Harden Trade Bad For NBA

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s decision to trade James Harden to the Houston Rockets has left a bad taste in my mouth.

Late last night — during the middle of a tough loss by the Oklahoma Sooners that was distracting most of the state — the Thunder traded Harden, Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward to Houston in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and a second-round pick that belonged to Charlotte.

One of the draft picks is Toronto’s from the Kyle Lowry deal and the other comes courtesy of the Los Angeles Lakers in the Jordan Hill deal last season.

Some fans will debate whether it was worth it for Harden to fight for the extra $5.5 million he will get from Houston, but I don’t think fans would be willing to leave money on the table when they negotiate their next contract.

On top of that, Oklahoma City was unable to offer Harden the fifth-year that Houston can because of the new collective bargaining agreement. According to that document, teams can only sign one player to a five-year deal, the rest of the roster can only accept a contract for a maximum of four years.

While it may seem blasphemous to say right now, there’s a strong possibility that Martin will provide more reliable outside shooting than Harden provided and that Lamb could develop into a great compliment to Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. The problem with playing that “what if” game is the fact Harden was already a great compliment to their core group of players and he was their best three-point shooter last season.

Oklahoma City might also win the “lottery” with one of the two draft picks they secured in this trade. If they can get a top-five pick in the draft next June then Sam Presti will once again look like a genius.

So while there is hope for how this deal could play out in the future, what really stings is the fact the Thunder made a business decision instead of a personnel one when they were poised to start a season where they challenged for an NBA Championship.

When Oklahoma City dealt Jeff Green to Boston for Kendrick Perkins a couple seasons back it stunned the fans and the players left on their roster. However, that was clearly a move made to give a young roster more experience and to toughen up their bigs. But trading Harden to Houston? That amounts to the Oklahoma City not having the kind of money needed to pay him $five million over five seasons due to worries about luxury tax payments. That’s a scary message for a small-market team to be sending to its players and fans.

What frustrates fans of the team is that Oklahoma City could have played out this season without any real penalty. Before this trade went down they were almost guaranteed a spot in the Western Conference Finals and many pundits had them playing in the NBA Finals.

Now? They still have a chance, but the odds aren’t nearly as good.

If Oklahoma City rode out this season they could have at least matched any offer that Harden received next summer and then traded him. So, they would have still gotten some pieces back and they would have been able to play out this season competing for an NBA Championship.

Last season the NBA played 66 games so that the league would have a competitive playing field. The idea was that bigger markets like Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Chicago and Miami would no longer be able to dictate where the star players went.

So much for that utopian idea.

Heading into this season, Los Angeles alone is home to Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Blake Griffen.

Meanwhile, Miami boasts heir own big three and Boston has three future Hall-of-Famers in Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

It’s a shame the rich continue to get richer while small-market teams will continue to struggle to compete.

Even worse, it stinks that Oklahoma City cashed in their chips before even giving this season a chance to unfold.

Rockets Acquire James Harden

The Houston Rockets have traded Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and future draft picks for James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Thunder parted ways with Harden after he declined a reported 4 year $53-54 million dollar contract extension from the Thunder, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.

The draft picks headed to the Thunder from the Rockets include two 2013 first-round picks (via Dallas and Toronto) as well as one 2013 second-round pick (via Charlotte).

The Rockets will also receive Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, and Lazar Hayward in the trade.

Unlike past scenarios where significant players have stretched the extension story along, the Thunder wasted no time acquiring a talented scorer in Martin, and a future scorer in Lamb. Martin will likely be a rental, while Lamb may be the perfect complement player depending on his progression.

The Rockets on the other hand were desperately looking for a potential all-star caliber player that they now receive with Harden. The backcourt dynamic now bursts with intrigue, as Jeremy Lin and James Harden team up for the Rockets.

General Manager Daryl Morey has been often praised for his savvy techniques and number conscious style, but has received his fair share of criticism as well. When will he land a star? When will he leave the little fish, and go for the big one?

James Harden is by far Morey’s big splash move, and he will relentlessly continue adding to this young Rockets team. The campaign motto this season is it’s “A New Age.” The Rockets are certainly living by that motto, and finally make a move that will likely create some stability for the future.

