The Thunder travel south to Golden State tonight, less than 24 hours of a fantastic if controversial win over the Trail Blazers. In that game, OKC played the way we always hope they would play - focused, physical, and fearless. The team is now sitting atop the entire league at 19-5 and facing a Warriors team that is still learning the ropes under the tutelage of their new coach, Mark Jackson.
You know what that means, right?
We will all be sitting on pins and needles as we wait for tonight's game to start. Are we going to get the Thunder team that destroyed lesser opponents like the Pistons? Or are we going to see an unfocused squad that can lose to a team like the Wizards?
In the first match-up, a number of Thunder players posted outstanding stat lines, and we could be in for more of the same tonight. The danger is though that on any given night, any team can get hot from the field. Any team can win a game. The difference between a talented but streaky team and a playoff team is that the playoff team forces the streaky team to play its game, rather than the other way around.
We will look to see if the Thunder can maintain their defensive physical presence tonight, both in guarding the perimeter as well as guard the rim and grab rebounds. Rebounding was the biggest reason why OKC beat Portland, and if they can replicate the effort, tonight's game will go much more easily than if it turns into a shooting contest. Also, one of the under-reported elements of the Blazers win was that the Thunder bench played very well on the road and gave the team extended minutes where they were able to sustain their play. I think the bench will again play a big role tonight. Reggie Jackson is growing by the day, and taking on a team that is not exactly known for their defense should allow him the opportunity to learn some more in-game lessons.
I predict that there will be spots where the Thunder will be lured into playing Golden State's game. However, the difference will be if OKC can revert to their own strengths, guard the perimeter, and silence the crowd with consistent play.