Tag Archives: Kevin Durant

Patience, Frustration, and the Whole Crazy Thing

Kevin Durant is frustrated.

He’s frustrated with putting in MVP effort and finishing runner-up. He’s undoubtedly frustrated with the absence of Russell Westbrook—although there is nothing anyone can do about bringing him back. He even seems frustrated with his own public perception, evidenced by Nike’s “KD is Not Nice” campaign conflicting with the long-held public view of an ideal humble superstar.

Through Durant’s six years in the league, we have seen him rise through the NBA. In year one, he was Rookie of the Year. In year two, he continued to grow his game and his confidence. In years three through five, he evolved into an All-Star and lead the league in scoring. This season, despite putting up a 50-40-90, he still finished second to LeBron James in the MVP voting.

In each year his Thunder reached the playoffs, they have won an additional playoff round, and each team to whom they’ve lost has gone on to be the eventual NBA champion—until this season. The Thunder were dismissed in the Conference Semifinals after Westbrook’s injury left them shorthanded. Thus, Durant had to settle for an honorable mention yet again.

It may seem odd for a 24-year old player in his sixth year to feel so frustrated with such a long career ahead of him, but he has had everything come to him so quickly—except for the ultimate goal of a championship. Having to hear about those close to him accomplishing this feat while he is left longing has to be difficult. You can almost see it on his face that basketball doesn’t seem as much fun as it used to for him. But this type of adversity is a required trial of all great players.

As it turns out, becoming an NBA champion is really, really difficult. Basketball abilities and accolades have likely always come easy and often for Durant, but that’s not enough to get your team over a championship hump. It’s not easy, nor should it be, and that’s why takes many great players several years to reach that peak. He should ask LeBron, his summer workout partner, about the patience required to get there.

By now, we know the LeBron James story, but there is a lot Durant could take away from James’s journey. Granted, LeBron came into the league with more hype, but each player was also well-liked and even hit similar career milestones like Rookie of the Year and earning their first All-Star berths in the third years. Furthermore, LeBron was well-liked publicly—much like Durant has been up to this point. But as James would later learn, much of that hinged on expectation on him being able to deliver a championship on a timetable the fans saw fit. He lost in the Finals to the Spurs in ’07, but he was excused by the world at large. After all, it was his first time in the Finals, and he didn’t have enough help. Then, we saw the MVPs add pressure on LeBron to deliver, the mentally-checking-out against the Celtics series in ’10, and then the loss to the Mavs in ’11. Finally, in ’12 he was able to say he was a champion and did so on his own time.

LeBron didn’t win his first championship in the same year of his career Michael Jordan and neither did Jordan win his first in the same year Magic Johnson won his first. No, the story Kevin Durant is writing is his own, and unfortunately much of what it takes to win a championship is out of his control.

Yes, there are more things required than Durant’s elite skillset or physical tools to win a championship at this level. I hate to say it, but you need luck, especially in the form of health. Losing Westbrook killed the Thunder in the playoffs. Without him, the Grizzlies were able to send multiple defenders at Durant to shut him down. He no longer had a teammate to keep the defense honest or who was more than ready to shoulder some of the offensive load. For once, Durant’s elite mid-range game and athleticism were not enough to overcome the defensive scheming of the Grizzlies, and I’m sure that was as surprising to us as it was to him.

For the first time, Durant was learning what it was like to have to do it all on your own and not have your God-given ability alone be enough. To a player that’s always had his skills be the only requirement for success this isn’t easy to deal with. LeBron learned that he couldn’t do it alone, just like Jordan couldn’t do it without Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson, and Magic would have struggled to do it without the Kareems or Michael Coopers. The good news for Durant? He doesn’t have to wait for his team to find that help. He knows he will have Westbrook back next year to try again.

Durant is young, talented, and successful. Like anyone in any other profession under similar circumstances who feels like they are at the brink of achieving something great, it’s hard to wait for that to happen, and that’s where frustration can set in. For Durant, he’s dreamed about winning MVPs and championships, but has only had to settle for stories from his Team USA teammates. But he’ll get there. He may not have gotten there this year, but when he does it will be in a way all his own, on a timeline all his own, and accomplished unlike anyone else before him. The fact that Durant hasn’t been able to bring these purported dreams to fruition may be frustrating, but his patience will be rewarded eventually.

Up Up Down Down Kevin Durant B A Select Start

In case you hadn’t noticed in the overwhelming deluge of attention that’s been rightly lavished on Steph Curry’s tremendous work in the playoffs so far, Kevin Durant is—still—completely out of his mind. Having watched him in person this season at Timberwolves’ games, it’s tempting to crib from Bobby Jones’ analysis of Jack Nicklaus following his win in the 1965 Masters and say that Durant plays a game with which I am not familiar.

Except I am. I’ve seen it before, just not in real life. Durant’s closest antecedent is Rashard Lewis in NBA 2K2.

