NBA Saturday: OKC Thunder Want Revenge
The Oklahoma City Thunder hasn’t forgotten last year’s Western Conference Finals.
Oklahoma City had every opportunity to beat the Dallas Mavericks and advance to the NBA Finals, but they came up short. They managed to get a win in Dallas, but the series ended in five games. James Harden, thinking back to last year’s series, shook his head and muttered, “It felt closer than 4-1.”
Now, the Thunder is looking for revenge against the Mavericks. This time, Oklahoma City is the higher seed and holds home-court advantage. They also own the regular season series, winning three of four games. The Thunder learned a lot from last May’s showdown and they’re confident things will end differently this time around.
“We still have a bad taste in our mouth,” Harden said. “Dallas is a great team and it’s going to be a great series, a rematch of the Western Conference Finals. They lost a lot of pieces from last year’s championship team, but they still have a pretty good team. They have great scorers, great playmakers and a couple of good big men. It’s going to be a tough challenge for us, but I think we’re up for it.”
“We’ve grown as a team since then and we know how to handle different situations,” Kevin Durant said. “This year, we have guys who can make shots and we’re moving the ball better. At times last year we were stagnant and we learned from that. We know we’re going to have to do it as a group to be successful.”
Many of the Mavericks’ key contributors from last year are gone. Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson, Peja Stojakovic, Caron Butler and Corey Brewer are among the players who have left Dallas. Even though the team features many new faces, Durant still considers the Mavs a scary, veteran team.
“This will be a tough series for us, playing against the reigning champions,” Durant said. “They cause so many problems for us on the offensive end and on the defensive end, but our coaches have done a good job preparing us so we’ll be ready. They have a lot of shooters and they do a great job of passing the ball. They don’t have Tyson Chandler, but they make up for it with Ian Mahinmi, Brendan Haywood and Brandan Wright. They don’t have J.J. Barea, but they have Delonte West. They have the same amount of pieces, I think. We just have to play our game.”
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks isn’t worried about last postseason. He believes that his players have developed since then and sees this series as an excellent early challenge for his team.
“This is a great opportunity,” Brooks said. “We have a lot of respect for Dallas, but we feel like we’ve improved as a team. This should be a very hard-fought, tough series. We watched some of the tape from last year, but they’re a different team and we’re a different team. We’re going to have to play well to beat them. With this year’s match-up, you can’t really compare the teams from last year.”
Oklahoma City is a young, high-scoring team and Dallas is an older, grind-it-out team. They come from opposite ends of the spectrum, which should make for an excellent first round series. Game 1 between the Thunder and Mavericks tips off tonight at 9:30 p.m. ET.
Best Point Guard in the 2012 NBA Draft: Damian Lillard was projected as a second-round pick entering his junior season at Weber State. While his name was being mentioned in NBA circles, the 6’2 point guard still had a lot to prove. Now, after averaging 24.5 points and emerging as one of the best players in the nation, Lillard is projected as a lottery pick and considered the top point guard in this year’s draft.
“I do feel like I’m the best point guard in the draft class,” Lillard told HOOPSWORLD. “If I’m not the best, I feel like I’m just as good as anyone else. I just want to prove it now. I want to show people.”
In college, Lillard was forced to carry the scoring load for Weber State. He averaged the second-most points in the country. However, in the NBA, Lillard will likely be more of a distributor.
“I think my game will translate well to the NBA,” Lillard said. “I think I’ll still be able to score the ball, especially since I’ll have NBA-level players around me, but I’ll be able to make the players around me better as well. I don’t think I get enough credit for how I pass the ball because at Weber State I had to score a lot. That’s fine though. People will see what I can do at the next level.”
Lillard can’t wait to go through the pre-draft process and play against some of the best players in the country. Coming out of high school, Lillard was a two-star recruit and Weber State was the only school that offered him a scholarship. That has always motivated him and he’s looking forward to matching up against the players who have been ranked ahead of him until now.
“I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder and going into the draft, it’s only going to get bigger,” Lillard said. “People are going to doubt me and I’m ready for that. I’m looking forward to shocking people when I can match up with the big-name guys. I’m not afraid of anyone. I’m ready to go out and prove myself.”
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Lillard said. “Over the past six months, teams have come in and focused on shutting me down. Going against double teams and triple teams made everything a lot harder. Now, in these workouts and at the next level, I won’t have an entire group of players focusing on me. I’m looking forward to the workouts, going one-on-one or two-on-two. I think that’s going to be make things a lot easier for me.”
When asked to compare himself to a current NBA player, Lillard pauses for a moment before answering.
“Jeff Teague,” Lillard said. “I would compare myself to Jeff Teague. I study film of Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, but I think when I get to the league, I’ll be similar to Jeff Teague. He’s about the same size as me, he can shoot, he’s a scoring point guard and he’s athletic.”
In the last six months, Lillard has proven himself and climbed draft boards as a result. He has solidified himself as a first round pick and now only one question remains. How much further will he climb?
HOOPSWORLD Chats: There are three chats on today’s schedule. Susan Bible’s weekly chat will get underway at 11 p.m. ET. I’ll hold my weekly chat today at 3 p.m. ET. Finally, Derek Page will hold his weekly chat at 5 p.m. ET. Make sure to submit your questions early because these chats fill up fast. To view HOOPSWORLD’s upcoming chat schedule, click here.