Durant’s Return Elevates OKC Thunder

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With Kevin Durant back in tow, the Oklahoma City Thunder are beginning to look like last year’s Western Conference finalists’ team. Durant came back to the hardwood on Tuesday, December 2nd when the Thunder visited the New Orleans Pelicans. Anthony Davis and the Pelicans were victorious that night, but Oklahoma City hasn’t lost since with six consecutive wins, getting the Thunder back to a respectable record and right back in the thick of the playoff hunt.

It’s an obvious observation, but Durant has profoundly impacted the Thunder since his return. Role players who were thrust into significantly more minutes than accustomed are now back to their natural roles. And with their other star – Russell Westbrook – the Thunder no longer need to scrounge for the 40-50 points that the duo typically puts up in a given night. The offense has scored more than 100 points in all but one of the seven games since Durant’s return, a number they eclipsed just four times on the first seventeen games of the season without him.

On offense, it’s clear just how impactful Duran’s return has been, but on the defensive side of the ball, Oklahoma City has been much better as well. While they’ve surpassed 100 points in all but one game with Durant offensively, they’ve also allowed more than 100 points just twice time over the past seven games. That includes holding the Cleveland Cavaliers – one of the highest scoring teams in the league – to just 94 points in a 103-94 win last Thursday. Westbrook was the star of that game, scoring 26 points and adding 7 rebounds and 8 assists, but Durant was close behind, chipping in 19 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists.

Nonetheless, that meeting with Cleveland was without the Cavaliers’s best player – LeBron James. LeBron’s absence was certainly felt, much as Durant’s was felt earlier in the season. The teams do meet in Cleveland on January 25th so the Thunder will get another crack at the Cavs, perhaps this time with LeBron.

Durant’s return also means OKC Thunder tickets have gone back up to their normal clip. The average price for Thunder tickets at the Chesapeake Energy Arena is $196 for the remainder of the season. The average ticket price was just $116 for the first eleven games of the season. That is a 69% increase in average price since Durant’s return to the court.

The Thunder have several big games taking place at home over the next few months, highlighted by a January 16th meeting with the Golden State Warriors who are currently on a sixteen game winning streak and are atop the Western Conference. If the season began today, the Thunder would not qualify for the playoffs, but they trail the Phoenix Suns who are currently in the 8th spot by just half a game. The Thunder took down Phoenix Sunday afternoon 112-88 and they’ll get another shot at them December 31st. With the way Durant is playing, chances are good it will be the Thunder in the 8th spot come New Year’s Eve and the Phoenix Suns trailing behind them.

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The Winter Classic Is the NHL at Its Best

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The 2015 Winter Classic will be held at Nationals Park in Washington D.C. this season, pitting the hometown Washington Capitals against the Chicago Blackhawks. This will be the first outdoor NHL game to be played at Nationals Park, and the first time the Capitals have hosted the yearly event.

Though the Capitals have never hosted a Winter Classic, they are not new to the game. Four years ago, Alexander Ovechkin and company met Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2011 Winter Classic at Heinz Field. They were featured on HBO’s 24/7 during the month of December and many players on the 2011-12 team remain so they will be prepared for the hype and build-up that is a staple of the Winter Classic. This year, HBO will not be running their 24/7 show, but the Capitals will still have cameras in their faces as there will be a four-part series chronicled on EPIX.com and NHL.com leading up to January 1st.

The Blackhawks are also quite familiar with the Winter Classis as they hosted the 2009 game at Wrigley Field. Chicago lost to the Detroit Red Wings 6-4 so they will be looking to even their Winter Classic record to .500.

Though it’s been five years since Chicago last played in a Winter Classic, they were involved in last year’s first ever Stadium Series. The Blackhawks hosted the aforementioned Penguins at Soldier Field on March 1st, a game they would go on to win 5-1.

So both teams have played an outdoor game during the past four years and both teams will be ready to go come the New Year. Chicago has looked particularly impressive coming out of the gate, garnering 37 points in their first 27 games of the season. Washington has been less impressive (28 points in their first 26 games) but they would qualify for the playoffs if the postseason were to begin today.

Winter Classic tickets begin at $285 on TicketCity. Though it’s natural to believe tickets that are closest to the action are the best, for outdoor hockey games, tickets that are elevated a bit are typically much more attractive. That is why you find many of the highest-priced tickets are located in the mezzanine section located behind home plate (Sections 206-221.) Due to the fact that there is a lot of operational equipment and personnel that are located on the field during the game, it’s difficult for many fans seated in the lower level to actually see what is taking place on the rink.

With the quantity of tickets still relatively high, it’s expected that ticket prices will fall as we get closer to January 1st. The weather will also play a major role, though previous Winter Classic have dealt with snow, rain, blustery conditions, and freezing temperatures, and it has hardly swayed many fans from enjoying one of the game’s best spectacles. Nonetheless, if the weather forecast is bleak for D.C. come the New Year, chances are ticket prices will dip into the $100-200 range as a get-in price. Either way, you can expect a well-fought game between two of the NHL’s most talented teams.

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New England Patriots, Super Bowl Favorites?

New England Patriots at Washington Redskins 08/28/09

Despite losing to the Green Bay Packers 2 weeks ago, the New England Patriots should still be considered one of the favorites to reach the Super Bowl this season. Visiting Lambeau Field for the first time in eight years, the Patriots never led in the contest, but Packers fan can certainly attest to the fact that the game was never comfortably out of hands until the final moments.
Green Bay marched down the field on their opening possession, but the New England defense were able to hold them to just a field goal. That was a common theme for the Packers offense and the Patriots defense as Green Bay visited the red zone four time Sunday afternoon those four trips resulted in just 12 points: four field goals from Mason Crosby.

But the Pack ended the first quarter with a touchdown as quarterback Aaron Rodgers found tight end Richard Rodgers from 32 yards out on a perfectly placed pass over safety Patrick Chung. The Patriots responded with a quick five play, 73 yard touchdown drive that was finished on a six yard run by Brandon Bolden. After a Green bay field goal, Tom Brady connected with Brandon LaFell from two yards out to cut the Green Bay lead to 16-14 with 1:09 remaining in the first half.

However, Rodgers was not done and he found Jordy Nelson free himself from Darrelle Revis on a quick slant that Nelson took to the house from 45 yards out.
Green Bay held their 23-14 lead throughout the third quarter but Brady found LaFell again to cut it to 23-21. Another Crosby field goal gave Green Bay a precarious 26-21 lead with a little more than eight minutes left, but after a missed Stephen Gostkowski kick late in the fourth, Rodgers and company were able to finish off the rest of the clock and hold on for the win.

Pegged as a potential Super Bowl preview, the Patriots held their own on the road in Green Bay and certainly demonstrated they are talented enough to compete with the best teams in the league. Now with four games remaining, the Patriots can take care of business of their remaining opponents and clinch the AFC East Division and home field advantage in the conference.
New England will visit San Diego this week for Sunday Night Football.

New England will face all three of their divisional opponents to round out the remainder of the season. On December 14th they will host the Miami Dolphins in the most expensive game remaining this year at Gillette Stadium. Patriots vs. Dolphins tickets have an average price of $298 and a get-in of $126. They will then go to MetLife Stadium and face the lowly Jets before hosting the 7-5 Bills in the final week of the season. The season finale has an average price on the secondary market of $271 for Bills vs. Patriots tickets and a get-in of $122.

If New England can win out, they will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs which would be a big benefit for potential matchups with Denver and Indianapolis. But both teams are back in the race for the number one seed thanks to New England’s loss. Over the next four weeks we will have a much clearer sense of exactly which path will lead to the Super Bowl.

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