The end is nigh...ok, that’s a little melodramatic (just shoot me), but much rides on how OKC finishes up this season. We rally the WTLC writers to answer a few questions make some predictions.
1. (Puts on glasses, folds hands) Tell me how you’re feeling. Right now. Lie down if you feel the need.
Mark Bruty: I’m uneasy. A big uneasy. I’ve been singing the same song all season long and now, the regular season is almost at a close and I am not met with the wave of confidence I was predicting. The Thunder have looked brilliant at times and absolutely horrible at others. The difference between the two is staggering and heading into the “win to advance” playoff picture, I don’t know if we have the consistency to beat anyone 4 out of 7 times. I’m deeply troubled, and that’s before I worry about losing Paul George, Jerami Grant, paying Carmelo Anthony etc.
Isaiah Freedman: In a word: frustrated. We have seen what this team is capable of, and that is pure dominance and a legitimate chance to win the championship. The Thunder’s success against some of the top teams in the league has been well chronicled, but they consistently play down to their competition. I’m having a serious case of deja vu here since the Thunder have been a talented yet excruciatingly infuriating team to watch for the better part of seven years now. Sure, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony have replaced Kevin Durand and James Harden, but the same story remains: this team has serious consistency issues.
J.A. Sherman: If last year was marked by grim determination, this one is marked by a Frankenstein-level lab experiment gone awry. And now I kind of feel like the kid who had this grand idea to make an amazing go-cart out of leftover wood, PVC pipes, duct tape, and Mello Yello soda. And it looked so-o sweet sitting at the top of the hill, and for the first 10 feet, the ride was epic. But along the way, the tape ripped, the wood snapped, a wheel fell off, we hit a tree, all the while watching the kid from down the street who can already grow a full beard at age 12 smoking past us to the finish line.
RK Anthony -
Pretty much the same as I have since November 7th when the Thunder lost to the perennial bottom-feeding Sacramento Kings. The technical name for it is too long, so I’ll abbreviate, WTF. I know the Roberson injury threw a huge wrench in the Thunder’s plans, and I know Donovan has an overactive tendency to experiment with lineups to fill up the advanced stat columns, but HELLO!!! There are only seven games remaining before we play for keeps, let's tighten things up, Billy.
Mark Gilbert: Well, my laptop just went to sleep as I was desperately searching to come up with a response to this question. Can that be my answer? I mean, I certainly feel better than I did last postseason because of the offensive assets that the Thunder acquired in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, but not as emboldened as I did at the beginning of this season. The ceiling for this team is so doggone high, but I’m not sure if this roster is even aware of where the ladder is.
2. How do you view the season sweep by the Blazers, and what does that tell us about each team? Are we overreacting?
Bruty: The Blazers are red hot right now and we suffered through a horrendous shooting night and still only lost by a single shot after trailing by double digits. Is it a worry? Of course. Anytime you lose on multiple occasions to the same team, in the same way, it screams matchup nightmare and the Blazers certainly fit that mold and always have since the LaMarcus Aldridge days. In a playoff environment though, I’m not sure they stand up as well as they have with a little less pressure so I’m not seeing it as a “must avoid” scenario.
Isaiah: The Blazers are to the Thunder as Kyle Anderson is to Kevin Durant. Anderson is obviously an inferior player, but throughout the years, his quirky, herky-jerky style of play flummoxes Durant every time they match off. Slo-Mo seems unbothered by Durant’s length on offense and contains the superstar forward on defense. We all know Durant is infinitely more talented than Anderson, but that doesn’t seem to matter. In the Thunder/Blazers case, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are supreme talents who can score from anywhere on the floor. But let’s be real, the Thunder have been the more talented team the past few years. But for whatever reason, they simply can’t buy a win against this team.
