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Russell Westbrook

Winning Three More Games – Oklahoma City Thunder Season Preview

Starting Five: PG Russ Westbrook, SG Thabo Sefolosha, SF Kevin Durant, PF Serge Ibaka, C Kendrick Perkins

Key Bench Players: PG Eric Maynor, SG James Harden, G/F Daquan Cook, PF Nick Collison, F Perry Jones III
Notable offseason additions: F Perry Jones (28th overall pick)
Notable offseason subtractions: PG Derek Fisher, C Nazr Mohammed
How do the Oklahoma City Thunder win three more games? That’s it. Just three more?

With the NBA Finals notched at a 1-0 advantage Thunder, OKC went on to lose an unfathomable four games in a row to the Miami Heat. Each passing game the Thunder seemed to look younger and younger, with James Harden looking more like a petrified kid wearing a Brian Wilson costume than a future All-Star. Kevin Durant and Russ Westbrook still shined under LeBron’s total eclipse of the court, but both young stars couldn’t do enough to prevent the gentleman’s sweep. 

Think about that: it’s not just that the Thunder were beaten by the better team: they essentially were swept out of the Finals after being spotted a game. Yes, two of those contests were only decided by six points, but those losses happened because of the superior execution by the more seasoned villains from South Beach. OKC didn’t get beaten by coincidence or luck or suspect circumstance. They didn’t even “come up just a bit short”. They got mauled right out of the Finals. Three more games? Yes, they only have to win three more games. But what they need to close a gap of 144 minutes is far more complicated than just a few more W’s. 


Coming into the summer, the Thunder knew how much better they had to get. It wasn’t a secret–the youthful exuberance on the faces of the OKC stars was gone, replaced with a humility only served up by such a scalding loss. Lots of wholesale changes were bandied about by the media at large, especially when analyzed financially. The Thunder had secured both Durant and Westbrook to long-term contract extensions, but F Serge Ibaka and Harden remained unsigned beyond 2012-2013. If indeed the core needed some changes to win the NBA title, perhaps the coinciding cap crunch OKC would inevitably fall into could be the catalyst for a major trade.

But the summer came and went, and the Thunder made only a few cosmetic changes in personnel. New to the team is rookie Perry Jones III, a forward with big potential but huge questions about his aggressiveness and true desire in improving as a basketball player. The Baylor forward was once projected as a lottery lock with Lamar Odom comparisons, but after staying in school through the 2011-2012 season, his stock plummeted in accordance with his ca
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NBA Finals Game 5 Running Diary: The Miami Heat and LeBron James Are NBA Champions

(At perhaps a seminal moment in NBA history, we here at MAMBINO HQ knew it’d be important to document a minute by minute running diary during Game 5 of the NBA Finals. LeBron had lived up to his various monikers so far this series, but could he close it out in the biggest game of his career? Or would OKC send this back home? Read on for some in-game thoughts)

Pregame Introductions: We’ve talked for years about how LeBron is some sort of indestructible robot cyborg created to play basketball and assassinate all comers – he actually looks like it tonight. He’s stone-faced, walking slowly and with purpose. He’s even got a slight tick in his neck, as if part of his cold, mechanical programming is somehow malfunctioning. Despite the connotation of his pistons misfiring, that’s not a good sign for the Thunder.

Pregame Shotaround: I see Wade throwing up J’s, but Bron is sitting on the bench, fists to his head, mouthing some sort of mantra, which is probably something like “I’m going to murder everyone tonight”. I’m a little worried that he might be putting a little bit too much pressure on himself. I feel like he’s excelled these playoffs because he’s had the mindset of “this is what I do, I dominate”, and then gone out there and done just that. Obviously the gravity of the situation has affected his play, but he seems almost silently angry rather than stoic. Curious.

11:23: Chalmers steals, followed by a LeBron dunk that screamed “We are not losing tonight”. Uh-oh.

10:48: Sefolosha fouls LeBron mid-jump. LeBron shakes it off with that robotic tick. He’s like a black T-800 with fewer weaknesses and bad facial hair.

10:27: Westbrook jumper clangs hard off the iron. At least we know he isn’t wilting to any criticism.

9:32: Westbrook has taken 3 of the team’s 4 shots and hasn’t even looked for his teammates. It’s either stupidity or extreme confidence.

8:42: After getting doubled in the lane, Westbrook forces the ball to Ibaka for an easy bucket.  A really difficult pass right past Battier’s outstretched fingertips. Say what you want about his gaffe at the end of Game 4, he’s playing phenomenal, CONFIDENT basketball right now.

8:14: KD with his first bucket of the game, 18 feet from the basket. He’s looked a little passive early.

7:43: Interestingly, the Heat are leaving all the OKC shooters wide open to try and stop Westbrook. Luckily for Russ and the servers at Twitter, he’s making these baskets.

7:09: Pretty oop from Chalmers to Wade, who finger-rolls it in. A lot hasn’t been mentioned about Wade, but he’s really been locked in for the past 3 quarters. Say what you will about his off the court attitude, but despite stupid sound bytes comprising 65% of his speech, he gives 100% full effort every night on the hardwood.