Hear me out. Lewis was drafted out of Alief Elsik High School in Houston, Texas, in 1998, a few years before the zenith of the preps-to-pros trend in 2001 when Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry and DeSagana Diop all went in the top ten. Expected to go in the lottery, Lewis instead slid and slid until he was the last guy in the green room, finally taken by the Seattle Supersonics with the 32nd pick.

His first couple seasons were fairly unremarkable. His rookie year he only logged 145 minutes, managing a Filene’s Basement-esque 4.5 PER. In 2000 he came off the bench and looked a lot better, improving his PER to 16.5 and recording a .521 effective field goal percentage.

When he broke out in his third year as a starter with the Sonics, he looked good. And by good I mean GOOD. His per 36 stats didn’t make a huge jump, but when his minutes per game jumped from 19.2 to 34.9, he went from scoring 8.2 ppg to 14.8. His FT% jumped from .683 to .826 and his 3P% leapt dramatically from a solid .333 to a sterling .432. The advanced stats looked good as well: a PER of 17.3, an offensive rating of 114, and a true shooting percentage of .587. Although his usage rate was well below Durant’s, Lewis’ 2000-01 season is fairly comparable to Durant’s sophomore season in 2008-09.

2K Sports clearly thought of Lewis’ 2001 season as a harbinger, not a high water mark. In NBA 2K2, Lewis was a scoring MACHINE. At 6’10” and blessed by the game’s makers with guard-level speed and preternatural 3-pt shooting, Lewis could easily play shooting guard or small forward. He could shoot over just about any guard and was fast enough to get past any forward. He could finish hard at the rim and make his free throws. When he put it on the floor, he opened things up for the other shooters on the Sonics, which in 2002 included Brent Barry and video game Vladimir Radmanovic (who was very good). I scored 100 points with him once. He was, in short, a polygonal fever dream of beautiful basketball.

But then, it turned out that Lewis’ 2001 was both more illusory and more concrete than NBA 2K2 made it look. It was ephemeral in the sense that 2K Sports had to look at his play from the year before and see what it augured. Where they saw growth, we instead got stability. His PER inched up to 18.5 in 2002 and his wins shares per 48 rose to .160, but that’s about as high as they ever got. Through the peak of his career between 2004 and 2007, he would be named an All-Star and his PER would hover around 20 as his usage rate increased to around 24%.

And that’s good. That’s very, very good. But it’s also not Durant-good, and not Lewis-in-NBA-2K2 good. Rashard Lewis’ points per game peaked at 20.6, his rebounds per game peaked early on in 2000 at 7.7, and his assists per game never got higher than 2.6.  Consider that this season Durant averaged 28.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game, plus notched a career-high PER at 28.3, and he’s very possibly going to get better.

And while the numbers are impressive enough, they have a hard time the uncanniness of Durant on the court. His jumper is so smooth it looks lathed, his crossover so startlingly fast across such a broad reach that it looks like a canned animation. As he threads through the lane on a fast break to throw down a dunk, you question the collision detection. He’s a living, breathing cheat code, rubberband AI made flesh.

To put it simply: real-life Kevin Durant is what video games dream of becoming.

Time To Make The Sausage

There aren’t many certainties in today’s NBA, but beginning the month of May with MVP controversy is one thing you can always count on. There are no standardized qualifications for becoming the league’s official Most Valuable Player, and that creates a huge amount of inherent wiggle room, allowing voters to weigh different criteria in whatever way they see fit. That loose flexibility was shoved into the spotlight yesterday when Boston Globe columnist, Gary Washburn, revealed himself to be the lone voter who didn’t put LeBron James at the top of his ballot. Washburn went with Carmelo Anthony, and made his case public as part of yesterday’s announcement.

LeBron had an absolutely dominant season and it’s nigh impossible to find any reliable statistical metric by which he wasn’t the most productive player in the league this season. Washburn actually seemed to agree, and his argument was that although Anthony may not have been the better player, he was more important to his team. I’m not here to argue the merits of Washburn’s argument. But I would like to point out that this is an extreme example of separation between decision-making based on the power of statistics and the power of narrative. LeBron’s season presents some incredibly compelling storylines as well, but while there’s little space to argue against his statistical case, there’s plenty of room to argue about stories.

I don’t mean to imply that Washburn’s choice is somehow immature or incorrect because he gave more weight to the narrative elements of Anthony’s case. Stories are part of basketball; how we watch it, understand it, talk about it, and certainly how the media covers it. Stories are important and have always been a part of how the MVP award is decided. My own experiences as a basketball fan and amateur analyst are a constant balancing act between the narrative and the numeric. It’s an indelicate art and the line between the two moves constantly. One of the questions that the whole Washburn rigamarole raised for me was, exactly where that line falls for MVP voters in the aggregate. How much of MVP voting is based on statistics, literal or implied, and how much is based on a compelling story?

