Archive for the NBA Category

In last night’s game against the Timberwolves, the Oklahoma City Thunder looked as good as they’ve looked in quite some time. Enes Kanter dominated in second-chance attempts, Dion Waiters went 5-8 on three pointers, and Russell Westbrook went on a tear and scored 37 (23 of which were in the first quarter). Kanter, Waiters and Westbrook combined for 95 points, and together the team scored a whopping 138 points.

It wasn’t enough.

I mean, of course it was enough to publicly pummel the wounded Wolves by a margin of 25 points (it’s not every day you beat an opponent who scores 113 points by an additional 25), but it wasn’t enough to get the Thunder into the playoffs. The Thunder kicked off this season with a 3-12 record before getting things on track, but the track this year felt more like an off-road path. Down the home stretch the Thunder went 1-6 by losing to the Jazz, the Mavericks, the Grizzlies, the Rockets, and the Spurs (twice). With three games left in the season the Thunder lost a crucial game to the Pacers (who themselves were battling for a playoff spot) after going 11-28 on free-throws, roughly what my son shoots in our driveway.

The Thunder entered the last two games of the season tied with the New Orleans Pelicans for the final playoff slot. When your chances of making the playoffs depend on another team losing rather than your team winning, perhaps don’t deserve to be there in the first place — especially when that same team beat you three times during the regular season. With the taste of bile in my throat I quietly rooted for the Spurs to poach the Pelicans in the same manner they had recently tripped up the Thunder, but it didn’t happen. Both OKC and New Orleans won their last two games, and as they say, the tie goes to the pelican. (Nobody really says that, but everybody should start.)

I’m not sure much good would have come from making it to the playoffs. There was talk of Serge returning to the court, but walking into the playoff arena cold after returning from an injury is a good way to re-injure yourself. Without KD there’s no hope of winning it all, and frankly right now the odds weren’t good for escaping the first round against the top ranked Golden State Warriors. And you have to think that if Russell Westbrook turned up the gas any hotter he may literally break himself in half trying to single-handedly win playoff games.

Westbrook scored more points than any other player in the NBA this season. His response to that was “it means nothing,” and he’s right. Westbrook, like the rest of us, will be sitting at home watching the playoffs. (You have to think Westbrook has a nicer couch than the rest of us.) Westbrook takes a lot of crap for “being a ball hog” as we used to say when we were kids, but this year he didn’t have much of a choice. With Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka rooting from the sidelines most of the season, Westbrook’s options were to keep shooting or dish assists to new faces we’re just now getting used to calling Thunder players. When forced to the spotlight, some players thrive (James Harden) while others have wilted (Reggie Jackson), but if there was any question as to why the Thunder keep Westbrook when they have Durant, go back and watch last night’s game against the Timberwolves again.

(And if there was any question as to why the team parted ways with Perkins, as much as I liked the guy, go check out Kanter’s stats again.)

A lot of teams have what they call “rebuilding years.” This wasn’t a rebuilding year. It was a good year that unfortunately had a lot of great players cheering on the sidelines. The new pieces of the puzzle that fit with what we do — Kanter, Waiters, Singler — combined with the (hopefully returning) Thunder veterans are going to take this team to the playoffs and hopefully the finals very soon.

Thanks to Anthony Slater and Darnell Mayberry of the Thunder Buddies Podcast for giving us insight to the team and season and (go for the Thunder commentary, stay for the rest of the amazing content) for his post-game analysis. I’ll be looking for you guys in the fall.

Thunder up and out.

Wednesday night for Mason’s birthday, Susan, the kids and I attended the Thunder vs. Hornets game. From the moment we found our seats and sat down I knew there were going to be problems. The people sitting directly behind us were already drunk and being loud and belligerent. This was 20 minutes before tip off.

You know you’re going to be dealing with obnoxious drunks when they shout “USA YEAH MAN WOO!” during the opening prayer, which is exactly what happened. A few minutes into the game, the two guys directly behind us began shouting “DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE!” That is a perfectly acceptable thing to do when your team — or any team, really — is on defense. It’s moronic to do so when the home team is shooting free throws. Later, during one of the timeouts, the Redneck Duo discussed whether or not they could hit a player from there with their hunting bow. The longer the game went on, the louder these two got.

