Time: 7PM CST
Location: Chesapeake Arena, OKC
4) Starting Five Matchup Battle: Spurs vs Thunder
Even without the services of superstar forward Kawhi Leonard for the past two months, the Spurs find themselves tied for 5th place in the Western Conference. Coincidentally, they’re tied with the team they will be battling tonight in the Thunder. Spurs legendary head coach Gregg Popovich has had to mix and match lineups on numerous occasions since Leonard’s potential season ending injury. He has found a fairly consistent back court tandem in young guard Dejounte Murray and veteran Patty Mills. Like others before him, it appears Popovich has helped develop Murray into an up and coming star. Murray’s numbers may not jump out on the stat sheet, but his long arms and quickness inside could provide problems for the Thunder defense. Mills and Murray both are capable of knocking down a three point shot every once in awhile as well.
For Thunder coach Billy Donovan, he will likely again start newcomer Corey Brewer. Brewer dropped 17 points in the Thunder’s most recent win and would provide a more offensive punch than Josh Huestis. Westbrook will of course be handling the point and it should be interesting to see how Russ performs against a very solid Spurs defense.
Another Popovich product, Kyle Anderson, will be starting at small forward and the Spurs only all-star this season in LaMarcus Aldridge will hope to be the Spur’s biggest offensive threat at power forward. Paul George will have to watch Anderson on both sides of the ball tonight. His athleticism allows him to drive inside fairly well and he shoots well enough from the perimeter. What could prove to be the Thunder’s potential downfall is Carmelo Anthony guarding Aldridge. Aldridge is arguably one of, if not the best back to basket players in the NBA. He can beat you off the dribble and has an excellent fade-away to go along with it. On the bright side, Melo can take of Aldridge’s lack of defensive abilities as well.
Although he did not play in his last game, Pau Gasol will most likely start at center tonight for the Spurs. Steven Adams doing the same for the Thunder. Gasol is clearly past his prime, but give him space on an open jumper and 9/10 he will drain that shot.
3) Corey Brewer’s immediate impact on Thunder
When the NBA trade deadline ended a few weeks ago, many were shocked that the Thunder did not acquire any talent. It appears that the Thunder’s patience may have paid off as the addition of veteran Corey Brewer could have been the Thunder’s missing puzzle piece. Brewer was waived a by the Los Angeles Lakers and the Thunder were able to sign the versatile forward. It was apparent that the Thunder did not have enough offense, let alone consistent offense coming off the bench. Brewer played limited minutes in his first two games with the Thunder as he was still adjusting to the Thunder’s system. In his most recent game in a huge blowout win over the Suns, Brewer displayed his offensive capabilities. He shot 6/11 from the floor, 2/4 from 3 and scored 17 points overall. Barring injury, not only can Brewer help the Thunder secure a better playoff position down the stretch, but can also help Thunder fans mourn less about the injury to Andre Roberson.
2) Can the Thunder continue their strong defensive play?
The Thunder allowed just 87 points to a young but high octane Phoenix team in their last game. The 87 points allowed was the Thunder’s 3rd fewest point total allowed this season. A lot of it had to do with Phoenix’s lack of shooting, but the Thunder were excellent in limiting transition buckets and not allowing second chance points. Coach Donovan believes that the Thunder’s defense still needs to vastly improve if they want to rattle Popovich’s ball sharing style of play. Donovan also stated that:
“Our defense gets better when our communications get better.”
This could do in large part to the acquisition of Corey Brewer. No he will not be able to replace what Roberson did on the defensive end, but he has already gelled very well with the rest of the team on and off the court. The ball will constantly be moving and the Thunder’s feet will have to move just as fast if they look to put a stamp against one of the best teams in their conference.
1) A battle for the 5th seed
As previously alluded too, the Thunder and Spurs are all but deadlocked in the Western Conference. For one team, they have had to play a vast majority of their season without their superstar player. For the other, they created a “Big Three” team that has not lived up to expectations this season. Interestingly enough both teams have been able to push through their trials and tribulations and find themselves in the thick of a playoff hunt. It is very possible for these two teams meet in the postseason. With today’s matchup having some big implications on the line, this could be a playoff preview of what’s to come in the postseason.
Who do you think will win tonight?
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