Sherman: The Blazers have always given Westbrook and the Thunder trouble, so that isn’t all that different. But what Portland put together the 2nd half of this season is the continued great guard play, a healthy and mobile big man who can score, rebound, and pass, an underrated bench, but most importantly, they’ve figured out how to show better resolve late in games. In years past they were as likely to lose as to win close games, but this year they have figured out how to add finishing touches. Their come-from-behind win over New Orleans, in a game the Pelicans needed to have, was a great example. And without Roberson to guard either Lillard or McCollum, they are a matchup nightmare.
Dom: Maybe. I think they’re a bad matchup and handle the Thunder in the playoffs. I also don’t think that’s a definitive measure of a team’s ability because some teams just match up better than others. The 2016 team split the season series with Portland and without Roberson, their guards can just wreak all sorts of havoc on the Thunder defense. Given the lack of really great perimeter defenders on the roster, it’s just a tough go. I pity the #6 seed.
Also, it tells me the Blazers are darn good and just having some roster continuity and the right fit means a lot, those guys are basically the same crew from post-trade deadline last year and had a full offseason to prepare. They looked shaky at times pre-break but since have hit the gas pedal and will be a tough out for anyone in the playoffs. If Curry isn’t 100 percent by the second round and Golden State advances, look out.
R.K.: I think we are overreacting to a certain extent. Without a doubt, the Blazers pose a tough match-up for the Thunder, but there were many areas the Thunder could have improved on Sunday and come away winners. The Trail Blazers are good, but are they say, Toronto good? Their 0 and 2 record against the Raptors says no and the Thunder swept the Raptors, so what does that tell us? I know I stand alone in believing this, but I know the Thunder will be better in the playoffs than we have seen all season. Last year, Donovan coached the playoffs like the regular season because that team was too young to go far anyway. This year Donovan will coach the team like 2016 and squeeze every drop of juice he can out of this lineup.
3. What do we, as fans and Thunder observers, do with Melo at this point?
Bruty: I’ve been a Melo advocate since we acquired him and I’m not going to stop now. Sure, he has struggled mightily at times, but he is also the player who has had to alter their game the most since joining OKC. Russ is Russ, George has tweaked his isolation stuff to play a little more off the ball, but Melo has completely had to change everything about the way he has played the game for 20 years. And yes, a season is a long time, but it’s also not THAT much time in the scheme of things. I actually applaud him for taking fewer shots, for trying to move the ball and make the open pass. I am rooting for him to find his feet STILL, and be a valuable piece to the playoff puzzle. I think he can be, but that last passage of play vs Portland looked to me as though he has lost his confidence. We need confident Olympic hoodie Melo in the post-season and beyond.
Isaiah: Recalibrate your expectations. No, Melo is never going to ignite the world on fire en route to a 40-point playoff performance anymore, but if one comes to accept that, hoping for some clutch threes and tough fadeaways when the Thunder need a bucket is completely reasonable. But if Thunder fans come to accept that Melo is not Melo anymore, then his continued downward spiral will be easier to bear. I’m still holding out a small morsel of hope that a mini-switch lights off in his head, and Melo goes back to being a scoring machine while helping the Thunder rampage through the postseason. Unfortunately, that is probably unlikely. Melo may be a shell of himself, but he can still be a potential weapon in a playoffs series.
Sherman: Either bifurcate man from salary and treat him for what he is — a lesser Kyle Korver — or ride into the playoffs with a guy that every single opposing team is going to attack without mercy on both ends. How long will it take for this moment to arrive? If OKC falls to the 6th seed, I’d say about 8 minutes into the 1st game.
Dom Flaim: I’ve now tried to think of how to respond to this for about 3 hours and still haven’t a clue what to say that’s coherent, so I’m going to ramble a little, first with some information and then just keep going.
