California was none too kind to the Oklahoma City Thunder. After an impressive defeat of the Sacramento Kings, the Thunder went on to lose a 22-point lead to the Los Angeles Clippers and failed to execute again late against the Golden State Warriors. Hopefully the Thunder can right the ship – they're a woeful 2-6 since the All-Star break.
This week the Thunder face two teams well below .500 (the Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves) and a rematch with the Clippers at home. These are three winnable games and if the team can put the proper focus and effort into this three-game stretch – they have at least one day off between every game – things will stop feeling like the world is falling apart.
Moving on as quickly as possible from last week is priority number one for the Thunder, so without further ado, let's jump right into the Forecast.
March 6th @ Milwaukee Bucks
Forecast: 50 Degrees with High Winds
The Bucks looked to be a team on the rise after a surprising entrance into the 2015 playoffs, but things have gone awry this year. Michael Carter-Williams is still allergic to jump shots, Greg Monroe might be a worse defender than Enes Kanter, and prized second overall pick Jabari Parker has started slowly after recovering from a torn ACL.
Jason Kidd has searched and searched for the right lineups and some sort of twist that could get the Bucks humming once again. Coming out of the All-Star break, it seems like Kidd might've found the proper mixture. Carter-Williams and Monroe have been moved to the bench and the point guard responsibilities have been handed over to Giannis Antetokounmpo.
With the Greek Freak running the offense and Parker rounding into form, Milwaukee has won two of its past three games. In those three games, Parker has poured in 23.3 points per game and Antetokounmpo is averaging a near triple-double with 22.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 8.7 assists. The development of these two players is critical to the Bucks taking that next step.
In this sudden youth explosion, you can't leave out Khris Middleton. The stud two-way guard is still scoring and strapping up in a way that Thunder fans have wished a single wing player on their roster could consistently do. The lanky wing gave the Thunder fits (36 points worth) in their first matchup and almost singlehandedly got Milwaukee a victory on the road.
Their late December meeting also was the unveiling of rookie point guard Cameron Payne. Yet, as the two teams face off once more Payne has been moved to the bench once again. The Thunder really need the same kind of jolt that Payne gave them in that first game into their final 20 games.
This game is bigger than the records may state. It's very important that the Thunder get a win and play a complete game for 48 minutes.
PREDICTION: Thunder 124, Bucks 106
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: Enes Kanter vs. Greg Monroe
As noted above, neither of these two big men will be making any All-Defensive teams in their careers. However, they both share the aptitude for impacting the game on the glass and with their skilled post play. These two will likely matchup against one another now that Monroe has been moved to the bench. The 12 to 15 minutes that they are on the court together will have a huge impact on the final score of this game. Kanter has fit in nicely to his role as the Thunder's sixth man whereas Monroe is just getting situated with coming off the bench. Kanter also holds the edge in terms of getting up and down the court and these potential rim runs are what I believe will tip the edge into Kanter's favor in the game.
March 9th vs. Clippers
Forecast: Partly Cloudy with a High of 65 Degrees
The Clippers and the Thunder now possess the same amount of losses (20). While the Thunder still hold a slight one-game lead over Los Angeles, it has been the Clippers that have been the hotter team of late. The season series is tied up at a game apiece between the two. However, the remaining two games are going to be played in Oklahoma City, which is a huge advantage for the Thunder.
A win on Wednesday will go a long way towards quieting all the noise of discontent and fear that have shrouded the Thunder of late. In last Wednesday's meeting the Thunder jumped all over the Clippers early and looked well on their way to an easy victory before Los Angeles outscored them 35-13 in the fourth quarter.
Chris Paul posted a pedestrian 21 and 13 outing and, thanks to a late game meltdown, DeAndre Jordan was able to pour in 20 points to go along with his 18 rebounds.
This game will be a test of the Thunder's defense. In the previous game, the Thunder held the Clippers to just 36 percent shooting through three quarters. If they can have a repeat performance – and for a full 48 minutes – the Thunder should be able to get a huge victory at home.
Russell Westbrook against CP3 is always worth the price of admission, or the guilt of spending two-plus hours sitting inches away from a television.
PREDICTION: Thunder 112, Clippers 105
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: J.J. Redick vs. Andre Roberson
The last time he was on the Doppler, Roberson didn't have the greatest game. Though Klay Thompson was held to just 1-7 shooting from deep, he still finished with 21 points and shot above 50 percent for the game. Another shooter is on the way and Redick has a different type of game than Thompson. Both players use screes a lot, but Redick is more of a specialist than Thompson. Redick is always looking to get a shot off from behind the three-point line and rarely attacks the rim. A 1-7 night from three for Redick will likely result in the Thunder getting an easy win over the Clippers. On the other end, Roberson needs to use his slashing ability and size advantage to make life on the defensive end as hard as possible for J.J.
