Doors open 90 minutes before tipoff for Thunder games inside the Ford Center. Two-thirds of Tuesday’s early arrivals made their way to the tunnel from which the Los Angeles Lakers emerged.
For roughly 45 minutes, fans of the road team outnumbered fans of the home team.
The Lakers are one of those sports franchises that have no boundaries. Their fans are everywhere, much like the Yankees, Steelers, Cowboys, Packers, Cubs, Dodgers, Celtics and Braves. The Lakers and Yankees probably top the list.
The reigning NBA champs also draw a media crowd. Writers were bumping elbows along the sideline and baseline inside the Ford Center. Also on hand were NBA-TV and NBA.com. Several reporters normally found courtside were shipped upstairs to the hockey press box in (C)Loud City.
Newspaper writers who make road trips with their NBA teams are about to be put on the endangered species list, yet there were five LA-area beat writers on hand Tuesday. Many NBA franchises struggle to have one beat writer on the road.
During Tuesday’s game, the sellout crowd in the Ford Center easily drowned out the Lakers supporters, but the “oohs” and “ahhs” that accompany the Lakers are definitely more contagious than with other franchises.
Playing the Lakers is more than a game, it’s an event. The Lakers return to the Ford Center on March 26.
The NBA playoffs are about to commence with Chicago at Boston. Before the opening playoff tip, it’s time to share who will win and why:
Cleveland vs. Detroit: Cavaliers in five. The Cavs were ready to go, but became even more ready when Garnett went down.
Boston vs. Chicago: Celtics in six. Even without Kevin Garnett, Boston is better than Chicago. Entering this series, the Bulls were 0-10 in the playoffs against the Celtics.
Orlando vs. Philadelphia: Magic in six. It all depends on Orlando’s health. If Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu are good to go, then so is the Magic.
Atlanta vs. Miami: Heat in seven. The Hawks have some good balance, but Miami has a one-man wrecking crew in Dwyane Wade.
Los Angeles vs. Utah: Lakers in five. The Lakers are too good, too deep, too determined and they’re back at full strength.
Denver vs. New Orleans: Nuggets in six. Denver has been eliminated in the first round five straight years, but it didn’t have Chauncey Billups.
San Antonio vs. Dallas: Spurs in seven. An intriguing Texas shootout between two teams whose windows opportunities are closing
Portland vs. Houston: Trail Blazers in six. The Rockets are playing well without Tracy McGrady, the Blazers are on fire.
Cleveland vs. Miami: Cavaliers in five. Try as he might, Wade can’t beat Cleveland all by himself.
Boston vs. Orlando: Celtics in seven. The Celts stun some folks, but not themselves, showing they’re still pretty good without Garnett.
Los Angeles vs. Portland: Lakers in six. Los Angeles will be fully tested by the young gun Blazers, a team of the future.
Denver vs. San Antonio: Nuggets in seven. The Spurs are beat up with no Manu Ginobili, but Denver still has to claw to advance.
Cleveland vs. Boston: Cavaliers in six. Boston puts up a fight, but LeBron and Co. simply have too much. Had Garnett played, things would have been different.
Los Angeles vs. Denver: Lakers in five. Los Angeles will make quick work of Denver, and will get a couple extra days rest before the finals.
Cleveland vs. Los Angeles: Lakers in six. Kobe Bryant gets a fourth ring, his first without Shaq. Lakers are so good, they even win at Cleveland.
On Wednesday morning, I wrote a column listing several reasons why Scott Brooks should be retained as the Thunder’s head coach and given a multi-year deal.
Roughly five hours later, Thunder general manager Sam Presti announced the deal was done, promptly making the column obsolete.
You will find excerpts of that column below. There are many reasons Presti retained Brooks, and hopefully they included some of those mentioned in the column that never made it to print.
SEVERAL REASONS TO RETAIN BROOKS AS THUNDER COACH
Now that the Thunder’s inaugural season is over, general manager Sam Presti will get bombarded with advice on whom to keep, whom not to keep and whom to get.
He’ll hear it from fans and media, but presumably not from ownership chairman Clay Bennett, who previously has promised to leave the inner workings of players and coaches to Presti.
Presti might have every intention of removing the interim label from coach Scott Brooks’ job title.