Wojnarowski also reports that the Rockets will sign Harden to a max extension deal by Wednesday’s deadline, that will range from four or five years, at $60 million.

It’s a bold move by the organization that’s moving forward in a big way.

Game 4 Won’t Silence Westbrook’s Critics

As all the cool kids like to say nowadays, haters gonna’ hate.

It seems that during the NBA Finals it became fashionable to pick on Russell Westbrook. Not just for his horrible fashion choices, but because he was shooting more in the NBA Finals that he did during the regular season.

Hopefully Westbrook’s play in Game 4 of the NBA Finals will silence his critics and all the haters.

Westbrook started the game 3-3 from the field and scored six of Oklahoma City’s first 13 points of the game while dishing out an assist. His strong play helped the Thunder roll to a 13-3 lead and forced Miami to call a timeout to stop the bleeding.

Yes, Westbrook got a little shot happy midway through the first quarter, but for the most part he was the player who gave Oklahoma City a chance to secure a much-needed win for Oklahoma City in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.

One of the things that swung this game in favor of Oklahoma City early in the game was Miami’s inability to rotate or switch when a pick was set for Westbrook. Throughout the first quarter Westbrook was able to burst by a stunned Miami defender who had been blindsided by a pick and shoot uncontested 17-footers that easily found the bottom of the net.

Westbrook set up shop at the elbow and made jumper after jumper over the course of the game. Then, when Miami’s defense started to collapse on him, he used his speed to get to the rim for easy buckets.

Miami fought back from some early adversity and rallied from a 17 point deficit in the second quarter. How did OKC stop the rally? Westbrook fed Durant for a bucket and on the next possession he fed Harden for a big three while Dwyane Wade was crumpled on the court.

Westbrook then hit a big jumper near the two minute mark of the second quarter to push OKC’s lead to 45-42. He had 16 points at that points while going an efficient 8-14 from the field.

“Russell (Westbrook) is one of the best point guards in the NBA,” Scott Brooks raved to ABC after the first quarter. “He attacks the basket. He’s a winner. He plays the right way and I’m proud of the way he started this game.”

Just when Miami appeared to be running away with the game in the fourth quarter, Westbrook scored 13 straight points for Oklahoma City and tie the game at 90 with six minutes remaining.

Westbrook played all 12 minutes in the fourth quarter while scoring 17 points. The best part is he went 7-9 from the field during the final quarter.

Throughout the game it seemed as if whenever Oklahoma City was making positive things happen it was Westbrook who had his hand in his teams strong play.

All this to finish with a game-high 43 points.

Sure, there’s a learning curve that Westbrook is currently going through, but he’s one heck of a young point guard who is just learning how to play the position. Fans just need to be patient through the growing pains he is sure to go through at times.

“It’s not deserving at all because without him we wouldn’t be here at this point, and people don’t recognize that,” Durant explained to the media this weekend when he was asked about the criticism being directed at Westbrook. “Everybody thinks he should be a traditional point guard like a Stockton or a Mo Cheeks. There’s a lot of people that cannot be like Russ, either.”

Westbrook’s teammates fully support him so it’s not like he’s going to change the way he plays. Nor should he.

Granted, Westbrook had his share of mental mistakes in Game 4 and he had nearly twice as many field goal attempts as Durant, but the positives far outweighed the negatives.

Hopefully his strong play in Game 4 will force fans to stop drinking the Haterade when it comes to assessing Westbrook and how he plays.

Some Bold Predictions For The NBA Finals

Thanks to a great idea from Justin Wells, the HOOPSADDICT.com staff emailed me who they thought the NBA Champions would be, their Playoffs MVP and they picked a “glue guy” for the playoffs.

Chuck Nunn: I’m calling it for Oklahoma City, with Kevin Durant as Finals MVP. Serge Ibaka’s defense and his ability to get out and run the floor will be a key difference maker in the series, so he’s my glue guy for the Thunder.