Narrative is an extremely complex idea to measure, but tracking the statistical case for MVP candidates is a little more straightforward. I began at Basketball-Reference’s Award Page, looking at the players who have received MVP votes over the last 10 seasons. Basketball-Reference is nice enough to include a limited statistical profile right alongside each player. The listed categories are age, games played, minutes per game, points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, steals per game, blocks per game, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, free throw percentage, Win Shares and win shares per 48 minutes. My intuition is that any MVP voter who does include statistics in their decision making probably doesn’t look much further than these categories, and so they seemed like a reasonable place to start.

The one category which is conspicuously absent from a voting perspective is team win percentage, which I added. The other changes I made were dropping total Win Shares, keeping just the per 48 minute version, and converting total games played to percentage of games played, adjusting for the lockout shortened season. I then regressed those categories onto the share of total possible points that each player received from the voters. The result was an R^2 value of 0.516, which means just over half the variation in MVP voting can be explained by players’ performance in those categories I mentioned above.

While that explains a significant block of variability, it still leaves nearly half of the story untold. That 0.484 is where the narrative comes in. The results of the regression analysis also include an equation by which you can project the share of possible MVP voting points a player should have received, based on those numbers. I did that for each of the top five vote-getters from those 10 seasons and put them in to this Tableau Visualization, along with the actual share of MVP vote they received.

[iframe]<iframe src=”http://public.tableausoftware.com/views/NBAsMostValuablePlayerResults/MVPVotingDashboard?:embed=y&:display_count=no” style=”border:0px #FFFFFF none;” name=”MVP Voting” scrolling=”no” frameborder=”1″ marginheight=”0px” marginwidth=”0px” height=”663px” width=”663px”></iframe>[/iframe]

You can play around and sort by year, looking at how each race shook out. The higher a player is on the vertical axis the more compelling their statistical case was. I’m making an assumption here, but the implication is that the difference between a player’s projected share and their actual share represents the power of their narrative. Player’s who fall low on the vertical axis, but far to the right on the horizontal axis would appear to be the ones with the most compelling narratives.

I put this visualization together for you to draw your own conclusions, but I’ll share I few seasons I found particularly interesting.

2013

2013 MVP

This was a year where the narrative component of the MVP voting went hand-in-hand with the statistical rationale. LeBron and Durant had big statistical edges and it was clearly reflected in the results. But those numbers also fell in with the storyline of two dominant stars elevating their games and leading their teams to a new level. I also thought it was interesting how much of a difference narrative made in the case of Carmelo Anthony. We already discussed how his story swayed Gary Washburn, but he apparently wasn’t the only one. Anthony finished third in this year’s voting despite a weaker statistical component to his case than either LeBron, Durant, Kobe Bryant or Chris Paul.

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2011

2011

This was one of the most memorable MVP votes for me and really exemplified the divide between analytic-minded decision makers, who advocated for Dwight Howard, and those drawn to the compelling one-against-the-world narrative of Derrick Rose’s season. In the end the award went to Rose, by a healthy margin. Amazingly, the regression equation seems to indicate that LeBron had a much stronger statistical case than either Rose or Howard, despite finishing third. This is a case where the negative narrative of the Heat’s ‘front-running’ and the ‘post-Decision’ backlash probably kept LeBron out of the top two spots.

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2008

2008

2008 was another fascinating year in terms of balancing narrative and production. There was a lot of push for Chris Paul who jumped several levels in production, leading the New Orleans Hornets’ to the second-best record in the Western Conference, along with building the most compelling statistical resume of the candidates. In the end he lost out to Kobe Bryant, who trumped Paul’s narrative with a career of dominance, that had at that point been unrecognized with an MVP award. Kevin Garnett finished third for his work in coalescing the Big Three in Boston and leading the Celtics to the best record in the league. LeBron James finished fourth, with the second-most compelling statistical resume but no enticing story to attach it to.

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2006

2006

This is another infamous award season. It was Nash’s second consecutive MVP, despite being the worst for the Nash-D’Antoni Suns, both in terms of wins and offensive efficiency. But it was a remarkable and, at the time, almost unbelievable duplication of what they had done in their first season together. This was especially true when you consider that Amare Stoudemire played just three games all season long. That the ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ philosophy was able to sustain into a second season and prove a viable offensive strategy that wouldn’t dissipate once it was “figured out” by NBA defenses was the narrative that drove Nash to this award. LeBron finished second in the voting, but he was one of three players, along with Dirk Nowitzki and Chauncey Billups who had a more compelling statistical case.

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People on both sides of the narrative-numerical divide often seem to get their hackles up around the MVP Award, depending on which side prevails in a given year. While middle ground we currently walk always leaves someone frustrated, it’s by far preferable to the alternative. There is a place for logic and reason in the NBA and no one would be satisfied by a world where postseason awards were handed willy-nilly with no verifiable, objective reasoning to support those decisions. At the same time, making decisions with a formula only denies our human instinct to create, tell and consume stories. It may be a bumpy ride, but you can enjoy the MVP award both for what it is and for what it is not.