At the end of the first quarter, one of the guys left to go buy three beers even though the venue is only supposed to sell you two at a time. When he returned, he told the stranger next to him how he had defeated the system by buying two beers, setting them down, getting back in line, and buying a third. When he returned to buy the third beer, the vendor said, “damn, that was fast!” When his other buddy returned behind us, he told him how he had defeated the system by buying two beers, setting them down, getting back in line, and buying a third. When he returned to buy the third beer, the vendor said, “damn, that was fast!” Then when his girlfriend returned to her seat, he told her how he had defeated the system by buying two beers, setting them down, getting back in line, and buying a third. When he returned to buy the third beer, the vendor said, “damn, that was fast!” During the third telling of the story, we all chimed in and did the punch line with him — “damn, that was fast!” Annoying.

Right after those three beers is then the f-bombs started. F this game, F the Hornets, F everybody. I finally turned around and told them to watch the F-bombs. Then they returned to yelling “DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE!” and whistling so loud that every time they did it Morgan would jump and plug her ears with her fingers. Don’t get me wrong; I have no problem with people enjoying a game, but a modicum of self-control in public is expected. Shortly after asking them to refrain from using the F-word, I heard them say, “F them, we paid our $10!”

When Susan had had enough she texted guest services. At the beginning of every game, fans are told that if someone is being unruly, you can text a number and they will send someone over to address the issue. So she did, and the response she got back was, “go find an usher.” This was during the middle of the second quarter and we were sitting in seats 14, 15, 16 and 17 in the nosebleed section. Finding an usher is not the easiest thing to do at that point.

And so with about a minute left in the first half, we decided to leave. For the record, this is when *I* began dropping f-bombs, out of the range of my children’s ears (I hope). When I stood up and turned around … let’s just say, words were exchanged. The drunker of the two told me what he thought about me and I told him what I was about to do to him. After a long stare down Susan began pulling me in one direction and this drunk buffoon continued yelling about his “19 and 0 record,” which could have only referred to cow tipping.

Out in the hallway Susan found a vendor and complained about the people to him. The man said he couldn’t leave his station, but began actively looking for an usher. We had already received that advice, via text. After 5 minutes of standing around, we did eventually find an usher, who asked where the group was sitting. Susan then asked if we could be relocated somewhere else and the usher shook his head no. And then we left, with one kid (Morgan) confused and the other one crying because we had just left the game on his birthday. On the way home we stopped by Cold Stone Creamery and had some ice cream. When that didn’t cheer him up, we stopped by GameStop and bought him a copy of NBA2K13 for the PS3. Thank god that cheered him up because I was about to go broke.

When CiCi’s Pizza first opened their doors they charged $2.99 for their all you can eat pizza buffet. What I dislike most about CiCi’s isn’t their pizza (although it can be pretty bad) — it’s being around people that can only afford $2.99 pizza. (It really is the dearth of humanity.) I now feel the same way about the nosebleed section at Chesapeake Arena. The problem with buying $10 tickets is that you end up sitting by people who can only afford $10 tickets. (At our last game, it was a row of Hispanic kids who spent half the game kicking our chairs, and the other half kicking me in the head.) It’s a shame because I don’t think you should have to expect to put up with things like that. I don’t think that “comes with the territory” just because you bought cheaper seats.

Susan sent a follow up message to the Thunder organization, so we’ll see what if anything comes of that. We have tickets to three more games and we’re debating on whether to hang on to them or sell them. I’d rather buy one or two pairs of semi-expensive tickets next year than half a dozen pairs of cheap ones and have to deal with this again. Unacceptable.

Mason was four or five years old when he attended his first NBA game, sometime during those two seasons when the New Orleans Hornets temporarily relocated to Oklahoma City during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Back then Mason was more into the food and halftime antics than he was the game, but there was something about basketball that stuck with him. Since then he’s played one season of soccer and took a couple of month’s worth of karate, but all along he’s said what he really wanted to do was play basketball.

When we moved into our old house we inherited a mounted-in-concrete basketball goal that faced the street. Because you had to stand out in the street to use the goal and because he was so little, Susan and I would take turns out in the street with Mason while he shot baskets. Long before he was physically capable of launching the ball high enough to send it through the hoop, he was out there trying. A crack in the street was designated as the free throw line; the opposite curb marked three-point range. Mason was as happy as a clam standing out in the street shooting baskets, sometimes hours on end.

