Two weeks in a row? You bet! The basketball weatherman is back again, and after going 2-1 last week the Oklahoma City Thunder have a total of four games slated this week. The highlight has to be the Christmas Day matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves. However, before we get too far ahead of ourselves there are three other games to discuss. Let’s not waste time and jump right into the games!
THUNDER RECORD: 16-11 BRANDON RECORD: 10-6
*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.*
12/19 vs Atlanta Hawks
FORECAST: Triple-Doubles Roasting On An Open Fire
The Atlanta Hawks have not been the same team that we’ve grown accustomed to over the last few seasons. Gone is Al Horford, and while Dwight Howard is about as good of a replacement as Atlanta could’ve asked for, the team has not yet matched its play. They are also replacing Jeff Teague with Dennis Schroeder.
They still have Mike Budenholzer on the sidelines, and as long as that remains the case the Hawks are a dangerous team -- just ask the Toronto Raptors. Coach Bud has helped grow the Hawks into the San Antonio Spurs-East, but without the NBA championships.
In the year of returns, this will be a night where Thabo Sefolosha comes back to his old OKC stomping grounds. Sefolosha is having his best season since 2012 or as I like to call it, “The year Patrick Beverley ruined EVERYTHING!”
PREDICTION: Thunder 114, Hawks 100
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: Paul Millsap
Paul Millsap is going to go down as one of the most underrated and underappreciated players of his age. Millsap’s ability to transition from rebounding savant (think less athletic Kenneth Faried) to a defining piece of the small-ball era has been nothing short of spectacular to track. Since ditching the Utah Jazz, Millsap has developed a three-point shot, gotten into the best shape of his life, became a threat off the dribble, and is a top defender for his position. In Atlanta, they recognize all of these traits and have wisely done all they could to maximize what the team could get out of him. Millsap has appeared in multiple all-star games and looks poised to be part of that group once again this season. Yet, his future with the Hawks looks murky. The team hasn’t been performing up to par and the team could be looking to start anew with their roster development after seeing mainstays like Jeff Teague and Al Horford depart this offseason. Millsap is the type of piece that could push a team like Toronto into serious contention to win the Eastern Conference. Millsap isn’t particularly great at any one thing in terms of basketball skill, but he can do a little bit of everything very well.
*Prior to publishing, the Atlanta Hawks escaped Oklahoma City with a surprise 110-108 victory. Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook fell just three assists shy of a fourteenth triple-double performance this season. Even so, Westbrook notched an impressive 46-points and 11-rebounds vs. Atlanta.
12/21 AT New Orleans Pelicans
FORECAST: Sleet/Slush mixture
Things have been very up and down for the New Orleans Pelicans this season and this week they meet up with the Thunder on a slight down losing three of their last five games. Aside from Anthony Davis, Tim Frazier, Jrue Holiday and Langston Galloway have been the steadying presence for this team as they made themselves back into a respectable opponent.
That trio gives them all of 18 fouls to use on trying to corral Russell Westbrook. Holiday is probably the best out of the three suited to guarding Westbrook and the two UCLA alums have a history of battling tough against each other.
The real worry with this game is how will the Thunder handle Davis. With Serge Ibaka gone the team no longer has a player that possesses both the athleticism and strength to go toe-to-toe with The Brow. Jerami Grant is the best match athletically, but even the skinny Davis could outmuscle the wiry Grant. Steven Adams can muscle with any human, bear, crocodile, (insert anything else that can be grappled/wrestled here ), but he doesn’t have the quickness to stick with Davis on the perimeter. Stopping Davis is the lone key to defeating New Orleans.
PREDICTION: Thunder 106, Pelicans 110
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis is really good at basketball. He’s one of the rare players that you can trust to score the ball regardless of where he gets it on the court. Davis showed that ability a few years ago at The ‘Peake drilling a shot that would ultimately keep the Thunder out of the postseason that year. This season, it doesn’t look like the New Orleans Pelicans will come anything close to earning a playoff berth. However, that shouldn’t take away from what Davis has done on the floor this year. As the Pelicans one-man show, he’s been one of the best players in the entire NBA on a nightly basis. He currently trails Westbrook for the lead in points per game by 0.8 PPG (29.6 compared to 30.4). Having a player like Davis can make an otherwise horrible team look at least decent. Just like Westbrook’s sheer brilliance has risen the Thunder from a mediocre team to an okay one this year.
