However, with Kevin Durant’s GSW-encore return nullified by injury, tonight's meeting loses a palpable dynamic.
Though, regarding melodrama, nothing can replicate Feb 11, 2017’s atmospheric gravity.
On that night, the former MVP’s initial homecoming rocked his jilted long-time adorers while marking the season’s apex competitive spectacle.
Amid his old legion, donning new colors, boo’s and unrequited emotion reigned upon Oklahoma City’s once-embraced icon. And even within that barbed storm, Durant added 34 points to his Warriors’ 130-114 cause.
Nonetheless, OKC’s faithful remained unrelenting toward their wayward representation until their home, the home they extended graciously to Durant for eight years, was long cleared of competitive theater.
Now that knee issues plague Durant, his Warriors too have lost a certain appeal.
Though winners of three-straight, the once-impenetrable Warriors sport a 5-5 record over their past ten starts — including just two wins in six road outings.
By contrast, Oklahoma City’s unbeaten streak extends to March 9 vs. San Antonio. Recently, Coach Billy Donovan’s men swept a two-game road trip. Momentum intact, OKC celebrated a Saturday home-stand opener by rebuking Sacramento 110-94.
And while, as mentioned, GSW has rebounded with three successive Oracle Arena wins against lesser competition, the burden of proof rests upon Steph Curry and crews shoulders to prove they can, amid their struggles, defeat a quality Thunder team on the road sans Durant (37.6 vs. OKC).
Tonight is as good as any for Oklahoma City to gain a measure of revenge against the franchise that deprived them of both return Finals glory and a perennial spot among the NBA’s elite.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (40-29 #6 west) vs. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS (55-14 #1 west)
- Time: 8 PM ET
- Venue: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- TV: TNT
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER KEYS TO VICTORY
- Defend Curry/Thompson with vigor: The vaunted duo added nine of GSW’s 12-made threes vs. Milwaukee. An OKC defensive combination of Oladipo and Roberson could help limit the Splash Bros. effectiveness.
- Play with physicality: Oklahoma City’s bigs must establish clearly to Golden State’s front line that they will not be intimidated.
- Play with poise: Russell Westbrook, especially, cannot lose focus concerning his Feb 11 incident with Zaza Pachulia. OKC’s best payback is a W.
- Continue ball movement: Down an elite defender (Durant) the Thunder can benefit from forcing GSW to defend the entire floor.
- Transition defense: So much of Golden State’s success occurs in transition. Therefore, it is incumbent upon Billy Donovan to prepare his team for 48 minutes of effort in this pivotal season-series finale.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
A win over Golden State would prove monumental for a Thunder team that seems to be peaking at the right moment.
In this contest, to solidify that momentum, Russell Westbrook must fully allow his teammates to either rise or fall vs. their season-long rival.
While Westbrook has no lost love toward his bitter opponent; tonight, better judgement should abound as OKC looks to cement its darkhorse status as four weeks remain before post-season play begins.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
After sputtering offensively following the loss of Durant, Golden State has incrementally re-established a dominant two-way flow.
The team’s recent three-game homestand vs. lesser competition served as the perfect segue into tonight’s high-profile season-capper with Oklahoma City.
It seems GSW has enjoyed serendipitous circumstances all season opposite their 2016 Western Conference Finals foe. As such, it is no surprise GSW holds a 3-0 head-to-head lead over OKC this year.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS/INJURY REPORT
The Oklahoma City Thunder has no injuries to report. The Golden State Warriors list Kevin Durant (Knee) as out.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
- Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
- Shooting Guard: Victor Oladipo
- Small Forward: Andre Roberson
- Power Forward: Taj Gibson
- Center: Steven Adams
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
- Point Guard: Stephen Curry
- Shooting Guard: Klay Thompson
- Small Forward: Patrick McCaw
- Power Forward: Draymond Green
- Center: Zaza Pachulia
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: +2
Due to Golden State’s complete dominance (+21 ppg win margin) of Oklahoma City this campaign, even on the road, and minus Durant, the Vegas books favor GSW to halt OKC’s five-game unbeaten run.
However, if the tandem of Oladipo/Roberson can frustrate Curry/Thompson while Westbrook places pressure upon Steve Kerr’s defense, Oklahoma City may earn a cathartic measure of redemption following their chronicled disappointments vs. the Warriors.
Golden State enters tonight’s contest sporting the NBA’s top OffRtg (112.9), NetRtg (+11.6), and second-best DefRtg (101.3) and road record (29-10).
The Oklahoma City Thunder is 26-9 at home and sports the NBA’s #10 DefRtg (105.2), and 15th-best OffRtg (105.2).