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2013-2014 Game 49 Preview: Thunder have tough test at Wizards

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Could Westbrook's absence be a blessing in disguise tonight?

More KD postups against Okafor? I'm down.
More KD postups against Okafor? I'm down.
2013-2014 NBA Season
Won 10

Lost 1
February 1st, 2014
The Phone Booth, Washington, District of Columbia
6:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Comcast Sports Network Maryland
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), WJFK 106.7 The Fan
Injury Report: Russell Westbrook (Out), Al Harrington (Out), Glen Rice, Jr. (Out)
Previous Matchups: Nov 10th (Thunder Lead Season Series 1-0)
Probable Starters
Reggie Jackson PG John Wall
Thabo Sefolosha SG Bradley Beal
Kevin Durant SF Trevor Ariza
Serge Ibaka PF Nene Hilario
Kendrick Perkins C Marcin Gortat
2013/14 Advanced Stats
97.9 (T-7th) Pace 95.9 (17th)
108.0 (3rd) ORtg 100.9 (22nd)
99.2 (3rd) DRtg 102.4 (T-10th)

The Wizards are a team that needs no introduction. Though they're a mid-level Eastern Conference squad that only sees the Thunder twice a year, they've managed to carve out some very lasting memories for us to chew on. Only last year, Bradley Beal shocked the world by hitting his first career game-winning shot against the Thunder. The matchup this year was no disappointment either, with the Thunder mounting a titanic fourth-quarter comeback. The run saw them match a 10 point deficit in the span of three minutes, and came only after Russell Westbrook's ejection in the midst of an atrocious performance.

Thus, it seems appropriate that Reggie Jackson should take the reigns tonight. Wall is one of the NBA's bigger guards, and could use his size to force Westbrook into bad shots early in the clock. But Reggie Jackson typically does better against slower PGs, and it's entirely possible that tonight could revive his bad shooting numbers. He's been spotty over the last few games, though he hasn't really managed to hurt the Thunder in a significant way.

On the other side of the coin, Bradley Beal, who terrorized the Thunder with 34 Points on 12-23 shooting earlier in the season, is having his minute restriction removed for tonight's game. He was limited to 30 minutes a game in order to help him recover from a lower-right leg injury, forcing Wittman to bench him at critical junctures. Beal tends to be a huge indicator as to whether his team is doing well, so this news isn't exactly good for Thunder fans.

What do they have to do in order to win tonight? Well, the Wizards will generally fall into one of two pitfalls. One involves their three point shooting, which the Thunder have abosolutely no hope of utilizing. The other pitfall involves the Wizards bench. The players in the bench rotation seem to change game to game, and there's a lot of players with potential, but Randy Wittman has yet to find anything that works. If the Thunder could manage to get good production out of Jeremy Lamb (who will likely be facing the defensively-adept Martell Webster), then that would go a long way towards victory.

But really, at this point, it's simply a game of waiting for the Thunder to lose. The entire team is playing out of their shoes right now, and even teams that figured to hold a significant advantage over the Thunder have proven no match. Specifically, the Thunder have overcome the 76ers and Hawks (small lineups with a fast pace), the Heat (small lineup with lots of floor spacers), and the Nets (small lineup that likes to exploit mismatches). All three strategies have worked against this same team in the past, but the Thunder's ability to effortlessly get Ibaka and Durant the ball in prime scoring position has effectively trounced all resistance.

I do believe that the Wizards hold a significant shot at winning this game. The Thunder only have a 23 hour turnaround after last night's test against the Nets, and there's no way that their early offensive performance in that game can be totally replicated. Furthermore, the Wizards can keep up with the Thunder on the boards, so OKC likely won't win the game through a battle of possession. But really, the Thunder are on an absolute roll, and it's impossible for me to pick them to lose tonight.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 115, Washington Wizards 111.

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

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