Tip-Off: 4 P.M. CT
TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
On Saturday afternoon, a red-hot Oklahoma City Thunder (28-20) squad roars into the Motor City to face the ice cold Detroit Pistons (22-24). These two conference rivals squared off back on Thanksgiving, as the Pistons came back from 15 down late to beat the Thunder, 99-98. In the past two months since that meeting, both clubs have gone in opposite directions. The Pistons are in the midst of a six game losing streak as they have fallen out of a playoff spot in a weaker Eastern Conference. On the other hand, the Thunder have been bringing it. Coach Billy Donovan and crew look to push their season best six game winning streak to 7 games. Here are my 5 keys on how to make that happen:
5) Melo is 17 points away from 25,000 career points
Now I don’t know how this is exactly a key to the game, but this would make it a very memorable one for Carmelo Anthony. Anthony is averaging 17.6 PPG on the season so maybe he’s destined to finish Saturday afternoon’s game in style. Either way, Melo’s offensive contributions play large into any game the Thunder play and he will once again be a vital part in the offense against a solid Detroit defense. Anthony would be just the 21st player in NBA history to eclipse 25,000 if he’s able to reach that plateau on Saturday.
4) Thunder look for revenge on Pistons’ home court
As mentioned before, the Thunder dropped a heartbreaker at home to the Pistons on Thanksgiving, 99-98. That occurred when OKC was just 8-12. As of today, the Thunder are now 8 games over .500, their best mark so far this season. They will be looking for some sweet revenge against the Pistons who started on the opposite of the Thunder to start off the season. If the Thunder continue to show that they ‘want it’ by transitioning well on offense and defense and the 3’s keep falling from beyond the arch, it will be increasingly difficult to stop the Thunder’s hot streak.
3) Don’t take Detroit’s 6 game losing skid for granted
It appears that the Thunder have gotten rid of their early season mantra. The Thunder’s curse of not being able to play well against below .500 teams plagued them to start the season. Since the beginning of January, OKC has lost just 1 game to a below .500 team. I really hope that doesn’t get to their heads against this gritty Pistons team. During the Pistons 6 game dry spell, four of their six losses have been lost by just two possessions or fewer. They have been in almost every game that they’ve played during this skid. Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Stanley Johnson, Ish Smith and of course Andre Drummond are a competitive starting five that the Thunder can’t expect to walk all over. The Pistons beat them once this year, but I don’t see that happening again on Saturday.
2) Thunder NEED to contain Andre Drummond
If there was one center who could match the aggresiveness of Steven Adams on the boards in the NBA, it would be Pistons all-star center Andre Drummond. Drummond, 24, isnt viewed as too much of an offensive threat, but his play on the defensive and offensive side of the boards is the best in the NBA. Drummond’s 15.3 RPG leads the NBA. He is possibly coming off the most monstorous game of his young career. Drummond dropped 30 PTS and grabbed 24 boards as his efforts still weren’t enough to end the Pistons losing streak. Adams will have his hands full with boxing Drummond out and keeping him out of the paint. There is no way to beat Drummond down low, but if you can neutralize him, it takes away the heart and soul of the Pistons on both sides of the ball.
1)Russell Westbrook and Paul George need to continue to play in perfect harmony
The dynamic pairing of Westbrook and George are beginning to really blend their talents together. Westbrook dropped a season high 46 PTS while George dropped 18 of his own and providing key defensive energy to OKC. George increased his lead in the NBA for most steals per game as he snatched 4 in a 121-112 win over the Wizards. George spoke about the chemistry he’s built with Westbrook over the course of this season:
"It’s the best of both worlds," George said. "Russ is one of the most explosive athletic guys. I am the opposite of that. My game is more smooth. We complement each other very well. We both play off one another. I can set him up and as you can see, does vise versa. We just have fun. We enjoy playing with one another. It’s just fun playing alongside him."
Thanks to Westbrook’s unselfishness with the ball, it has helped George post a career best 41.7% from three point range and average 21 PPG so far this season.
Westbrook, just like he is with the basketball, was unselfish when talking about how George makes him a better player:
"We run off of each other, read, making plays easy for each other, getting open shots," Westbrook noted. "He is getting me open shots, I am getting him open shots. We are constantly trying to make each other better."
If Russ and PG-13 continue to create beautiful music on the court, this song, and winning streak, can keep going forward.
Who do you think will win?
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