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Thunder vs. Kings Preview: Will OKC Launch a Playoff Lurch from Sacramento's Dome?

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The Thunder should beat the Kings--will they do so in a way that keeps playoff hopes alive?

Russell Westbrook is the Trogdor (TROGDOR!!!) of the NBA. Burninate.
Russell Westbrook is the Trogdor (TROGDOR!!!) of the NBA. Burninate.
WBB

Where They At: Oklahoma City Thunder

The Spurs have a way of making the lottery appear pretty attractive for the Thunder. A season's worth of battling through injuries for a shot at the playoffs never seems less worth it than when San Antonio is zipping the ball around, draining threes, and stonewalling the Thunder on defense, over and over and over like it's a recurring nightmare from Games 1 & 2 of last year's Western Conference Finals.

Having said that, the Pelicans aren't running away with the eight seed, and the Thunder coaches and players are not interested in missing the playoffs. This is one of those winnable games for the Thunder, an oasis in the harsh desert of Western contenders the Thunder have been wandering through to close the season. We know what this team is, and I don't expect much to change for these last few games. The offense is usually there. The defense is rarely there. The effort is always there, until the Spurs go up 20.

Where They At: Sacramento Kings

Negatives: Sacramento is finishing a self-inflicted lost season in which they turned over their own apple cart by firing a decent coach because the team wasn't as good without its superstar. (Some Thunder fans I know wish OKC would have done the same this year.) Their last victory against a team with a winning record was back on March 22nd, when they smoked the stumbling Wizards. DeMarcus Cousins might be held out for the rest of the season. Darren Collison is out for the year and Ramon Sessions was traded away, so their backcourt consists of Ray McCallum (overmatched) and Andre Miller (overaged).

Positives: They employ Vlade Divac and George Karl! And a guy emerging as the league's coolest garbage time player in the 7'5", 360-pound Sim Bhullar.

The Matchup:

Remember when Sacramento pummeled a finally-healthy Thunder squad in January, putting the silver linings of a tough early season in doubt? They could remove all doubt with a win on OKC's floor tonight. Getting virtually eliminated from the playoffs, at home, against a bad team, would be one of the sadder losses in Thunder history.

The Thunder should, and probably will, win this game. I'm most interested to see what kind of coaching job Scott Brooks does in a last, desperate lurch toward the finish line. Can he keep the team from packing it in if and when their fate appears sealed? Can he convince Russell Westbrook to stop mimicking Kobe Bryant on the defensive end of the floor? Will he play Andre Roberson 48 minutes to try and keep the atrocious Thunder D from giving up 130? Will he find a way to get the ball inside 35 feet in clutch possessions? I don't think his job is on the line at this point, and missing the playoffs probably wouldn't change that. But how the Thunder close the season before The Season (Durant's potential last) ought to be important to OKC brass, no?

Prediction: Oklahoma City 120, Sacramento 110

2014-15 NBA Season Game 79
@
27-51
(Lost 1)

42-36
(Lost 4)
April 10th, 2015
Chesapeake Energy Arena
7:00 PM Central Daylight Time
TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma, CSN California
Injury Report: Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, DeMarcus Cousins, Darren Collison, Eric Moreland (Out), Nick Collison, , Nik StauskasRudy Gay (Questionable), Dion Waiters (Probable)
This Season's Matchups: Nov. 9 (W 101-93) Dec. 16 (W 104-92) Jan. 7 (L 104-83)
Probable Starters
Ray McCallum PG Russell Westbrook
Ben McLemore SG Andre Roberson
Omri Casspi SF Dion Waiters
Carl Landry PF Enes Kanter
Jason Thompson C Steven Adams