In Basketball Reference’s advanced stats section, they use Box plus/minus (BPM) as their method of advanced plus-minus, and adjust that for minutes (basically a multiplier) to determine value over replacement player for the NBA. There are 525 total players in the NBA, and Melo is currently 3rd to last in VORP. Melo is the only guy in the bottom 10 over 30 — most are rookies or busts or have had injury issues. Since the break, he’s 4th to last in true shooting among all players over 20 percent usage who’ve played 15 games and 20 minutes per game. He looks like he gives approximately zero **** on defense most times, and really isn’t much of a passer or rebounder. A tweet popped up on my timeline that pretty well sums up Melo as a player right now.
He’s become a distraction in some ways now off the court in that media can’t talk about the team without him being the main topic. I just finished listening to SI’s NBA podcast and they had a question on Steven Adams. They ended up talking half the time about how much Melo being there just overshadows him and how well Adams has been doing. My deepest fear with this team may well become a reality if George leaves, as it leaves this being the roster next year with no PG and just a declining, overpaid Melo.
R.K.: Don’t look? That’s all I’ve got because the Thunder have too much invested at this point to just quit on Melo. My hope is that Donovan, when the time comes, will take all the video evidence he has amassed this season of Melo’s inept iso plays off the block, combine that with the gigabytes of data that back up the video evidence, and sit down with Melo and once and for all convince him to embrace the role he needs to play in order for this team to succeed. I know Melo pays lip service about accepting it in interviews, but that’s not the same as embracing it and applying it when it truly matters. No way around it, aging is a bitch, trust me, I get it, and we each deal with it in our own way. My hope is that Melo accepts it gracefully and produces an inspirational post-season that makes AARP proud.
4. If not for Melo, we’d most assuredly be talking about PG. How do you process his post-all star struggles? Is it a signal to something else?
Bruty: PG gets a pass because we as Thunder diehards are DESPERATE to keep him, so we look past the horrid shooting nights etc. Plus, PG does play stellar defense so he makes it easier to give him a pass mark. But, he certainly has had it tough but I also look to the loss of Andre Roberson in this. George is really working hard defensively and this takes its toll and I think we are seeing some “in-game” fatigue set in and as the season has gone on, his legs are giving out and hi shot is suffering. I don’t buy into the “his head and heart is somewhere else”. Not saying that he is staying in OKC (but if you’re reading this PG, PLEASE STAY!!) but I don’t think he is just going through the motions either. He’s a competitor, he wants to win and he’s doing all he can to make that happen here in OKC.
Isaiah: Since the all-star break, George is converting a ghastly 27% of his three-pointers. Yuck. The only way I can process his shooting slump is that it is just that, a slump that George will eventually snap out of and return to the two-way superstar he was earlier in the season. I’d like to point out one trend that has extended all season, and not just after the all-star break, and that is George’s sudden timidness attacking the rim. At only 27-years-old, George should be at the peak of his physical powers, viciously attacking the rim when he gets within striking distance. That has not been the case. Instead, George avoids contact and his finishing game has become more finesse. I wouldn’t blame him if this was all residue from the horrifying leg injury he suffered a few years back, but George simply does not look like his old explosive self. However, I’m not worried about him in the playoffs, he’s going to be spectacular.
Sherman: The pessimist in me says — without any evidence whatsoever — PG somehow signaled to the rest of the league that he plans to not stay in OKC. Which honestly would make me feel a lot better knowing that as opposed to the alternative, which is that he is just playing incredibly bad/sloppy. I will contend that the 3-point shooting contest at All-Star weekend jacked up his shooting mechanics; I’ve seen it happen before, most notoriously to Durant back in 2012. In fact, PG has been so bad for such long stretches, I’m almost ready to look past this year and wonder what the team might look like next year without him. It doesn’t make me terribly sad, to be honest.
Dom: Personally I never saw PG as a true “superstar” who’s going to carry a team as the true number one. He’s a fantastic 2nd option, more of a Klay Thompson/Durant hybrid in terms of impact. He’s never been consistent but generally has been a high-level playoff performer, we just have to hope for that. His struggles have been a bit to me adjusting defensively without Roberson and still having the offensive load he does, especially running the bench units (which he still shouldn’t be doing, but here we are). I think it’s just a slump, as the whole team seems to be just terribly inconsistent right now.
