Oklahoma City Blue vs. Santa Cruz Warriors Preview
The NBA D-League Playoffs are finally among us as eight teams look to raise the championship trophy this year. This will also be the final year it will be considered a D-League Championship as the league will re-brand itself as the NBA Gatorade League (G-League) next season.
For those unfamiliar with the D-League Playoff format, each round is a Best-of-3 series with the lower seed hosting Game 1 at home each round.
Oklahoma City Blue (1) vs. Santa Cruz Warriors (4)
The Oklahoma City Blue have risen from the ashes last season and have proven to be a dominant force in the Western Conference, securing the No. 1 seed on the very last day of the regular season, and they’re no joke.
The Blue are the second-best defensive team in the league, only behind the Raptors 905 (the top-seeded team in the Western Conference) and that’s in large part to the ascension of Dakari Johnson.
The draft-and-stash prospect is in his second-year with the Blue and it’s incredible to see how much he has improved this year. The MVP candidate leads the team in scoring with 18.5 points per game, up from 12 points per contest last season. He’s also shooting over 55% from the field.
He has become a very reliable player for the Blue this season, and there is no reason he shouldn’t be a part of the 15-man roster next season.
Along with the young talent, the Blue are also led by NBA veteran Reggie Williams, who earned a pair of call-ups with the New Orleans Pelicans this season. Williams was only second in the team in scoring this season, just trailing Johnson. Earlier this season, Williams spoke with D-League Digest where he stressed the responsibility he has as a veteran leader on the team, while acknowledging he is also learning from the younger guys as well.
The Blue will also be helped by Josh Huestis, on assignment from the Oklahoma City Thunder. In 32 games with the Blue, Huestis averaged over 14 points per contest on 44% from the floor, including 38% from three-point range.
Johnson will have his work cut out for him against the Santa Cruz Warriors and Damian Jones, who was named the NBA D-League Player of the Month for March/April. Jones has been on a tear in the month of March, helping his team to a league best 11-2 record in that span.
Jones is averaging just over 11 points per game as well as seven rebounds, but his output has increased as the season progressed. The frontcourt matchup between Johnson and Jones will be one to watch in this series.
Also for Santa Cruz, point guard Phil Pressey leads the charge on offense. He’s settled into his role as facilitator halfway through the season and recorded a number of triple-doubles, an impressive feat for the 5-foot-10 Missouri alum.
The Warrriors are also flanked by a pair of sharpshooters in NBA veteran James Southerland and reigning, defending All-Star Three-Point Champion Scott Wood, who have helped propel the team to success late in the season.
Southerland, an Impact Player of the Year candidate, is deadly in transition, hitting the three-pointer above the break. Wood is more of a spot-up shooter and where the majority of his shots have come from. Needless to say the inside-out game of Jones along with Southerland and Wood will certainly be potent.
Late season acquisition Jabari Brown will be a key factor for the Santa Cruz Warriors. Having spent the season in China, Brown joined the team shortly after the trade deadline and has been tremendous for the team coming off the bench.
In nine games with the club, Brown is averaging of 22 points while shooting over 52% from the field including 54% from long range in that span. The Warriors are a perfect 9-0 since Brown joined the team.
- The Oklahoma City Blue swept the regular season series 4-0 over the Warriors.
- Santa Cruz Warriors head coach Casey Hill was named NBA D-League coach of the Month for March/April
- Former Santa Cruz Warrior Xavier Henry is now a part of the Oklahoma City Blue after a draft-day trade where the Warriors acquired Alex Hamilton