Tip Off: 7:30 PM (PST)

Projected Starters

Oklahoma City                                                                        Golden State

PG –  Russell Westbrook                                                     Stephen Curry

SG –   Thabo Sefolosha                                                         Monta Ellis

SF –   Kevin Durant                                                               Dorell Wright

PF –  Sege Ibaka                                                                    David Lee

C –      Kendrick Perkins                                                      Andris Biedrins

Scope the opposition: Get your Thunder fix at Daily Thunder.

Preview: After a solid home win against Portland Wednesday night, the Golden State Warriors (6-11) will be hosting the top team in the Western Conference: the Oklahoma City Thunder (15-3).

OKC is coming off a double-digit home victory against the Hornets, and will be looking for their fourth straight win when they step into Oracle tonight.

Scott Brooks’ unit will be showcasing one of the best offenses in the league tonight in Golden State as evidenced by their 105 offensive efficiency rating (tied for fifth in the NBA) and their 47.2 percent field goal shooting (third in the league).

Oklahoma City is efficient on offense because they do a great job of creating favorable matchups. It’s not so much that they are a team that attacks mismatches, but rather that what they do, they do it quite well.

For instance, OKC loves to run Durant off of curl screens to get him open on the wing for a jump shot. It’s one of their favorite sets, and consequently they will run it quite often. Where it gets tricky for defenses is that Durant is 6’11, so his defender cannot be left trailing the play because of the screen for fear that once the former Longhorn catches the ball he will have the space needed to get a quality shot off.

Opposing teams have two options in this situation:

I. Ask the man who is defending the screener to help out on KD until the original defender gets back to pick him up. This option though opens up the possibility of the screener rolling to the basket; which forces the weak side of the defense to essentially occupy the paint and allow perimeter players to spot up for open 3-point attempts (typically Sefolosha would be on the opposite side of the court where Durant is operating). In related news, the Thunder are shooting 35.9 percent from 3-point range this season (13th in the association).

II. When Durant starts to come off the screen, the player defending the point guard at the top of the key (Westbrook’s defender) can jump out on KD just to cause some hesitation and then recover back to his man as the defense is now once again set and has prevented the open jumper from Oklahoma City’s starting small forward. The problem with this strategy though is that KD still has the opportunity to isolate his man, or he can pass the ball back to Westbrook who will have a full head of steam to break down his man and attack the rim.

Obviously, there are more dimensions to Scott Brooks’ offense. His team will run a lot of pick-and-rolls with Russell Westbrook and James Harden; and both players are more than capable of splitting the trap to get into the lane for easy attempts or a dish off to Ibaka for an uncontested dunk.

The OKC perimeter players just put constant pressure on their opponents by attacking the paint and scoring 40.4 points in there per game (12th in the NBA).

The ability to get inside the paint is a terrific one, but the Thunder’s athleticism is problematic pretty much for the rest of the league. Indeed, they have the quickness, speed, strength and leaping ability to get out in the open court to the tune of 16.7 fast break points per game (seventh in the league) and also to consistently take hits when attacking the basket. On the season, OKC attempts 26.7 free throws per game (fifth in the association).

With that said, the Thunder do have flaws in their offense. They are a decent passing team, and not a great one. At times, the ball tends to stick in the hands of players who try to overdo it and thus get themselves into trouble. The starting unit is especially vulnerable to this because Perkins, Ibaka and Sefolosha are fairly limited offensive players. Harden and Collison bring a little more offensive variety but the team still turns the ball over on average 16.6 times per game (fifth most in the NBA).

On the other side of the ball, OKC has a 98.1 defensive efficiency rating (12th in the league) and yields a mere 41.5 percent shooting from the field (tied for second in the association).

The Thunder have multiple athletes on the court as well as good team quickness to rotate to the ball. This explains why they are often successful in defending the pick-and-roll; they not only have the players on the wings to do it, but they also have mobile big men (save for Kendrick Perkins) that can come help out and trap ball handlers.

Perkins’ value though comes in his low post defense. Teams will try as best they can to get their best big man the ball on the block against him, but more often than not they will fail to score against him. He does a good job of bodying up offensive players, pushing them out of the paint and not falling for shot fakes. One might argue that best individual big men defenders in the league are Dwight Howard, Kendrick Perkins and Taj Gibson.

Brooks may opt to have Perk defend David Lee given his ability to score on the block, but then again that means that Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry will run a plethora of screen-and-rolls with Lee to get the former Celtic defending out on the perimeter.

The Curry-Westbrook matchup promises to be interesting and may well decide the outcome of the game. If the former Bruin gets trigger-happy and makes the battle with Curry personal, it may prove to be an advantage for the Warriors.

Also, given that Golden State has proven that they can be rattled when teams step up the defensive intensity, it stands to reason that turnovers will be a huge factor in determining the winner of this contest.

Oklahoma City game notes: In two wins against the Warriors last season, Russell Westbrook averaged 11 assists, but only registered five helpers in their lone defeat against the Dubs.

Golden State game notes: In three games against the Thunder last season, Stephen Curry averaged 32.3 points, 8.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game on 60.7 field goal shooting and 55 percent 3-point field goal shooting.

Questions or comments? Feel free to leave them in the comments section or you can contact me by email at [email protected].