12/23 AT Boston Celtics
FORECAST: Frigid Festivus
The Thunder and the Boston Celtics just played a highly-contested game at Chesapeake Arena almost two weeks ago. Though Westbrook did not notch another triple-double in that game it was a much-needed win for a sputtering Thunder team.
Now, the Thunder make the trip up to Massachusetts to face Boston once more. This time, the Celtics will be at optimal --or as close as they’ve been all year to optimal-- health and it could spell drastically different results this time around.
Hopefully, by this time Victor Oladipo will be back on the floor for Oklahoma City as his athleticism and versatility will be needed against the wide array of wing players that Brad Stevens can unleash at any given time. This game will be a good test of where the team stands as Christmas approaches (and a primetime showing against the Minnesota Timberwolves to boot).
PREDICTION: Thunder 88, Celtics 102
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: Al Horford
Oh, what could have been! Rumors were Billy Donovan and the Thunder were hot on Al Horford’s trail in free agency this summer before Sir Ditch-A-Lot went off to buddy up in the Bay Area. A Horford-Adams frontline would’ve been a godsend from the basketball heavens for Oklahoma City, but now it’s no more than a “what if” scenario. Horford has fit in swimmingly with Boston --except that time someone tried to call him out for being a good dad (THAT WOULD HAVE NEVER HAPPENED IN OKC AL!)-- and as long as the chemistry comes together, the Celtics are going to be a dangerous team in the postseason. Horford was playing up a position during his time with the Atlanta Hawks and while he still has some minutes as a center in Boston he is usually lined up at power forward, his natural position. Horford can score inside and out and his combination of basketball IQ and short-area burst make him one of the better interior defenders in the NBA. Horford’s addition will likely get Brad Stevens his first playoff series victory come May, but will he be enough to help this team get to the Eastern Conference Finals and potentially further?
12/25 vs Minnesota Timberwolves
Fun game to play for those more worried about gifts than Thunder basketball on Christmas, take a drink of your favorite holiday beverage every time you hear the Minnesota Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau croak out “ICE!” from the sidelines (Merry Christmas!)
As for on the court, the Timberwolves were crowned as the next version of the Thunder team that exploded onto the scene in 2011. However, the youth movement in the land of many lakes has yet to take hold as it did for the Thunder so quickly. Minnesota has its trio of stud up-and-comers in Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach LaVine and just off talent alone they have what it takes to upend the Thunder.
However, Santa Claus and Russ are really close --sources say-- and good ole St. Nick would not deny Westbrook the ultimate opportunity to stunt on the world by chipping in another triple-double and leading his team to victory.
PREDICTION: Thunder 103, Timberwolves 102
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: Zach LaVine
Karl-Anthony Towns is the generational talent for the T-Wolves, but in the transition under Tom Thibodeau, it has been Zach LaVine that has taken the biggest leap. LaVine made a name for himself by making the NBA Slam Dunk Contest fun again, but lost in all of his high-flying acrobatics is how good of a player that he has become in all other areas of the game. LaVine has followed a very similar path to Westbrook in his basketball career. Under-recruited by high-major schools wound up at UCLA, played out of position then flourished when given more opportunity on a bigger stage. LaVine can score in all three areas. He’s efficient at knocking down mid-range jumpers and is often the player that the ball finds when the shot clock is dwindling down. LaVine’s growth and development are the most interesting to watch in Minnesota. Towns has shown that he’s only a few seasons away from being the next big thing in the league and Wiggins has slotted in perfectly as the team’s second banana. LaVine is the wild card and if he continues to progress at the rate he’s shown so far then this Timberwolves team is very close to vaulting itself to the top of the conference and fairly soon.