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Thunder-Wizards preview: Can the Thunder get back to .500 against the spiraling Wizards?

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Can OKC get back to .500 in the Nation’’s capital tonight?

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Game: Oklahoma City Thunder vs Washington Wizards

Time: 7PM CST

Location: Capital One Arena, D.C.

Broadcast: ESPN

After a putrid 0-4 start, the Thunder have started to find themselves over the last week; 3 straight wins, admittedly all against teams that missed the playoffs last season. Tonight, they’ll have a chance to get back to .500, and a pretty good chance at that.

Ordinarily, this might look like a schedule loss for the Thunder - on the road on the second night of a back-to-back, against a team that made the playoffs last year. Luckily for OKC, their opponent tonight is in the midst of a rough patch that makes the Thunder’s early season struggles look tame by comparison.

The Washington Wizards have won one game all season, their players are already publicly sniping at each other, and tonight they’re throwing Dwight Howard, who’s now been chased out of 3 cities in 3 years, into that volatile mix. There’s never going to be a better time to win a road back-to-back than this.

Here are Three Things to Watch Tonight:

The battle down low

It’s easy to make fun of Dwight Howard (I already did, in this very article), but he is still very good at one thing: rebounding. That’s important, because heading into tonight’s game the Thunder are the 4th best offensive rebounding team in the league, while the wizards allow the most offensive rebounds to opponents in the league. Steven Adams going against Ian Mahinmi on the boards would be a mismatch of comic proportions. Howard returning means the Wizards will fare better on the glass, but Adams, the league’s best offensive rebounder, should still be able to haul in a good number.

Can the Thunder (and PG) get rolling?

Amidst their general turmoil, the Wizards have posted a bottom 5 defensive rating in the league through this early part of the season surrendering 114.5 points per 100 possessions. OKC’s offense, meanwhile, has been just as bad, ranking 26th in the league. Paul george in particular has been dreadful through these first 8 games, unable to knock down 3’s and setting for a lot of midrange 2’s over attacking the rim (and he’s missing most of those long 2’s). Tonight, he faces the perfect opponent to get himself cooking.

If PG continues to struggle, Russell Westbrook is of course more than willing to take on the scoring burden, and following his awful performance in Boston, he’s posted 3 straight efficient shooting performances, taking less off the dribble 3’s and long 2’s in favor of attacking the rim. The Thunder should also be making a concerted effort to get shots for Alex Abrines, coming off a career night in Charlotte. Abrines’ long range shooting spaces the floor and makes Russ and PG’s life way easier. If he keeps hitting shots like he did last night, Billy Donovan won’t be able to keep him out of the starting lineup for long.

The third quarter

Two games in a row now, OKC has put together dominant defensive stretches after the halftime break. Against LA, OKC’s smothering brands of defense led to easy transition buckets that turned a close game into a rout. Against Charlotte, they gave up a big run in the first 3 minutes of the quarter to go down 19, only to earn it all back by the end of the period- again, on the back of an aggressive defense that forced a lot of turnovers that became easy points on the other end.

For all the Wizard’s struggles, John wall remains an elite passer. Can the Thunder do to him and the Wizards what they’ve done to their last two opponents, or will their aggressive scheme backfire against Wall’s high level playmaking?