Maybe We’ll Be OK

It’s 2013, or so the calendar tells us. Yet when we read news of North Korea’s supposedly impending nuclear attack, the turtle-paced recovery of the economy, the continued legislation of love, or even racially segregated proms, it feels like we’re either stuck in the 1940’s or thrust forward to the end of days. The negative always seems to outweigh the positive.  Our faith in humanity slowly diminishes. It’s always darkest before the dawn, but it’s been dark for so long we wonder if dawn is really a thing of myth.  

Then there are days, moments, even, that let the light of dawn peek through, showing us we’re perhaps not as doomed as we’ve been told. Moments like today.

Jason Collins, in a piece published in Sports Illustrated, announced he was gay, becoming the first active male professional athlete in a major sport in the United States to do so.  A thorough string of qualifiers, to be sure, but ones that enhance, rather than diminish, the magnitude of Collins’ announcement. No, announcement isn’t the right word. Collins and his agent didn’t organize a press conference wherein he read from a statement then took questions from the media. He wrote a frank, honest, and beautiful article, describing his struggle with hiding his true self for so long and his decision to no longer do so. To do such a thing, in such a prominent publication, transcends bravery or courage.

For basketball, and sports overall, this announcement was a long time coming. Other athletes who came out, such as John Amaechi, Robbie Rogers, even as far back as Martina Navratilova helped paved the road for Collins. So too did straight athletes like Brendon Ayanbandejo and Chris Kluwe, outspoken proponents of both gay marriage and acceptance of homosexuals in professional sports. Collins now becomes the first active athlete to come out, and becomes perhaps the biggest fissure in the wall of intolerance in sports.

Further piercing that shroud of despair was the groundswell of support from Collins’ peers following the publication of Collins’ article. Statements from Doc Rivers, David Stern, or even Bill Clinton were encouraging, of course, but their support was never in question, nor was it the most important. The reaction of players, former and current, would be a telling sign as to whether Collins’ world was and is ready for such an announcement. And, in one of those too-rare moments, our faith in humanity was restored just a bit.

Some, such as Kobe Bryant and Baron Davis, praised Collins for his bravery.

Screen Shot 2013-04-29 at 10.52.33 AM

Others, like Kevin Durant, though not effusive in his praise, nonetheless supported Collins, citing the brotherhood of basketball and (at least to Durant) the acceptance that comes with the inclusion in said brotherhood.

“Nobody has any right to judge. He’s his own man. Makes his own decisions. As NBA players, it’s like a big group of guys, kind of like a brotherhood. I know I support him. Like I said, I don’t really know him, so whatever decision he makes is something he really thought was good for him. Nothing nobody else can about him. As long as he’s happy, it’s cool.”

 

Overall, the majority of player’s reactions showed that the world of sports is slowly starting to catch up to society. Maybe it will be some time before another player, a more prominent player comes out, but at least Collins has laid the groundwork for that day.

Unfortunately, though predictably, the day was not without hatred. Intolerance, ignorance and animosity all reared their heads after the story was published. And yet, despite the pure hideousness of these comments, they are, in a way, a necessity.

Screenwriter Stewart Stern, in a letter to James Dean’s parents after the actor’s death, wrote, “Ecstasy is only recognizable when one has experienced pain. Beauty only exists when set against ugliness. Peace is not appreciated without war ahead of it. How we wish that life could support only the good. But it vanishes when its opposite no longer exists as a setting.”

Life cannot exist without Death, and Love cannot exist without Hate. That does not mean, however, that the two are equal. So while the ignorant filth will continue to comment, tweet and spew venomous hatred, they are closer to being drowned out than ever before. And though they do still cause us to shake our heads and bemoan the stupidity of some, those hateful words have value, in that they allow us to better appreciate those of love and support.

 

A World Without Westbrook

In sports, as in life, we get so used to certain presences that we’re unsure what to do once that presence fades. Tonight will be the first game Russell Westbrook has missed not just in his professional career, but in his entire sports career, high school included. That a player so devilish and reckless, so bruising and physical would be so immune to injury is somewhat unfathomable. Just as unbelievable will be tonight, when the Thunder takes the floor without Westbrook.

Two years ago, my parents, sister, and both grandmothers came in town for my college graduation. At dinner the night before the actual ceremony, my mom looked at me and asked where I was going to get my haircut from now on.

“What?” I asked, bemused. My mom had always had a propensity for asking questions that seemingly had little to do with the current conversation, and I figured this to be another instance. The beat of puzzled silence that follows these questions came, but the laughter that usually comes after, from both my mom and the rest of my family, didn’t.

“What?” I asked, this time concerned. I turned to my dad, but in the time it took for me to make eye contact with him, my brain had pieced it together. So, when I came face to face with my dad, instead of asking “what?” again, I simply, quietly, said, “no.”

“Jerry passed away,” my dad said, confirming my fear. Jerry, my barber for the better part of my entire life, had suffered a massive heart attack following a tennis game with his friend and business partner a few weeks prior. My dad waited to tell me because he didn’t want the news to interfere with school.

