The Oklahoma City Thunder lock horns tonight with a San Antonio Spurs team reeling from consecutive defeats.
Following a 36-9 start, the perennially overachieving Spurs have been recently sidetracked by unheralded New Orleans and Dallas.
A closer look reveals that San Antonio’s sudden inefficiency could be due to the absence of proven contributors Pau Gasol and Jonathon Simmons. While Gasol is expected to miss a large stretch of time with a broken finger, Simmons' status is questionable for tonight's contest.
During the Spurs’ mini-slide, points have come at a premium. San Antonio has averaged just 102 ppg in losses vs. two of the league's better defensive units —albeit, with concurrent sub-par records.
Furthermore, since last experiencing victory, Gregg Popovich’s brigade has been outscored 94-62 in the paint. For a group that relies heavily upon interior scoring, such a pronounced slippage is pernicious in nature.
However, unfortunately, Oklahoma City may be unable to take advantage of San Antonio's low-post futility due to the fractured arm of Enes Kanter.
At the time of his injury, Kanter’s offensive rebounding, and ppg ranked among the league’s reserve elite.
Sans the 24-year-old pivot, OKC surrendered a season-high 19 point, 12 rebound, four-block effort to Tristan Thompson in a humbling 107-91 defeat vs. free-falling Cleveland.
So poor was Oklahoma City’s Sunday performance, that Russell Westbrook’s 24th triple-double of the season made little difference upon the final score.
With Cleveland and San Antonio sustaining fresh defeat to lowly Dallas, a whole Oklahoma City Thunder iteration — versus unstable competition— realistically could’ve continued its since abolished winning streak to end-cap January.
Now, instead, the Thunder must quickly discover ways to compensate for a definitive lack of offense.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (28-20, #6 W.C.) vs. SAN ANTONIO SPURS (36-11, #2 W.C.)
- Time: 8:30 PM ET
- Venue: AT&T Center, San Antonio, Texas
- TV: FS Oklahoma HD, NBA TV
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER KEYS TO VICTORY
- Put Steven Adams to work in the post (preferably via pick and roll)
- Victor Oladipo must produce efficient ‘star numbers’
- Use speed against San Antonio in the fast break
- Lauvergne/Sabonis —or both— must have a big night
- Russell Westbrook must be efficent
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Opposite a struggling, yet elite San Antonio squad, Oklahoma City has little margin for error. The ‘twin towers’ lineup (Adams/Kanter) that helped oust the Spurs in last season’s playoffs is unavailable for the teams’ inaugural meeting of the 16-17 campaign.
Additionally, San Antonio’s third-ranked defense will enjoy the added benefit of drawing Oklahoma City during a period of rotational uncertainty.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Like Cleveland, San Antonio boasts an exceptional home record. And while the Spurs have floundered of late, the powerhouse collective still boasts MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard, and All-Star snub LaMarcus Aldrige.
These two standouts, along with an infused supporting cast, (role players perform much better in their own arena) should present a stern test for Oklahoma City.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS/INJURY REPORT
The Oklahoma City Thunder will be without Enes Kanter (arm). The San Antonio Spurs list Pau Gasol (hand) as out, and reserve Jonathon Simmons (wrist) as day-to-day.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
- Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
- Shooting Guard: Victor Oladipo
- Small Forward: Andre Roberson
- Power Forward: Domantas Sabonis
- Center: Steven Adams
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
- Point Guard: Tony Parker
- Shooting Guard: Danny Green
- Small Forward: Kawhi Leonard
- Power Forward: LaMarcus Aldrige
- Center: Davis Bertans
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER +9.5
The Vegas bookmakers and our partners at numberFire each list San Antonio as runaway favorites ahead of tonight’s encounter.
Although, these odds perfectly reflect San Antonio’s record and statistically-balanced preeminence, Oklahoma City can still capitalize upon both an aging Spurs backcourt and semi-depleted frontcourt.
Expect two-way phenom Leonard’s workload to increase via frequent cross-matching in an attempt to slow Westbrook’s output.
As Westbrook will undoubtedly face multiple Spurs defenders, OKC must counter with creditable offensive showings from Andre Roberson and Victor Oladipo. Further, Steven Adams must play with physicality and passion.
At the end of the night, though, Oklahoma City’s need for reserve scoring will be a paramount element in the team's bid for victory.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are 12-14 on the road, and 17-12 against conference opponents. Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs are 20-5 vs. road challengers.