Chris Deacon: I think Oklahoma City have a real chance at going all the way this season but it’ll go right down to Game 7. They’ve defeated strong opposition on the road to the final series, including the Lakers and the Spurs, and this means they’ve already had to up their game and succeeded. If the Thunder are crowned champions then MVP must go to Kevin Durant, he’s been outstanding in postseason. That means I think James Harden is the glue guy, his win share off the bench is as good as they come.

Hiren Joshi: I have Heat in seven games. OKC looks great but I think Heat finally pull this out. The role players (Battier, Chalmers, Miller, Jones, Haslem etc) all key to the stabilization of the series for the Heat. LeBron James will be named MVP. Fatigue will be the only issue, but he looks like a man on a mission. Glue guy is Shane Battier. Brilliant NBA mind, great leader, fantastic defender. Thabo Sefolosha on the other end for the Thunder. Both have an interesting dynamic, smart defenders, smart players.

Matt Cote: OKC Thunder will become Champions, Russell Westbrook will win MVP and the glue guy is Kendrick Perkins.

Caardel Eeady: The Oklahoma City Thunder have shown all season that they are too deep not to win. These finals will prove that and that is why the Thunder will win this series 4-2. As a team they present a very tough challenge that the Heat can not stop. The Thunder not only score, but play very solid defense to win games. This is their season and that is why they will win. The finals MVP (Most Valuable Player) will be Kevin Durant. His offensive game is just unbelievable right now. He can make any shot at any time, no matter the defensive pressure. This season Durant has proven that he can hit clutch shots and help get his team to the finish line. Chris Bosh is the “glue guy” for the NBA Finals. Without Bosh the Heat are a very weak team who can not win without his scoring. Bosh is very underrated with his defensive abilities, but expect him to be a big factor on that end of the floor.

Robert Kester: I’ve got the Heat over the Thunder in seven games. The Thunder have arrived, but Miami’s new found resolve will carry them in the Finals. LeBron James has put his team on his back this entire postseason and will continue to dominate games in the Finals and take home his first ever Finals MVP. Chris Bosh needs to play big in the Finals. If Bosh can stay healthy he will be the “glue guy” keeping the Heat together when they face adversity against the Thunder.

Heather Newsome: To win the playoffs I say OKC. I don’t think the Heat have it in them to be consistently good, they’ve proven in recent past games that their top stars can’t always make the shots and then they get discouraged easily. Wade in game 7 was 3-8 in the first half. It’s just not good enough for the NBA Finals. MVP for the playoffs should go to either LeBron James for his determination or to Kevin Durant for pulling it out for his team when they’re down and being able to keep everyone involved so its not a one man show. The “Glue-guy” again would be Kevin Durant. He knows how to rally his team when they are down. He’s not a selfish player and helps everyone on the team get their shots off and then takes his own. He’s key to OKC winning the Larry O’Brien Trophy this time around.

Danny Lovi: Before the playoffs started I predicted that the NBA Champions would come out of the West. As tempted as I am to pick Miami over Oklahoma City, I am sticking to my guns and predicting that the Thunder will beat the Heat in six games. Conventional thinking tells us that the best player on the winning team will be the MVP. Therefore, it’s a foregone conclusion that Kevin Durant will be the MVP. I am not going to go against conventional wisdom, although I think the Thunder’s success relies heavily on Russell Westbrook. Durant will get his (even while being smothered by LeBron James or Shane Battier), but the Thunder goes as far as Westbrook goes. I think Westbrook is the most important player even though he probably won’t win MVP. Besides Westbrook, I think the two players who will have the biggest impact are the two guys with championship experience: Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher. Look for Perkins to be aggressive in the post not only on defense, but on offense as well. Fisher continues to live up to his reputation as a clutch playoff performer, and he will be the cool head in the huddle, keeping guys focused when things go astray. When Fisher signed with Oklahoma City, didn’t you picture him hitting a big shot to clinch a Thunder victory? I think the NBA Finals is the perfect stage to see that picture come to fruition.

Zach Salzmann: OKC dismantled a great Spurs team in 4 straight games, and look unbeatable when they limit their turnovers. James has had an unbelievable post-season, but OKC has too many weapons. Thunder in 6. My pick for Finals MVP is Kevin Durant and my glue guy is Serge Ibaka — protecting the lane and knocking down the open jumper.

