With the regular season winding down, now is a great time to reflect. While the Oklahoma City Thunder have had their shares of ups and downs, they've made it through 80 games with their collective health intact, and after last year's injury fiasco, health is something for which to be thankful.
The 5 Day Forecast debuted a game after the All-Star break, and I've thoroughly enjoyed tossing my analysis and opinions on the Thunder and their upcoming opponents. In my analysis I have gone 16-5 in my predictions, which in turn has meant a 13-8 record for the Thunder. I'll continue to do the forecast in the postseason and hopefully I can keep up my 76 percent "win percentage."
With the three seed locked up, we've seen Billy Donovan ease up a bit and stretch out the rotation. He's given players like Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant nights off to rest and has even sat Russell Westbrook for entire fourth quarters with the game out of reach. I believe we'll see more of the same in the team's final two games of the year. Let's take a look at how OKC will close out the 2015-16 season.
04/11 VS Lakers
FORECAST: Sunny, Clear Skies with Temperatures in the High 80's
Oh how the mighty have fallen. When the Thunder were just scratching the surface of title contention, it was Kobe Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers that ruled the Western Conference. Now as the Black Mamba's swan song plays out, the Lakers are closer to the top of the Lottery than the NBA Championship.
The Lakers now rely on a trio of youngsters--D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle--and while the talent is visible, none of the three have attained the star level of past Lakers greats and LA will need time to develop their young players.
The Thunder are coming off a highly disappointing loss to the Sacramento Kings and they don't want to make a habit of playing down to their competition with the playoffs around the corner, especially with a likely matchup with the depleted and less talented Memphis Grizzlies. It can't just be about out-scoring teams either, the Thunder need to show themselves that their defense can win them games as well.
PREDICTION: Thunder 116, Lakers 98
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: Kobe Bryant
This will be Kobe's final trip to Oklahoma City. The Black Mamba has long been hearty in his praise of Russell Westbrook, often saying he believes they share the same type of intensity and passion in their play. He has also been a big fan of Durant's game too and since KD became the star we know him as now, Kobe always wanted to try his hand at defending him. Earlier in the season if you recall, Durant was quite vocal about both his admiration of Kobe as well as bothered by his media detractors:
I did idolize Kobe Bryant. I studied him, wanted to be like him. He was our Michael Jordan. I watched Michael toward the end of his career with the Wizards and I seen that’s what Kobe emerged as the guy for us. I’ve been disappointed this year because you guys (media) treated him like shit. He’s a legend and all I hear is about how bad he’s playing, how bad he’s shooting, time for him to hang it up. You guys treated one of our legends like shit and I didn’t really like it. Hopefully now you can start being nice to him now that he decided to retire after this year. It was sad the way he was getting treated. He had just an amazing career, a guy who changed the game for me as a player mentally and physically. Means so much to the game of basketball. Someone I’m always gonna look to advice for anything. Just a brilliant, brilliant, intelligent man. Sad to see him go. He put his mark on the game.
Given KD and Westbrook's relationship with Kobe, we expect they will choose to forgo rest and suit up against the Mamba one last time.
In 20 NBA seasons, Bryant has been loved, hated and everything in between by all basketball fans. However, as his career hits its twilight his greatness deserves celebration. Arguably the greatest player of his generation and the second best shooting guard of all-time will live on in YouTube clips, but Monday night will be the final time he'll lace up his Nikes against the Thunder. Expect a proper sendoff by the Thunder and their fanbase.
04/12 AT Spurs
FORECAST: Partly Cloudy With A Chance of Hail
Everything I say in this preview will probably be horribly wrong. I know this because there are so many unknowns as we approach this regular season finale. Currently, the San Antonio Spurs have a chance to be the first team to ever go 41-0 at home. Yet, they play the Warriors at home tonight before this Tuesday matchup at the AT&T Center, so that home record, as regular season as it is and therefore not particularly important to this team of veterans, may already be cashed in.
Gregg Popovich has came out and said that going undefeated at home in the regular season means nothing to him and Coach Pop is a big proponent of being healthy heading into the postseason. It wouldn't be unlike him to rest his star players to close out the year.
Meanwhile, the only records the Thunder have to play for are Russ' triple-doubles and extending KD's 20-plus scoring streak. However, only Westbrook recording a triple-double has a direct correlation to OKC's chances of winning games (17-0 so far this season).
Even if all the big names for both teams suit up, I doubt we see them all for a full game. This is a game where Boban Marjanović and Mitch McGary will most likely be doing battle in the paint late into the fourth quarter.
PREDICTION: Thunder 89, Spurs 96
ON THE DOPPLER RADAR: Kevin Martin vs Cameron Payne
Do I think this will be the matchup that actually determines the outcome of this game? Of course not; they don't even play the same positions. However, these are the only two players that I'm 100 percent certain will play for both teams. Gregg Popovich wants nothing more than to be healthy as the playoffs start and giving his stars an extra four to five days rest is right up his alley. Meanwhile Billy Donovan has shown that he too subscribes to the rest theory and with the Thunder's playoff positioning set this game doesn't mean much except for signifying the end of the regular season.