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Preview: Thumping Thunder skirmish scarily sleek Suns

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No Oladipo may mean we’re in for physical match.

Even the Sun is out in Winter....
W. Bennett Berry

The Thunder, fresh off of a stint of four games in five nights, get an early start against the Suns today. The 1-3 record over that tough stretch definitely hurt OKC’s rep. Though OKC was looking as if they might be an upper echelon West team, their recent performances seem to indicate that OKC is a lower rung one trick pony. As of today, the Thunder have six more losses than the second place Spurs. Furthermore, no player not named Westbrook or Adams has provided any kind of consistent starter level production. Yes, other specialists on the floor do accomplish good things, and some have their nights. But it’s really hard to see this Thunder team having the flexibility to beat most playoff teams in a seven game series.

Buckle up, Thunder fans. It gets worse. Westbrook’s streak of triple doubles ended two games ago. Westbrook averaged horrific percentages against both the Trail Blazers and Jazz. The Blazers and Jazz are very different teams, but both have better ball movement and half-court scoring than OKC. So both teams just ignored the offensive rebounds, focused on good shots, and packed the paint. As long as your team has scorers and a decent defense or rebounding unit, you’ve got the tools to beat OKC.

I remember hearing back in the day about OKC’s flexibility on defense being an emphasis, specifically during the Presti and Brooks days. Maybe even last year, I don’t know. But this Thunder team is so....not versatile. Who’s one guy who can play more than one position? Your best bet would probably be Roberson, but that’s just because he doesn’t bring offense from any position and he plays with Westbrook. Virtually every other player on the active roster gives up serious advantages when switching from position to position. In the computer age, the NBA is extremely specialized. And OKC’s roster is one of the most specialized of them all.

I don’t know any other roster in the NBA that has three centers, first of all. All three centers are big and slow. And none of the three centers presents enough of an advantage to justify having them on the floor more than 60-70% of the time. So, even though OKC has an injury history with Kanter and Adams, three centers on the roster is a little much.

Another issue is the glut of athletes who play rugged defense but can’t score. Hello Roberson, Grant, Oladipo, and Christon. Then, there are those who present a lot of skill but no athletic prowess. Hello Sabonis, Kanter, Collison, Lauvergne, Singler, Morrow, and Abrines. All of these guys know their roles in the game of basketball really well. But they all have a critical defensive flaw, and can only be played in certain situations. In the center is Westbrook, the Sun, the Moon, and the Earth. Off on the side sits Adams, a player that the majority of teams in the NBA would chomp at the bit to acquire.

Where does OKC go from here? A winning record is still very much in view, as is a playoff appearance. But OKC will have to make a decision about their direction before the trade deadline. Rebuilding is certainly out of the question, as is looking at overpriced old guys. Westbrook is too talented and loyal for any sane man to give up on, no matter how bad the surrounding team. But having a center paired with Westbrook that knows him inside and out is extremely valuable. Nothing can replace years of training timing.

One potential direction is staying pat, which has happened in the past. It would be the most unsatisfying option for all parties involved. But sometimes it’s better to stay in a holding pattern than land a plane in a storm. The Thunder can’t force opportunity in the trade market.

Presti has a lot of assets that will have appeal to Middle Class NBA teams looking to improve a certain area. But no player will bring in anybody who can create their own shot. The most we can hope for is a three and D player.

Unless a major change in the roster takes place, it’s just going to be OKC relying on Westbrook and Adams’ magic. At this point, it appears there’s no feasible way to get the offensive production we need out of this roster night to night, particularly in the half court.

OH right! We play the Suns tonight. The Thunder’s first meeting with the Suns this season was back on October 28th. It took a Herculean effort from, you guessed it, Adams and Westbrook in overtime to dispatch Phoenix. The Thunder fell behind because they gave up 40 points to the Suns in the first quarter. This includes six makes at the rim, three makes from within the paint, three makes from two, and only three makes from three. Clearly, OKC had serious problems with Phoenix’s versatility, and put their cards into guarding the three point line first.

What saved OKC against the Suns last time was a physical second quarter lineup that just pounded at the basket. Sabonis had three baskets, Oladipo had three baskets entirely in the paint, and OKC’s bigs got opportunities. It’s never guaranteed that OKC will establish their shooting. So it’s OKC’s job in this game to prove that they’re bigger and badder. Win enough possessions to stay within striking distance, and let Russ and Adams close out. I hope!

Oladipo is questionable, but Oladipo has never been good at guarding shooters. So if Oladipo sat out, it wouldn’t be too terribly detrimental. But it still loses OKC some athleticism and scoring potential

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 94, Phoenix Suns 89.

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Injuries: Victor Oladipo (Questionable), Cameron Payne (Out), Alex Len (Questionable), T.J. Warren (Questionable)

Time: 4:00 PM CST

Place: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

TV: FSOK, FSAZ