A couple of years ago I did one of those things that as a parent you should never do. When Mason told me he was going to grow up and be a professional basketball player, I told him that was pretty unlikely. At that point he kind of stopped playing basketball. It took us a couple of weeks to put two and two together. When we did, I did one of those backtracking things (“What I meant to say was …”) and he began playing basketball again. So, parental lesson learned.

When we moved to our new house in 2011, one of the things Mason said he was sad about was losing his basketball goal. Last spring, my friend Howard gave us his old goal that needed a backboard, and my friend Andy gave us his backboard that needed a goal. A few screws and zip ties later and the two were united.

That brings us to last month, when we discovered that the YMCA near our home has youth league basketball. After much pleading from Mason, we signed him up for the 8-10 year old league. To be honest I didn’t think he would enjoy it much. I know Mason likes shooting baskets, but I was unsure how much he would enjoy attending practice, and dribbling, and playing defense, and running laps. Turns out, he loves it all. Every last bit of it. He loves being on the court.

After only two practices, Mason’s team — the OKC Celtics — played their first game. I was pretty nervous before the game, and I told Mason the truth: I didn’t care if his team won or lost, I just cared that he got to play and that he had a good time.

None of us knew this was going to happen, but Mason was chosen to perform the opening tip off for his team. I guess there’s something I’ve left out of this story up until this point — Mason’s tall. He’s the tallest kid in his class (“except for the kid that got held back,” he always says), he’s the tallest kid on his team, and except for the referees, he was the tallest kid on the court. (And, in full disclose, because of his birth date, he was probably also one of the oldest kids on the floor.) When the referee threw the ball up, Mason sailed way above his opponent, swatting the ball down toward his teammate. Game ON.

Although Mason’s team has only had two practices, I guess they learned what their positions are. I guess I shouldn’t call them positions at this point; it’s more like, “where to stand.” Mason’s spot to stand is underneath the goal. After the tip off, Mason ran to his spot. One of his teammates launched a bounce pass to him. Mason threw up a layup and it went in. The score was 2-0, and the crowd went wild.

As the Celtic’s opponents began to come back down court, they lost control of the ball. One of Mason’s teammates grabbed the ball. The kids ran to their spots. Someone passed it to Mason, and he threw the ball through the hoop. 4-0. One of Mason’s teammates scored, making it 6-0. On their next possession they went back to “Operation Mason” and he threw another ball through the hoop, making it 8-0 with Mason scoring six of the eight and shooting 100%.

Mason got pulled out during the second quarter, partially because the YMCA has a rule that every kid gets to play at least half the game (a rule we support 100%) and partially because due to Mason’s bright red face and a misunderstanding, they thought he was over-exerted. He wasn’t, and was dying to get back on the court. He eventually did, playing all of the third quarter and half of the fourth. Mason ended up scoring a couple more times, including the last bucket of the game. The final score was 20-5, I think. (In many youth leagues they stop keeping score if one team gets too far ahead of the other, which is what happened during this game.)

Mason’s a lot like me in the fact that he has more interests than time. He’s got school, he’s got reading, he’s got his video games and gadgets and now he’s got basketball. Maybe he’ll play high school ball or college ball or professional ball and maybe he won’t. It doesn’t matter to me at all. What matters to me the most is that Mason’s doing what he wants to do, and for right now, that’s basketball. Thunder up, Mason, and Happy Birthday son.

Rarely can a person determine the outcome of a professional basketball game by a single shot, much less the first one. But in Game 5 of the NBA finals between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat, when LeBron James (as he has done before) waltzed through a crowd of defenders and threw down a monstrous dunk, I turned to Mason and said, “It’s over.” The score was 2-0, Miami.

Of course we, the Thunder fans, had to endure two-and-a-half more hours of pummeling before facing the inevitable truth; at least this year, the Thunder had no answer to LeBron James’ Miami Heat. After winning game one, it felt like the Thunder were not only a step, but an entire game behind the Heat. Miami adjusted their attack in game two and overcame the Thunder. In game three, it felt like we were doing what we should have done in game two. In game four, we were playing game three. And in game five … hell, in game five, there were times when it felt like we weren’t playing at all. I’m sure the Thunder learned a lot of lessons during their 2012 playoff run, but if there was one thing we all learned, it’s that you can’t spot a team (much less the Eastern Conference Champions) 20+ points and expect to come back.

