Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Oklahoma City Chokers

There was really no need to play game seven of the NBA's Western Conference Finals. Officially Golden State beat Oklahoma City,96-88, to win the West. But the winner was a forgone conclusion. No way were the Warriors going to lose a game seven at home..

The matter was really settled Saturday, when the Thunder frittered away a lead at home in the final minutes, losing 108-101. The Thunder owned that game, leading nearly all the way, But they couldn't handle the pressure of those last few minutes. Nerves and anxiety gripped the Thunder players near the end. Instead of playing smoothly in those critical last few moments, they got rattled and flustered.

There's no other way to say it. The Thunder players choked--big time..

In those pressurized minutes, they couldn't do anything right. They were throwing wild passes, bricking shots, making horrible decisions, playing sloppy defense. You could see it in their eyes--the fear, the tension.

The Thunder had a 101-99 lead with nearly two minutes to go. But they didn't score again, while the Warriors scored nine points, looking confident in the clutch..

During the season, the Thunder blew many games in the fourth quarter. What would happen is their two stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, would suddenly play selfishly. When the Thunder got the ball on offense, either one would hog the ball, never passing. Either player would drive for a layup or take a heavily-contested jump shot, ignoring their teammates. They would revert to one-on-five, playground basketball.

Both would forget in those moments that the way they built the lead was playing team ball, with lots of passing, with Durant and Westbrook dishing off to teammates who had open shots. That's how they won the opening game of the Western Finals in Oakland, how they crushed the Warriors in Oklahoma City in games three and four, taking what seemed to be an insurmountable 3-1 lead.

But the Thunder played less intensely in game five, losing in Oakland, gearing up to clinch the series in game six in Oklahoma City. Things went according to plan, until those last few minutes, when they had to keep their heads and play with poise. But they couldn't do it. The situation was too overwhelming. They collapsed, while the Warriors played like champs.

Series was really over then..

Both teams still had to play game seven but the outcome was never in doubt, even when the Thunder had a double-digit lead in the first half. The Thunder wasn't going to win. Deep down they knew it. So did the Warriors, who outscored the Thunder 29-12 in the third quarter. That was the game. In the fourth quarter, the Warriors lead all the way, with Stephen Curry leading the way. The Thunder crept close a few times, but could never hit the clutch shots to put them in the lead. Meanwhile, the Warriors hit clutch shot after clutch shot.

According to two sources close to the team, the Thunder players were squabbling and finger-pointing while flaming out late in game six. Apparently the bickering continued up to game seven. That solid, united front the Thunder presented up to game time was just that--a front..

The Thunder second-half collapse in game seven was no surprise. They were doomed--and they knew it. They played tentatively and erratically in crunch time--just what you'd expect from chokers.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Oklahoma Thunder To Beat Warriors In Six Games

All the drama has been drained out of the Western Conference Finals, with the Oklahoma Thunder roaring to a 3-1 lead over the champion Golden State Warriors in the seven-game series.

Yet some do say the Warriors can rally and win three straight. They're dreaming..

Based on what has already happened, this is what's most likely to happen: OKC wins in six. Look for the Thunder to lose Thursday in Oakland. It's similar to their lone loss, 112-91, a beat-down in the second game in Oakland. Then the Thunder shocked the basketball world by winning the series opener on the road, against a team that rarely loses at home. OKC's goal was a split in the first two road games. They got that victory in the first game so they were indifferent to winning the next one. Also, they expended so much energy winning that first one that they needed to recharge. So, with minimal opposition from the Thunder, the Warriors stormed to a victory in that second game..

Golden State fans relaxed and gloated that their team would cruise from then on. They were already mulling over how the Warriors would play against Cleveland in the Championship series.

But wait...

That wasn't the real OKC in that second game. The real OKC showed up and destroyed the Warriors in the the next two in Oklahoma City.

Now what?

Worn out from the last two wins, OKC should take another breather on Thursday. The Warriors, backs against the wall, should come out desperate and play like champs, giving their all to avoid that series-ending fourth loss. Meanwhile, the Thunder will revert to their cruise-control form of the second game and focus on recharging and resting up for Saturday's game in Oklahoma City.

Then OKC will play like they did in those last two home games. It will be a blitzkrieg of passion and fury for a full 48 minutes. The Warriors will play really hard, but won't be able to match the overpowering force of the Thunder, who will give the most supercharged performance in franchise history.

Their motivation? Avoiding a seventh game in Oakland, which they could easily lose..

Don't rule out a Thunder win on Thursday. OKC looks like the better team, particularly with Warrior stars Stephen Curry and Draymond Green in subpar form. But a Thunder win in this game is not likely against a super-motivated Golden State.

If you're betting, smart money is on the Thunder in six.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Why The Thunder Will Whip Warriors in Game 3

The Thunder should topple the Warriors in game three of the Western Conference Finals, currently tied 1-1, on Sunday.in Oklahoma City.

Don't laugh. I'm serious.

Like most fans, you're probably misreading the situation. That means looking at the Warriors' 118-91 rout of the Thunder in Wednesday's game two as an indication that Golden State will roll over OKC in the remainder of the seven-game series.

That's not going to happen. The problem is that everyone is reading too much into that game two win.

That wasn't the real Thunder you saw getting trampled by the Warriors on Wednesday. The Thunder players were in cruise mode. They felt they didn't need that game. They went into Oakland, hoping to win one of the two games there, opening the Finals. Surprise! They won the opener, 108-102, a remarkable feat considering the Warriors are just about unbeatable at home. OKC got their win on the first try. They were content to leave Oakland tied 1-1. So for the time being, they had wrested home-court advantage from the Warriors. Mission accomplished.

