Thursday, April 29, 2010

RGV edges Tulsa for title

In a contest where Rio Grande Valley couldn’t buy a 3-pointer for much of the game, Craig Winder found a bit of luck from long range at the wrong time for the Tulsa 66ers.

Winder banked in a 3-pointer as time expired, giving the Vipers a 94-91 victory over the 66ers and handing Rio Grande Valley a 2-0 series victory and the 2010 NBA Development League championship. Winder’s winning shot capped a 7-for-30 night from behind the arc for the Vipers, but was the second in the last two minutes for the Viper guard.

Winder’s winning shot capped a 7-0 run to end the game for the Vipers, who trailed Tulsa 91-87 after Marcus Lewis nailed a pair of free throws with 1:38 to play. Tulsa had just two field goal tries to end the game, but Wink Adams missed a 3-pointer and driving layup as the 66ers couldn’t add to their lead.

Trailing 82-80 with 5:11 to play, Tulsa’s Larry Owens took over the contest. Owens would score the 66ers’ next nine points, giving Tulsa an 89-84 lead with 2:17 to play. Owens finished the night with a team-high 25 points, including 11 points in the final stanza.

Owens also sizzled on the defensive end, posting six rebounds, four blocked shots, and three steals. He also forced the Vipers’ Mike Harris into a turnover with 27.6 remaining, preserving a 91-91 tie before Winder’s heroics.

While Harris was foiled on that play, he was once again a nemesis for Tulsa. The D-League’s Most Valuable Player finished with game-highs in points (26) and rebounds (16).

In a game that saw 19 lead changes and 12 ties, Tulsa was able to control the pace throughout the contest, frequently frustrating the high-octane Vipers and their sellout crowd.

Tied with 2.1 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Tulsa’s JaJuan Smith connected on a 3-pointer to give the 66ers a 67-64 edge after three periods. Smith nailed another 3-pointer on Tulsa’s first fourth-quarter possession to push the 66er lead to six points, its largest of the contest.

Smith would finish with 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting from the field, part of a Tulsa bench effort that also included Latavious Williams with 14 points and eight rebounds. In all, Tulsa’s bench outscored their Vipers’ counterparts, 34-27.

Monday, April 26, 2010

66ers looking to bounce back in Game 2

The Tulsa 66ers are hoping that history repeats itself when Tuesday night’s Game 2 of the NBA Development League championship series tips off in McAllen, Texas.

Last week, the 66ers rallied after losing the first of a three-game series at home against top-seeded Iowa to take the next two games in Des Moines and capture a spot in the finals. This week, Tulsa will have to win two games on Rio Grande Valley’s home court to secure its first-ever D-League championship. The 66ers find themselves down 1-0 in the series after Sunday’s 124-107 home loss to the Vipers.

“This week, we’ll draw upon the experience we gained in Iowa,” said Tulsa head coach Nate Tibbetts. “We just have to keep our heads up and bounce back.”

In order to bounce back Tuesday night, Tulsa will have to overcome the statistically toughest home court in the league. Rio Grande Valley tied the mark for all-time best home court records this season with a 21-4 record at State Farm Arena, including a 3-0 mark against the 66ers.

“They will have a loud atmosphere, but we’ve played in loud places during the postseason,” said Larry Owens, who led the 66ers with 21 points on Sunday. “We have to play our game and stay focused. We’re not going to lay down. We have confidence in ourselves. We just have to play smarter.”

In Game 2, Tibbetts and his team will have to figure out a way to slow down Rio Grande Valley’s Will Conroy and Michael Harris. Conroy posted a triple-double in Sunday’s win with 14 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists, while Harris, the league’s Most Valuable Player, came through with a game-high 24 points despite being plagued by foul trouble.

“Those guys present a tough matchup any time they’re on the floor,” Tibbetts said. “They’re tough to guard and do a good job of making things happen.”

Tulsa is hoping to have Cecil Brown available for Tuesday night’s game. Brown was supposed to be in the starting lineup on Sunday, but was scratched late because of a lingering ankle injury, leaving the 66ers with just eight available players. Latavious Williams started in Brown’s place and finished with 13 points and a team-high 13 rebounds.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

D-League Finals, here we come

The Tulsa 66ers have proven that life on the road in the D-League postseason is not so bad.

Tulsa improved to 3-1 away from home in the postseason with a huge 127-122 victory at Iowa in Game 3 of the semifinals. The eighth-seeded 66ers now await the winner of Austin-Rio Grande Valley.

I talked to Coach Nate Tibbetts after the game, and all he could say was how proud he was of his team's team effort. Seven of the nine 66ers scored in double figures, and once again, different players led the way at different times during the game. Tulsa was aggressive and didn't get rattled when all hell seemed to break loose in Des Moines in the game's final minutes (Stinson ejected, then going after the refs ... crowd control posted everywhere ... bad radio announcers (oh wait, that was throughout the game) ... flagrant fouls).

