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January 4: Oklahoma City @ Cleveland Cavaliers - Preview & Game Thread

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Oklahoma City head East

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Oklahoma City Thunder Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

The Thunder’s road-trip heads to the Eastern Conference to face three opponents within the space of four days. The number of games and limited amount of recovery time once travel is accounted for means fatigue will be a real issue for the Thunder when they play Brooklyn in four days time. Oklahoma City are currently one of the hottest teams in the league as the team has gone 8-1 across their last nine games and the game against Cleveland is another chance to get a solid victory against a lottery dweller. The game starts at 7:30 (EST) and Oklahoma City will look to get this game won early and use the final minutes of the game to rest Paul so he is fresh for Philly in a few days.

Three Points to Note for the Thunder:

  1. The Three Amigos - The combination of Alexander, Paul and Schroder has been much discussed by pretty much every single Thunder media whether this be in online forums or from recognised media members. The game against the San Antonio Spurs needs to be discussed as it was arguably the finest collective performance that ‘The Three Amigos’ has put forth during the season so far. The group contributed sixty points as they shredded the Spurs’ back-court and each player stepped up when it looked like the game was slipping away from Oklahoma City. Dennis came out of the break firing in the second quarter and kept the deficit to just single digits, his play elevated the Thunder’s offence when it was stagnant. Even when the Thunder were down by fourteen, the game did not feel out of hand as SGA and Chris Paul had not fully hit their form yet. Both players were strong in the fourth quarter as OKC won another close victory. The ball movement and aggression has been so important in the three guard lineup being so effective as defences struggle to handle a team who have three competent play-makers on the floor. Defences can be ready for the secondary creation opportunities but most teams are scrambled by the point where the third guard can swoop in and get a bucket.
  2. Tough Month - Oklahoma City have a difficult stretch of games ahead of them as SoonerViking noted in the comment section of one of the recent pieces. The month ahead will see the Thunder play nine road games and contender level teams like the Lakers, Heat and Raptors. The road games are an issue for the Thunder as Oklahoma City really struggled on the road to start the season. These issues could re-surface now especially if the Thunder go through a rough run of games where the performances and intensity are not quite good enough. The road record is still not perfect, Oklahoma City are just 7-9 on the road which is an important challenge for the Thunder to overcome. Road issues are fairly common among young NBA teams for the simple fact that players do not have home comforts. They do not eat the same food, sleep in the same bed and are unable to have the same routines that they would have at home. Those little things can build up to being a serious detriment for the players in terms of performing effectively.
  3. Adams’ Defensive Assignments - Steven Adams has been consistently very good over the last ten games and the game against San Antonio was no different. Adams had 14/9/3 on efficient shooting and looked really comfortable against the Spurs’ front-court. I have been really happy with Adams’ performances of late because his confidence looks high and he is delivering on the court. Steve will have a tough time on the rebounding front against the Cleveland Cavaliers as the Cavs have one of the league's out-standing offensive rebounders in the form of Tristan Thompson. Thompson averages four offensive boards per game while Adams averages 3.5 offensive boards per game. It will be important to stifle this aspect of Thompson’s game as Tristan gets efficient production out of second chance opportunities.

Cavs’ Cutlasses:

  1. Dante Exum - Dante Exum’s trade kicked off the start of NBA trade season with a whimper rather than a bang. Adrian Wojnarowski did not drop a huge Woj bomb where the league’s landscape was changed with less than one hundred forty characters. The Clarkson-Exum trade was a lot more low-key as it was a contending team getting a piece from a rebuilding side in order to improve the marginal production from the bench. The Exum trade made a lot of sense for the Cavaliers as it cleared the decks for Sexton and Garland to get the lion share of the point guard minutes instead of having to accommodates Jordan Clarkson’s micro-wave like abilities. The trade netted Cleveland some decent assets including two second round picks but the acquisition of Exum cannot be over-looked. Dante is lengthy for the guard spot and is an adept defender, it will shore up Cleveland’s back-court which was previously a defensive liability.
  2. Collin Sexton - Collin Sexton has become a little bit of an odd man out in Cleveland as there is no defined role for him going forward. Two years ago, it was pretty clear that Sexton would be the franchise cornerstone in the second post-LeBron era. The drafting of Darius Garland made those waters more murky as Garland could be a starting calibre point guard in the future and it is hard to get two scoring guards to co-exist in the back-court. Sexton, drafted out of Alabama, has made all of the right noises in regards to fitting with Garland to produce an effective back-court but the omens are not good when two lead ball-handlers are forced together. One recent example of this friction would be Dennis Smith Jr and Luka Doncic last season in Dallas. It does feel probable that Sexton will either be traded at some point in the near future. Oklahoma City may want to track Sexton’s availability as he could be a nice young asset to add to the roster.

Random Side-Note:

The Three Guard Lineup is one of the most boring names in the history of all sports for a unit of really exciting basketball players. This group is simply too good and too fun to not have a cool nickname. I like ‘The Three Amigos’ but I want you guys in the comment section to suggest some names for this group.

Media Note:

The Oklahoma City are covered pretty strongly by a variety of basketball blogs and podcasts and there was important information in regards to the Thunder media on this front. The incredibly popular ‘Down to Dunk’ podcast is now being hosted on The Athletic. The podcast is still available on all streaming platforms and the team behind ‘Down to Dunk’ are still doing their regular podcasts but there will be specials for Athletic subscribers.