The loss of a barber may seem inconsequential to some, but it was profound to me. He wasn’t just a barber; he was my friend. We’d talk about the Chiefs, the Royals, the Jayhawks, fishing, movies, school and all of the common topics of conversation between men. Jerry had been there through all the phases, and corresponding hairstyles, of my life, from the short, simple “Princeton” haircut, to my unkempt, knotty, unmanageable Jewfro that required the use of a machete just to trim, and back to a shorter cut, less Slideshow Bob and more a shorter Harpo Marx.

I’d go off to summer camp, come back, then visit Jerry in the next few days. I’d go off to college, first at UConn then Tulsa, and almost every time I returned home, I’d call Jerry and ask if he had anything open. Usually, he did. He was always there, the very definition of a constant. And now he was gone.

Westbrook, for so young a player, has been a pivotal figure in the brief history of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was drafted by the Seattle Supersonics in 2008, a franchise cornerstone for a franchise that was soon to end. He was there for the Thunder’s inaugural season, a miserable, and turnover-prone one to be sure, but formative and integral to the development of the team and specifically the chemistry between Westbrook and Durant. He was there for the Thunder’s first playoff appearance, for the Jeff Green/Kendrick Perkins trade, the emergence of James Harden and Serge Ibaka, and started (and starred) in the NBA Finals just four years after being drafted. And through it all, he has been maligned, celebrated, jeered, scapegoated, praised, and an overall polarizing figure.

More than any other player on the Thunder, Westbrook has been the team’s constant. Nick Collison, though fully embraced by the Oklahoma City fans, will never wholly belong to them, as his history is just as much with the specters in Seattle. Jeff Green and James Harden were traded (to decidedly different fanfares, of course). Even Kevin Durant, the face of the franchise and the second best player in the NBA, has missed a few games because of injury. But not Russell Westbrook. He’s always been there, night in and night out, bad game or good game. He may cost them the game with a silly mistake, or he may win it with a daring feat of athleticism and skill, but either way, his presence has always been undeniable.

Good or bad, he was always there. It never crossed the minds of Thunder fans, and basketball fans at large, that he would ever not be. He’s fallen down hundreds of times, grimaced, limped, doubled over in pain, but he’s always come back, no matter what. His presence, nearly as much as his production, is what made him Russell Westbrook.

A few days after moving back to Kansas City, I made an appointment at Bock’s, where Jerry used to work. Pulling up to the shop, nerves, like so many corn kernels in a microwave, jumped and bounced and wrecked their way throughout my stomach. I pulled open the front door to see Bernie and Maurice, two other barbers, one of whom, Maurice, was Jerry’s brother.

Maurice tended to the first chair, while Bernie was stationed at the third. In the middle, unoccupied, untouched, was the second chair. Jerry’s chair. My appointment was with Bernie, whom I’d known just as long as Jerry. Inevitably, we talked about Jerry, and through the entire haircut my eyes rarely strayed from Jerry’s vacant chair, magnetic in its emptiness.

It was all so wrong, and I kept expecting Jerry to come out of the back room, or walk through the front door, or just be there. And every time I go back, I still wait for him to appear, and every time reality disappoints me.

When the news broke that Westbrook was out, first indefinitely, then later for the rest of the season, we were introduced to a reality we never thought could possibly exist: a world without Westbrook. It’s as uncharted a territory for the Thunder as it is for fans, navigated easily by neither. But navigate it they, and we, must. That  means more Reggie Jackson and (unfortunately) more Derek Fisher, the former unproven, the latter far past his prime, and neither enough to compensate.

It doesn’t, and won’t, seem right for the Thunder to play without Russell Westbrook. We’ll look to the court, wondering where the dynamic guard is before catching ourselves and remembering that the Thunder’s greatest constant is now, in more than one way, their greatest absence.

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: The Thunder-Rockets 2012-2013 Playoff Preview

From October through April, thirty teams scratched and clawed their way for this opportunity. Who will make it out? Who will be disappointed? Who will shock and surprise? Who will hit an insane buzzer beater that will make us all collectively gasp so loudly that we will be able hear each other from six counties away? WHO? TELL ME, WHO?

Welcome to the Hardwood Paroxysm 2012-2013 Playoff Previews.

Virtual Systems Analysis

by Andrew Lynch

I wanted to start this preview off with the V for Vendetta volume of V’s video, because apparently I’m stuck in 2005. Honestly, though, that’s way too many V’s for this series. THUNDERROCKETS needs but three:

Vengeance. Vindication. Variance.

Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but vengeance? She is a visage best viewed bearded, like some sort of angry carnival attraction. And James Harden, the PT Barnum of Offensive Efficiency, has a whole circus’s worth of vengeance to unleash upon his former mates in Oklahoma City. The Thunder wouldn’t give him his $6 million dollars, so he’s going to bring his Omer Asik elephants down I-35 like a millionaire Hannibal of Carthage.

Unfortunately for Harden and his three-point shooting acrobats, Oklahoma City stands to be vindicated for its decision — for now. The Thunder are heavy favorites, as they should be. Kevin Martin has done his level best to provide three-quarters of Harden’s production off the bench, and organic growth of the young core players has taken the Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook/Serge Ibaka combination to a higher plane of enlightenment.

