|2012-2013 NBA Season|
|January 23nd, 2013|
|Oracle Arena, Oakland, California|
|9:30 PM CST|
|National Basketball Association Television, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Comcast Sports Network Bay Area|
|WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1), KNBR 680|
|Golden State Of Mind, WarriorsWorld|
|Previous Meetings: Nov 19 (Thunder Lead Season Series 1-0)|
|Injury Report: Brandon Rush (Out), Andrew Bogut (Out)|
|Russell Westbrook||PG||Stephen Curry|
|Thabo Sefolosha||SG||Klay Thompson|
|Kevin Durant||SF||Harrison Barnes|
|Serge Ibaka||PF||David Lee|
|Kendrick Perkins||C||Festus Ezeli|
The Warriors have quietly pushed their way to the middle of the pack in terms of Western Conference playoff seeding. For a team that's been to the playoffs once since 1994 and hasn't even been to the Western Conference Finals since 1976, when the NBA only had 18 teams, this is a pretty huge feat.
The most puzzling aspect of it is the lack of a star. Golden State has the presence of Stephen Curry, who can score with the best of them and is a reasonably good passer. But even he, at best, is a borderline All-Star. What, exactly, does this team hang its' hat on?
Well, first of all, a couple of players are in the midst of breakout years. Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry have always been decent players, but the teams they've played on have been so dismal that only the NBA hardcore would know their games by heart. On the Warriors, they haven't had as much pressure to perform, and they have the perfect players to compliment their skills. For example, Carl Landry has been able to get a lot of free baskets in the post because David Lee draws at lot of pressure when he backs down in the paint. Furthermore, when paired with dynamic scorers like Curry and Thompson, Jarrett Jack will have the worst defender often put on him. This allows him to exploit that with some his excellent man-to-man offense. That's not to say that these guys can't perform on their own. It's just to say that they fit in really well with the team, and are a huge reason for their success.
Other players have been surprises as well. Andris Biedrins, who was suffering from huge confidence problems, has been able to become a key rebounder and defender with a bit of encouragement from Mark Jackson. Festus Ezeli has emerged as the defacto starting center after being picked at the tail end of the first round. Harrison Barnes, the #7 pick, hasn't disappointed either, bringing a lot of athleticism and some degree of shooting. Overall, the all-around talent on this team has really helped them sneak up on teams who are superior in terms of talent.
But when it all gets down to brass tacks, the real reason this Warriors team has been able to succeed is improved defense. They're not the Warriors of old, constantly jonesing for steals and fast break buckets. They still play a fast paced game, but this is the first Warrior team that's been able to hold its' own in the paint since Chris Webber. They're one of the league's best defensive rebounding teams, and they're excellent at capitalizing on offensive boards.
What does this mean when they play the Thunder? Well, the Warriors are the league's 3rd worst team when it comes to turnovers, and they were really frustrated against the Thunder when they last played in November. They kept trying to clog the strong side of the court and ended up succumbing to pressure and help defense. Moreover, Russell Westbrook was really able to exploit Stephen Curry, who had an atrocious night while the bigger Westbrook was on the floor.
Tonight's game will come down to a lot of different factors, though. The Thunder's bench needs to hold strong. They need to be careful about the Warriors exploiting mismatches. The Thunder need to make sure the Warriors don't push the pace and eliminate Ibaka's offensive game. The Thunder need to focus on rebounding. The list goes on and on.
But the Thunder's innate advantage is too hard to ignore. Westbrook and Ibaka are perfect counters to Lee and Curry, and unless some peripheral players really step up or the Thunder are too tired from last night's Clippers win, it's really hard to see the Warriors winning this game. But I'll still be cheering for them all the same.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 103, Golden State Warriors 100.
If you are looking for tickets to upcoming games, you can find Oklahoma City Thunder tickets here.