R.K.: I’m not sure exactly where I stand on Paul George. Obviously, he is a talented player, but I look at the 18 offensive boards Portland collected and the several times George didn’t block out, no matter what he said in the post-game interview, and wonder about his level of commitment to the team. Personally, I think Carmelo is more committed than George because this may be his last shot. He’s struggling to find his place, and may never truly find it as long as he continues denying it isn’t 2007 anymore, but I think he truly wants to.
Sherman said something to me at the beginning of the season that has stuck with me, when he said you can gauge a player’s level of commitment to a team by the number of screens he sets for his teammates (that Sherman guy is really smart! - J.A. Sherman), (and humble! - R.K. Anthony). George averages 0.8 screen assists per game. He averaged .6 last season playing for a team he told he wanted away from.
I hope I’m dead wrong, and that George has coasted through the regular season and waited to go all out in the playoffs, but my fingers are still raw from the summer of 2016.
Gilbert: I’ve been hard on Paul George in the past, and for good reason. Also, his three-point shooting percentage has been abysmal since the All-Star break, but that’s sort of the norm for George if you look at his history. However, the past two seasons, his percentages from three-point land have exponentially elevated through the playoffs, and I have absolutely no reason to believe this won’t happen again. His performance is paramount and critical for the Thunder postseason success, and if we’re all being honest, this is what we have been waiting for all season. We want to see if we’re going to get the PG that used to make Lebron James sweat in the Eastern Conference Finals, and I’m not quite giving up on that vision yet. I believe the best is yet to come.
5. Westbrook has been inconsistent throughout much of the regular season. Is he trying to do too much, not enough, and would the team be better served if he tries to shift into Berserker mode?
Bruty: I mentioned earlier how the dynamic has had to change to incorporate the new additions, but it has also had to allow for the growth and development of players like Grant, Ferguson, and Adams. Russ is doing his best to cater for all of that and it takes him out of his comfort zone at times. I think he really takes it on himself because this is his team, his franchise, his five-year future and his chance to win, so he wants to include everyone, keep them happy, develop their role and win games. It’s a lot to take on, but Russ is doing a fantastic job. We’d be ten wins worse off without his heroics - maybe even more. Hopefully, when the playoffs arrive, we won’t need Russ to become “takeover Russ” and the rest of the team can bring that balance that really worked when defeating teams like Golden State, Houston, Cleveland, Toronto etc.
Isaiah: Westbrook is not the problem. The Thunder outscore opponents by almost 6 points per 100 possessions when Westbrook is on the floor, and when he takes a breather, the Thunder gets outscored by almost 5 points per 100 possessions. Westbrook may have the stigma as an out of control maniac who sometimes highjacks the offense, and while that is partially true, he is more of a pacifying presence than ever before. When things are going haywire, Russ calls for his classic pick-and-roll with the invincible Steven Adams, and that usually produces good results. He is the Thunder’s unquestioned best player and while he was deferring too much at the beginning of the season, he has struck a perfect balance. His co-stars just need to step it up. We have seen that when Russ goes full flamethrower it can be a spectacle to behold, but that is not sustainable, and the Thunder have their own private metrics that say Westbrook and the team suffers when his usage rate climbs to outrageous proportions for a lengthy amount of time.
Sherman: Perhaps I’m theory-casting a bit too much here, but this is an element where having Robes still in the mix would tell us a lot about Russ’ approach. Westbrook is so committed to giving everyone opportunities to score that it has often taken him out of his own rhythm, in part because Steven Adams is the only guy who consistently helps set up Westbrook. Not coincidentally, Adams is also the guy who consistently delivers when Russ treats him in kind. But Robes was another guy who Westbrook trusts — he sets screens for him, moves without the ball, and attacks the rim when he can. Remember when Westbrook went to Robes, not once, but TWICE with the game on the line vs the 76ers? So it would be interesting to me to see if, come playoffs, Westbrook had leaned even more heavily on Adams and Roberson and waited on George/Melo to catch up, rather than the other way around.