6:02: James Harden’s first hoop barely touches the rim. Not a great sign for the Thunder  who desperately need his production tonight. Not just the points, but a spark off the bench. OKC hasn’t displayed that fire they showed in the first quarter of Game 4 since, well, that first quarter of Game 4.

5:14: Ibaka gives Wade a wing 15 footer, and he puts it in his face. No preening, no trash-talking and most shockingly of all, no complaining to the refs. Wade, like James, is all business tonight. Uh-oh.

4:34: Perkins nice put-in around the hoop. With this team, it’s amazing that Perkins ever gets touches. I mean, sometimes plays are designeRead more...

"I’m Kind of Freaking Out" – Keys to an OKC Victory in the NBA Finals

Along with The CDP doing aces on the Miami Heat keys to victory in the Finals, we’ve dispatched our main man Thunderstolt to look at the OKC side and determine what the keys to victory are. Keep in mind that this has been edited, as he’s barely slept, can’t eat and quite frankly, is barely a human being right now. This is him at his most serene, probably the result of some sort of placebo. As the title of the post says, earlier today his first message to me was “I’m kind of freaking out.” Peace be with you, brother. Let’s get to it!

He saw this coming.  From the moment he told Clay Bennett he would be his GM, Sam Presti saw this as his vision.  His vision has brought them to within four wins of raising a banner. 

Presti has done his job.  Now its time for Scott Brooks and his staff to finish theirs for this 2011-2012 season.  The good news is the Thunder doesn’t have to change much from the previous three series to be successful in the Finals.

It seems fitting the first championship foe ever for this Thunder squad is against the Heat – after the next two weeks either KD or LeBron will have a ring and a banner to raise this fall.  Soak that one in.

Other than that quick little hit, I going to stay away from the obvious KD vs LBJ narrative because I’m pretty sure 99% of the blogosphere is writing about that (My thoughts on that matchup: The two best players in the league going at it for their first title and we’re in for a hell of a series. That cover it? Okay, good). So let’s stick to basketball, shall we? Presenting the Thunder’s keys to victory.

Russell Westbrook vs The World

As I mentioned in my last post for MAMBINO,  Westbrook has evolved as a player not only throughout this lockout shortened regular season but over the last 15 playoff games as well.  He has kept his foot on the gas pedal when need be, but surprsingly has pulled back to get other guys involved as well.  His defense in the playoffs has been underrated, relentless and most importantly, he is finding ways to contribute to wins other than the stat sheet. 

This could be a big, BIG series for Russ.  Westbook has been a sponge in these playoffs not only from what his coaching staff is telling him but from opponents as well.  In my four years of watching the Thunder play, I don’t think I have ever seen Russ use a screener more than once in a set.  Against the Spurs, they ran him ragged through screen after screen as Tony Parker used the same big man to find a crease in the defense.  You know what happened?  Russ threw it back right at ’em and started using his big men to use a screen two or three times until he saw daylight to drive to ball and either find a slashing big man or shooter in the corner.

More than likely Chalmers will start on Westbrook to start the series but that could have disasterous ramifications if they stick with Mario too long.  Westbook will see Chalmers, Wade, LeBron, Battier and anyone else who Coach Spoelstra thinks can slow him down for stretches.  Russ must keep doing what he has been doing and playing with poise and composure.  He has been fantastic at picking his spots thus far and they need him to continue that for the Thunder to make the final step.  Plus, the idea of Westbrook having more shot attempts in the Finals and Thunder winning would make Skip Bayless’ head explode (so America wins, as well as OKC!). Depending on what the Heat defense gives him, that could be a reality. 

Like A Bosh 

Chris Bosh is the key cog on both ends of the floor for the Heat, Thus, Serge Ibaka must … Read more...

MAMBINO’s NBA Finals Preview: Keys to a Miami Victory

In many ways, the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder are mirror images of the same team. Guided by three athletic superstars and one of the youngest coaches in the league, both teams had to survive the old powers in their respective conferences to make it here. The Thunder played the Mavericks, the Spurs, and the Lakers, who collectively represent every single NBA finals representative from the West since 1999. The Heat took out Boston for the second straight year and prevented the C’s from getting to the Finals for the 3rd time in 5 years.  In terms of NBA narrative, however, these teams could not be more different.  The Heat will undoubtedly be the villains in this series and most casual fans will side with the Boy Scouts from OKC.

OKC is the homegrown model, the team created by smart lottery draft picks, cap flexibility, and opportune trades. With their culture and management structure, they are set up to be the Spurs of the next decade if they can find a way to lock up their young core. And with Harden still on his rookie deal, OKC has the added advantage of the kinds of role players that Miami wished it had. My heart says that OKC will win, but my brain is telling me that I’m merely hoping instead. Miami certainly has more experience, as both Wade and LeBron have 2 appearances in the Finals each under their belts. You might say that the Thunder are merely precocious and that the Heat are still the current generation of stars. Either way, this is the time for the Miami Heat to establish a dynasty if they’re ever going to.

