The Oklahoma City Thunder used a 9-0 run in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter to pull a 77-75 come-from-behind Game 2 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday night. Kevin Durant led Oklahoma City with 22 points and seven rebounds and scored on a baseline floater to give the Thunder a one-point lead in the final 18 seconds. Russell Westbrook and James Harden had 15 and 13 points respectively. Los Angeles tried to reclaim the lead with an open corner three from Steve Blake, but he missed off the left iron. Kobe Bryant scored 20 points, Andrew Bynum had 20 and nine rebounds and Pau Gasol recorded 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers. With the Thunder holding a 2-0 series lead heading back to Los Angeles on Friday to compete in a back-to-back, are the Lakers done?
When the Portland Trail Blazers are on the clock in June’s draft preparing to select a point guard for the future, they should think about the Oklahoma City Thunder’s dynamic ball handler Russell Westbrook.
The 2-time All-Star has reshaped the mold of the league’s coveted pass-first point guard. That fact is, he’s not one. He’s a scorer. At any time, he can explode to the rim and give the Thunder a game-changing bucket.
Even with the three-time scoring champion, Kevin Durant, and the Sixth Man of the Year, James Harden, on the floor, Westbrook still looks for his own shot. But he also knows that in order to be successful at his position, he has to keep his teammates involved.
Westbrook’s offense skills can break down many defenses around the league. His penetrating drives and mid-range jumpers have proven to be a deadly combination matched with the play of Durant and Harden. If needed, he can post up a miss-matched defender and take him to the hole.
It’s his natural scoring ability that makes it difficult for many teams to match up and defend a team with three solid scoring options on the floor at one time.
With this in mind, with the 11th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers select: Damian Lillard of Weber State.
Lillard is the guy Portland needs to provide a much needed spark on offense. He averaged 24.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists as a junior for the Wildcats. Standing 6 feet 3 inches, he has an identical frame and possibly similar scoring attitude of Westbrook.
The best thing about Lillard is his confidence with the ball in his hands. He shot 46.7% from the field, 88.7% from the stripe and 40.9% from beyond the arc in his final year.
Compare his stats to Westbrook’s sophomore season at UCLA–12.7 points and 4.3 assists on 46.5% from the floor, 71.3% from the free-throw line and 33.8% from three-point range–before entering the draft and the numbers match up pretty well.
Like Westbrook, Lillard is not your typical pass-first floor general. But this is why he can change the dynamic of the team and make Portland a high-powered offensive machine.
He brings an assertive, killer instinct that’s missing on the Trail Blazers’ roster. His strength is his ability to attack a defense. But most importantly, he gives the Trail Blazers a consistent scoring threat they have lacked outside of LaMarcus Aldridge.
The Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder have made it clear that they are ready to compete for the 2012 NBA Championship.
Both teams went into the playoffs as No. 2 seeds in the Western and Eastern Conferences and they have dominated their opponents to early 3-0 series leads.
I know it’s still early in the postseason, but the Heat and Thunder are playing like top contenders who will meet each other to square off in the NBA Finals this season.
When Chicago’s Derrick Rose suffered a season-ending ACL injury in Game 1, the playoff landscape changed drastically. The East was now wide open. A return trip to the Finals for the Heat now looked like a scenic path lined with flowers leading to the chip.
Thursday’s 87-70 victory in the Big Apple was no exception.
LeBron James fueled Miami with 32 points to beat the staggering New York Knicks and claim the 3-0 series lead. It was a powerful haymaker. It was a blow that buckled the legs of the “Knicks are back” franchise after acquiring Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler.
From 1997-2000, the rivalry between Miami and New York was nothing less than epic. It was a grueling and physical series between two teams that went the distance. Twenty-four postseason games. All four series went to the final contest. And the Knicks bettered Miami in three of the four series.
But times have changed.
Since the formation of the “Big Three” in South Beach last season, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have shared one goal: win championships.
But they failed on their first attempt. They fell two games short of hoisting the trophy in the 2011 NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. James bold “Not one. Not two. Not three…” championship prediction became more of a mockery to fans and the media. And the Heat knew that next time they would have to silence the doubters.
Game 1 and 2, the Heat held home service. In Game 3, New York needed to do the same at Madison Square Garden but the team couldn’t. Now the Knicks are faced with the tough consequences of Stoudemire’s self-inflicted hand injury after the Game 2 loss left him out of action when the Knicks needed him the most.
Someone please waive the white flag, I smell elimination.
How many teams have come back from a 3-0 hole to win a playoff series? Zero.
And this reality in Sunday’s win-or-go-home game. One more victory and James and the rest of the Heat can coast through competition to the Finals. Chicago and New York have the two best rosters to matchup and compete with Miami, but without Rose or Stoudemire to tame the three-headed monster, the Heat are practically unstoppable in the East.
No team, including last season’s MVP Rose and the Bulls, survived more than five games against Miami until dropping 4-2 to the Mavs in the Finals.
Then we move on to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Here’s a young and energetic team that went through Denver last year and fought Memphis in seven games, hands down the best series, to meet Dallas in the Western Conference Finals.
When I talk about teams playing with chips on their shoulders, I can’t forget about the Thunder. They know how it feels to lose it all when they were one round from playing for the championship. The Mavs beat Oklahoma City in five games and it didn’t sit well with the three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant.
So when the Thunder and Dallas matched up in the first-round this year, it was on. In three games, Durant is leading the series averaging 28 points and shooting 49.6% from the floor. Russell Westbrook is averaging 25 points and James Harden is giving Oklahoma City another double-digit scoring punch off the bench.
Now the Thunder have the chance to return the favor from last year. It’s not just the stats that have put Oklahoma City up three on the defending champions when they play Game 4 on Saturday.
It’s the team’s confidence.
It’s the playoff experience that the Thunder have learned from. It’s a game-winning jumper in Game 1. It’s 31 points in Game 3. It’s the same determination we saw in Dirk Nowitzki last year as he elevated his game to sweep the Los Angeles Lakers on his way to the championship that has been passed to the next team.
Confidence builds champions and right now Durant and the Thunder have it all.
Who will meet in the 2012 NBA Finals? Will Miami and Oklahoma City complete the first-round sweep? Can Dallas or New York be the first team in NBA history to come back from down 3-0?