Time: 7:00 PM CST
Place: Ford Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Betting Line: Thunder -4
TV: FSN-Oklahoma; Comcast Sportsnet DC
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1)
Backstory: Like our Oklahoma City Thunder, the Washington Wizards are trying to avenge their disappointing lottery campaign from a year ago. While their 3-7 record isn't particularly impressive, they are only a couple of nights removed from a dismantling of LeBron James and the Cavs at the Verizon Center in DC. To make matters worse, Antawn Jamison is just making his return to the lineup, making this one of the most versatile offenses in the league, despite their lackluster record. Jamison scored 31 points and grabbed 10 boards in his return to action Wednesday night, but it's point guard Gilbert Arenas (another Wizard coming back from a string of injuries) who is the engine that makes this offense move. His (admittedly unorthodox) knack for getting in the lane and making things happen should be our primary defensive concern, and Russell Westbrook will have his work cut out for him trying to keep "Agent Zero" in check. Mike Miller and Caron Butler are also players with all-star caliber seasons in the not too distant past, and need to be watched out for on the perimeter.
As far as the Thunder are concerned, this game marks Etan Thomas' first game against his former team, after 7 tumultuous seasons in Washington. The last few years he spent there were tainted by his very public spat with Center Brendan Haywood over the starting Center position. The two exchanged shots in the media (and allegedly in practice), and it should be interesting to say the least to watch these two go head to head when they're in the game together. Haywood is averaging a double-double this year, but my gut tells me that Thomas' adrenaline will have him up for this game, and he could have his best outing of the year off the bench. We could use all the help we can get after being dismantled by Orlando in our last outing, where everybody on this side of James Harden looked like they couldn't throw the ball in the Atlantic Ocean. Should be a fun one!
Matchups and Prediction After The Jump!
Point Guard: Russell Westbrook vs. Gilbert Arenas:
At 6'4, 215 pounds, Gilbert Arenas is used to pushing opposing point guards around. That shouldn't be the case tonight. Russell Westbrook (another one of the bigger point guards this league has to offer) should match up very well with Arenas on the defensive side of the ball, although his unorthodox slashing style could provide some problems early in the game (before we adjust to it). You also never know when Arenas is due for one of his trademark "Hibachi" runs from the outside, when he is capable of stringing together a run of three pointers that can turn a game in Washington's favor. On the other side of the ball, Westbrook's quickness off the dribble should present Arenas and his surgically repaired knee. We should see RW attacking the paint early and often, and he could be in line for a big stat line if he makes responsible decisions with the ball.
Shooting Guard: Thabo Sefolosha vs. Mike Miller
Anybody who's watched Mike Miller knows that he's on a short list of NBA players who's 3 Point Shooting can single handedly alter the course of a game. Miller won NBA Rookie of the Year in the 01-02 season and added a Sixth Man of the Year Award in 05-06, in large part due to his ability to catch fire and score in bunches. Fortunately, we have our top perimeter defender matched up against him in Thabo Sefolosha. Thabo is becoming a fan favorite for his defensive capabilities, and his length should provide a good counter to the 6'8 Miller's outside shooting ability. Keep an eye on this one though, it should be a good matchup.
Small Forward: Kevin Durant vs. Caron Butler
Critics have put Kevin Durant's toughness and ability to play physical in question. Tonights matchup with Caron Butler should help provide an answer. The 6'7 Butler is a bull in the paint, and has a non-stop motor, that allows him to clear the glass effectively on both sides of the court. He isn't one dimensional however, and has the ability to knock down the open shot if Durant plays too far off of him. He's also a capable defender who will play Durant very physical when the Thunder have the ball. If Durant is willing to push through his physical off ball defense though, he should be able to rise and fire over the shorter Butler all game. KD could put up very impressive scoring numbers tonight if his mid-range shot is falling.
Power Forward: Jeff Green vs. Antawn Jamison
When the Sonics drafted Jeff Green, I was worried that he would be too small to play Power Forward in this league. When I heard the ESPN crew compare him to Antawn Jamison however, my nerves were calmed. That's why I'm so excited for this matchup, as two great forwards with similar skill sets face-off against each other. Both are dealing with potential setbacks (Jamison's shoulder and Green's ongoing slump from the field), but both are usually the X-factors that decide the outcomes of their teams games. They both hit the glass hard, and have capable outside games to compliment their skill set in the post. Jamison is gonna look to stay hot after his 31 point outburst against Cleveland, so Green is gonna have to play some of his trademark defense tonight to keep the All-Star in check.
Center: Nenad Kristic vs. Brendan Haywood
As excited as I am for the afore mentioned matchup between Haywood and Thunder Center Etan Thomas, it's probably gonna be Kristic who gets the first crack at the UNC Alum tonight. Haywood isn't a particularly skilled big man, but rather just a big, tough, athlete who constantly finds himself on the receiving end of easy buckets courtesy of Arenas. That being said, his success on the offensive end probably depends more on how Westbrook fares against "Agent Zero" than it does on how Kristic handles him in the post. Haywood is also the Wizards leading rebounder, grabbing almost 11 boards a night. Nenad and Etan are gonna have to make him work on the defensive glass, and hopefully open up some second chance opportunities late in the game.
With Sixth Man Randy Foye slowed up by an ankle, the immortal Earl Boykins has stepped into the Wizards rotation and produced admirably for 2 games. One of my favorite players to watch in the league, Boykins is a pain in the rear to guard, and could devastate us with his quickness if we don't sub our guys properly. The super-athletic Andray Blatche is an up and coming center in the league, and can put up a decent line off the bench. For Oklahoma City, Etan Thomas should be in line for a good game against his former team (as mentioned above), and James Harden looks to continue his success after a career game in Orlando (24 Points, 6 Three Pointers)
Coaching and Intangibles:
The Wizards are probably gonna try to use their dismantling of the rival Cavs as a catalyst for their thus disappointing season. That makes this game one that they should be particularly desperate to win, as it would deflate all of their momentum should they lose. To go along with Thomas' adrenaline boost, the Thunder should come out ready to play, as they try to avoid dipping under .500 with their hometown fans supporting them. I'd say the intangibles are slightly in our favor.
Westbrook has a good game penetrating the slower Arenas and exploiting his weak knee with his athleticism. We should put a decent number up on the scoreboard, and lacking a serious low post scorer, our perimeter defense will be the key to this game. I think Sefolosha and Green hassle Miller and Jamison from the perimeter all night, and the Thunder stay above .500. Thunder 97, Wizards 88.