Looking at the numbers, you can see that we’re looking at two teams that can both score and defend at a high level. Everyone expects this to be a competitive series. If Miami is going to take home the title, they’re going to need their A-Game. Here are my keys to the series for the Heatles:
Ready for some
Boy Scouts, Bron?
  • Stars Need to Shine: This is truly a generational battle of NBA superstars and the Heat have a lot less margin for error than against Boston. LeBron has been unreal in these playoffs, but Kevin Durant has been outstanding too. In the Finals, LeBron needs to be invincible. LeBron still has dimensions that KD is just starting to develop; however, it’s time for him to show that he’s the best player in the league, not just in the regular season. The Heat cannot afford the erratic performances Wade has been providing, particularly with Sefolosha playing so well right now. The 8th ranked Heat struggled mightily on offense at times against Boston and OKC has a lot of athletic defenders to throw at them. Their stars need to be nothing less than transcendent.
  • Tough, Team Defense: The Heat allowed Boston (the NBA’s 27thmost efficient offense this year) to score punches in droves. Now they face OKC’s 2nd ranked offense and you can’t afford it against a team that can score like that AND get easy points in transition off of your mistakes. Miami’s team thrives on defense and its time to rediscover that identity. In the Western Conference, teams tried to exploit OKC in the frontcourt and play their stars physically. The Heat don’t have the same advantage, but they have incredibly athletic defenders in Wade and LeBron that can disrupt the OKC stars. Spoelstra is a defensive maestro and it’s time for him to earn the title with his schemes, particularly at disrupting the OKC pick and rolls and making their stars into jump shooters. It can be done, but the Heat need a game plan when Harden, Westbrook, and Durant are all on the court.
  • Steal One on the Road: The NBA Finals has an interesting 2-3-2 format, so the Heat will g
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Lakers Game 5 Recap: The Best Team Won

It just didn’t feel right. In trying to distill down my swirling thoughts into a simple reductionist theory that would hopefully quell my aching fanhood, that sentiment kept on rolling around and around in my head. It just didn’t feel right.

I’ve seen champions before and lived in the cities while they happened. I’ve seen five Lakers title teams, and two in the 2004 and 2007 Boston Red Sox. I’ve watched intently as teams have broken decades-long curses, and other teams who arose seemingly out of nowhere to take a championship no one thought could be theirs, but in the end was rightfully earned. I know that feeling you get, a sensation similar to a great idea hitting you slowly but deeply. In every championship season I’ve witnessed, there’s a moment when you realize that the team you’re watching could take it all. Or maybe more accurately, should take it all.

You see it in their eyes and in their effort. It’s present in the teammates on the bench, whether they’re in the throes of competition or in the malaise of a practice. It’s that undeniable feeling you get that no matter how bad the loss was, or how emphatic the score, that your team can go all the way. The 2012 Los Angeles Lakers couldn’t give me that.


Where to start with Game 5? There’s so many angles to take: Andrew Bynum’s passive stat line of 10/4 with three quick fouls, zero offensive rebounds and a -6,000 on how engaged he seemed to be in the game. Ramon Sessions making just one bucket all whilst watching Russ Westbrook drop 25 points, each hoop more dynamic than the last. Pau Gasol, in what might have been his last game in purple and gold, aggressively going for a 14/16 night, but ultimately not giving enough for a W. Metta World Peace, despite the worst flagrant foul call I’ve seen since Tyson Chandler put a flaming sledge-hammer coated in uranium to LeBron’s back hit LeBron in the first round, played his ass off in a OKC gym that booed him every time he touched the ball. And then there was Kobe, who dropped 42 points on over 50% shooting, solemnly reminding us how much we’ll miss his greatness when he’s gone. It’s not even worth going over the statistics. The Lakers scratched and clawed for 3 quarters, while the Thunder looked like they were just getting warmed up, like Skynyrd playing a bunch of new middling songs before getting into Freebird. When OKC turned it on, it was too much for the Lakers to handle, and the game ended in a blowout. Of course Andrew’s lack of production and the incredible performances by Westbrook and Durant are primary culprits for the loss, but really, this contest was just a microcosm for the entire series.

The bottom line is, the Lakers got beat by the better team. Even in a 5-game series that felt like it went 9, the Thunder didn’t just outwork the Lakers; they were flat-out more talented, explosive and hungry. No matter how badly you thought the Lakers played at the end of the fourth quarters, or the mistakes they made to give Games 2 and 4 away, the Thunder had to win them. Down seven with two minutes left? Down 13 with seven minutes left? Both in games where the Lakers largely dictated the pace and rhythm? Maybe this more than anything demonstrates the greatness of the OKC attack – their 9 minutes of play were better than 87 from the Lakers. It only took them 540 seconds to outdo what LA had struggled over 5,200 to achieve. Chew on that thought for a minute and tell me that this was the Lakers series to lose. The Lakers couldn’t c… Read more...