It appeared that the Thunder’s game plan was to not let LeBron James beat them. To that end, they double teamed him every time he was within half a mile of the paint. This left Miller and Battier open outside the arc, which the Heat reminded the Thunder of by dropping 14 3-point shot in Game 5. That’s not just incredible, it’s a playoff record. By focusing on James’ layups, they forgot about his passing ability; in a sense, their efforts to stop James from beating them allowed James to beat them.

There was a lot of talk of bad calls in the finals, calls that went in James’ favor. And not just talk by Thunder fans (let’s face it, that’s what sports fans do). CBS News recently ran an article titled In an NBA Finals full of 50-50 calls, LeBron is winning 100 percent of the time. Even the ABC commentators during the game repeatedly made reference to “phantom fouls,” calls that went in the Heat’s favor that even using slow-motion replay, they could not spot. I try not to let sports-based conspiracy theories cloud my enjoyment of the game, but there were definitely times throughout the series when it felt like the league had already decided that this was James’ year to win the title and they weren’t going to let actually playing the games get in the way of that. Late in Game 5, Derek Fisher grabbed LeBron James, committing a hard foul to prevent the shot. Fisher walked away with a Flagrant One foul; how dare he stop the (self-proclaimed) “king” from dunking on him?

Derek Fisher is 6’1″ and weighs 210 pounds. LeBron James is 6’8″, and 250 pounds. I sure hope LeBron James is okay.

The most disappointing part of losing the Finals isn’t losing; it’s that, while on a national stage, the people I’ve been raving about the Thunder to didn’t get a chance to see how good our team is. Based on their performance against the Heat, people (and rightly so) have begun questioning how the Thunder made it to the Finals and what they were doing there.

All I can say is the Thunder is a great team. They’ve given us, Oklahoma, a reason to be proud. And, they’re young. Durant and Westbrook, both of whom have signed for 5 years, are 23 years old. Harden, the NBA’s 6th Man of the Year, is just 22.

Here’s a picture of me when I was 22:

In my defense I was running around the house pretending to be a homeless garbage collector. Still, point taken.

The thing is, when you’re an Okie — and make no mistake, the Thunder players are Okies — you play with style and class, even when you’re losing. Other than Fisher’s horrible mistake of trying to block James from dunking, there were no hard or flagrant fouls, no technical fouls out of frustration. The Thunder continued to play. Even when they were losing, even when all legitimate hope was lost, they continued to play with dignity.

Can the same be said for the Whore of Akron? With three minutes left in the game the Heat’s starters stood on the sidelines, laughing and clapping and cheering. Whoever said “money can’t buy happiness” isn’t a fan of professional sports.

“It’s about damn time,” LeBron James said, in regards to the victory. Yes, the victory that was owed to “the king.” After watching LeBron James on the basketball court, I can tell you that he is definitely one of the most talented guys I’ve ever seen on the court. It’s too bad a championship ring still can’t make the guy likable.

So now all the ex-Seattle fans can be happy we lost, and all the Cleveland fans can stay mad that LeBron got what he wanted by abandoning them. Seems like a lot of negativity to me. Me, I’m going to focus on the positive, what what the Thunder did this year. Their third year in the league (last year), they made it to the playoffs. Their fourth year in the league (this year), they made it to the finals. To get there, they beat the returning champions (the Dallas Mavericks) in round one, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in round two, and the team with the best record in the west and undefeated (at that point) in the playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs. The Thunder had an amazing run, are an amazing team, and we look forward to a rematch next year against the Miami Heat in next year’s finals (that is, assuming that a healthy Chicago doesn’t squash them).

Thanks for an amazing year, Thunder. See you in 2013.

“Daddy, who is number 24?” Mason asked me last night in reference to the sea of purple and yellow Kobe Bryant jerseys roaming around the Ford Center. A few minutes later, Mason, me, and the other eighteen thousand people in attendance were shown, in person, just who number 24 was and what he does. Coming off a decisive win over the Minnesota Timberwolves and last week’s surprise victory over the San Antonio Spurs, there was a buzz in the Ford Center, a little bit of hope that maybe — just maybe — the Thunder had a chance of holding their own against the Lakers.