Dom: Early in the year I felt he was trying to get others going too much, and I think he’s found a balance since. When he limits his 3 point attempts and attacks he’s still Russ most of the time. The bigger issues have been fit with Melo and the drop off when he’s sitting, along with the defense since Roberson’s injury. I don’t think him going back to last year’s version is best but he can’t be as passive as early season Russ either. I think he’s found a pretty decent balance.
R.K.: Russ has always been like a 1972 455 Chrysler HEMI, totally unbeatable when everything is properly adjusted, and completely frustrating when it isn’t. A little history behind the HEMI and another reason I compare Westbrook to the Chrysler classic:
Chrysler developed their first experimental hemi engine for the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter aircraft. The XIV-2220 engine was an inverted V16 rated at 2,500 hp (1,860 kW). The P-47 was already in production with a Pratt & Whitney radial engine when the XIV-2220 flew successfully in trials in 1945 as a possible upgrade, but the war was winding down and it did not go into production. However, the exercise gave Chrysler engineers valuable research and development experience with two-valve hemi combustion chamber dynamics and parameters.
Basically, Westbrook is a tank that flies, who operates at maximum efficiency when everything is set right. When Westbrook’s dwell setting isn’t too high or too low and the air/fuel mixture is right, he is one of the unstoppable forces in this league, but he is a creature of habit. On game day he eats the same meal (a PBJ, with Skippy PB) at the same time, calls his parents and talks with his Dad first and then his Mom. Leaves his house at a certain time, starts his shoot around ritual at a certain time. Heck, he even does his bills in the same room, at the same table, and on the same day each month at the Thunder practice facility.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say he is obsessive, but his rituals mean something to him and his life, as well as this team, has been in flux since the end of last season. First came the birth of his son, Noah. By Westbrook’s own admission, he would be ready to leave the house for his usual early morning summer workout and Noah would wake up and he would put it off to spend time with the new baby. No fault there, I knew Russ would be a doting Dad and babies don’t come any cuter than Noah:
Then came the Paul George trade, the appearance commitments after winning the 2016/17 MVP award, more time with Noah, etc, and then at the 11th hour, Presti makes the trade for Carmelo Anthony and 3 months work put into developing chemistry with PG went out the window. If this wasn’t enough, just as Russ and his new team were finding their rhythm just past the midway point of the season, Robes went down.
Now here we are, 25 games after Roberson’s injury, Corey Brewer has settled into the starting rotation and Westbrook has recorded a triple-double in 5 of the Thunder’s last 7 outings. He’s fine, the HEMI is ready to run, and don’t forget, he’s a man on a mission.
Gilbert: RK with the dope analogy! I have one as well that epitomizes Russ. Have you ever been on a plane flying high in the sky and everything is just peachy? Then, the landing occurs and as a novice to flying like myself, you’re left hoping like hell that the pilot can stick a smooth landing as well. Westbrook is like one of the top pilots in the country when flying at high altitudes, but doesn’t quite know how to land the plane as smoothly as we would like. Unfortunately for us, the co-pilots (Paul George and Carmelo Anthony) aren’t nearly as good either, so Captain Westbrook going berserk may be our only hope.
6. The next 4 games could very well determine the outcome of this season: Spurs-Nuggets-Pelicans-Warriors. What happens?
Bruty: It’s crazy to think that we could miss the playoffs. Highly unlikely I must add, but there isn’t a lot of breathing room from 3rd to 9th. I think the Thunder probably go 5-2 or 4-3 to close out the season and I fear a 4v5 matchup vs Pelicans awaits. I don’t think there is any easy playoff matchup this year to be fair and it will be a dogfight no matter who we face in the first round, but I just hope that we can keep that 4th seed and home-court advantage. We all know just how important the Loud City crowd at the Peake are!!! The Pelicans also have a tough run home and it may come down to the Sunday, April 1st clash between the two that determines the 4th and 5th seed. Can you say MASSIVE MUST WIN GAME!!!!