Will Guillory: I’m going to take the Miami Heat to win the NBA Finals in six games. I simply just think it’s their time and not the Thunder’s. OKC is a great team but Miami is the better defensive team and much more ready for this moment. I believe the MVP trophy will be handed to LeBron James at the end of this series. This has been his year and every time his team has needed him to step up and put them on his back he has done it (i.e. Game 4 against Indiana and Game 6 against Boston). Also, his defense will make life a lot tougher on Kevin Durant than it has been thus far these playoffs. My key glue guy(s) of this series will come down to the matchup between Chris Bosh and James Harden. While these two will not be guarding each other this series, both teams need major contributions from these two players in order to achieve their maximum potential. Bosh’s ability to hit the outside jumper and pull Serge Ibaka/ Kendrick Perkins out of the paint to give James and Dwyane Wade more driving lanes will be the difference.

Jakob Eich: I think the Oklahoma City Thunder will win the championship this year. The Wade/LeBron duo is a little better than Durant/Westbrook, but Miami does not have anyone beyond those two players. The Thunder have Ibaka, Perkins, Fisher, Sefolosha, Cook, and Collison, just a lot of depth. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James will probably not sit for long stretches, but after all you have twelve players on your roster. Chris Bosh is a better offensive player, but Serge Ibaka is a lot better defensively. The rest of the Heat are seriously outplayed by OKC. Especially the option to give Wade and Lebron different looks by putting Sefolosha, Durant, and Harden on him is a huge advantage. Therefore the Thunder will win the championship in six games. If the Thunder should win there is no way around Kevin Durant being named MVP. He is their best player and closer. I don’t expect too many close games but he will undoubtedly put his fingerprint on this series. He has become much better defensively, although I do not believe he will outplay LeBron, he will earn the award. James Harden has been named the X-Factor all throughout the playoffs and he still is. He is the difference maker, a supremely talented player with a great shot and great defense and great attitude. Not many players with his talent have been willing to be a sixth man so … well, willingly. If he keeps on performing at this level he will give the second unit such a big lift that the Heat won’t be able to overcome.

Jerel Marshall: Both of these teams have their fair share of star power, but the Thunder will benefit from a wealth of contributors. Miami has struggled with depth ever since LeBron James and Chris Bosh decided to take their talents to South Beach. Oklahoma City will also enjoy a bit momentum after snapping the most impressive win streak in recent history by beating the San Antonio Spurs four straight times. Kevin Durant is one of the few players who can seamlessly combine playing unselfish while still being a big shot taker and a big shot maker. He very rarely forces things on the offensive end, but if he is feeling it or if the game is on the line he will burn you every time. Dwayne Wade and James will have their hands full chasing around the trio of Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Durant. Sefolosha will be responsible for making sure that Wade has a tough time on the offensive side of things as well. If Sefolosha can continue to pester scorers while knocking down an open shot here and there, the Thunder should have no problem becoming this year’s champs.

Michael Collins: I think the Thunder take it, in six games. Miami showed a lot of potential flaws against a Boston team that was nowhere near as athletic or fast as OKC. Having Bosh back obviously made a difference, but it won’t be enough to get past the Thunder. If the way he finished off the conference finals is any indication, I think Kevin Durant will be the MVP. He has the ability to just put the team on his shoulders and go. The battle between he and LeBron should be epic, however. I think despite losing, Chris Bosh will be the ‘glue guy’ for the Heat, and for the Finals. It will be through his ability to make plays and to keep others focused that Miami will even stretch this series to six games. This would be the one disadvantage I give OKC, as they don’t really have a ‘glue guy” in my eyes. When Durant is having a bad night, he doesn’t know how to keep the team focused and moving forward, and (as witnessed in the first 2 games of the WCF) his team suffers.