For the Thunder, it was a Cinderella story come true. Unfortunately it wasn’t the part where Cinderella meets her Fairy Godmother and has her wishes granted, but the part where everybody is mean to her and treats her like the stepchild she is. The Lakers made the first bucket of the game and held on to the lead the entire evening. By the end of the first quarter the team from L.A. had established who was in charge by leading by 17. From there things went downhill, and by half time the Lakers were ahead 62-38.

That’s not to say that the Thunder didn’t have their share of good plays. We had pretty good success with a bounce-pass-to-baseline play multiple times, pulled off several dunks and even handed out a couple of aerial rejections that had the crowd on their feet. Unfortunately, the Lakers had answers to all of those things, and we had none in turn for their starting line up who was able to penetrate our defense with ease, sink free throw after free throw, and, when dared, drop three pointers at will.

Being a school night and with the game well out of hand, Mason and I slipped out in the fourth and beat the parking garage traffic while listening to the final nails being driven into the Thunder’s coffin on the radio. Final score, 89-107, Lakers win.

The highlight of Mason’s night wasn’t the game, but the opportunity to meet all the Thunder Girls and have his game book autographed by them. The highlight of Daddy’s night was taking pictures with his cell phone of this event.

Earlier tonight the 25th-ranked OKC Thunder took on the 18th-ranked Philadelphia 76ers. It was my 12th Thunder game to attend in person this season, and my and Mason’s first since the team adopted their new mascot, Rumble the Bison.

The Thunder came out strong and led by 8 early in the first (13-5) and held the lead for much of the first half, which is pretty amazing considering our two best scorers (Durant and Green) are out due to injuries. After taking the lead the Thunder did the same thing they always do — they blew it while forgetting how to play defense. The 76ers performed dunk after dunk while the Thunder just stood around, picking their noses. On one play I watched one of the 76ers waltz through three Thunder defenders and dunk it hard while our guys just stood around flat-footed, looking at one another.

For almost a solid quarter Loud City screamed at the Thunder to do something right. The 76ers stole the ball practically at will and dunked so many times I lost count. But at the beginning of the second quarter the Thunder went on a 20-2 run, which pretty much sealed the deal early in the game. NBA veteran Malik Rose and Nenad Krstic combined for 34 points, close to half of the Thunder’s total score, 89-74.

Earlier in the season I bet my buddy Tim Dog lunch that the Thunder wouldn’t win 18 games this season (this was back when they were on par to win about 9). Tonight’s win brings the total to 17 wins. I hope Tim Dog likes spit sandwiches …

(Mason wanted me to add that tonight was glow-stick night and the first 5,000 kids got free glow-sticks. He also said that the corn dog he ate was very good.)

The surprising part of tonight’s game against the Utah Jazz wasn’t that the game ended with a twenty-one point difference; the surprise came in the fact that the Thunder were the ones that were twenty-one points ahead!

The Jazz came into tonight’s game with a simple plan — shoot lots of shots from the three-point line (or darn close to it), and occasionally drive to the hoop. It seemed like the Jazz missed almost every shot from the outside, and the Thunder were defenseless against them every time they went inside. Based on that you would have thought the Jazz would have simply continued to run straight to the basket on ever possession. They didn’t; instead they continued to shoot from the outside as if John Stockton and Jeff Hornacek were still on the team.

The Thunder on the other hand actually looked — dare I say — good? Offensive plays were run successfully and there were several successful defense plays (including one that broke up a potential alley-oop). New center Nenad Krstic earned his keep tonight by dropping three buckets in a row and constantly competing for rebounds at both ends of the floor. I didn’t notice this until tonight but the Thunder’s free throws look 10x better than the last time I saw them in person. I suspect the team has been shooting an awful lot of them in practice lately. The Thunder were able to keep the number of turnovers in the fourth (relatively) low, and although we appeared defenseless every single time the Jazz drove to the rim, for some reason they didn’t do it enough. Plus, having three players (Westbrook, Durant and Green) all score 20+ doesn’t hurt your odds of winning either. Thunder wins it, 114-93.

