Why the Thunder should Fear the Beard

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When the season started, nobody gave the Rockets much of a hope to win anything. There were simply to many unknown variables with this team.

A new coach in Mike D’Antoni, coming from three bad seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, and that later was only able to get an Assistant Coach gig with the 76ers. He was far from his best coaching days, when he led a blazing Suns team that he molded for the talents and genius of Steve Nash, generating 2 MVP seasons from the Canadian.

A constant questioning of James Harden’s motivation to be the star that would carry this team to the next level. He seemed deflated last season, marked by his extremely poor defensive efforts, that rounded the internet in what could be called lowlight videos.

Who would’ve known that the arrival of a hyper-aggressive minded coach and a change in positions could make this Rockets team into the powerhouse they are today?

D’Antoni turned back to the blueprint that worked in his Phoenix days: assemble the most potent offensive juggernaut he can to maximize his uber-talented guard’s best assets and entrust him the driving keys, while staying out of the way.

It worked. By moving Harden to the Point Guard position, D’Antoni’s offense can make use of The Beard’s monstrous slash-and-kick ability and his freakish court vision to empower what would become the second-best offense in the league and the tenth best regular season offense of all-time. Of all-time.

This is one of the most potent race cars straight out of the Speed Racer universe with its multiple gadgets and that was tailor-made to fit the talents of its driver.

And he shares the ball. He became the first player to EVER score and assist on 2,000 points in a season. The ball moves. Unlike on the Thunder offense.

Westbrook had an amazing season, in good and bad ways. He averaged a triple-double for the season. But he played the ultimate version of hero ball to get there. Everything the Thunder did had to go by his hands. Where were Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, André Roberson, that were so good on the Playoffs last year? What happened to Victor Oladipo, a former top-5 lottery pick that had his good moments on the Orlando Magic? Westbrook sucked the life out of this OKC offense while feeding his monstrous numbers.

Everybody knows what the Thunder is doing on offense. Nobody knows what is coming out of Harden’s Mach 5. And he’s ready to cook.

Rockets vs. Thunder: MVP Shootout

Is James Harden or Russell Westbrook the better player?

While the NBA Playoffs won’t start until April 15th, the match-ups for the Round 1 games are already set. One of the highly anticipated games is the #3 Houston Rockets facing off against the #6 Oklahoma City Thunder. But the most talked about factor of this game isn’t necessarily which team will win but which star will play better, James Harden or Russell Westbrook. All season there have been talks of these two each being in contention for the MVP spot and all of the debating could come to an end after this game.

4 reasons James Harden is the MVP pick

  1. He is the first ever NBA player to both score and assist on 2,000 points in a single season.
  2. His team is ranked higher in the Western conference
  3. Most games in NBA history with 30-plus points and 15-plus assists
  4. Leads the league in assists per game

CBS Sports says of Harden:

“The Rockets are special this season, and that is first and foremost because of the play of Harden.”

4 reasons Russell Westbrook is the MVP pick

  1. 42 triple-doubles in a season, NBA record
  2. Has a higher average points per game than Harden
  3. Second player in league history to average a triple-double
  4. Many believe Westbrook carried the Thunder to their playoff spot

The New York Post says of Westbrook:

“Russell Westbrook doesn’t take ‘rest games.'”

Below is a side-by-side breakdown of some of Harden and Westbrook’s stats. No matter which player is your pick, you have to admit that they’ve both showed up this season.

HardenWestbrookStats

Dirk 1, Father Time 0

NBA-Playoffs - Dallas Mavericks - Denver Nuggets

Dallas Mavericks player Dirk Nowitzki from Germany celebrates a basket.

The Dallas Mavericks’ playoff run was shut down by the young, athletic Oklahoma City Thunder in a quick 5 games. But in a series highlighted by young superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the performance of 37 (almost 38) year old Dirk Nowitzki deserves some acknowledgement. The aging German averaged a team-high 20.4 points per game, averaging 33.4 minutes per game, a rarity at such an advanced stage in a player’s career. During the decisive game 5, Nowitzki surged up to 14th on the all-time playoff scoring list, passing Bulls legend Scottie Pippen.

The series was almost a lost cause for the Mavs, who were facing injury problems on top of the already dramatic talent disparity in favor of the Thunder. But the team, led by their gritty superstar, never backed down. They showed constant fight and effort, and didn’t take their foot off the gas until the final buzzer sounded. Said Nowtizki, “All you’re thinking basically is just make one more push, make one more push.” The quote is indicative of the way Nowitzki has played his entire basketball life, and at this stage in his career he is cherishing every moment that he gets to compete in the playoffs.

NBA fans everywhere should follow suit and cherish the few moments left to appreciate the greatness of a one of a kind legend. The humble, loyal, compassionate star has carried the Mavs to 15 playoff appearances in the past 16 years, and we can only hope this wasn’t the last.

Longhorns Looking for That RING

The pressure of the NBA Playoffs turns a select few players into diamonds. Proximity to greatness and immortality breeds the sort of intensity that empowers some and stifles others. So, players jostle for rebounding position and call for their shot, all desperate for victory.

There are six former Longhorns who have put themselves in a position for playoffs greatness. They’ve gone from playing sparsely attended home games at the Frank Erwin centers to sold-out, nationally televised NBA playoff games where everyone is watching. But, who are these guys?

Myles Turner

Fresh off his one and done year at Texas, the Pacers forward is in the playoffs and making a difference. During the regular season he averaged 10.3 points and 5.5 rebounds which were within the top-10 of both categories among rookies. Through four games (and two wins) in the playoffs, Turner has brought that production to the next level.