Ryan McNeill: Kevin Durant and LeBron James battling each other is going to be a match-up for the ages, but Thabo Sefolosha is one of the better defenders in the NBA and he should be able to contain a hobbled Dwyane Wade. Where this series really starts to swing in OKC’s favour is at the point guard spot because Russell Westbrook should have his way against Mario Chalmers. Chris Bosh, who had a huge impact in the final few games of the Eastern Conference Finals, will have a tough time battling against Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins in this series. The final nail in the coffin of Miami is the fact nobody on Miami’s bench will be able to slow down James Harden. I’ve got OKC winning in six games. My MVP is Durant and my glue guy is Ibaka or Sefolosha. Sorry, I couldn’t choose.

Justin Wells: I’ve got OKC Over Miami in 7. Thunder just have too many mismatches, and Ill take scott Brooks over Erik Sploestra all day long. My MVP is Russell Westbrook because Lebron will be shadowing Kevin Durant most of the series. My “glue” guy is Serge Ibaka. If Ibaka can maintain the lane like he did all season, Anthony/Turiaf/Haslem will hate him.

Kevin Brolan: Give me Thunder winning in 6, Kevin Durant MVP, and Nick Collison for glue guy.

Tom Westerholm: Miami in six. I think LeBron’s defense will affect Durant more than people are expecting, and OKC’s offense has struggled in the half court in the playoffs. My MVP is clearly LeBron James. Let’s be honest, this is a two man race for Finals MVP between James and Durant, and if I’m right about Miami winning, it will be LeBron.  A glue guy? Like someone who keeps the team happy together? Juwan Howard. He gives us all someone on Miami to make fun of instead of the Big 3.  JUWAN IS OLD, GUYS!!!

Lance Rinker: Having covered the Indiana Pacers’ postseason run, I was fortunate enough to witness one of the greatest individual playoff performances in recent memory: LeBron James in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. I watched James compile a stat line of 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists. And I saw a wrecking crew of two, James and Dwayne Wade, virtually outplay an entire team. With Chris Bosh back, the Heat are close to full form and will emerge as the top team in the league. In my mind, James is the greatest player in the world. When he is focused and on a roll, there is little a defense can do to contain him. Whether it be scoring, defending, or finding an open teammate, James does it all. After finally winning an NBA title, James—and the media—will relinquish the monkey from his back. Haslem and Wade are the only players remaining from Miami’s 2006 championship team, and although Haslem isn’t getting the same minutes he did six years ago, he still makes significant on-court contributions. Even with Bosh back in the rotation, Haslem will be depended on to haul down rebounds and provide a scoring option in the frontcourt. Simply put, in the 16 postseason wins thus far, Miami is nearly six points better with Haslem on the court. In their six losses, Haslem has struggled, and the Heat are about five points worse with him on the floor. The ninth-year forward makes a much larger impact than most spectators might think.

Podcast: Conference Finals Rundown

Mark and McNeill chatted about Boston struggling to close out games against Miami, Chris Bosh’s impact on Miami, the adjustments Scott Brooks made in Game 3, and how the Spurs can regroup.

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Here’s the link to download the MP3.

Fisher’s Biggest Impact Not In A Box Score

Leadership, heart and courage are just a few words used to describe Derek Fisher by his Oklahoma City Thunder teammates, however, experience is what they claim to be the most important.

“He’s a great leader by example and with his voice,” Royal Ivey said. “He’s very calm and his demeanor is out of this world. That helps. He brings this kind of calmness to the team.”

Ivey went on to explain that Fisher’s knowledge on how to connect with every player in the locker room has been key in his ability to click with the team on such short notice.

Fisher joined the Thunder on Mar. 21 after playing and starting 43 games with the Los Angeles Lakers, the franchise for which he earned five NBA championships. The Lakers traded Fisher to the Houston Rockets. Houston bought out his contract and a few days later, he signed with Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City was in need of a backup point guard due to Eric Maynor’s ACL injury suffered in January. Rookie Reggie Jackson filled in for Maynor, but his lack of experience forced the Thunder’s hand in signing Fisher.

“Being a veteran in this league and being at the pinnacle of winning championships really says a lot,” Ivey said. “Getting his wisdom, experience and competitiveness when he came on board was a plus.”