We’ll see if this is the start of something or just a fluke this weekend as the Thunder take on Detroit on Friday and Miami on Sunday.

The last time I went to a Thunder game the team was 1-10 and they had lost all four games I attended. Now ranked dead last with a record of 2 wins and 23 losses, the Oklahoma City Thunder took on the 24th ranked Los Angeles Clippers.

While the Thunder may have been in the Ford Center, there was no lightning to be found. The game started close with a score of 4-4, and five minutes later the Clippers were up by 14. The rest of the night was classic Thunder basketball, with our team getting within striking distance and then blowing any gained ground with boneheaded play after play. The Thunder missed over a dozen opportunities to tie the game or take the lead, but instead opted for taking impossible flailing fade away jumpers, three-point shots from way outside the arc, or drawing fouls and then missing their free throws. Desmond Mason (one of our favorite players) apparently attended the Shaq School of Free Throw Shooting; his technique was terrible, the results were predictable.

The Thunder have to do something extraordinarily idiotic to surprise me these days, which unfortunately they typically manage to do. Tonight’s forehead-smacking event came from Kevin Durant, who fouled Clipper Baron Davis on a three-point attempt with 1.8 seconds left to go in the third quarter. Davis’ shot had no chance of going in; instead, he sunk all three free throws, taking the wind out of the Thunder’s sails and boosting their lead heading into the fourth quarter. Final score: Clippers 98, Thunder 88.

As Luke once said about Darth Vader, “there is good in him, I feel it.” Jeff Green swished his free throw attempts with ease and Westbrook helped rally the team while behind, but with 20 turnovers (8 in the fourth quarter), 10 missed free throws and a shot percentage of less than 50%, no one player could save the sinking ship tonight.

One thing I should note; I don’t know if it was the weather or if the Clippers aren’t a big draw, but the Ford Center was noticeably empty tonight. Our row had 25 seats and only six were occupied. There were six rows of 25 seats above us and during the fourth quarter, they were all empty. My friend Bob at work said people were giving tickets away the last time he was downtown. Another friend confirmed the same thing this evening.

In related news, the worst NBA record of all time is 9-73, earned by the 1972/73 Philadelphia 76ers. With a 2-24 record, we’ve currently won 7.69% of our games. A 9-73 record requires a team to win 12.32% of their games. Maybe we’re on track for a record this year after all.

Actually the Thunder are now 1-10, but in games I’ve seen live in person, we’re 0-4.

I’ve run out of witty headlines and humorous ways to say we stink. To be honest the Thunder hung in there much longer than most people expected against the 9th ranked 6-4 Houston Rockets. With names like Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady and Ron Artest, defeating the Rockets proved to be too difficult — even though Ming, McGrady and Artest all left the game at different times due to injuries.

The Thunder kept it close in the first and was down by either six or eight at the half — and that’s when things really got out of hand. In the second half the Rocket’s lead grew to double digits and despite a couple of steals and a couple of dunks, the Thunder was no match for the Rockets. Final score, 89-100.

To put it another way, the highlight of the evening was the halftime entertainment: “Simon Says with Steve Max.”

Mason and I attended another Thunder game last night, where we (the Oklahoma City Thunder) received the butt-kicking most of us were expecting. Last night we played the Orlando Magic. Orlando brought superstar Dwight Howard, who scored the first triple double of his career, while the Thunder’s best player, Kevin Durant, sat out due to a “sore left ankle” (aww).

The Thunder looked like a high school team trying to keep up with the Orlando Magic. The announcers begged the crowd to shout “DE-FENSE,” and each time we did the Orlando Magic would walk down the court, reach up and place the ball in the net. When the Thunder would get the ball the Magic would take it away, walk down the court, and gently place the ball into the hoop. Either the Thunder could not hear our cries of “DE-FENSE” or they simply ignored our advice.

By the end of the first quarter the Thunder was down by 20 (17-37) and some people had already begun leaving. By halftime we were down 29 points. Most people might think it would be safe to pull your star player (Dwight Howard) out of the game, but no, he stayed on the court the entire night, rejecting Thunder baskets at will (sometimes knocking them clear into the stands). The final score (Magic 109, Thunder 92) barely conveys how badly we were over powered.

Mason, with cotton candy in hand and a Desmond Mason jersey on his back, didn’t seem to mind much.