the Thunder have a $100 million big man of their own now too (yes, I know Whiteside is technically a 98 million big man, but just let me have this one okay?) in Steven Adams. This will be a good test for both newly-rich bigs. Whiteside has the length and athleticism advantage, while Adams is stronger and an elite defender in the post. Whiteside is doing his part for Miami as he is one of only four players in the NBA averaging at least 15 PPG, 10 RPG and two BPG. When on his game and focused, Whiteside is one of the most lethal rim protectors in the league. Russell Westbrook isn’t going to back down from the challenge of finishing at the rim with Whiteside near, but if Whiteside can stifle Westbrook enough then the offense could have trouble producing.
11/9 vs Toronto Raptors
FORECAST: Cold Front Approaching From The North
The Toronto Raptors have started off the year strong as they look to prove that their run to the Eastern Conference Finals last season was no fluke. They are 4-2 as of this post and held their own against the Cleveland Cavaliers in an early season rematch of their playoff series.
However, they are coming off a bad home loss to the Sacramento Kings on Sunday. Toronto gets time to rest up and lick their wounds. This Wednesday's matchup against OKC will be the first game they’ll play since losing on Sunday. DeMar DeRozan had been en fuego to begin the season, scoring 30-plus points in the Raptors’ first five games—a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since Michael Jordan in 1986-87.
DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have kept up their All-Star level play and the Raptors know who they are, which isn’t something to be overlooked. OKC has gotten by early on sheer will and effort in some of their games. To win this matchup they’re going to need to bring up their level of skill too.
PREDICTION: Thunder 106, Raptors 110
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: DeMar DeRozan
As noted above, few players have had a better start to a season than DeRozan this year. Through six games, he’s notching career-high numbers in the following categories: field goal attempts (24.5), field goal percentage (52.4), effective field goal percentage (53.1), free throw attempts (9.2), free throw percentage (83.6), rebounds per game (4.8) and points per game (33.7). DeRozan has long been regarded as an inefficient player, yet he’s been nothing short of an analytics All-Star this season. He’s still working out of the midrange and favoring long two-pointers over threes, but when the shots go in the inefficiency goes down as well. Andre Roberson and Victor Oladipo are going to have their hands full trying to slow down the Raptors wing. DeRozan can shoot over Oladipo at will and Roberson isn’t as athletic as DeRozan. This will be an intriguing matchup for OKC.
11/11 vs Los Angeles Clippers
FORECAST: Major Pwning
Heading into tonight’s slate of games, the Los Angeles Clippers have the same record (5-1) as the Thunder. But, seeing as we beat them once already, at Staples Center too nonetheless, they are not first in the West in this writer’s eyes.
Since acquiring Chris Paul before the lockout-shortened season in 2011, the Clippers are a resounding 10-15 against the Thunder (including the playoffs). For one reason or another, OKC has had the upper hand against Los Angeles’ other team during the CP3-Blake Griffin era.
I ignored these influential stats before the teams’ first meeting a week ago, but I will not be ignorant again.
PREDICTION: Thunder 120, Clippers 111
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: Chris Paul
CP3 has long been the antonym to Westbrook’s style of play as a point guard. Paul is seen as a true floor general and a pass-first player. Though the ball is in Paul’s hands for the length of most possessions he is often looking for ways to set up his teammates for easy scores. The Point God is still going strong as he approaches 32 (his 3.5 steals per game would be a career high). In the first matchup against the Thunder, Paul chipped in 15 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and six steals. Yet it was his five turnovers and 36.4 shooting percentage that had a bigger impact on the game. Forcing Paul to become a scorer is often the best tactic against him. At a list six-feet, it’s harder for him to create good looks over taller and longer defenders. It also forces the Clippers offense to become stagnate. So instead of looking for the neat player comparison charts that ESPN will surely flash on the screen during the game, keep an eye on which point guard is able to take better care of the ball. Last week, Westbrook had double the amount of Paul, but the sloppiness of the game gave OKC the upper hand and it resulted in a huge road win for the Thunder.
11/13 vs Orlando Magic
FORECAST: Showers With Sweeping Winds
Oh just our first game against a team we made a major offseason deal with just a few months back, no big deal.
Victor Oladipo gets to wave his shiny new $84 million contract—one year and one million less than what the Magic gave Evan Fournier (the player they chose to keep over Oladipo) to resign during free agency—in his former team’s face.
Vic has been hit or miss with his shooting to begin the season (three games shooting under 40 percent from the field and under 30 percent from three and three games over 40 percent from the field and over 40 percent from three), but expect him to bear it all on the court against the Magic.
Also, Air Congo makes his return flight to OKC, but that’s only a minor detail…
PREDICTION: Thunder 102, Magic 88
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: Serge Ibaka
Figuring out who is Orlando’s best player is no easy task, even the Magic have struggled to find a resolution. Ibaka has been given the bigger and more involved role in the offense that he sought with the Thunder and has produced so far. He’s currently averaging his second-highest PPG of his career (14.3) and is attempting his second most shots per game for his career (12.2). His perimeter game is still flourishing as he’s knocking down 35.7 percent of his triples. However, Ibaka’s defense has seen a complete downfall to start the year. His 0.8 blocks per game would be a career-low, as would his 5.4 rebounds per game. At 27 years old, it’s hard to believe that Ibaka has already hit his peak, but the numbers have shown a drop off in his production lately. Maybe a trip back to the friendly confines of the Chesapeake Arena will be the jumpstart that Serge is searching for this year. Or maybe the Magic’s offseason plan of acquiring ALL of the big men is backfiring badly against them. Either way, when this game tips off on Sunday it will be great to see a fan-favorite back in Oklahoma City once again.