Time: 9:30 PM Central Standard Time
Place: Power Balance Pavilion, Sacramento, California
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1)
The Thunder find themselves in Sacramento tonight to take on the talented but inconsistent Kings. Sacramento remains in a state of flux these days, with the team wondering if it is going to be relocated and the front office abandoning its head coach Paul Westphal after only seven games. Keith Smart picked up the reins to try and right the ship and has had mixed returns. While the team has been inconsistent with its performance this season, one look at their win column tells us that they are dangerous. With wins over the Lakers, Spurs, Pacers, and Trail Blazers, the Kings have shown that they can compete with playoff-caliber teams.
The Kings have a young talented core in Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins, and Marcus Thornton, a trio that can play competitively against most teams. Overall the team struggles in scoring, defense, and passing the ball, but the one area in which they do well, which should give OKC some concern, is in rebounding. The team is currently ranked 6th overall in rebounding, and in a recent win against the Warriors, the team piled up 55 rebounds (20 offensive), with Cousins grabbing 20 and center Jason Thompson grabbing 16. As we have seen in the early part of the season, whenever OKC is playing unfocused, their rebounding is the first thing that suffers. If the Thunder are to overcome the Kings tonight, their number one concern needs to be in rebounding the ball and keeping Cousins & Thompson off the offensive glass.
Offensively, the most interesting head-to-head match-up is going to be Russell Westbrook vs Tyreke Evans. They are both young, physical, explosive guards and we know that Westbrook relishes the individual match-up challenges. The test for Westbrook tonight will be to dial his penetration game back a few notches, because as we have seen in the past, Evans has fared well in keeping Westbrook below his season averages. Against the Warriors, a team not exactly known for their stout defense, Westbrook turned the ball over nine times, offsetting his otherwise very productive night. OKC has competitive advantages at various spots, but Westbrook vs Evans may be the most marginal one so the Thunder would do best to look elsewhere. Also, defensively, the Thunder have struggled as of late defending scoring guards (as you may have noticed). Tonight might be a good time to start reversing that trend.
Kevin Durant should have a definitive advantage tonight because the Kings do not have anyone with the length or strength to match up with him. What always concerns us though is whether we get the passive Durant or the active Durant. The passive Durant likes to take lots of 3-pointers and inadvertently turn himself into a one-dimensional player. The active Durant likes to play out of the post, drive hard to the rim, shoot baseline jumpers, and whip passes to open shooters. The passive Durant can shoot his team out of a game; the active Durant has no equal.
I predict that we see an active Durant tonight, at least for a half (preferably the 2nd half). That, combined with continued strong bench play by the Thunder's 2nd unit, should push the Thunder past the Kings tonight.
Unless, of course, the Thunder forget to rebound.
Prediction: Thunder 100, Kings 89