Game #36 Preview: Hopeful in OKC
Indiana Pacers @ Minnesota Timberwolves
Saturday, January 9
8:00 PM EST
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
After somehow losing to the Timberwolves last night, the Pacers are now on an 8-game road losing streak that dates back to December 12. Those Indy fans who haven’t been paying attention, might think that Oklahoma City isn’t the worst place to try to break that stretch of failure.
And, on paper, it’s not. The Thunder are only slightly above .500 at home (9-8) and they’ve lost 2 of their last 3 overall (falling to the Bucks and Hornets while beating the Bulls).
Still, the Thunder are currently 19-16 overall and sitting in the highly coveted 8th seed in the highly competitive Western Conference. (They’re sitting there uncomfortably, with Nawlins, Utah and Memphis nipping at their heels, but they’re still sitting there.)
More relevant to tonight, OKC has made a habit of beating the teams they are supposed to beat. The Milwaukee loss they had to open the New Year the other day notwithstanding, it’s pretty hard to beat The Kevin Durant Army unless you’re actually a better team then they are — mainly because they play good defense almost every night and have enough weapons on the other end to outscore their opponent. The first piece of evidence for that proclamation is that they went 9-6 in December. Really though, that is about what you would expect from a team that is 19-16 for the year.
But if you look deeper and examine their actual opponents in those losses, you see what I’m talking about.
The only teams that beat OKC in December were Boston, Cleveland, Denver, Dallas, Houston and the Lakers. All six of those teams are in the Top 11 in the NBA recordwise, (ranking 3rd, 2nd, 7th, 4th, 11th and 1st, respectively), and all but the Rockets are considered likely Conference Finals participants.
The hope for Indy comes in that the Thunder, in 2010, have already stumbled against the Bucks (15-18, which is good for 19th in the NBA) and the Hornets (18-16, good for 14th in the NBA).
Does this mean they will lose to a Pacers team that has the 26th best record (11-24) in the NBA? Particularly considering that Indy is on the second night of a back-to-back and just flew in from Minnesota? And considering that the Thunder haven’t played since Wednesday and have been sleeping in their own beds at home since Tuesday?
I’ll just play the objective journalist card on this one and leave the speculation up to you.
(And if you need anything else to think about, consider that the Thunder are the 3rd best team in the NBA in terms of FG% defense, only allowing 44.0% shooting by the other team, and the Pacers are 27th in the league in shooting at 43.2%. Those two facts combine to heighten the chances that we see — yet another — sub-40% shooting night out of Indy.)
Five Other Things
(1) Kevin Durant is 4th in the league in scoring at 28.4 ppg. Who are the three guys ahead of him? Kobe, Carmelo and LeBron. And KD has a better FG% and RPG number than two of them. Then again, he also averages more turnovers per game than all of them with 3.9 an outing, which makes him 3rd overall in the league in that category behind only two guys who have the ball in their hands waaaay more than he does (Steve Nash and Monta Ellis). Still, Durant is on the cusp of being in that Top 5-8 in the league discussion. Not quite there (without looking, I would slot him around 12th best in the NBA), but getting there. Also, 22 years old.
(2) Aside from one monster game in a win against Chicago where he dropped 29 points on 13/24 shooting, Russell Westbrook has been in a huge slump over the last few games. Take that game out and he is otherwise shooting 32.9% and going 23/70 from the field in his 5 last games. Meanwhile, he has still taken at least 12 shots in all of those games, so the Pacers should hope that he starts shooting — and missing — early and often.
(3) I don’t have any stats for this one, but Thabo Sefolosha is one hell of a defender. He doesn’t do anything flashy, but he denies the ball well, chases around screens and the guy he’s guarding tends to miss a lot of shots. (Because of that and since he’s from Switzerland, I call him Swiss Miss.) He’s everything that Brandon Rush is not on the defensive end. (See also: Milwaukee’s Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Love that dude. And, yes, I know both of these guys are a little bigger than Brandon.) Getting better perimeter defense is a quick way that a team can get a lot better. Wonder what haven’t good perimeter D is like? I sorta remember the Derrick McKey years, I guess.
(4) The Thunder just acquired Eric Maynor from the Jazz by essentially just agreeing to pay Matt Harpring not to play. The Jazz needed to cut payroll and the under-the-cap Thunder were the beneficiaries of a nice young PG who I really wanted the Pacers to go after in the Draft. (Disclaimer: I barely watch any NCAA hoops.) Eric is still assimilating into his back-up PG role in OKC, but he looked pretty good last time he played the Pacers with 6 assists in 14 minutes off the bench for Utah.
(5) James Harden has perhaps the second best beard in the league behind only Baron Davis. Pretty impressive debut for a rookie.
Pacers vs. Loud Noises During a Storm