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Thunder vs Kings preview and gamethread: OKC looks to make its mark against Sacramento (Update)

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OKC is 0-2 against the surprising Kings. Can their defense finally slow down Sacramento on the road?

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Sacramento Kings Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Game: Oklahoma City Thunder @ Sacramento Kings

Time: 9PM CST

Location: Golden 1 Center, Sacramento

Broadcast: NBATV, FSOK

***

UPDATE

Dennis Schroder and Raymond Felton have been suspended for the Kings game following the altercation against Chicago. Per ESPN:

Oklahoma City Thunder guards Raymond Felton and Dennis Schroder were suspended for one game without pay Wednesday for leaving the bench area during an altercation and participating in the melee that spilled over into the stands.

[..]

Felton and Schroder will sit out the Thunder’s game Wednesday night at Sacramento. The suspensions will cost Schroder $182,353 and Felton $29,194.

Robin Lopez, at the center of the altercation, was nonplussed about why in heaven’s name he was tossed:

Lopez was ejected a few minutes later after being called for a foul and picking up his second technical for rolling the ball at Grant, who had been knocked down.

”He needed the ball to shoot the free throws,” Lopez said. “I thought the refs had done enough, and I wanted to alleviate some of their work. They had an abnormally large workload for the first half of that quarter, and I wanted to help them out, ease their pain a little bit, ease their burden. And I guess not everyone saw it the same way.”

***

The Thunder, fresh off a satisfying revenge win over the helpless Chicago Bulls, will have another chance for revenge tonight, as they head to Sacramento to face the Kings for the third time this season. The Kings are a far more dangerous opponent than the Bulls; they have bested the thunder in both their previous matchups, and despite being pegged in the preseason as w cellar dweller by many, the Kings have forced their way into the playoff race.

The Kings are currently in 8th place at 16-14, part of a morass of eleven teams, all within 4 games of each other, who inhabit spots 4 through 14 in the Wild West. The Thunder have separated themselves a bit from this pack, but not by much; they are 3 wins ahead of the Kings, and they will need to beat their conference opponents if they want to hold on to that lofty spot. In a race with this many teams, every game against another western conference team (except for the pathetic Suns) feels like it will matter down the stretch.

Here are 3 things to watch as OKC and Sacramento face off yet again.

1. Transition

OKC and Sacramento play at two of the fastest speeds in the NBA; the Kings rank second in pace and the Thunder rank 6th, per NBA.com. Unsurprisingly, both of their previous matches were played at breakneck speed; 110 possessions for each team in the game in October, 111 in November.

In the October game, which the Kings ended up winning comfortably, the they were far more efficient in Transition than OKC, per cleaning the glass. In the November rematch, both teams got out in transition on an even greater number of plays, but OKC was far more efficient; the Kings were actually less efficient in transition than their normal half court offense in that game. The Thunder still narrowly lost that game, but superior transition play kept it close.

The Thunder’s best chance to stop De’Aaron Fox tonight will be to keep Sacramento out of transition, and defend them well when they do get into the open court. That is easier said than done when dealing with the Fleetest Fox.

2. My Kingdom for a Small Forward

For almost every other game this season, Iman Shumpert has played like the journeyman swingman he is. 25 minutes a night, 9 points a game on 42% shooting, a respectable 37% from deep. Ho hum.

Against the Thunder, however, he has transformed himself into Paul George’s equal. He’s topped 20 points in both games, the only two times he’s done so this season, per basketball reference, on high efficiency both times.

Luckily for OKC, and most unluckily for Sacramento, Shump will miss this game, as will his most obvious replacement, Bogdan Bogdanovic. That probably means the Kings will be starting the mostly underwhelming Justin Jackson at the 3. Either way, the Kings will be without 2 of their biggest 3 point shooting threats and down one of their better perimeter defenders. It could be a very good night for Paul George.

3. Can Russ right the ship?

Here are the shooting lines from Russell Westbrook’s last 7 games:

9-23

9-21

4-18

8-16

5-15

4-17

5-13

Russ has never been a particularly efficient player, but this is ridiculous. Over the last 10 games he’s hot only 58% at the rim, per NBA.com, down from 63% on the year as a whole — a notable drop. He’s also getting to the rim two times less per game. He’s taking about the same number of midrange jump shots and 3-pointers, and actually has gotten back to a level of merely bad (as opposed to ‘are we sure he hasn’t gone blind’) from beyond the arc. He hasn’t seen an uptick on free throws drawn either (and he’s shooting terribly on the ones he gets, by the way); he’s just shooting less overall, and the drop is coming exclusively from his attempts at the rim.

Westbrook is still contributing through his passing, rebounding, and pace-setting, and the Thunder’s offense continues to hum when he plays. Paul George has been hot lately and there’s no problem with Russ deferring a little more to his fellow superstar. But you would expect him to be more efficient when he takes less shots- instead, the downsurge of attempts has been matched with a dowsurge in efficiency. The Thunder have stayed afloat thanks to their excellent defense and PG taking on the scoring load, but they need a better Westbrook to get where they want to go. The schedule only gets harder from here.

Poll

Who do you think will win tonight?

This poll is closed

  • 68%
    Thunder
    (76 votes)
  • 31%
    Kings
    (35 votes)
111 votes total Vote Now