Tulsa hits 44-of-51 from the charity stripe (amazing figures) and outrebounds the Energy 46-42. Those were big keys for the 66ers.

More to come...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

What went right for Tulsa on Sunday

No Mullens, Shakur, or Weaver? No problem.

In a gut-check performance for the 66ers, Tulsa hit 56 percent of its 3-point attempts and went off for 43 points in the third quarter, stunning top-seeded Iowa 117-106 on Sunday evening in Des Moines.

Without its three Oklahoma City Thunder assignees and only nine players on the roster, Tulsa had seven players score in double digits in a balanced attack. Wink Adams, who did a great job in relief of Shakur on Friday night, led the 66ers with 24 points. He was 9-for-14 from the field, including 4-for-7 from 3-point range.

Larry Owens was Larry Owens ... reliable, tough, and a leader. Moses Ehambe was dead on from long range. Latavious Williams continued to prove he's become one of the best rebounders in the league with 10 points and nine rebounds. Deron Washington provided energy while chipping in 20 points.

The biggest thing we learned on Sunday night? Tulsa has heart and top-seeded Iowa, the team with the best regular-season record in the D-League, will have a tough time closing out the series, even if it is at home.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

After Game 1 loss in Tulsa, can the 66ers regroup?

The answer is yes, but it's going to take a complete turnaround from Friday night's performance against Iowa to make it happen during Game 2 in Des Moines, set for Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. CT.

Here are five key elements to Sunday's Game 2...

Defense -- Tulsa, which has prided itself on defense often throughout the season, needs to come out of the tunnel in Des Mounes showing the defensive intensity it displayed in the fourth quarter on Friday night. When Tulsa had its defense cranked up, it made a difference. The 66ers shot 12-for-25 in the final period thanks to some turnovers and quick baskets, and outscored the Energy 37-30 over the game's final 12 minutes to almost pull off the comeback.

Mustafa Shakur's foot -- The All-Star point guard played just the first half on Friday night before being pulled with a foot injury. 66ers officials said Shakur missed the second half for precautionary reasons, so we'll see how he feels for Sunday's game. Shakur had just two points on 1-for-7 shooting before being injured. Wink Adams did a nice job picking up the slack at point guard in Shakur's absence. After not playing in the first half, Adams finished with seven points and ran the 66er offense with precision in crunch time.

Controlling Curtis Stinson -- The Iowa All-Star made some big shots and grabbed some big rebounds on Friday. He's a great player ... but a guard getting 17 rebounds? Tulsa has to play better defense and keep Stinson away from the basket, even when he doesn't have the ball.

Marking the D&D boys -- Denham Brown and Darian Townes were HUGE on Friday night, combined for 48 points and 21 boards. Townes was a non-factor the last time Iowa came to town (five points in two games off the bench) while Brown wasn't even on the team. The two looked unstoppable at times on Friday night, and Tulsa can't let that continue.

Latavious -- The boy has grown into a man. He looked intense on Friday night, going 4-for-7 from the field and grabbing five boards in just under 14 minutes of playing time. Maybe his athleticism would help Tulsa in the battle for rebounds with more time on the court.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Times, dates set for Iowa-Tulsa series

Game 1...Friday, April 16...Tulsa Convention Center (Tulsa, OK)...7 p.m. CDT
Game 2...Sunday, April 18...Wells Fargo Arena (Des Moines, IA)...4 p.m. CDT
Game 3*...Tuesday, April 20...Wells Fargo Arena (Des Moines, IA)...7:00 p.m. CDT

* – If necessary

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Tulsa moves on with win in Sioux Falls

The Tulsa 66ers were happy to get their first-ever playoff win in Tulsa on Thursday afternoon. Now the 66ers can add their first-ever playoff series victory to the history-making season.

Thanks to a 111-101 victory over Sioux Falls on Sunday night, Tulsa advances to the second round of the NBA D-League playoffs to face the top-seeded Iowa Energy. The eighth-seeded 66ers and Iowa split four games this season, with all of them played in Tulsa.

A 20-point run by the 66ers played a huge role in Sunday night's win, but don't overlook the performance of Latavious Williams off the bench. The rookie, who didn't score in the first two games and never saw the court in Game 1 in Tulsa, had 13 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, including two big putbacks in the fourth quarter. He scored eight of his 13 points in the final quarter as Sioux Falls couldn't make a final push.

Kyle Weaver and Mustafa Shakur, assigned to Tulsa from the Oklahoma City Thunder, led Tulsa with 27 and 23 points, respectively, while Larry Owens continued his stellar season with 21 points.

