Game: Oklahoma City Thunder vs Cleveland Cavaliers
Time: 7PM CST
Location: Chesapeake Arena, OKC
The Oklahoma City Thunder face off with the Cleveland Cavaliers at the ‘Peake tonight after an eventful weekend for both teams. The Thunder beat the Hornets on Friday before melting down against the Nuggets on Saturday night in a game where the whole team looked exhausted and Russell Westbrook somehow shot 12 3-Pointers (hitting exactly one), then followed it up with some late night shooting practice to show everyone how disappointed he was in himself. Cleveland, meanwhile, despite entering the weekend as the laughingstock of the league, stunned two of the NBA’s best teams by beating Philadelphia on Friday night and Houston on Saturday night.
Does the East still run through Cleveland, as Tristan Thompson declared in the preseason despite LeBron James decamping for greener pastures over the summer? Er, no. Even with those two wins, Cleveland is 4-15, tied with Phoenix for the least number of wins in the league. Per Cleaning the Glass, they have the 27th ranked net rating in the league at -6.6. Their offense stinks. Their defense stinks. Kevin Love, their best player, has missed almost the entire season with a toe injury. J.R. Smith is in exile from the team. After those two stunning wins, the Cavs reverted to form by losing to the Timberwolves on Monday.
And yet, the Cavs did win those two games against two good teams. For all their internal drama and meme-ability, the Cavs are still an NBA basketball team, and can still beat any opponent on any given night. The Thunder should already be aware of that, having already survived a close one against the Cavs 3 weeks ago. In that game, the Westbrook-less Thunder trailed with 7 minutes to go in the 4th quarter before making a big run to clinch the game.
The Cavs are bad. What separates great teams from good teams is taking care of business against bad teams. OKC needs to knock their opponents off the floor tonight.
Three Things to Watch:
1. Collin Sexton
As Collin Sexton goes, so go the Cavs this year. The team fired Head Coach Ty Lue for not playing Sexton enough early on, and he’s had the keys to the car ever since. He has struggled, as nearly all rookie point guards tend to do, but he had two excellent games to lead Cleveland to victory against the 76ers and Rockets. If the Thunder want an easy win tonight, they need to shut Sexton down early, and the rest should flow from there.
Westbrook’s defensive intensity has been lacking all season, as we’ve all come to expect at this point. Dennis Schroder, on the other hand, despite being known as a poor defender, has been hounding opposing ballhandlers. Since Russ is bigger, he’s often been put on shooting guards when he and Dennis share the floor, and that arrangement has worked well. Hopefully Schroder is able to keep Sexton uncomfortable all night.
2. Russ bouncing back
Russ was terrible against Denver, and he’ll need to bounce back. But the key is how he tries to bounce back. Russ is, simply, not a good pull-up jump shooter. He is unlikely to ever become one. And yet, there he was against Denver taking 12 3-pointers, most of them off the dribble. Part of Russ’s greatness is his unerring confidence, and if that manifests itself as a few bad jump shots per game, you live with it. But he has to be more judicious than he was against Denver, and focus on getting to the rim, where he’s been excellent this year- even better than in past seasons. he is taking 46% of his attempts at the rim this year, a career high and a sign of discipline. Hopefully he returns to playing the way tonight, and the Denver game turns out to be nothing more than a bad night on a back-to-back.
3. Young Blood
Andre Roberson is still out indefinitely, Terrance Ferguson and Hamidou Diallo are both sitting again tonight, and Alex Abrines played only 8 minutes against the Nuggets as he is still getting over an illness. That has opened up playing time for the back of OKC’s roster, particularly Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarot, who got the start against Denver, and Deonte Burton. I still don’t know what to make of TLC. His 3-point shot looks good but he isn’t hitting it with regularity, he can put the ball on the ground a little bit but isn’t asked to by OKC’s system. I’ve been more impressed with Burton who, much like Diallo, plays balls to the wall every time he gets on the court, still full of excitement just to be in the NBA. That intensity doesn’t lead to bad decisions for the most part — just an infectious energy — as the team mostly just asks him to finish plays. The kid plays hard, is in the right spot, and defends. What’s not to love? The slew of injuries to OKC’s wings have left them with no options but to trust guys like TLC and Burton. So far, they’ve been up tot he challenge in limited minutes. We’ll see if that continues tonight.
Who will be the Thunder’s leading scorer tonight?
This poll is closed