2013-2014 Game 41 Preview: Thunder Try to Gain Momentum vs. Kings

All three momentarily forgot their basketball careers and held a contest to determine who could do the best impersonation of a dead fish. - Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Kings now have Rudy Gay, but does he provide enough firepower for his team to destroy the Thunder with?

2013-2014 NBA Season
Kings_medium
@
Thunder_medium
14-24
Lost 1

30-10
Won 2
January 19th, 2014
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
6:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Comcast Sports Network California
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), KHTK CBS Sports 1140 AM
Injury Report: Russell Westbrook (Out), Carl Landry (Out)
Previous Matchups: Dec 3rd (Thunder Lead Season Series 1-0)
Probable Starters
Isaiah Thomas PG Reggie Jackson
Marcus Thornton SG Thabo Sefolosha
Rudy Gay SF Kevin Durant
Jason Thompson PF Serge Ibaka
DeMarcus Cousins C Kendrick Perkins
2013/14 Advanced Stats
97.1 (T-11th) Pace 98.7 (6th)
103.8 (13th) ORtg 106.4 (7th)
106.0 (28th) DRtg 98.6 (3rd)

The last time these two teams played, it was a rather unusual affair. The Kings began the game with great tact, going on a 14-0 run in the first while the Thunder played some lackadaisical offense. The Thunder then proceeded to lay down the hammer in the second and third quarter, going on a huge run that apexed at a 17 point advantage. The Kings weren't done though, and Isaiah Thomas led a heroic fourth quarter comeback. It was another instance of the Thunder having no answer for a quick guard, as has happened with J.J. Barea and Nate Robinson in the past. Had Thomas' final shot not been just short, the game would have gone to overtime.

Looking back on that game, it was pretty ho-hum. Aside from an inability to guard Thomas, the Thunder don't have any real weakness against the Kings. Sacramento's competitiveness stemmed from their hustling for a few extra boards and getting hot from long range. It's a cliche, but the Thunder just didn't have the amount of hustle that they needed. As long as they attack the rim and limit Cousins' effectiveness, the Thunder would have no trouble against those Kings.

However, if you've kept up with the NBA, you'll know that since the Thunder last saw the Kings, Sacramento traded a bunch of expiring contracts to the Raptors in exchange for Rudy Gay. It was a bid to be competitive for the first time in forever, and the bid has been somewhat successful. Gay has shot excellent percentages and been a key part of the offense. Meanwhile, the team has gone 8-10 since his arrival. That record might not set the world on fire, but it's the best the Kings have been in a long time. Furthermore, the Kings have posted strong wins over contenders like Houston, Portland, and Miami.

How have the Kings changed specifically? Well, Gay's offensive firepower has bumped up the team's effectiveness on that end. John Salmons would have his moments, but Gay is miles ahead in terms of creating his own shot consistently. The defensive situation remains bleak, with the Kings allowing the third highest totals in points per game as well as allowing opponents to shoot the third highest field goal percentage in the league. So basically, the Kings objective is to outscore you. This doesn't necessarily mean that they run and gun or play small, but it does mean that they'll play you with an above average offense and a bad defense while desperately trying to win the battle of possession.

The Thunder are liable to suffer against this type of team, because they have a consistently high turnover rate and an offense that's prone to stalling out when they take too many threes. Of course, the Thunder are capable of producing an offense that can overrun the Kings (as they did on Friday night against the Warriors), but the Thunder can also attempt to beat the Kings by forcing them outside, like they did in December.

What would it take to win if the Thunder pursued either strategy? Well, if the Thunder go the offensive route, they've got to get consistent production from at least two of the trio of Lamb, Jackson, and Ibaka. They'd also have to either see some significant success getting to the line or somehow get hot from beyond the arc. If the Thunder pursue the defensive strategy, they'll have to take either Gay or Cousins out of the game while not allowing any easy baskets near the rim. Sometimes that can result in a big shooting-inspired run by the other team (like the Rockets had against us), but most of the time it turns out to be effective.

I'm gonna go ahead and predict that the Thunder win tonight, but only because DeMarcus Cousins hasn't proven to me that he can effectively score against our interior defense, and struggled against the similarly tough Grizzlies on Friday night. But if he can find a way to be effective, this game could be competitive for a good while.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 108, Memphis Grizzlies 100.

What do you think of tonight's game? Let us know in the poll and comments!

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