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Thunder vs. Warriors Preview: Judgment Day?

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Anything other than a very close lose at home will leave little hope that the Thunder can hang with the reigning champs, a chilling thought in Durant's last year under contract.

I'm going to bypass my typical team-by-team overview, since you know the story already: the Warriors are great and the Thunder would be great if their defense weren't so bad.

Judgment Day?

Is it the end of the Thunder's title hopes if they don't beat the Warriors today? Not at all. But this is more than round 2 of the Warriors matchup for this season. The Thunder are on the precipice of convincing everyone that they are a worse team than their 2012 Finals or 2012-13 post-Harden iterations, with slim chances of beating any one of the Spurs, Warriors, or Cavaliers in the playoffs, let alone each on the way to a championship. This is despite easily the best collective performance from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as a duo.

Should the Thunder lose to the Warriors, it will be the first time a team featuring both Durant and Westbrook has lost four of five games since...the 2012 Finals. Anything other than a very close loss at home will leave little hope that the Thunder can hang with the reigning champs, a chilling thought in Durant's last year under contract.

A Thunder win wouldn't completely persuade me in the other direction about their title hopes, but if ever a statement game were on the table, this is it. The Warriors are double-tripe-awesome, but they're also at the end of a 7-game road trip against a Thunder team with more than a little to prove at home. The Warriors have been (relatively) human on this road stretch, pulling out five of six with an average margin of victory of just 8.6 in the wins. Vegas has them as mere 3-point favorites, their lowest line since the second game of the season. BUT, the Warriors get up for big games, and they don't have a loss against a true contender yet this season. Their losses have come against opponents that are a collective 18 games under .500.

In round 1 of this 2015-16 rivalry, I ran down a list of things that needed to go right for the Thunder to spell a victory. Those still apply, but here are some more narrow things I'm watching for, regardless of the outcome:

Will Andre Roberson make a difference?

Roberson, who missed the first Warriors bout, just put up a doughnut against the Pelicans. But a doughnut is totally worth it if it means the Thunder don't give up 60% from three again, against a much more punishing perimeter squad in Golden State.

Does Randy Foye give the Thunder anything special against he Warriors?

I can't imagine any kind of lock-down defensive performance from the new acquisition against Golden State's perimeter torture chamber, but hitting big shots in big moments could be a hint at something he could bring something lacking to the Thunder in the playoffs.

Will Dion Waiters and Kyle Singler crap the bed again?

Billy Donavan gives both of these wings a longer leash than he has Anthony Morrow or Cameron Payne. Payne's stench against the Warriors was about as stinky as Waiters, but more embarrassing on an individual level. Payne looks to have been replaced by Randy Foye soon after. Will there be a hook for terrible play, or--even better--will there be good production from role players?

Will Donavan roll some more dice this time?

This team needs a big win more than it needs to keep an ace in the hole for the postseason. By his recent staggering patterns, he's already conceded that the 5-man bench lineup is trash. Next moment of clarity: Durant at the 4 is definitely the best counter the Thunder have to the Warriors' versatility. The Thunder should be playing smaller than they have been if they want to reach the next level, and there's no sense in Donavan appeasing his star's preferences or his own sense of rhythm for a losing cause. (And no, I'm not suggesting more of that weird small ball lineup of Westbrook/Waiters/Foye/Roberson/Serge Ibaka that he perplexingly used against the Pelicans on Thursday.)

Will Anthony Morrow, worthwhile bench player, return to Billy Donavan's consciousness?

Remember when Morrow helped the Thunder deal death to the Grizzlies? And then never played more than 21 minutes but once since? Morrow doesn't stop any defensive bleeding, but when things are going south on that end, no one has. On the other hand, Morrow is absolutely lethal as a shooter and spacer, something that the Thunder have lacked in clutch situations.

Prediction: Warriors 120 Thunder 110

Somehow a 10-point loss feels optimistic, but this is where we are. I still maintain that a Thunder win is more likely to come in a blowout than a nail-biter, since the Warriors are always a Steph Curry 40-footer from landing the final blow in close games. As an NBA fan, I want the Thunder to show up and prove they're more than Warrior fodder as the playoffs knock on their door, considering how many great series the league has missed out on due to Durant/Westbrook/Ibaka injuries. We'll see.

2014-15 NBA Season Game 59
@
52-5
(Won 4)

41-17
(Lost 1)
February 27 , 2015
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City
7:30 PM Central Daylight Time
TV: ABC
Injury Report: Festus Ezeli (Out)
This Season's Matchups: Feb. 3 (L 108-116)
Probable Starters
Stephen Curry PG Russell Westbrook
Klay Thompson SG Andre Roberson
Harrison Barnes SF Kevin Durant
Draymond Green PF Serge Ibaka
Andrew Bogut C Steven Adams