Officially a power forward, Turner plays as a stretch four with most of his shots coming more than 16 feet from the basket. Between his ability to stretch opposing big men past the key and his defensive versatility, Turner has been an integral part of the Pacers success for the Raptors. In fact, Pacers head coach Frank Vogel placed him in the starting lineup of Game 4 and team scored a 27-point win over the Raptors. Turner should continue to play well for the Pacers and if they’re able to upset the Raptors, he’ll be a big reason why.

Cory Joseph

Some people still don’t know who this guy is. Fans of the Longhorns and Spurs do though. As a Longhorn, he put up more than 10 points and game and shot 41% from three. With the San Antonio Spurs, he won a championship as a valuable role player. Now, he’s with the Raptors, trying to secure the franchise’s first second round appearance since 2001.

Joseph is the leader of the Raptors’ second unit, averaging 8.5 points per game and 3.1 assists per game during the regular season. Now in the playoffs, Lowry has disappointed, leading to Joseph seeing more action for team. Although he had a poor Game 4 (0 points, 0 assists), he has played well otherwise, shooting 69% around the basket and playing better defense than he did during the regular season (102 vs 108 defensive rating). He knows what it takes to win, he’s already got a ring. Let’s see if he can teach the Raptors.

Tristan Thompson

372. That’s how many consecutive regular season games Thompson has played in, a category in which he leads all active players. In the storm of controversy that seems to always surround the Cleveland Cavaliers, the former Longhorns big man stands in the eye, always reliable, always playing. Playing that many games in a row requires durability and talent, the likes of which many NBA never combine. During the regular season, Thompson averaged 7.8 point and took 9 rebounds off the glass while simultaneously offering a league-leading offensive rating of 129.8.

Luckily, the Cavs and their head coach Tyronn Lue recognized his incredible consistency and made him the team’s starting center for the playoffs. His stats in the four-game sweep of the Pistons were not great (2.5 pts, 5.5 rebs), but he helped to ensure that the Cavs got the four wins they needed. We’ll just have to see if he can help LeBron & company get one for the “Land.”

Avery Bradley

Yes, he strained his hamstring and will miss the rest of Round 1. But, that doesn’t take away from his being the longest tenured Boston Celtic AND a suffocating defender at the guard position. After the Celtics upset the Warriors and broke their 54-game win streak, Portland Trail Blazers guard and Sixth Man of the Year, C.J. McCollum praised Bradley via Twitter.

cj mccollum

An endorsement like that from a fellow peer compliments the adulation that Bradley has received from NBA commentators throughout his career. That same applause led to Celtics fans fearing the worst for their team versus the Hawks after hearing about his injury. However, the former Longhorn may yet see more NBA playoffs action as the Celtics and Hawks are tied at 2 games apiece.

LaMarcus Aldridge

The former Longhorn parlayed nine seasons and four All-Star game appearances as a Trail Blazer into a 4 year, 84 million dollar contract with the San Antonio Spurs. A team that is conveniently located in Aldridge’s home-state. Although it took the power forward some time to get fully comfortable with the Spurs, he’s still the master of the midrange (43% between 16 feet beyond the basket and the three-point line), capable of shooting over small guys and banging with big dudes at the basket. Oh, and playing on the league’s best defensive team with the league’s best defensive player led to Aldridge’s best defensive rating of his career at 99.

In the playoffs, Aldridge nearly averaged a double-double, putting up 14.5 points per game and grabbing 8 rebounds in a four game sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies. If the Spurs want to take down the winner of the Mavericks/Thunder series and get to the conference finals, they’ll need Aldridge to continue to score buckets and defend big men. I think I can handle it.

Kevin Durant

What can anyone say about Kevin Durant that hasn’t already been said? The dude won an MVP in 2014, broke his foot (multiple times) in 2015 and rebounded to his superstar form in 2016. Oh, and he occasionally makes his way back to Austin to make the Longhorns ever more proud of what he’s accomplished in the NBA.

This year, he finished third in scoring, with 28.2 points per game, behind former Thunder teammate James Harden (29.0) and three-point shooting king Steph Curry (30.1). While he struggled with injuries during the first half of the season and the Thunder suffered a post-All Star break slump, both Durant and the Thunder appear ready to contend for a championship. They hold a 3-1 series lead over the Mavericks and feature two of the best players in the entire league. We’ll see if KD can have his diamond moment and get a ring.

Can LeBron end the Cleveland Championship Drought?

As the Cleveland Cavaliers put the finishing touches on a first round sweep of the Detroit Pistons, the questions once again arises: Will this be the year the Cleveland championship drought comes to an end? With over 50 years since the last time hardware found home in the Land (Cleveland Browns, 1964), there is a new sense of hope in the city. With the Cavs putting a cherry on top of a clean sweep of Detroit tonight with a 100-98 victory over the Reggie Jackson led Pistons, the Cavs have never looked better. With the “Big 3” (Lebron, Irving, and Love) showing the team chemistry we have been waiting for all season, a deep run into the playoffs looks promising.hi-res-8dfe0b6a8c6a400e8dcd8a3023f3f70b_crop_north With the Cavs’ next round matchup still duking it out in the first round (Atlanta Hawks vs. Boston Celtics), the Cavs should have fresh legs to take on their Eastern Conference Semi-Finals opponent at full strength. With rumors of an early LeBron departure this offseason if Cleveland does not make a deep run, the stakes have never been higher. As James, who turned 31 in December, begins to hit the twilight of his prime, winning becomes a number one priority, a priority which needs to come sooner than later (at all costs). With most analysts predicting a Cavaliers appearance in this years finals, the question remains who will be the Western Conference representative. Whether it be the 73-9 Warriors, or the oft overlooked Spurs, Cleveland will certainly have their hands full regardless of which team they are matched against. With the NBA Finals slated to begin on June 2nd, only time will tell if LeBron and company can bring a ring back to Cleveland.