- Spurs: Win
- Nuggets: Win
- Pelicans: Loss
- Warriors: Win
We can all agree the Thunder play up and down to their competition, and luckily their competition is sure to bring the best out of them. The physical and explosive Thunder have always given the creaky Spurs problems. The Nuggets are barely hanging on in the playoff race, and while they will definitely give the Thunder a good fight, I think Bill Donovan’s squad comes out on top. Anthony Davis and the Pelicans have always perplexed the Thunder, while the Warriors are very short handed and the Thunder are well equipped to handle them. I predict the Thunder end up with the 4th seed and maintain home-court advantage entering what should be a fascinating and exciting playoff picture. Let’s all just sit back, try not to have a heart attack, and bask in the ensuing madness. After all, it’s still March.
Sherman: The Nuggets game feels like a loss, in part because OKC struggles with big men who can pass (their help defense behind Adams is atrocious), and because nothing comes easily to this bunch. The Spurs are just a favorable matchup for OKC, and if LaMarcus Aldridge is hurt, there’s no primary scoring option. I think the Warriors are folding up the tent, and wisely so. Even if that’s a home game, we know we’re not seeing Stephen Curry, and maybe not Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, either. The Pelicans game feels like the biggest trap to me, because they play with grit and resolve, and Jru Holiday has morphed into that 2nd tier of good point guards in the league, akin to Mike Conley, Kemba Walker, and Chris Paul.
Dom: They win somewhere between 0 and 4 games and are infuriatingly inconsistent throughout. But if I had to write a perfect 2018 Thunder script, they beat the Spurs on the road before dropping a clunker against Denver allowing them back into the playoff hunt. They go to New Orleans and again look lost for 3 quarters before turning it up in the 4th just to take the lead before losing in the final minutes. Golden State rests its key guys and they end up taking that one at home to go 2-2. Because that’s just the most sense I can make right now.
Gilbert: Isaiah, I agree with you. The Thunder seems to play their best when the competition is at an all-time high, and the stakes are the greatest. Hot Take Alert: I want the Thunder to fall to the seventh seed so they can match up against the Golden State Warriors WITHOUT Stephen Curry! I believe that the defensive prowess of the Thunder, competitive fervor and intensity of Russell Westbrook could match up favorably against a Curry-less Golden State team recovering from injury. That said, they probably won’t fall to the seventh seed, and it’s more likely that they stay at fourth or fifth. But who knows because after all, like Will Smith rapped, we are talking about the wicky wicky wild, wild west.
R.K.: I started writing “the Gauntlet” to prepare for this very question and I can state with absolute confidence that I don’t have the first damn clue what the Thunder may or may not do in the next
4 games, but I’ll give it my best shot.
Spurs - The Spurs rode a 6-game winning streak at home to lift them from the outside looking in, to the middle of the playoff race in a 10-day span. Then they went on the road and reality struck. The Spurs are not a good road team, no that’s being nice.... on the road, the Spurs suck. Unfortunately for the Thunder, the Spurs are a very good home team and tomorrow’s game is at the AT&T Center. The Spurs haven’t lost at home this month, but that was with a healthy LaMarcus Aldridge and not facing the immovable force that is, Steven Adams.
Aldridge’s left knee contusion diagnosis doesn’t sound bad, but a contusion to the same knee affected the Thunder’s Alex Abrines for a large part of this season. If Aldridge is out, the Thunder should win, but there is an X-factor to consider, Kawhi Leonard.
