Start time - 7:00 p.m. (CT)
Broadcaster - Bally Sports Oklahoma
Oklahoma City fielded an almost unrecognisable starting 5 in their last game against the Phoenix Suns. Luguentz Dort was the only regular starter who played for the Thunder in Arizona on Wednesday night.
The Thunder have done incredibly well to avoid being ravaged by Covid protocols over the last 18 months but finally the team has been affected. At present, the Thunder are missing quite a few regular contributors and Coach Mark Daigneault. For the game against Phoenix, the roster was largely made up of players who have come from the OKC Blue.
I have to say that I am happy for those players; they have received their moment in the spotlight and a healthy payday. In an NBA where millions of dollars are discussed regularly, it is easy to lose sight of what a $60,000 cheque will mean to some of these players. Scotty Hopson, Rob Edwards and Olivier Sarr have all received one hell of a Christmas bonus.
The Thunder were severely undermanned in Phoenix and yet the team were able to hang tough against one of the best teams in the league. It would have been easy for the Thunder to take the loss and move onto to the next game. Instead, the Thunder fought hard and made the game difficult for Phoenix.
Ty Jerome was excellent but it was Aaron Wiggins who again stood out to me. Wiggins had 22 points, 8 rebounds and 2 steals as he impacted the game for the Thunder. Aaron has grasped the opportunity presented to him and has made a real case for regular rotation minutes in the second half of the season.
The Thunder will play the New York Knicks, a team that has somewhat stagnated since their surprise playoff appearance last season. For years the Knicks were the laughingstock of the NBA, the team just did not seem to have an ounce of competency from anywhere within the organisation.
When Tom Thibodeau was appointed to the role, the Knicks were criticised for hiring a coach who did not relate to modern players and whose scheming was outdated. Thibs confounded expectations and brought New York back to playoff basketball for the first time in a while.
The second season has been much harder for the Knickerbockers. Julius Randle’s performance levels have dipped slightly and Evan Fournier has not been the second scoring option that many thought he could be. The bench unit has vastly outperformed the starting five and yet Thibodeau has persisted with the same starting lineup.
In recent weeks, the Knicks lost Derrick Rose to an ankle injury which has only created more uncertainty. Rose is often the first reserve off the bench for Thibodeau and he plays an important role for the team. Derrick provides a spark offensively and his playmaking gets the team going.
Thibodeau’s solution to the shot creation void left by injuries to Rose and Quickley was to bring Kemba in from the cold. Walker was cut out of the rotation unceremoniously but has earned a reprieve due to the Knicks’ injury struggles.
Walker has been nothing short of fantastic over the last two weeks and has looked more like the All-NBA talent who delighted fans in Charlotte. When Walker is playing aggressively and actively hunting his own shot, he is one of the most exciting players in the league to watch.
The game on New Year’s Eve will be fun to watch despite the Thunder’s injury woes. The young guys performed incredibly well against Phoenix; the question is whether they can replicate that form on a consistent basis.