- Tip Off: 4:00 p.m. (PT)
- Television: CSN-BA
- Offensive Efficiency: 105.9 (4th in NBA)
- Defensive Efficiency: 97.8 (8th in NBA)
- Field Goal Percentage: 48.0% (3rd in NBA)
- 3-Point Field Goal Percentage: 41.0% (3rd in NBA)
- Free Throw Attempts per Game: 26.8 FTAs (3rd in NBA).
- Points: Kevin Durant, 24.5 PPG
- Rebounds: Kevin Durant, 10.2 RPG
- Assists: Russell Westbrook, 8.5 APG
- Steals: Russell Westbrook, 1.5 SPG
- Blocks: Serge Ibaka, 3.6 BPG
- Field Goal Percentage: Hasheem Thabeet, 71.4% FG
- 3-Point Field Goal Percentage: Thabo Sefolosha, 57.1% 3PT FG
Scope the Opposition: Daily Thunder.
Preview: Rumors of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.
The Oklahoma City Thunder dismantled the New Orleans Hornets on the road Friday night and have the look of a team that could once again potentially represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals in June.
So far this season, OKC has been stretching the floor thanks in large part to their hot 3-point shooting that has made it incredibly difficult to key in on their star players. Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Martin and Eric Maynor have vacillated between red hot and good from downtown throughout the season, which has given the likes of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook more opportunities to turn the corner and get inside the lane for attempts at the rim.
In addition, Serge Ibaka’s shooting coupled with his willingness to put shots up have made the Thunder a well oiled machine on offense thanks to their spacing and their ability to share the ball. It’s gotten to the point that almost every defensive strategy is a losing option against Durant because he does a good job finding his teammates, and the same is true for Westbrook.
RW is a terror in the pick-and-pop game with Ibaka because of his quickness and ability to split the trap and get directly in the paint where his athleticism and strength can overpower interior defenders attempting to thwart him at the rim. Although the star point guard can have moments where he attacks a completely closed off paint and take a low percentage shot, he will typically throw the ball back to Ibaka for the open jumper around the free throw line, which is money.
Where the UCLA product does most of his damage though is in transition or the secondary break, where he will either pull up for the momentum swinging 3-pointer, or he will simply turn himself — much like Rajon Rondo — into a one man fast break with his quickness and beat everyone down the court and go up for the thunderous finish or simply draw contact and go the free throw line.
As bad as things are for opponents with Russell Westbrook, they are infinitely worse with Kevin Durant that commands the attention of the entire defense. Indeed, there are times where simply coming off screens leads others to score easy baskets because defenders get confused and double-team him away from the ball and the man that set the screen just rolls to the basket for an easy look. However, should KD get the ball, he can isolate on the wing, at the top of the floor, post up on the low block or simply play the role of spot up shooter.
Between his ability to shoot the ball and break down defenders off the bounce, there might not be a more complete scoring machine than Kevin Durant in the NBA.
Defensively, the Thunder are a tough interior team that will challenge the toughness of Festus Ezeli, David Lee and Carl Landry tonight with their tandem of Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins.
Both will reside around the paint and attempt to keep all trespassers away from the basket. Ibaka’s shot-blocking makes it quite difficult for teams to score on the interior; he changes a multitude of shots while Perkins plays physical interior defense and pushes post players away from the paint by bodying players up.
Russell Westbrook has looked like a much more active defender this season, which is scary considering his seemingly limitless energy. This is pertinent especially tonight because he might force Stephen Curry into committing some turnovers or just simply force him to give up the ball to avoid the pressure, which might limit the effectiveness of the Warriors’ offense.
Tonight’s contest should prove to be quite interesting given the matchups all over the floor; but the one to pay close attention to is the Harrison Barnes versus Kevin Durant one.
Durant is an MVP candidate and stud player, and that shouldn’t change by game’s end; but Barnes has been playing well as of late and might want to try to upstage the former Longhorn, and if he does anything remotely positive against him, it might go a long way towards building his confidence for the remainder of the season.
Questions or comments? Feel free to leave them in the comments section or you can contact me by email at [email protected].