Start time: 7:00 p.m. (CT)
Broadcasters: Fox Sports Oklahoma and NBA League Pass
Oklahoma City come into this game on the back of a great win against the Memphis Grizzlies. The Thunder trailed for three quarters before eventually staging a comeback that won the game in the fourth quarter. Aleksej Pokusevski provided steady, efficient production across all 48 minutes and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander closed the game for the Thunder.
Shai’s scoring and his management of the game finished the Grizzlies. Memphis were not able to get a stop on defense due to Shai’s ability to hit from all three levels. The victory moves the Thunder much closer to the play-in tournament for the final playoff berth.
Chicago won their last game against the Toronto Raptors comfortably. The Bulls totalled 35 assists on the night and Billy Donovan’s men cut the Raptors open time and time again. Patrick Williams, the rookie out of Florida State, scored an efficient 23 points and was Chicago’s leading scorer.
Three Points to Note for the Thunder:
Play-In or Top-Five?:
At the start of the season, the Thunder were expected to play hard, lose a lot of games and finish with a top-five pick in the NBA Draft. That expectation seemed likely given the talent on the roster. Oklahoma City have talented, prodigious youngsters but young players often make the sort of unforced errors that lose games.
However, the Thunder have performed opposite to expectations. Oklahoma City have been competitive in nearly every single game and have won way more games than I would have expected at this point in the season. The Thunder have 17 wins and are only 1.5 games out of the play-in tournament.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s growth as a player has been critical to the Thunder success. Shai is performing at an All-NBA this season and seems to be on an accelerated growth curve. I thought that there was an outside chance of Shai being this calibre of player but I did not expect him to be this good, this early on in his career.
Coach Mark Daigneault also deserves a lot of credit for being able to glue together competitive lineups despite having very few constants in his rotations. Injuries have meant that Coach’s rotations have changed on a nightly basis and yet, the Thunder play competent, professional basketball.
As the trade deadline approaches, the Thunder stand at a crossroads. The play-in is within reach but does this make sense in terms of the long-term outlook of the Thunder? A high lottery pick in this year’s Draft will net a young player with limitless potential on a cost-controlled contract. The 2021 NBA Draft is supposed to be one of the best Drafts in recent memory.
The important point to note about tanking is that tanks only succeed when they happen early in a season. A team has to start losing early to have any chance at securing a top-five pick in the Draft. It is doubtful that Oklahoma City can lose enough games in the second half of the season and overtake Houston or Minnesota.
The only real logical conclusion is that the Thunder should stay the course and continue to play hard. Presti should pick up the phone if a good trade offer comes with his way; if the Clippers offer Patrick Beverley and a weak second-rounder for George Hill, Presti should hang up the phone. Oklahoma City are one of the few sellers at this year’s deadline and enjoy a position of strength.
Aleksej Pokusevski has frequently been derided for his current basketball ability. A lot of people believe that he had no business on an NBA floor. However, Pokusevski decided to prove everybody wrong against the Grizzlies. Pokusevski had 23 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists while draining 5 makes from downtown.
Pokusevski impacted every area of the game but it was his lights out shooting from outside that drew my attention. Poku’s shot has been much discussed this season and for good reason, there were times when his shooting motion was much too flat. But, his sweet, fluid mechanics came to the fore against Memphis.
Pokusevski was effortlessly draining looks from beyond the arc and the basket looked like a barrel for periods of the third quarter. Aleksej’s shot was arced more than previously but crucially, his confidence was back.
Before Aleksej left for the Bubble, he had started to play timidly. Pokusevski only engaged with the offense when the ball came to him and he turned down looks. It was worrying to see as Pokusevski had previously displayed a ‘no fear’ mind-set in preseason.
I was sceptical of sending Pokusevki to Florida but it seems that decision by the front office has paid dividends. Aleksej has played with a swagger since coming back from Orlando; you can see him calling for the ball constantly on offense, he wants to show what he is capable of.
Moses Brown signed with the Thunder on a two-way deal before the season started. He was viewed to be a young, raw center who would benefit from time in the G-League. Brown has spent a lot of time with the Blue this season and he did really well in the Bubble.
With the Bubble ending and the Thunder being short of bodies to start the second half of the season, Brown has seen regular rotation minutes. During these minutes, he has been impressive to watch.
Brown plays with a lot of patience and maturity; he does not rush through his progressions when he catches the ball in the dunker’s spot off a feed from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Brown plays at his own pace and uses his length to finish comfortably at the rim.
A match-up like Jonas Valanciunas can be difficult for young centers. Valanciunas is a strong, experienced pro who has a very good understanding of scoring down low. Jonas got the better of Moses on the night but I was impressed by his resilience.
Valanciunas kept on attacking him in the post but Brown stayed aggressive and fought for his position. Valanciunas ended up with 16 points but he did not get many easy looks when Moses guarded him.
Zach LaVine has always had this reputation of being an inefficient chucker but LaVine has taken that misconception out to pasture this season with his strong play. LaVine is averaging 28/5/5 on 65% TS. He’s been a flamethrower from all three levels and Zach has started to work out how to leverage his scoring into buckets for his teammates.
The evolution of Zach LaVine has been fascinating to see. He has gone from being a hyper-athletic dunker to a well-rounded, skilled shooting guard. Dort is currently questionable for tonight’s game so it will be interesting to see who takes on the task of slowing down Chicago’s newest star.
In the Bulls’ game against Toronto, Billy Donovan went with a new starting unit. Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr dropped to the bench. Thad Young and Tomas Satoransky started in their place.
The lineup with Carter Jr and White had a propensity for falling into huge deficits early in the game which meant that Chicago were constantly fighting their way out of the hole for the rest of the game. Young and Sato should provide stability and a steady hand at the point.
Satoransky does not have the upside of Coby White but he is more comfortable playing next to ball-dominant guards. Satoransky played in Washington with Wall and Beal, he knows how to be effective on and off the ball. In theory, his fit with LaVine is pretty good.
Horford and Bazley are definitely out of tonight’s game. Horford is being rested and Bazley is carrying a shoulder injury. Luguentz Dort and Theo Maledon are questionable. Svi Mykhailiuk has joined the Thunder on this road trip but it is unknown whether he will play tonight.