The Thunder are far from nirvana, though, particularly with a Dalai Lama whose Four Noble Truths are predicated on playing Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher copious minutes. And, if the Rockets can jack up the variance in this series by running, gunning and doing what they do best, they’ll stand a chance — to win two games instead of one. It won’t be a very good chance; after all, circuses are kind of a dying business. But a little bit of probability goes a long way when the alternative is impossibility.

I Do Declare

by Amin Vafa

Any number of unexpected things can happen in this series. As a wise man once said, “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!!!!!” And he was right. Records can be topped, players can get injured (knock on wood that they don’t), upsets can occur, and hearts can be broken. But enough with the schmaltz. Let’s make some kooky predictions, shall we?

OK, I’m going to make three tiers of predictions, and make three predictions in each tier. Here we go:

Tier One: The Potential for an in-game fracas

1. Kendrick Perkins and Thomas Robinson will get double technicals in Game 1 because Robinson will misinterpret Perkins’s regular frown-prone face as a personal affront and will argue with him.

2. Kevin Durant (who is apparently “not nice” these days) will get a technical foul in Game 4 for yelling at Joey Crawford for calling him for a charge that he deserved.

3. Kevin Martin and Francisco Garcia have to be separated in Game 4 because of Martin’s insistence that Knucklehead is better than that Parker’s.

Tier Two: Fans Gone Wild

1. OKC fans will boo James Harden in Game 1, causing him to go 3-15 in the first half. He will finish the game with 48 points.

2. Game 4 will be suffer a delay in the fourth quarter for over 20 minutes as the floor is being cleared of promotional “FEAR THE BEARD” fake James Harden-like beards that unhappy fans have thrown onto the floor of a 25-point rout.

3. Game 5 will begin on a 45-minute delay because “Mini Oil Derrick Giveaway Night” will have made the floor too slick. But for real, they should have seen that one coming.

Tier Three: WHAT THE WHAT?

1. The Rockets will lose the series at home at Game 6 because Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha will be replaced by MONSTARS. Kevin McHale is notoriously bad at game-planning against MONSTARS.

2. James Harden and Russell Westbrook will both get technical fouls in Game 2. This will occur because a fan from the stands will scream “WE SHOULDA TRADED YOU, RUSS!” Unfortunately, for Harden, the fan in the crowd will be an amateur ventriloquist, and Westbrook will think think Harden was the one who said it. The confusion will result in a very tense and confusing moment that will end in Westbrook sitting more minutes than he normally would.

3. Both teams will forfeit the series because they’ll all get emotional having watched hours of footage with Harden on the Thunder and Martin on the Rockets. As soon as both teams step out onto the court, Harden and Martin run past each other and hug their old teammates. They embrace and cry for so long that even the officials are too overcome with emotion to blow the whistle and start the game. The crowd goes silent for 10 minutes, until you hear one child sniffle. Then the entire stadium is filled with wailing sobs and memories of yore. The jumbotron no longer carrie a live feed and is instead filled with montages of Martin and Harden on their respective previous teams. The Rockets montage is set to “Good Riddance” by Green Day (those lyrics are so tricky, though! they’re so loving in parts!), and the Thunder montage is set to “Closing Time” by Semisonic.

Then the Thunder and Rockets all sign each other’s yearbooks. “H.A.G.S.!”

Through the Looking Glass

by Jordan White

Predictions for this series:

James Harden will score 45 points on 20 shots

James Harden will score 20 points on 30 shots

Chandler Parsons will continue to be handsome

Kendrick Perkins will continue to mean mug everyone

There will be at least one spat between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and once again we’ll find ourselves in the throes of the beaten-t0-death “they don’t like each other” narrative.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will continue to say how much they like each other

Jeremy Lin will remind everyone that he wasn’t a product of the New York media hype, and is actually pretty damn good

Omer Asik will be hilarious, without ever cracking a joke. Seriously, just look at the way he runs.

Derek Fisher will hit one big shot in a close game, vindicating Scott Brooks, but not really.

Reggie Jackson will miss an insignificant shot, and will get pulled instantly.

Serge Ibaka will bite on a pump fake

Terrence Jones will have a 20-10 game

Patrick Beverly-Reggie Jackson, though a likely insignificant match-up, will cause unexpected entertainment

Kevin Durant will have a triple double, and it won’t even be his best game of the series

The Thunder will win in 5.