Consequently, to the Thunder, that Wednesday game wasn't essential. They certainly played like it wasn't. They already had their win, so they played with no real intensity, no grit, no relentless focus, no sense of urgency. It was far from their best effort, many notches below their performance in the first game. One of their strengths is offensive rebounding. Their burly big men--Steven Adams and Enes Canter--weren't furiously crashing the boards and patrolling the paint like they did in the opener,.

The Warriors owned the Wednesday game before it started. Had they lost they would have been down 0-2 with the series shifting to Oklahoma City. They would have been in a very deep hole, having to win four out of the remaining five games. Also, losing two consecutive home games would have been demoralizing and confidence-shaking. No question, they were in desperation mode. It would have taken a monumental effort by the Thunder would beat the inspired Warriors, in Oakland, in that second game.

In gambling circles, Wednesday's contest was considered a Golden State lock. The Warriors were an 8 1/2 point favorite. Many heavyweight bettors, putting big bucks on GS, cleaned up.

But Sunday's game, in Oklahoma City, will be an entirely different story. You'll see the Thunder you saw in the series' opener--super-intense, focused, ferocious, playing punishing defense, especially on the perimeter. They'll be dedicated to keeping the Golden State sharp-shooters out of their comfort zone. Cut down on the Warriors' three-point production and you can beat them.

The Thunder need this game. Chances of them winning again in Oakland are slim. The Warriors are unlikely to drop two home games in a series where they have home-court advantage. So if the Thunder are going claim the Western championship, they will have to win all their home games.

The Warriors weren't seriously challenged by the Thunder on Wednesday. They will be on Sunday, Fueled by an over-the-top urgency, the Thunder players will give their all for 48 minutes..If they lose this game, they will probably lose the series. That threat will be their driving force.

OKC is the underdog, but by a slim 2 1/2 points. If you're a gambler, put some money on them. When they are at the top of their game, giving maximum effort, they can beat anybody. They are that good. Remember, in this playoff run they have road wins over two teams--the Spurs and the Warriors--that seemed invincible at home.

Look for OKC, in their house, to come away with a victory on Sunday..

Monday, May 2, 2016

Lakers Hire Head Coach Luke Walton--Another Mistake?

Once again the LA Lakers' fans are in la-la land. They're so eager to get rid of the stench of the last few seasons, they're ignoring reality and indulging in their favorite pastime--looking at the NBA through rose-colored glasses.

They are looking at new coach Luke Walton as the team's ticket back to the promise land. This, of course, is because of Walton's success as the No.1 assistant coach of the Golden State Warriors, the reigning NBA champs who are favored to repeat..

What has fans salivating over Walton is that, when Warriors' head coach Steve Kerr missed the first half of this season, Walton took over, piloting the team to a glossy 39-4 record, including a league record 24-0 start. Kerr returned for the second half, leading the Warriors to break the coveted NBA season wins record by one, reaching 73.. For his efforts, Walton tied for 8th in the coach-of-the-year race, which was won by Kerr,.

Naturally Walton has been the hottest coach around, the one fancied by just about every team with a head-coaching vacancy. But he chose the Lakers, where he spent nine years as a backup forward, earning rings in 2009 and 2010.

However, does his success with the Warriors mean he has the skill, smarts and patience to clean up the mess that is the Lakers? The fans enthusiastically say "Yes!." But are they off base?


Walton, 36, is really a wet-behind-the-ears novice. Aside from heading the Warriors for a few months he has no head coaching experience and, with Memphis and Golden State, limited assistant-coaching experience.. Being temporary head coach of the Warriors is something just about any NBA assistant could do. This is the most fundamentally sound team in the league, excelling in offense and defense, always blocking out, sprinting through transitions, rarely flubbing rotations, doing just about everything right. In preseason the players decided to chase the Chicago Bulls' 72-win season record, so they were committed to playing hard for 48 minutes every game. They had no serious injuries or major tensions between players that would derail their effort.

So if Walton didn't have to motivate the players or juggle lineups due to injuries or break up fights, what did he really have to do? Not that much. The Warriors are a well-oiled machine that basically runs itself. All Walton had to do was get out of the way and not do anything to screw things up. That's certainly easy enough. It was like being behind the wheel of a Ferrari set on cruise control...

But does what he did with the Warriors qualify him to rejuvenate the Lakers?. Now he's been handed the keys to a broken-down jalopy and asked to turn it into a sleek sports car. That's something entirely different.

This time Walton is starting from square one. He has a core of talented young players that don't know how to play together. For the last two years coach Byron Scott, who was just fired, put player development on the back-burner, primarily focusing on managing Kobe Bryant's final years. One of Walton's main jobs will be restoring players' faith in point guard D'Angelo Russell who, in a infamous, juvenile internet scandal, threw teammate Nick Young under the bus. That's a major problem that will require skillful handling.

Righting the sinking Lakers' ship is unlike anything Walton has ever done. At 36, he's close to the age of his players and is known as a players' coach. But is that a good thing? Getting the Lakers back on track might require tough, veteran leadership. It was available in stern, defense-minded Tom Thibodeau, who was interested in the Lakers job. But the team never made a move to get him, so he was hired by the Minnesota Timberwolves to lead that promising young  team..

In next few years, here's a likely scenario: the Wolves flourish while the Lakers flounder, with Thibodeau basking in praise while Laker management, once again, is getting blasted for hiring the wrong coach.

If this scenario plays out--and I think it will--disgruntled Laker fans may finally have to ditch those rose-colored glasses.