Just in case Presti is headed another direction, here are some reasons to keep Brooks as the Thunder’s head coach:
Anyone who endures so many growing pains deserves an opportunity to watch a young team mature.
Brooks knows the Thunder players, knows what buttons to push and knows when to make them sit in timeout.
Allow Brooks to reap the rewards.
Since last summer, no franchise endured more changes than the Thunder.
A new home, a new identity and a new coach, all in a span of about five months.
Some stability would be nice.
When you’ve got seven players age 23 and younger on your roster, it helps to be able to speak their language.
Former Thunder coach P.J. Carlesimo is 59 years old. Brooks is 43.
Perhaps there was a generation gap between the Carlesimo and the Thunder’s younger players. Perhaps not.
The players certainly seemed to relate better to Brooks, and vice versa.
Presti and Brooks seem to understand each other.
Presti gets the talent. Brooks coaches the talent.
Brooks defers to Presti about potential acquisitions and trades. Presti leaves it up to Brooks to get the most out of the hand he’s dealt.
Sounds simple enough, but such relationships are rarer than you think in pro sports.
Brooks appreciates effort.
Thunder fans appreciate Brooks.
Everyone seemed to appreciate the Thunder’s learning curve this season.
That’s a lot of appreciation.
Such relationships also are rare in pro sports.
Brooks played his last two college seasons for the Cal-Irvine Anteaters.
He is the greatest NBA Anteater of all-time. He played 11 seasons when most people figured he would play zero.
He made the playoffs six times and won the world championship with the 1994 Houston Rockets.
Brooks stood 5-foot-11 and weighed a buck 65 when he played in the league.
He knows what it’s like to face long odds.
If anyone can relate to long odds, it’s the Thunder.
Just because you have a lousy record doesn’t mean you have a lousy franchise.
There is hope with the Thunder, and Brooks helped build some of that hope.
He has earned at least one more season, perhaps several more
It remains to be seen how successful Blake Griffin will be in the NBA, but one of the most insightful remarks during Griffin’s farewell news conference Tuesday afternoon came from Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel.
Capel said the 6-foot-10, 252-pound Griffin has a great chance for success because there is more open space in the NBA than there is in college basketball, and Capel is absolutely right. The court is still 94-by-50 feet and the players are bigger, but there actually is more space.
In college, Griffin was routinely double- and triple-teamed. In the NBA, the defensive three-second rule prevents defenders from ganging up on single players.
Defenders are allowed to double-team any player, but defenders in the lane or in the area extending 4 feet past the lane endline must actively be guarding an opponent (within arm’s length in a guarding position) within three seconds. This translates to fewer double-teams down low against Griffin, and we all have seen what Griffin can do when he’s not double-teamed (40 points and 23 rebounds vs. Texas Tech).
Hornets point guard Chris Paul was outstanding at Wake Forest, but he’s even better as a pro. Paul has said the primary reason for this was because there is more open space to create in the NBA. The same has held true for several players who excelled in college and became even better in the pros — Dwyane Wade, Deron Williams, Carmelo Anthony, Danny Granger, Brandon Roy.
The same could hold true for Griffin.
As I type this, our former Hornets are 4-1 and our future SuperSonics are 0-5. Hey, when it comes to inheriting an NBA franchise, timing is everything.
The Hornets will be a playoff contender this season. They’ve got a young foundation in point guard Chris Paul (who leads the league in assists at 12.4), center Tyson Chandler and forward David West. Guard Peja Stojakovic’s back seems strong, Bobby Jackson still gives a lift off the bench, and they’ve added new blood in guard Morris Peterson.
The Sonics, meanwhile, have rookie sensation Kevin Durant, fellow rookie Jeff Green, freshly signed forward Chris Wilcox, swingman Damien Wilkens and, um, let’s just say they’re a work in progress — unlike Clay Bennett’s new arena proposal.
The Sonics almost certainly will miss the playoffs for the fifth time in the last six years, and could end up with more ping-pong ball lottery combinations than any other franchise.
I love that the Hornets are doing well, albeit in front of small crowds. The Hornets rank last in the league in attendance (12,502) and the Sonics are third from the bottom (13,916).
I say we host a best-of-seven series between the Hornets and Sonics next June in the Ford Center to see which team relocates to Oklahoma City.
Quick, get David Stern on the line.