Start time: 7 p.m. CT
Broadcasters: Bally Sports Oklahoma and NBA League Pass
The Wizards and Thunder form an interesting contrast.
Despite their relatively close records (The Wizards are 25-33, the Thunder are 20-39), the two teams are on totally different trajectories: the Thunder have lost 12 straight, in large part due to an organizational mandate to tank, or at very least give all minutes to young and untested players over veterans.
The Wizards, meanwhile, despite being a near-lock to finish below .500, are gunning for the playoffs at all costs.
Thanks to the weakness of the Eastern conference and the fact that even a 10th place finish gets you a spot in the new play-in tournament, the Wizards have a real shot at doing so.
A 6-game winning streak has them holding on to that 10th spot by a half-game margin.
And so the Oklahoma City Thunder and Russell Westbrook can once again help each other out: the Thunder can send an inexperienced roster out to face Russ, Bradley Beal, and the rest of the Wizards, giving them a great chance of keeping the winning streak alive.
By delivering a big old L to OKC, Russ can help his old team get a little closer to the #1 pick. Win-Win.
The Wizards will be in a good position to get the win. The one X-factor is Lu Dort, who missed Monday’s game and is questionable for this one.
Dort is not only the Thunder’s best option on Westbrook or Beal. He is also perhaps the best offensive player the team has left (Darius Bazley has a claim to that title, too, after back-to-back 26 point games).
Dort is no Westbrook or Shai-Gilgeous Alexander, but he’s shown the ability to function as a makeshift point guard for OKC and has done well enough in the role. His ballhandling takes some of the pressure of Theo Maledon and makes OKC’s starters generally more cohesive.
Even if Dort plays, though, we can probably expect an OKC victory. Look: the Wizards continue to be laughed at around the league for refusing to trade Beal and instead of making win-now moves, only to yet again be well below .500.
But they’ve actually been fun to watch lately, which should be no surprise to anyone who remembers prime OKC Westbrook.
Russ on a mission is an NBA viewing experience like no other. So what if the mission in question is to be the 10th seed, maybe make it through the play-in tournament, and then get obliterated in the first round?
Russ will approach that mission as if the universe's fate depends on it because that’s really the only way he operates. Westbrook is the most efficient clutch scorer in the league this season per StatMuse.
We don’t have many years of prime Russ left. We’ll never see him do the things he did in his (completely deserved) MVP season in 2016-17. But he’s doing one hell of an approximation of it in crunch time this year, even while sharing the load with Beal.
And good for Russ! There’s more to the NBA team than just the 5 teams contending for a given title in any one season.
There’s a nobility in playing with all-out intensity every game, even if it doesn’t lead you to the highest peaks of the league.
There’s room in the league for Russ to do his thing, even if it’s on a mediocre Eastern Conference team, and Russ doing his thing remains one of the best shows in the league. Enjoy it while you can.
Prediction: Wizards 121, Thunder 113