Where They At: Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City is coming off one of their most impressive wins of the season, beating a decent Phoenix team while looking good on both ends of the floor (a rarity). The game played out like GM Sam Presti's fantasy, as the roster he built over the last year complemented the Thunder core brilliantly: Enes Kanter dominated inside, Dion Waiters provided scoring punch while Westbrook and Durant sat, and Steve Novak was a proud dad, watching Cameron Payne get some burn in garbage time. Kyle Singler still looked terrible, but maybe Billy Donavan is convinced he's Shane Battier 2.0: a Dukie forward impacting the game in ways that don't show up in traditional OR advanced stats.
OKC dominated with length and athleticism, sucking up rebounds and forcing their way into the paint in both transition and the half court. This was a throwback Thunder win, the kind of ball the team smothered opponents with so often before injuries derailed the team for two-plus regular seasons and postseasons. The win came at a good time, too, since going into Washington under .500 on a four-game losing streak would only make the KD-to-DC noise louder.
Where They At: Washington Wizards
I'm averse to contributing to the dearth of hot takes about Kevin Durant's looming free agency, but I actually think the Wizards players will try to audition a bit for Durant. John Wall hasn’t been discreet about his hopes of welcoming KD into the fold next summer, and Bradley Beal has come just short of admitting to breaking league rules to aid Washington in their KD-chase by chilling on his contract for now. The duo want to be the best backcourt in the league, and certainly wouldn’t mind showing out right before Durant’s eyes.
The team has been uneven to start the season, with gritty, close wins over the Magic, Bucks, and Spurs marred by pretty embarrassing losses to the Knicks, Celtics, and Hawks. A lot of people love Randy Wittman’s choice to give Wall the keys to a faster, smaller approach. They’ve become something of a darling pick for the Eastern Conference Finals, including from yours truly. It makes a ton of tense in theory, but so far the results haven’t been there. Wall has been shooting near career lows, and the new starting group featuring Kris Humphries, with a green light from distance, in place of Nene, has been bad.
Last season, the Wizards pushed the Thunder but came up just short in both matchups. Both teams are very different this season, but I expect a similarly intense contest. Billy Donovan has been giving Enes Kanter more time alongside the Thunder big three (to great effect), and has been eager to go small when the opponent does. Thunder smallball with KD at the 4 is typically fire. Since the Wizards haven’t totally figured out their new scheme, I’m expecting OKC to counter whatever Washington throws at them for the W. If Beal sits (sore shoulder), I don't really even expect it to be close.
Prediction: Thunder 111 Wizards 106
|2015-16 NBA Season Game #8|
|November 10th, 2015|
|Verizon Center, Washington, D.C.|
|6 PM Central Standard Time|
|TV: NBATV, Fox Sports Oklahoma, CSN|
|Injury Report: Martell Webster (Out), Alan Anderson (Out), Bradley Beal (DTD), Drew Gooden (DTD)|
|This Season's Matchups: N/A|
|Russell Westbrook||PG||John Wall|
|Andre Roberson||SG||Bradley Beal|
|Kevin Durant||SF||Otto Porter, Jr.|
|Serge Ibaka||PF||Kris Humphries|
|Steven Adams||C||Marcin Gortat|