Tonight, the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder carry momentum, and a pursuit for the west’s #4-seed, into Orlando’s Amway Center.
On Monday night, Russell Westbrook delivered an undeniable performance. The MVP-candidate (37 pts, 13 reb, 10 ast) netted triple-double #37 of his season, while capping a rare 13-point in three-minute comeback, to down the home-standing Dallas Mavericks with trademark flair.
That improbable victory has placed #6 Oklahoma City 2.5 games behind #4 Utah in the scramble for first-round, home-court playoff advantage.
Meanwhile, the Magic is again lottery-bound, yet boasts a last-second 119-117 Nov win over Billy Donovan’s crew.
Granted, vs. OKC, Orlando was propelled by now-traded, former Thunder, former Magic Serge Ibaka’s game-winner and overall 31-point, nine-rebound, four-block performance.
Nonetheless, competitive emotions will run high when these east/west rivals meet tonight for a long-awaited season-series finale.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (42-31 #6 west) vs. ORLANDO MAGIC (27-42 #14 east)
- Time: 7 PM ET
- Venue: Amway Center, Orlando, Florida
- TV: FSOK, NBA TV
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER KEYS TO VICTORY
- Defense: During the team’s two previous outings, OKC has exhibited glaring holes in its pick-and-roll/man defense. Though Orlando (#29 OffRtg) is among the NBA’s least-efficient offensive units, the Thunder must rotate effectively to pressure Orlando’s sub-par perimeter scorers into missed attempts.
- Bench Play: The Thunder’s game-issues primarily coincide with Russ’ initial substitution. It is incumbent upon Semaj Christon, especially, (-7.9 NetRtg past seven games) to keep defenses honest while Westbrook rests.
- Two-way execution: Opposite Houston, and for the better part of the opening 45-minutes vs. Dallas, Oklahoma City’s overall execution was poor. Tonight, Billy Donovan must stress proper fundamental play from his recently-discordant grouping.
- Rebound and Run: For a long team, Orlando (#23 RPG, #21 DefRtg) neither rebounds, nor defends well. Westbrook runouts to streaking teammates can exploit this Magic deficiency.
- Don’t Wait Around: OKC should jump on this Orlando unit early, and not let up. Of course, to do so, Christon and company must hold serve.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
With three-consecutive triple-doubles, and 37 on the season, Russell Westbrook and his sixth-seeded Thunder has a number of reasons to perform well tonight.
Westbrook sits upon the precipice of potentially setting an NBA single-season high for triple doubles. Though, more importantly, his team, which struggles on the road (15-21), yet excels at home (27-10), is 2.5 games back in the race for crucial first-round home-court playoff advantage.
When factoring OKC’s two remaining back-to-backs in its final nine contests, tonight’s outing becomes a must-win to optimize the Thunder’s chances of advancing in the postseason.
A fifth-straight lottery season, and regression under new-coach Frank Vogel, sees the Orlando Magic (3-2 past five games) playing tonight for the bragging-rights of sweeping a playoff-bound iteration in a seasonal set.
Thwarting OKC’s plans would definitely provide Orlando with a boost heading into the summer’s calendar.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS/INJURY REPORTS
The Oklahoma City Thunder has no injuries to report. The Orlando Magic list Jeff Green (Back) as out vs. OKC.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
- Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
- Shooting Guard: Victor Oladipo
- Small Forward: Andre Roberson
- Power Forward: Taj Gibson
- Center: Steven Adams
- Point Guard: Elfrid Payton
- Shooting Guard: Evan Fournier
- Small Forward: Terrence Ross
- Power Forward: Aaron Gordon
- Center: Nikola Vucevic
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: -5
The Thunder enters tonight’s contest as a moderate favorite vs. lottery-bound Orlando. The Magic is just 14-23 at home this season; meanwhile, Oklahoma City has won three-of-four on the road.
Tonight’s key matchup pits Russell Westbrook vs. Elfrid Payton. Payton, young, long, and athletic, will look to end Westbrook’s three-game triple-double streak while securing a victory for the Orlando Magic.
Conversely, Oklahoma City’s bench will attempt to rebound from a rough performance vs. Dallas to bolster the Thunder’s cause.