The Oklahoma City Thunder played four games since last Thursday and split the results with two wins and two losses. The Thunder defeated the already eliminated Washington Wizards without too much effort and, in an OKC classic comeback, the Miami Heat. The two losses came against two hungry teams fighting for the last available spot in the playoffs: Memphis and Phoenix. Both defeats had a common factor: a hot first quarter for OKC and then three-quarters of bad basketball on both ends of the floor.
Loss-Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies: 92 – 121
Win-Oklahoma City Thunder vs Washington Wizards: 121 – 103
Loss-Oklahoma City Thunder at Phoenix Suns: 101 – 128
Win-Oklahoma City Thunder vs Miami Heat: 116 – 115
DARIUS BAZLEY IS GROWING FAST
Since the “Bubble” started, Darius Bazley is showing up tremendous progress. In the seven games played, the rookie is averaging 13.6 points per game, while shooting 45.3% from the floor, 47.2 from behind the arc, and 83.3% from the free-throw line. He is also adding 6.0 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. However, the twenty years old is putting together even more impressive numbers in the past three games: 22.0 points (55.8% FG, 60% 3PT, 75% FT), 8.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.0 steal. Bazley is becoming confident game after game, and he is peaking right before the playoffs start. An extra weapon for the Thunder from the bench? We will have to wait and see because the playoffs are a different animal, but the kid is looking good right now.
PLAYOFFS MATCH UP
It’s official: the Oklahoma City Thunder will face the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. There are so many narratives attached to this series: Westbrook vs his Thunder, CP3 vs Harden and the Rockets, the Thunder trying to get out from the first round for the first time after the departure of Durant, and the Rockets with everything to lose. The matchups on the court also will be amazing to watch, Dort (if the knee injury he suffered against Miami is not too serious) guarding Harden or Westbrook? How will the Thunder take advantage of Adams in the post? Without a doubt, the best first-round series the NBA could have asked for this year.
It will be interesting to see how Billy Donovan will manage the rotations in the playoffs. The Thunder have eight players that will play most of the minutes. The starting five, the candidate sixth man of the year Dennis Schröder, Nerlens Noel, and Darius Bazley. I could see some minutes for Andre Roberson and Haminu Diallo, and if a spark is needed on offense to open the floor with Mike Muscala. I don’t see Terrence Ferguson (sigh!) and Abdul Nader getting any substantial minutes in the playoffs.
After an impressive defensive showing in the first three games, the Thunder collapsed on that end of the floor. OKC had a 97.3 defensive rating in the first week, while they dropped it to 114.5 in the past four games. A big aspect, to keep in consideration for this decline, is the absence of many key players in some of the last games. However, yesterday, against the Miami Heat with a team at full strength, the Thunder allowed the Heat to score forty-two points in the first quarter. That’s terrible. To advance to the second round, Oklahoma City will have to make of the defense their focus. Get defensively sloppy against players like Harden and Westbrook, and you might be in for a beatdown.
A SEASON OF COMEBACKS
This team never dies: last night, the Thunder completed the 17th comeback while trailing after three quarters. No other team in the league has more than nine of such comebacks during the season. What’s more impressive this time around, is that Oklahoma City erased an eighteen points deficit entering the last quarter, just with its bench players. This shows that the veteran players are transmitting the will to win, and to never give up also to the young guys. No matter how the next games will unfold, this Thunder team will always have a chance.