Kyle Weaver has also been assigned. Assuming he gets the start at the 2 and Tulsa gets the W with four NBA-assigned players in the starting lineups. - Scott
Game 1 of this series starts this afternoon at 1:30 pm Eastern and is being shown over at AOL FanHouse. I have predicted that the Skyforce will win this series in two games, while Scott Schroeder (Editor's Note: Jon originally just had Scott, but that made it look like me and Gansalicious are married. And we're not.) and Mike Gansey each have Sioux Falls taking the series in three games.
These teams faced off three times this season, with Tulsa winning back-to-back contests by a total of 31 points on January 2 and January 3 then Sioux Falls taking the last game on January 31, 113-106. All of those games featured several players who aren't on either roster anymore, such as , Zabian Dowdell and . Additionally, the the 66ers' DeVon Hardin and the Skyforce's Greg Stiemsma each missed the first two games, and Tulsa's missed all of them. The point being, I'm not sure how predictive those games are.
Sioux Falls now relies on a strong frontcourt of Stiemsma, Timberwolves assignee Nathan Jawai and Raymond Sykes (and Alexander Johnson, but he probably won't play in this game due to his Houston workout this afternoon). They've also recently added sharpshooter Kirk Penney and solid all-around forward Joe Krabbenhoft (who was on the team earlier in the year but missed about three months with a stint in Korea). Tulsa, meanwhile, will have the services of Thunder assignee DJ White to pair with Oklahoma CIty teammate Mullens and recent Thunder call-up/assignee Mustafa Shakur. Interestingly, the team loaded with NBA talent is Tulsa - the lower seed. Of course that shouldn't be a huge surprise when you notice that Sioux Falls has lost just four games since the beginning of February.
Hit the jump for position matchups.
PG: David Bailey vs. Mustafa Shakur - Shakur is a very good perimeter defender and has been one of the better point guards in the D-League, though he faltered a bit over the last two weeks of the season. I'm willing to chalk that up a bit to Tulsa's end-of-season schedule (five games in eight days, including a back-to-back-to-back), but he needs to keep it together for the 66ers to have a shot. Bailey, on the other hand, is a pretty solid minor league point guard who's having somewhat of a down season, putting up the worst field goal and three-point shooting percentages, as well as the highest turnover rate, of his D-League career. Bailey's assists are higher this season that typical, though he's not very consistent with them. I like Shakur here.
SG: Chris McCray vs. Deron Washington - Hmm, two guys I'm not crazy about. McCray is shooting just 28.4 percent from outside and 40 percent overall, both career lows. Washington, of course, was picked in the second round by the Detroit Pistons in this past year's NBA draft but was cut this season in training camp, and since has bounced around the D-League a bit. He's very athletic, but is pretty bad on offense. Playing him at shooting guard is a terrible idea, but it's happened anyway - mostly out of necessity with Cecil Brown missing so many games - so we'll go with it. He's shooting 30 percent from outside and 40 percent overall (hey, that sounds familiar). Washington'll have a solid game occasionally, but he's also relatively foul-prone, which can keep those games to a minimum. If I have to pick one of these guys, I'll go with Washington.
SF: Kirk Penney vs. Larry Owens - Now this is more like it. Penney is a recent addition to the team, playing in the last four Skyforce games after being overseas in his native New Zealand. He's shooting 53 percent from outside, which probably isn't sustainable, but he's very good at it anyway. Owens played in Europe last year before coming to the D-League this season, presumably to get more exposure - and I think it's worked out well for him. He's a good scorer and also helps facilitate ball movement and can rebound a bit. He can be inconsistent on all of those fronts, though, for reasons I haven't quite figured out yet. For example, against Austin last week, he played 31 minutes but took just three shots, one game after scoring 25 points. I really like Owens, but that inconsistency leads me to think Penney will get the better of this matchup with his outside prowess.
PF: Raymond Sykes vs. D.J. White - White has been injured for most of the year, but has looked pretty good on his D-League assignments. He's a very good rebounder and has a nice mid-range jumper, and he had 30 points and 27 rebounds in two games against the Skyforce this year. Sykes is a ferocious dunker and more of a low-post guy, but I could see him guarding whichever one of Mullens or White is out on the perimeter just based on his athleticism (I'm guessing Mullens). White probably will still be getting his legs underneath him after playing just three games in March.
C: Greg Stiemsma vs. Byron Mullens - Stiemsma is an excellent shotblocker and very good defender, although his offensive skills are somewhat limited. If he has another weakness, it's that he occasionally goes for the block rather than just playing D, and so he gets into foul trouble. Mullens has a decent midrange shot and has nice-but-not-great rebounding numbers - and those rebounds often come from being tall. I think Stiemsma et al. should shut Mullens down pretty handily.
Sioux Falls Bench: Nathan Jawai helps fill out the frontcourt (not a fat joke). Joe Krabbenhoft can play multiple positions and is a pretty good rebounder for his size, and Mike Nelson is another shooter off the bench, having made 42.6 percent of his threes during the regular season. Leemire Goldwire and Jared Newson are both decent contributors when called upon, though they'r both more scorers than anything.
Tulsa Bench: Tulsa's bench is fairly guard-heavy with Moses Ehambe (a very good shooter), Cecil Brown (ditto), Wink Adams and JaJuan Smith. They also have DeVon Hardin, who is mostly tall and athletic and still misses dunks and falls for almost every pump fake he sees; young Latavious Williams, who's an excellent rebounder with an improving offensive game who also rarely gets into foul trouble; and Marcus Lewis, a wide body who doesn't have the best numbers this year, but fits pretty well into the team's offense.
Coaching: Both of these coaches are in their first year with the team, and both of them have done a pretty good job. Tulsa's Nate Tibbetts has been helped by having so many NBA players assigned to his roster, but several of their players have shown improvement over the course of the season. The Skyforce's Tony Fritz had Reggie Williams at his disposal for most of the season (and Alexander Johnson later on), but otherwise was dealing with a lineup full of solid minor league guys. If this game was being televised (which it's not), the big story would be that Fritz worked as an assistant to Tibbetts for a few years in Sioux Falls and Tibbetts assisted Sioux Falls assistant Duane Ticnkor in Sioux Falls and Tulsa assistant assisted Ticknor with the Gary Steelheads in the USBL. Coaching probably won't make the difference simply because they all know each other so well.
Score prediction: Since I picked the Skyforce to win in two, I guess I should pick them to win this game. Let's say...112-101.
Random prediction: Byron Mullens picks up two technicals and gets ejected. Call it a hunch based on being frustrated by the Skyforce's defenders and frustration over his role in the offense being diminished somewhat with White in the lineup. BONUS RANDOM PREDICTION: Kirk Penney hits 10 three-pointers.