Fisher’s role took a dramatic change when he signed with Oklahoma City. For much of his career, he had been the starting point guard for the NBA’s  premier franchise. When he signed with the Thunder, he became the backup for the league’s youngest and arguably most talented team. He’s had success working with players like Westbrook, Ivey Kevin Durant and James Harden and has helped shine a light on winning in the Thunder locker room.

“Derek is a natural born leader,” Westbrook said. “He knows what it takes to win. He understands the things that you need to do to get better. He communicates to us what it takes to get to the next level and it’s really helped me, Kevin and James a lot.”

The practice court is no different for Fisher. His teammates claim that he still communicates like the starting point guard and provides advice when need be. In a short period of time, he’s become a valuable extension of head coach Scott Brooks.

“He does a great job of staying on guys,” Ivey said. “As a player and as a coach he’s a great leader. He’s a great teacher. He sees things that maybe Russell (Westbrook) or I don’t see and he does a great job of walking through and showing us. He’s just a great communicator.”

Fisher’s experience has shown so far in the playoffs. He’s averaging six points per game and is shooting over 53% from beyond the three-point line. He is also playing good defense at age 37. In the Lakers series he was asked to guard Kobe Bryant and had success on numerous possessions.

Going into their Western Conference Finals matchup with the San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder will look to Fisher for strong execution on both the offensive and defensive end in a limited amount of minutes.

Fisher doesn’t get the same playing time that he got in L.A., but he still contributes.

“What Derek (Fisher) brings to the team can’t be measured,” Brooks said. “His ability to connect in the locker room in such a short period of time has been huge for our young guys like Kevin, Russell and James. You can’t find that on a box score.”

Thunder Capitalize On Gift-Wrapped Victory

With 2:08 left on the clock, Game 2 between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Lakers was all but over.

That is until Kobe Bryant giftwrapped the game and handed it to the Thunder.

The Lakers owned a 75-68 lead and the Thunder were in the midst of one of the most miserable halves of their season. Kevin Durant wasn’t shooting enough, Serge Ibaka shot too much and Kobe started to turn on the Kobe.

It was over and the Thunder had all but handed the Lakers their first win of the series. Then, Bryant turned around and gave Oklahoma City the best thing they could have ever asked for: a chance.

With 1:48 remaining and the game all but sewed up, Bryant looked to pass the ball into the post. Durant, Thunder coach Scott Brook’s defensive secret weapon at the end of games, reached up with every inch of his nine-foot wingspan and plucked his pass straight out of the air, drove to the basket and cut the Lakers’ lead to three.

“He’s (Durant) guarding the best player in basketball,” Brooks said after the game. “It takes a team to stop him (Bryant). There was a moment when I thought Kobe was really starting to feel it and I thought Kevin’s length could bother him.”

“It was a great play,” Bryant said. “He just jumped the passing lane and got a good steal. Other than that, I was just too far away from the basket.”

The Lakers kept the Thunder from scoring after another turnover, but with 1:01 left on the clock, Bryant, so used to the late game drama, missed a fade-away that would have ultimately sealed the deal and sent the Lakers home with a huge win. Instead, Kendrick Perkins grabbed the rebound, Harden drove to the basket and with 56 seconds left, the Thunder was down by one.

Los Angeles still had the lead. With under a minute, they were still in the driver’s seat. All they had to do was milk the clock and get to the basket for a layup or a foul.

Easier said than done, even with Bryant.

Bryant had already helped get Oklahoma City back in the game with his turnover two possessions prior and wasn’t exactly feeling it after missing a fade-away. So, after draining the clock with the lead in hand, what did he do? He launched a three that clanked and landed in the hands of Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook got the ball to Durant and with 18.6 seconds left, the NBA’s leading scorer put the Thunder up by one with a seven-foot floater reminiscent of his game winner against Dallas in Game 1 of the first round.

Los Angeles tried to respond with a flare out to Bryant, but Metta World Peace instead passed to Steve Blake who launched a desperation-three, missed and gave Oklahoma City a 2-0 series advantage.

“I got open,” Bryant said. “I don’t know what Metta (World Peace) saw, but he kicked it to Steve (Blake) and I got in position for the rebound. I couldn’t pull it down.”

