I had some questions about the Thunder entering the postseason and what better way to answer them than a roundtable with the Thunderous Intentions staff.
1. How big of a deal is it that the Thunder ended up as the 2-seed and not the 1-seed?
Blake Potash: On a scale of from Russell Westbrook’s facial hair to James Harden’s, I would say it’s about a Kevin Durant. If the Thunder were the 1-seed, their path would go through Utah and Memphis or LAC, rather than Dallas and Denver or LAL. OKC has played well against Dallas this year. After the first round, I would rather have them play Memphis or LAC than the Lakers, but there difference isn’t that big.
Cody Brees: Not a huge deal. The most important thing is that they avoid playing the Spurs until the conference finals. The Clippers/Grizzlies will have a good chance of knocking off the Spurs before then. It is much more important to find themselves in this first round to get out of their mini-slump.
Ed Kleese: Losing the seed doesn’t bother nearly as much as how poorly they played down the stretch. The Thunder finished the regular season losing seven straight to teams that made the playoffs. OKC hasn’t beaten a good team in nearly a month and they allowed some really lousy teams to push them to brink as well. I do think losing the seed itself hurts in that Utah would have been a much softer first opponent than Dallas. And of course, if we meet the Spurs in the WCF we will certainly be kicking ourselves for losing homecourt advantage.
2. Do you expect James Harden to come back 100 percent?
BP: My experience with concussions would point to Harden not coming back at full strength, right away. Concussions create a very dangerous situation, and if you get multiple, there can be serious consequences. The remaining effects of the hit to the head, along with some caution due to fear of more injury should slow Harden down a bit before he gets comfortable on the court again.
CB: Yes, watching the game, they initially said he was going to be able to come back to play. Heading out of the locker room they called him back. There was no point in risking Harden’s health this late in the season. I believe he could of played the last game or two, but was kept out as a precaution and rightfully so. After a game or two to shake off the rust, I expect him at 100%.
EK: I see no reason why Harden won’t be 100% come Saturday. I’m not a doctor, but I am a blogger and my keen blogger senses tell me that this was probably a mild concussion and that Harden’s absence this week was purely precautionary. I consider it a non issue until we hear otherwise.
3. What is the Thunder crowd going to be like if Metta World Peace’s first game back is in Oklahoma City?
BP: Oklahoma City is home to one of the best fan bases in the country. If the Thunder end up playing the Lakers in the second round, the crowd will constantly boo Ron Artest. When he enters the building, whenever he touches the ball, at any point they will be going nuts.
CB: Probably just booing whenever he gets the ball. There isn’t that much more they can do. I don’y expect anyone to do anything stupid. I would expect it more to elevate the crowd for the entire series, not just for Metta.
EK: Metta World Maniac will be booed loudly and consistently throughout any potential series and I’m sure it will be at a fever pitch for game one. But the OKC crowd is not really a vengeful one and I suspect that the vitriol would fade as the series progresses and people focus more closely on the action on the court.
4. Will Russell Westbrook get into the same trouble this year in the playoffs that he did last year?
BP: Throughout the playoffs, Westbrook is not going to shoot well every single game. The way the Thunder offense is run, he will have nights where he isn’t making any shots but still has 20+ attempts. Hopefully, with the emergence of Harden the team won’t be as affected by these performances as much as they were last year in the playoffs.
CB: Trouble as in being forced to create his own shot? Probably. Thabo, Ibaka, and Perkins didn’t turn into offensive weapons from last year, and that leaves KD and Westbrook. When KD gets pushed off his spots, or the defense shades to his side, that leaves Russ. The trouble is team design and offensive execution, not Westbrook.
EK: I think Russell will perform better this post-season than he did last year. After a shaky start to the season, he really calmed down and improved in almost all facets of the game. While he still has too much Tasmanian Devil in him, I also believe that he is a cerebral player who understands the game. Last year against Dallas, the match-ups favored him, yet he did not play well over the course of the series. He was simply two steps ahead of himself and the veteran laden Mavs baited him into poor decisions. This year, I believe he will rebound from the WCF last year and be more of a consistent force. His jumper is greatly improved, which forces the defense to respect him on all areas of the floor. On paper, Dallas doesn’t have anyone who can guard him. And don’t forget that for whatever reason JJ Barea gives Russell major problems and he’s sitting at home for the playoffs this year.
5. How far will the Thunder go?
BP: NBA Finals loss. I really like the Thunder’s chances to get one step farther than last year. They have another year of experience, and have improved significantly on the defensive end. Durant, Westbrook, and Harden can lead the Thunder past the Mavericks and Lakers without too much trouble. If they can find a way to hold off the Spurs, the Thunder will be four wins away from a championship. Unfortunately, they will fall just short, losing in a Game 7 on the road.
CB: As far as Westbrook takes them. That’s right Westbrook. You know what you are getting from Durant, but Westbrook is critical. With a likely match up with the Lakers, he has to be able to take advantage of Sessions with MWP locked up on Durant. If they face the Spurs, if he can contain Tony Parker they win that series. I don’t see any reason they shouldn’t see Miami in the finals, unless they run into a hot Spurs team.
EK: Had you asked me this question on April 1st, I would have looked you straight in the face (which is hard to due through the internet) and told you that I thought the Thunder would win the whole thing. I was very confident in the way the team was playing and I felt they had a great chance to buck the 30 year trend of veteran teams winning the title. But you didn’t ask this question on April 1st, did you? Right now, my confidence is shaken due to the shift in mentality down the stretch. Out of the clear blue, the Thunder can’t stop anybody and they can’t close out games…that is a recipe for pure disaster. I keep trying to convince myself that they just got bored and lazy for three weeks, but I’m not really buying what I’m selling there. For the record, I’ll say OKC takes down Dallas in 5 and beats the Lakers in 7. Hopefully, someone takes out the Spurs for us, but I don’t see it happening this year….Spurs over Thunder in 6.