The Spurs medical staff cleared Leonard to play weeks ago, but not his personal rehab team. In a recent players-only meeting, Leonard made it clear that returning this season was a goal, but it came with no promises or definitive date. The Spurs are 3 and 0 at the AT&T Center with Leonard this season.
I’m going to stay positive and say, even though the Spurs’ playoff situation is more precarious than OKC, the Thunder bounce back after a bad rebounding and shooting effort against the Trail Blazers and win this one.
Nuggets - Denver holds a 2 to 1 season series lead over the Thunder and is catching OKC in the 2nd game of their last back-to-back of the season. The Nuggets hold the season series over the Thunder for the same reason the Trail Blazers do. They are a team that converts a high volume of 3-point attempts (Denver actually attempts 3 more 3’s per game than Portland) with a big that can draw Steven Adams out of the paint.
Adams out of the paint leads to opponent offensive rebounds which leads to opponent second-chance points which leads to deep doo-doo for the Thunder.
What the Thunder did well against the Blazers was making them miss shots, what the Thunder didn’t do well was putting bodies on their opponents and boxing out. More good news, the Nuggets are a better offensive rebounding team than the Trail Blazers.
I’m not saying the Thunder can’t win this game, but it will take a total team effort to do so and total effort is something the Thunder have shown very little of throughout this season.
I hope I’m wrong, but my suggestion to Sherman is keeping the ice bucket full and not running short of his favorite rye for this one. (Dom, if you haven’t seen the movie “Black Panther”, March 30th is your day. This flick is killing box office records.)
Pelicans - I guess of those of us that did a game by game pick, I’m the only one that says the Thunder win this one. The key to this one is the Thunder not leaving their brains in the locker room and not shooting themselves out of it taking bad shots from beyond the arc. That goes double for Westbrook. The Thunder are 8 and 2 when Russ takes fewer than 5 3-point shots per game, but 0 and 2 if he takes 5 or more. In the games Westbrook stifles the urge to chuck it from the cheap seats, he is hitting a solid 44% of his attempts. When he gets greedy, that number drops to 30%.
The Pels are a middle of the road 3-point team that averages 10.1 makes on 35.9% shooting and it’s imperative the Thunder not let them convert 13 on 54.2% shooting like the last meeting between these two in the dark days after the Andre Roberson injury on February 2nd. Keep the Pels at or below their season average beyond the arc and E’Twaun Moore doesn’t go off for 26 points, 14 above his average. Additionally, if the Thunder handle their business on the perimeter, Steven Adams is free to focus all his defensive attention on Anthony Davis and not allow him to blister the Thunder for another 43 points, 15 above the Brow’s average.
Personally, I think the Pels record against the Thunder is more a product of timing and not match up. The teams first played in November when the Thunder were still looking for their mojo and the second just days after Robes got hurt and the entire Thunder roster in chaos.
As Sherman pointed out, the Pels are scrappy and it won’t be a blow-out, but if I’m right and the Thunder are coming off a loss to Denver, they will hit the Smoothie King Center floor focused and ready to play.
As long as Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams, the last two regular rotation players remaining from the 2015/16 roster (give that some thought Donovan bashers), that pushed the Warriors to brink in that WCF, and #35 is suiting up for the Warriors, this game will always be circled on the Thunder’s calendar.
Normally, considering the standings, one would expect the Warriors to rest key players coming down the stretch. But there are a few questions in Tofu-land that need answering.
How vulnerable is Golden State minus Stephen Curry and who will be their opponent in the first round?
At some point, the Warriors will rest up, but when? No team has ever entered the NBA playoffs starting a G-League PG before. I think the Warriors still have unfinished work and put the final touches in as their remaining All-Stars get healthy and use OKC as their last test before shutting down, especially if Durant returns to their line-up as expected against the Bucks. Westbrook and Durant may have made nice at the All-Star game, but the Warriors won’t leave #35 hanging against a hostile Loud City crowd.
My advice to Billy and his boys is getting ready to treat Golden State like the defending champs they are and pound their socks off.