The Thunder and Warriors have faced off three times this year. The first matchup was a total farce, with the Thunder suffering various injuries and playing the game with a depleted roster. The second game was more legitimate, but saw KD go down with injury before the half and ended in a really ugly fashion. The last game was another farce, with OKC completely collapsing before the game had any chance of getting good.
Tonight's game has the potential to be a complete joke, but things could go in either direction. The Warriors are resting Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala tonight, and Brandon Rush is questionable. Obviously, the Dubs could easily win without these three players. But Bogut anf Iguodala are serious forces on the defensive end, and it's not hard to see things breaking down on the perimeter or down low without Bogut and Iggy there. On the Thunder's end, the team has really struggled to produce over the past few games. Ongoing drama issues surrounding who gets possessions, a stale offense, and the integration of new personnel have caused serious trouble for OKC's winning hopes. I'm going to refrain from saying that the Thunder have a real problem....yet. But they're clearly having growing pains, especially when it comes to managing the game at critical times.
The cool thing about this matchup is that there are no players that are proven or disproven here. We've seen players on either side of this game rise up and become a factor almost completely out of nowhere. Marreese Speights, for example, was key to the Warriors first two wins but then went nearly silent in the third game. Curry and Thompson really appeared to struggle in Game 1, but have had no problems hitting their averages over the past two matchups. Westbrook has really struggled in two outings for the Thunder this year, but didn't have the same issues against the same defenders last year. Up and down the roster, the story is the same. These two teams have a ton of offensive weapons, and possess a ton of ways to keep things competitive.
The big X-Factors tonight could be Dion Waiters and Justin Holiday. Both of these players are mid-season replacements, meant to replace struggling players on the bench. Technically Holiday has been on the Warrior roster all season, but it wasn't until the past month or so that he really solidified a spot for himself in the rotation. He's mostly known as a defensive specialist, so it will be interesting to see him slot against Dion Waiters. I mean, Waiters took 16 shots against the Rockets last night. More than KD, Russ, Serge, and RJ. It was literally Dion's third game. He's probably going to continue chucking tonight, and how well Holiday contains him close to the quarter breaks could very well set the tone of this game.
I'd also definitely keep an eye on how well the Warriors are protecting the interior. Marreese Speights can hold his own down there with Draymond Green, as both players are smart, scrappy, and have a low center of gravity. But when you get to the bench lineup of Lee and whomever replaces Iguodala, the Warriors are going to have more of a problem protecting the rim. With Waiters occupying Holiday's time, that could mean Reggie Jackson will run all over Shaun Livingston.
The starter matchups are also intriguing. We all know how each team is gonna play strategically. The Thunder will try to pressure Curry and force mistakes/bad shots. They'll also likely put heavy pressure on Klay, in an effort to force him into a decision-making role that he's not comfortable with. And it goes without saying that both coaches will try crossmatching Roberson and Thompson on Curry and Westbrook, respectively. On the Warriors end, they'll likely try to keep Durant away from the rim while egging Westbrook and Jackson into jump shooting.
We'll see how things shake out tonight, but I think the Thunder are going to take one tonight. Sure, they're coming off four straight upinspiring games, are on the second end of a back to back from Houston, and aren't seeing a lot of promise out of Waiters. But these are the types of games where teams show what they're made of, and I think the Thunder have been too successful for too long to let this game slip into blowout mode. With Golden State's injuries, I think OKC can just pull it off.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 111, Golden State Warriors 107.
What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!
|2014-15 NBA Season Game 39|
|January 16th, 2014|
|Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK|
|7:00 PM Central Standard Time|
|TV: Entertainment Sports Programming Network, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Comcast Sports Network California|
|Injury Report: Brandon Rush (Questionable), Mitch McGary, Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala, Festus Ezeli (Out)|
|This Year's Matchups: Nov 23rd (L 86-91), Dec 18th (L 104-119), Jan 6 (L 91-117)|
|Stephen Curry||PG||Russell Westbrook|
|Klay Thompson||SG||Andre Roberson|
|Harrison Barnes||SF||Kevin Durant|
|Draymond Green||PF||Serge Ibaka|
|Marreese Speights||C||Steven Adams|