The Lakers will now head home disappointed. They can’t be disappointed that they lost two games in one of the loudest arenas in the league, but in the fact that their star player couldn’t lockup the game like he’s so used to doing.

Bryant is one of the game’s greatest players of all time, as professed by Brooks after Game 1 Monday night. However, in the clutch Wednesday, he looked more like an aging veteran than the assassin he has been over 16 years.

Kobe just wasn’t Kobe.

Give all the credit in the world to Oklahoma City. They got the job done. Their superstar (Durant) came up big in the clutch and L.A.’s star didn’t. For 46 minutes it was the Lakers’ game to win, but in the final minutes the Thunder capitalized on costly Laker mistakes and ultimately stole the victory.

“This is what the series is going to be about,” Brooks said after the game. “Each game is going to be a one or two possession game going forward. Each game is going to be physical, but we feel we can win that way.”

Instead of taking the game from the Thunder, Kobe gave it to them. It’s a mistake he has so rarely surrendered over the course of his career, but it could end up being the demise of this year’s Lakers.

It could also be a boost for Oklahoma City, a boost that could lead them to the Western Conference Finals and ultimately an NBA championship.

Mavericks Falter In Cliché Must-Win Game

The Dallas Mavericks faced quite a few issues with the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first two games of their playoff series, both of which they lost.

Surprisingly, one of those issues was not Kevin Durant. Durant still scored 25.5 points per game, but all of that came on 34% shooting. Superstar caliber players like Durant will always get their points, but it’s just a matter of making them work for it and Shawn Marion was making him do just that.

For the Mavericks, the frightening part about Durant’s sluggish start was that the Thunder were still able to win both games in Oklahoma City.

With an already tough task in front of them, the Mavs were hoping to keep Durant in his mini-slump just to make their series deficit surmountable.

Fat chance.

Not that the Thunder are unbeatable when Durant plays up to his normally high standards, but his 15 quick points in the first quarter shocked the Mavs who found themselves back on their heels in the blink of an eye. Going into the series, the Mavericks actually expected these vintage Durant performances while hoping to keep talented, but easily frustrated point guard Russell Westbrook’s scoring down. Their plan could not have been more opposite as Westbrook was the one with the hot hand coming into Thursday night averaging 28.0 points per game with a sterling 50% shooting percentage.

If both Durant and Westbrook are performing at a high rate, their opponent faces quite a climb no matter who they are.

Despite being down 0-2 and not technically facing an actual elimination game Thursday night, all teams down two games to none in the playoffs essentially face an elimination game considering a team has never come back from that 0-3 hole in the history of the NBA playoffs. That’s a feat that the Mavericks came into tonight having no interest in trying to overcome.

Unluckily for the Mavericks, the Thunder didn’t care.

After Kevin Durant (31 points, 11-of-15 shooting) quickly jumped back into his elite form, Westbrook (20 points, 8-of-19 shooting) followed suit with his highly effective mid-range game and the Mavs had no answer in the crushing 95-79 loss.

They had no answer from Dirk Nowitzki, no answer from Jason Terry, and no answer from anyone else.

The 2012 Oklahoma City Thunder are simply a better team than the 2012 Dallas Mavericks, meaning the Mavs would have to play nearly error free to have a chance of winning the series. Games 1 and 2 followed that pattern even though the Mavericks fell just short, but Game 3 was a pure comedy of errors.

Whether it was the combined 34% shooting, the porous defense of their three-point line, or the inability to force the Thunder to commit any more than six turnovers, the Mavs had plenty of problems tonight that they could point to for their demise. While all of that is true and had a hand in the Mavs falling into an 0-3 hole, the main reason is because the Thunder are simply the more talented team. The series between these rivals last year aren’t even comparable due to the roster turnover and the improvements Oklahoma City’s young stars have made.

There is obviously still the chance of a miracle from the Mavs, who now have the unenviable task of have to win four straight games against the Western Conference’s two-seed in order to take the series. Considering the Mavericks are now an amazing 1-8 against the Thunder this season counting the preseason, it may not be a good bet to make.