Dates and times for the Tulsa-Iowa series have not been announced.

Friday, April 9, 2010

DJ White recalled from 66ers before Game 2 in Sioux Falls

If Tulsa is to sweep Sioux Falls in the first round of the NBA D-League playoffs, the 66ers will have to do it without DJ White.

White was recalled after scoring 21 points and grabbing five rebounds in 29 minutes of Tulsa's 119-109 victory over Sioux Falls in Game 1 on Thursday afternoon.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Game 1 goes to Tulsa, 119-109

Notre Dame had the Four Horsemen. Tulsa had their own version of that on Thursday afternoon as Tulsa took a 1-0 lead in the first round of the D-League playoffs with a 119-109 home win over Sioux Falls.

Oklahoma City Thunder assignees Byron Mullens, Mustafa Shakur, Kyle Weaver, and DJ White had 90 of Tulsa's 119 points, and each took turns leading the 66ers attack on Thursday. Perhaps the most impressive was Weaver, who ended with a game-high 30 points, including going 5-of-6 from 3-point range. Weaver's only miss from 3-point land was a chuck with under 30 seconds left as the shot clock was almost at zero.

Shakur looked good driving and dishing while Mullens and White looked solid patrolling the paint. But Tulsa looked good overall, turning the ball over just 10 times on the day.

Among those in attendance today was Thunder GM Sam Presti, who continues to make appearances at 66ers games to monitor his assigned players. I asked Presti after the game how long Weaver and White would be with the 66ers, and he wouldn't give a firm answer, saying that it would be on a game-by-game basis. With the Thunder heading toward the playoffs and the 66ers taking the first game from Sioux Falls, it may be a balancing act to make sure the Thunder are well-stocked for the last week of the regular season while getting valuable playing time for Weaver and White.

Game 2 is set for Friday night in Sioux Falls.

The Thunder/66ers make a statement with assignments

With DJ White and Kyle Weaver joining the 66ers from the Oklahoma City Thunder less than 24 hours before the 66ers' opening game against Sioux Falls, it proves that the Thunder franchise is serious about making waves in the NBA D-League postseason.

White and Weaver will join fellow Thunder assignees Mustafa Shakur and Byron Mullens in the starting lineup against the Skyforce. If you missed my article on Mullens in this morning's Tulsa World, click here to read it.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Tulsa ... the team nobody wanted to play

Funny how a team that seemed to be struggling at times toward the end of the season became the team that no one else in the D-League playoffs wanted to face in the postseason.

The first-round matchups for the NBA D-League Playoffs were chosen Sunday. The Iowa Energy chose to face Utah in the first round, then Rio Grande Valley picked Reno and Austin selected Dakota. Stuck with no other option as the fourth seed, Sioux Falls gets to face Tulsa, which enters the postseason as the eighth seed. So much for the eighth seed being the "weakest," huh?

Tulsa and Sioux Falls faced each other five times in January, with Tulsa holding a 3-2 edge in the series, including a 2-1 record in Tulsa and 1-1 in Sioux Falls.

More to come on the playoffs as the week goes on...

Friday, April 2, 2010

Thoughts heading into the Iowa series

I had a chance to talk to Tulsa 66ers head coach Nate Tibbetts yesterday about Wednesday's big win over Austin and the big games toward the end of the season with Iowa (Friday and Saturday at home) and Reno (Sunday on the road).

Kevin: What does the win in Austin on Wednesday night do for this team?
Nate: Certainly it gives us a little momentum. Any loss at this point is tough with us trying to make a push into the playoffs. A big comeback win like that gives us confidence.

Kevin: Your bench really led the comeback in the fourth quarter. How important is it to have everyone contributing like they did on Wednesday night?
Nate: I think that does two things. First, it gives our bench confidence. Second, it shows our starters that if they're not ready to play, we have guys behind them who can play. In the fourth quarter Wednesday night, our starters were on the bench giving those guys support. That was good to see.

Kevin: With Iowa already clinching the top seed for the upcoming playoffs, what do you expect from the Energy this weekend?
Nate: We expect their best effort. If we're going to make the playoffs, we're going to have to play and beat the best teams in the D-League to get there.

Kevin: Have you talked to the team much about the importance of these final three games?
Nate: We haven't talked much about playoff scenarios. We explained the playoff picture a week to 10 days ago, but we haven't talked about it much since. We know we have to keep winning. That's the bottom line.

Kevin: Is there any scenario where you wouldn't have to play the makeup game in Reno on Sunday night?
Nate: I don't think so. I think we have to play that game. The situation (postponing the game from Monday to Sunday because of weather in Reno) is unfortunate but I'm glad we got somewhere safely. It is what it is. It makes us play three games in three nights, but they have to play three in three nights as well. Unfortunately, their three games are all at home.