Tonight, in a prelude to Saturday's climactic return of Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder whet their big-game appetite by hosting the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Versus champion Cleveland, a redemptive OKC performance establishes an undeniable edge for Thunder Nation ahead of this season’s premiere regular-calendar attraction.
Commensurate to such circumstances, tensions are palpable surrounding Oklahoma City basketball.
Though on the second night of a back-to-back, the Cavaliers enter Chesapeake Energy Arena winners of four straight. This is in stark contrast to Cleveland's sustained backslide suffered before unearthing a 107-91 late Jan. trouncing upon OKC.
During that contest, the Thunder misfired throughout as LBJ and company gained two-way success amid Russell Westbrook’s hollow 20-12-10 triple double.
Overall, Cleveland limited Oklahoma City to 37-of-100 connects —and a shooting split of 37/23/68.
Versus OKC, Cavalier role players such as Tristan Thompson (19 pts, 12 rebs, 4 blks, 4 stls) bolstered Cleveland’s decisive 90-60 starting-group scoring advantage. Quite simply, the Thunder fell flat while searching for answers presented by Enes Kanter’s absence.
Since, though, Billy Donovan’s men have discovered renewed footing. As Kanter remains sidetracked, the Thunder has won two of three, while imposing a newfound defensive clutch upon opponents.
The last three competitive charges of Oklahoma City have averaged just 98 ppg. However, against a Cleveland entity that defeated OKC conqueror Indiana Wednesday night, the Thunder will need to exercise every fiber of its defensive muscle.
Albeit, the factors of rest, and home-court advantage (plus Iman Shumpert’s injury) sway this evening’s intangible factors firmly into OKC’s encampment.
*Late Update: Cleveland Head Coach Tyronn Lue has stated that he may rest his star trio of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love for tonight's contest.
Lue’s decision will be a game-time announcement.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (30-23 #7 West) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (36-15 #1 East)
- Time: 8 PM ET
- Venue: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- TV: TNT
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER KEYS TO VICTORY
- Be relentless. (Wear down a Cleveland squad competing in its third game in four nights —plus an overtime session)
- Defend the three-point line. (Kyle Korver made eight of the Cavs’ 16 deep connects vs. Indy)
- Bully Thompson. (OKC cannot allow Thompson’s hustle to create interior momentum for Cleveland)
- Russ, let the game come to you. (A noticeably forced Westbrook shot 7-of-26, and committed four turnovers in the teams’ last meeting)
- Don’t look ahead to Saturday night. (This would pose a massive psychological mistake —for both tonight, and Saturday’s contest)
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
As stated, OKC has admirably navigated through the dimmed path Kanter’s forearm injury created. Tonight, if recent performances hold as a reliable indicator, Oklahoma City will in no way resemble the iteration that Cleveland recently manhandled.
Also of good fortune for Thunder Nation is the encouraging play of OKC reserves Joffrey Lauvergne, Alex Abrines, Anthony Morrow, and starter Andre Roberson (consecutive points/rebounds double-doubles).
The Thunder will need to be energetic, and efficiently firing on all cylinders to take advantage of a presumably fatigued, visiting Cleveland squad.
In the blink of an eye, Cleveland has flipped the switch to again play championship-caliber basketball. Elite teams receive a combination of steady All-League performances from star players, while gaining similar output from a revolving door of secondary cogs.
Last night, Kyle Korver poured in 29 points. Opposite Charlotte, Tristan Thompson recorded 22 and 12 rebounds. Versus New York, Channing Frye had 14 points in 15 minutes, and so forth.
On tired legs, (and with the possibility of its big-three resting) the Cavs will look for multiple game-changing performances from its corps of role players. Conversely, OKC must prevent this from taking form.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS/INJURY REPORTS
The Oklahoma City Thunder list Enes Kanter (Forearm) as out. The Cleveland Cavaliers list Iman Shumpert (ankle) and J.R. Smith (thumb) as out.
Oklahoma City Thunder:
- Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
- Shooting Guard: Victor Oladipo
- Small Forward: Andre Roberson
- Power Forward: Domantas Sabonis
- Center: Steven Adams
- Point Guard: Kyrie Irving
- Shooting Guard: DeAndre Liggins
- Small Forward: LeBron James
- Power Forward: Kevin Love
- Center: Tristan Thompson
Oklahoma City Thunder -1
Home-standing Oklahoma City is considered a slim favorite in tonight’s contest primarily due to Cleveland’s exhaustive recent schedule.
While the Cavaliers have won six of seven —including three-consecutive road wins— the defending champions are just 3-6 on zero days rest.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma City sports a 22-13 record on 1 day of rest; and creditable 18-7 home record.
Oklahoma City’s (103.9) OffRtg ranks 22nd in the NBA. The Thunder’s 104.4 DefRtg is good for seventh. OKC also plays (100.41) with the league’s seventh-fastest pace.
Cleveland (110.5) holds the league’s fourth-best OffRtg. However, the Cavs (106.2) are 19th in DefRtg. The Cavaliers’ 99.19 pace is 14th overall.
Tonight’s key matchup pits Andre Roberson against LeBron James —if James competes. During Cleveland’s undefeated run, James’ averages are a superb 29 ppg, 12 ast, 6.5 reb and 64/60 fg/3-pt shooting split. Although, the 32-year-old has played 38.6 mpg, and shot 64% on 6.4 FTA during this stretch.
Therefore, it would be wise for OKC to force James to the rim, while keeping Roberson in perpetual offensive motion, to capitalize upon James’ recent heavy usage and charity-line slump.
Tonight’s contest opens a significant stretch of home games leading into the All-Star break for the seesawing Oklahoma City Thunder (7-7 last 14 games).