Mavs On The Brink Against A Better Team

Queue up Al Pacino’s locker room speech from Any Given Day because this Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder playoff matchup has fully proven the ‘Game of Inches’ theory. The inches went Kevin Durant’s way in Game 1 and didn’t for Dirk Nowitzki in Game 2.

And now the Thunder are up two games to none with full control.

By using the crazy concept of mathematics, this series appears close on many levels. Only separated by four points over two games, the pace and scoring has been nearly identical so far with the Thunder scoring 99 and 102 points and the Mavericks with 98 and 99 points, respectively.

Despite a run last night where the Thunder led by double digits for a short period of time, the first couple of games have been stocked full of ties, lead changes, and play closer than the distance between Dirk Nowitzki’s elbow and Russell Westbrook’s face. That’s what tends to happen in a rivalry of teams who know each other so well and let there be no doubt, this Oklahoma-Texas duo has quickly become a rivalry.

Shocking, I know.

Still, despite the numbers, how close actually are these two teams? There is a reason the Thunder are the two-seed and the Mavericks are the seven: The Oklahoma City Thunder are better than Dallas this year. They’re better than most anyone. The Mavs aren’t underdogs like in so many (all?) of their series in last year’s playoffs, they’re the actual inferior team this time around. There’s nothing wrong with that as upsets happen all the time, but it means their margin for error is extremely slim and they’ll have to work harder for everything they get.

Specifically, the dispersion of scoring causes stress for one team and is a non-issue for the other. On Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant can shoot 5-17 in Game 1 and Russell Westbrook or James Harden can be consistently counted on to contribute in a scoring role. When scoring can be so easily relied upon by a few, good things begin to happen for that team. Guys like Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and, my God, Derek Fisher can get on scoring rolls that makes the opponent feel like their collective sky is falling.

Everything seems to come so easier for the better team who has things rolling. We saw it last year in Dallas.

Right now on the Mavericks, a 5-17 shooting night for Dirk Nowitzki would almost certainly bury Dallas on that night. Jason Terry has proven he can be that additional scorer, but with defenses rolling to him late in the game, it’s Nowitzki or bust so far.

So far, by a few inches, that hasn’t been enough.

Still, we’re not done here. Thanks to Rick Carlisle’s adjustments and overall mastery of anything Thunder coach Scott Brooks is capable of, the Mavericks are a tough matchup for the Thunder who can’t seem to gain consistent separation from their seven-seed counterparts. They’re beating the Mavericks, but Rick Carlisle, along with Nowitzki, deserves massive praise for not allowing this to get out of hand.

It’s not quite smoke and mirrors, but Carlisle certainly isn’t working with the same group he has in 2011. He and the Mavs have had very little margin for error, but coming home for two game on Thursday and Saturday will crack that window open a bit more.

They’ll need it, too. Counting the preseason, playoffs, and regular season, the Mavericks are just 1-7 against the Thunder this year. Considering that, it will be quite a tall order to take four of five games from Oklahoma City over the next few days to win the series. It may feel like the Mavericks barely lost the first two games, but they need to make some drastic adjustments to turn their fortunes around. They can start with a return to their ball movement oriented offense and someone stepping into a consistent scoring role next to Terry and Nowitzki in order to pull off the relative miracle.

And perhaps a center can show up for Dallas, as well.

It starts on Thursday in Dallas where the Mavericks face their first must-win game of the season. The inches, among other things, need to start falling in the favor of the Mavs.

Podcast: 2012 NBA Playoffs Preview

After nearly a year, the Hoops Addict Podcast is back on a regular basis. I’ve linked up with Mark Cheel with the intention of bringing back the Podcast on a weekly basis and we started with a preview of the 2012 NBA Playoffs.

Mark and I break down why Atlanta can give Boston a scare, we debate if Utah’s frontcourt can muscle San Antonio out of the playoffs, we lament that the Clippers lack of a strong coach will result in Blake Griffin and Chris Paul not lasting as long as they should in the playoffs as well as the rest of the first round match-ups.

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Here’s the MP3 of the Podcast if you want to download it.