The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Sacramento Kings at home, 110-94. With the Kings in freefall following their trade of DeMarcus Cousins, and tanking looking like their best option, OKC had little trouble putting away the lottery-bound team for their 5th consecutive win. With the Warriors on the horizon, this game could have turned into a trap for the Thunder, but through balanced scoring and effective defense, OKC cruised to the win.
Russell Westbrook led the offense to an efficient 50% shooting for the afternoon, building the lead to 22 points at the half. Westbrook failed to attain his 5th straight triple-double (34 on the season) but still paced OKC with 28-10-8 and 4 steals, but with 7 turnovers. Westbrook dialed up his game whenever he sensed the Thunder were lagging a bit, and it was sufficient to keep the Kings at arms-length throughout.
Perhaps the best sign of the Thunder’s growing maturity and capabilities was in their defense during the first half. We have seen quite recently their failure to establish a defensive mindset against inferior opponents (Trail Blazers, Suns, Mavericks) and the results were embarrassing. In this game, OKC maintained a high defensive focus from the outset, with the Kings shooting only 35% in the first half and recording 19 and 22 points respectively in the first 2 quarters. Because of this defensive focus, the offense simply had to be good enough to systematically build a 22 point lead that was never really threatened thereafter.
After Westbrook, OKC got strong contributions from Steven Adams (16-13, 3 assists, 2 steals, 1 block), Doug McDermott (21 points, 8-9 shooting) and Enes Kanter (14-4). Victor Oladipo, who had been shooting the ball well as of late, struggled to only 9 points on 4-15 shooting, but fortunately the team’s all-around play more than made up for Oladipo’s lack of production.
The Thunder now sit at 40-29, tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for 5th place in the West (Clips play the Cavaliers tonight). Although the seeding is still tight, if the Thunder can continue this trajectory they will evade the Warriors and Spurs in the opening round of the playoffs, and perhaps the Rockets as well. With only 13 games remaining, catching the Jazz might be a tall order, as Utah is still 3 games up, but OKC does own the tiebreaker. Simply by catching Utah, the Thunder could grab home court advantage with the 4th seed.
We’re in the home stretch of the season, and the Warriors are up next to bring us home. Can OKC finally break through and exact a measure of revenge, despite #35 not being on the opposite sideline? Taking down even a weakened Warriors team could do much to bolster OKC’s confidence as the playoffs, and a potential dark horse run, are now on the horizon.