LION FACE/LEMON FACE 4/12/13: IT’S NATE ROBINSON’S WORLD

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends, unless of course you consider the show to be the NBA regular season in which case it’s actually ending very soon. Regardless, with the regular season winding down and the playoffs getting ready to start up, we’re bringing back America’s 34th favorite semi-running column: Lion Face/Lemon Face. As a refresher for those that forgot and introduction for those who are new here, Lion Faces are given to the best players, plays, or moments of the night; Lemon Faces are for the worst. Have a suggestion in the future? Tag it on Twitter with #LionFace or #LemonFace during a weeknight game and we’ll make sure one of our 921 writers see it. Without further ado, on to the LF/LF nominees from Thursday’s TNT doubleheader…

Lion Face: Nate Robinson

GIF from Beyond the Buzzer

It’s been a while since I watched professional wrestling regularly, but I do know that Wrestlemania XXIX was this past Sunday. I was shocked to find out and completely unaware that they unified five different championship belts, and they were apparently all won by Nate Robinson. Either that, or he is the most insured man on the planet after busting out the never before seen Discount Septuple Check following a three pointer. Robinson finished with 35 points on the night, a season high and the most points he’s scored in a game since New Year’s Day 2010. He also added 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 block, and infinite swag in helping the Bulls snap the Knicks’ 13 game winning streak.

Lemon Face: Jarrett Jack

GIF from DailyThunder.com

In the immortal words of Harry Doyle, “Juuuuuuuust a bit outside.” On the plus side, the Raiders are set to start Matt Flynn this year and Terrelle Pryor is currently Flynn’s backup, so if the whole basketball thing ends up not working out for Jack, he can still put that arm to use in Oakland.

Lion Face: Jimmy Butler

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/JeffGurt/status/322536544089042944"]

Butler has been playing extremely well lately having chipped in a double digit scoring effort in 10 of his last 12 games including his career high 22 tonight. Butler also pulled down 14 rebounds, another career high, against the Knicks. Not too shabby for the 30th pick of the 2011 Draft.

Lemon Face: This Bulls fan

GIF from @SBNationGIF

This is actually a fantastic shot, so don’t think that it got a Lemon Face because it was somehow the worst of the night. I’m giving this a Lemon Face only for the sole fact that it looks like she might be ready to actually ingest a full lemon sometime within the next four seconds. Also, what is Joakim Noah doing in the stands right behind her? Why isn’t he getting back on defense? And why is he wearing a t-shirt jersey?

Lion Face: The Durant-Westbrook Connection

Without question, Durant and Westbrook gave us the best sequence of the night. A swat by Westbrook followed up by Kevin Durant’s complete lack of regard for human life coupled with Golden State’s complete lack of regard for transition defense made this happened. Just sit back and enjoy it.

Lion Face: Golden State’s 3 Point Shooting

GoldenState3s

Typically, if you shoot 183.3% from beyond the arc, that’s a pretty solid shooting night. Unfortunately for the Warriors, this actually appears to bring down the torrid 248.8% they were apparently shooting coming into last night’s contest. If you’re the type of person that’s actually into “statistics” and “actual facts”, Golden State actually entered the game shooting 40.2% from 3, good enough for first in the NBA. They finished last night 7-16 from 3 to slightly raise their shooting percentage on the year. Consider this as more of a season long Lion Face honor because honestly, the Lion Faces are hard to come by when you get blown out by 19 points on national TV.

Lion Face: Guys named Kevin on the Thunder

Kevin Martin Shot Chart via NBA.com

Kevin Martin Shot Chart via NBA.com

Kevin Durant Shot Chart via NBA.com

Kevin Durant Shot Chart via NBA.com

Kevin Martin: 8-10 from the field. 4-5 from beyond the arc. 3-3 from the line. 23 points in total. Yeah, Kevin Martin had himself a night off the bench for the Thunder. And if you ever wanted more proof that single game +/- is hilariously misleading at times, Martin finished with a +1 for the game. Meanwhile, Kevin Durant turned in a ho-hum 31-10-8 night on 10-16 field goals and shot 90% from the charity stripe. In the race for the scoring title, Durant now is averaging 28.2 points per game while Carmelo Anthony has widened his lead by averaging 28.6 points per contest. Speaking of Melo…

Limón Face: Carmelo Anthony

On one hand, Anthony became the first Knick to ever post six consecutive games of at least 35 points. In his five previous games, he shot at least 51% from the field, and shot over 60% in four of those five games. On the other hand, last night he needed 34 shots from the field to get his 36 points, and finished the game 13-34 (38%) including missing all four three-point attempts. It’s not often that a guy with a 36 point, 20 rebound effort deserves a Lemon Face, but 13-34 is far from Lionesque. Instead, he gets a hybrid of the two: the Limón Face.

Statistical support for this post provided by NBA.com

Small Sample Size Theater: Lou Amundson

In this weekly piece I will take a look at a player who wasn’t on the court very long but had a measured impact on the final result. The chosen player may have a negative or positive impact, but either way, the player played a crucial role for his team in the past seven days.

If a player is a career reserve that has never played big minutes is still on a roster at the age of 30, the man is doing something right. Kevin Durant has played 32.4% more minutes over the last two seasons than Lou Amundson has during his seven year career, yet Amundson has continued to find work and this week, he provided a lift to the struggling Hornets.

Sure, Amundson played a mere 29 minutes this week, but he made his two shots from the field and three of his four free throws. His presence was felt more on the court, as he offered a body that was willing to go to war in the paint. He averaged nearly 12 rebounds per 48 minutes and the Hornets were 25 points better this week when he was on the court opposed to off of it. Here’s a look at the past 16 days, and how the Hornets have fared with the journeyman on and off the court.