3/11 VS Minnesota
FORECAST: Sunny With Clear Skies
The Timberwolves have an abundance of young talent – Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine to name a few – almost circa 2009 Thunder level. Despite having consecutive number one picks on the roster, the Timberwolves are three games under .500 entering the week.
The T-Wolves look to mold into a perennial contender for the Northwest division crown and higher aspirations as well. Yet, we aren't in the future and even though Minnesota has the athletes to compete with OKC, this is a team that the Thunder should not lose to, no matter what the situation.
Kevin Durant and Westbrook need to lead the charge in this game and help the Thunder set the tone of the night early. If Russ and KD come out aggressive and focused to begin the game, this should turn into a Payne and Mitch McGary night. Not giving Minnesota the confidence or opportunity to stay in the game will show whether or not things are moving in the right direction for OKC.
The Thunder are averaging just a shade under 120 points a game against Minnesota and should once again have no problems putting points on the board. They last faced the T-Wolves in late January, one of the first games without Roberson, and gave up an embarrassing 123 points to the Timberwolves.
Though the defense has still been shaky at best with Roberson back in the lineup, as long as the offense is clicking OKC can outscore Minnesota with ease. Even the slightest of improvements should be able to allow the Thunder to end the week with a double digit victory.
PREDICTION: Thunder 126, Timberwolves 110
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: Zach LaVine vs. Randy Foye
In that last meeting, it was LaVine's 35 points on 14-17 shooting that powered the T-Wolves to within three points of the Thunder at the final horn. Foye has found favor quickly in Donovan's rotation – replacing fan favorite Payne – and the task will most likely rest with him to keep LaVine from exploding once more. Also, with KD now assuming a semi back-up point guard role, it's going to mean open shots for Foye. If he can take advantage of mental lapses by LaVine (he has a few defensive plays that are James Harden-esque each game) then the extra production will help rocket up the Thunder's offensive production. LaVine holds a significant height advantage, but he doesn't have the interior game to use that against the Thunder – unless he plans to dunk over Foye. This is a game where the bench production for OKC will be paramount in getting a win for the Thunder.
March 12th vs. Spurs
Forecast: Cloudy With A Chance of Afternoon Showers
This game is the biggest unknown of the week. It's a Saturday night prime time game so all eyes will be zeroed in on the Thunfer once again. However, this has Gregg Popovich decides to rest three starters written all over it. Pop has perfected the art of rest--nothing is better than seeing "DNP-OLD" next to Tim Duncan's name--and he usually chooses to rest his stars in these type of marquee games.
Either way it's hard to predict which players we will actually see on the floor for San Antonio on Saturday. Will Andre Miller get the start over Tony Parker? Will Jonathan Simmons be the main defender on KD instead of Kawhi Leonard? Will Boban Marjanović go toe-to-toe with Steven Adams all night? Anything is possible with Pop on the sidelines, which makes this game hard to predict beforehand. The Spurs roster is ever changing and just because we want to see 48 minutes of Kawhi against Durant doesn't mean Pop will let it happen.
The Thunder already have a 101-100 win over the Spurs in their opening game and if Pop chooses to rest key players it'll be great to extend that to 2-0 on the season Saturday. If both teams are at full force this should make for a highly-entertaining game. San Antonio plays the most efficient style of basketball in the league and OKC's length and athleticism has always given the Spurs trouble.
It seems like thes two teams were completely different teams when they first met and this will be a good litmus test of how both teams look over two thirds of the way through the year. KD and Russ are going to need help from the rest of the roster if they want to get past San Antonio
Prediction: Thunder 97, Spurs 108
On The Doppler Radar: Kevin Durant vs Kawhi Leonard
Kawhi Leonard is the best two-way player in the game of basketball. Durant is either the best or the second best scorer in the NBA depending on who you ask. Leonard is the only player that seems capable of making scoring difficult for KD. If that is the case again on Saturday night then this could end up being a repeat of the Thunder's last ABC prime time effort against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then again, as stated above, this could all be for nothing as were left wondering why Pop choose this as the game to give him the night off. On the other end Leonard has shown he's capable of filling it up too. Durant will need to be at his best of both ends of the court. KD is an above average defender, but rarely gets the credit he deserves for his defense this would serve as an opportunity to remind the world that he is more than just a scorer.