Like Friday's matchup in Detroit, the Wizards are a team looking to make a name for themselves in the East this year. Aided by a late Pre-Season acquisition in Marcin Gortat and a healthy John Wall, the team looks to make its' first playoff run in the post-Gilbert Arenas era.
Unfortunately, their early season run didn't go as hoped. Marcin Gortat was having trouble adjusting to Washington's new system, and Nene was out with injury. Furthermore, their strategy just didn't seem to mesh well overall. The team was making egregiously bad traps in the backcourt, and their bigs were too concerned with grabbing offensive rebounds. The result was oodles of free points for the opposing team, and three straight losses.
However, the Wiz have swifty recovered. Nene returned to action, providing an efficient offensive boost. Furthermore, Gortat got more comfortable in his new role, and his stats steadily improved. Their combined efforts provide the team with a solid backbone, making up for the occasionally inconsistent shooting percentages of John Wall and Bradley Beal. Altogether, the starting lineup is one of the best in the game, and Randy Wittman doesn't give them time for much rest.
The bench, consisting of Martell Webster, Al Harrington, Eric Maynor (Hi!), and Kevin Seraphin, has seen less time as the season's gone on. They're not bad necessarily, but they usually play as a unit and have a negative plus/minus ratio. They're decidedly less talented than the Thunder's bench, so I'd say that this game is another opportunity for the youngsters to show their stuff.
I'm pretty much avoiding the elephant in the room by not discussing Bradley Beal. His rag-tag, John Wall-less team managed to beat the Thunder in a defensive battle last January. He also hit the game-clinching shot (his first), and it was a small bright spot in an otherwise horrible Wizards season.
How do the Thunder avoid a repeat performance? Well, the problems in that game were isolated. Russell Westbrook was having a terrible shooting night, but he was getting the shots that he normally does, and the Wiz weren't doing anything special to stop him. He was also gambling for steals way too often, resulting in a few open shots for the Wizards. Kendrick Perkins was also having an awful night, giving up points to the offensive holes known as Emeka Okafor and Jan Vesely.
Tonight's game will be a different animal. John Wall will be there to facilitate the offense. Wall has never performed especially well against Westbrook. Basically, he's balanced exceptionally poor shooting with trips to the line, and bad defense with a good assist game. Thus, I'd keep my eyes on Beal instead.
If the Wizards are to win tonight, they'll need to win the turnover battle. They're exceptionally bad at grabbing boards, so they rely on easy points and a consistent offense. Westbrook and Durant are infamous for coughing up the ball, and the Thunder's offense is pretty simplistic, so I think the Wizards should be able to keep pace.
But in the end, I see the Thunder's winning streak extending to four tonight. Ibaka's about due to have a solid comeback game, and he shouldn't have trouble getting open shots in the face of Nene. Plus, you've really gotta love Scott Brooks' willingness to experiment with the bench, which has really opened a lot of doors. As long as the Thunder can capitalize when their second unit is in and score with the starters, this victory shouldn't be too hard to come by.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 104, Washington Wizards 99.
What do you think about tonight's game? Let us know in the poll and comments!