Amundson

His 12 points per 48 minutes were also a nice touch, not to mention only one point less than heralded rookie Austin Rivers is averaging this season. New Orleans has won four of the last five games in which Amundson has been inserted into the lineup for at least nine minutes, and that’s saying something for a team that wins only about one third of its games.

Is Lou Amundson a player to build a roster around? No. But can he serve as a mentor of sorts to the young Hornets front line, showing them how hard they need to work every day and how to “earn” your minutes? Yes.

Statistical Anomaly: Timberwolves @ Rockets

Statistical Anomaly is a series where we explore all the mathematical nuances you may not have noticed watching the game the first time. Today, Kyle waxes Euclidian on the Rockets 108-100 victory over the visiting Timberwolves.

Omer Asik continues to grab rebounds, but his offensive game is as limited as ever. For the third time in four games Asik recorded 0 FTM, 10+ rebounds, and single digit points. Prior to this run, Asik only had one such game in the calendar year. A consistent presence on the offensive end would be nice, but Asik gives Houston exactly what they need. With their high scoring back-court, Asik provides toughness and grit on the interior, a reason why no team wants to see Houston in the first round. They don’t match up well with Oklahoma City, but if they can move up to the six seed and play Memphis, Asik’s role would be a key factor in their potential success.

For the second time in three games, James Harden attempted 10+ three pointers and 10+ free throws, something he hadn’t done once in his career prior to this stretch. Is it possible that Harden is the most complete (not the best but the most complete) scorer in the NBA? He’s more consistent from distance than LeBron and he attacks the basket better than Durant. At 23 years old, Kobe Bryant averaged a similar number of points (25.2 as compared to Harden’s 26.2), but he shot 25% from distance. Harden’s ability to get to the rim is highlighted by his 10 FTA per game and the fact that no player averages more FTM+3PM (11.0).

Harden

The Timberwolves have lost 41 games this season, but heading into action Friday, they had a better winning percentage when scoring 100+ points (.733) than the Denver Nuggets (.712). The stat line from James Harden (37 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds that all came on the defensive end) was eerily similar to the stat line Russell Westbrook produced on January 22nd (37 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds that all came on the defensive end). The last time the Timberwolves scored 100+ points in a losing effort. Minnesota’s success when scoring 100+ points comes from their successful offense inspiring solid defense, but without a true star player (healthy), they lose high scoring games when they can’t match the scoring abilities of the opponent’s best player.

Oddly enough, JJ Barea has been at his best from inside the arc in those games that Minnesota losses despite eclipsing the century mark. He has had just three games since the beginning of February in which he has made at least two two point field goals and shot better than 50% on two pointers, with the Timberwolves losing all three contests while scoring 100+ points. With Barea being an undersized, yet aggressive, point guard, it makes sense that when he is on the floor, the scoring picks up. He has an uncanny ability to get into the paint and thus get Minnesota good looks at the basket, but he also has a very difficult time matching up with bigger guards on the defensive end. That is why Barea is pigeonholed as a valuable piece off the bench as opposed to a starting PG in the NBA.

Ricky Rubio continued his run of well rounded games, notching seven rebounds to go along with his seven assists and 14 points. Over his last 13 games, Rubio is averaging 13.8 points, 9.4 assists, and 6.9 rebounds. For reference, Chris Paul’s greatest season AR (assist + rebound) average was 16.5. Rubio’s seven dimes against Houston was the most predictable stat of the entire game due to the 10 assists he handed out on Wednesday. If you break the Timberwolves point guard March into consecutive two game segments, you’ll notice that in all four instances, he has tallied exactly 17 assists. It is clear that Rubio is getting comfortable with the speed of the NBA game, a dangerous thought for the rest of the league when Kevin Love is on the active roster. “Testigo” (“witness” in Spanish) is still only 22 years of age, the same age Steve Nash entered the NBA at. In a league where explosive point guards are becoming the norm, Rubio is a throwback floor general who makes everyone around him better. He may not be a player to build a winner around, but he is certainly the type of PG that will maximize the talent of the pieces on the floor.

The Rockets improved in a big way seemingly overnight by acquiring Harden and Lin this off season, and the Timberwolves could be the 2013-2014 version. With a solid back-court, a healthy Kevin Love, and a top 10 pick (Shabazz Muhammad would be a nice fit), things are headed in the right direction for Minnesota. When it comes to the rockets, they score enough to keep up with anybody. That being said, they need to commit to the defensive end of the floor if they want any chance in a series format. They have lost as many games this year when scoring 100+ points as the Timberwolves have scored 100+ points, not the ideal formula to win in June. James Harden has proved himself a championship level player and the Rockets have a nice core of young players to support him. Their arrow is pointing up, but their improvement in the win column next season will be directly correlated to their defensive intensity. Offense sells tickets, but defensive still plays a vital role in winning titles.