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Game 59 Pregame Primer: Thunder (36-22) vs. Kings (24-33)

Game 59 Pregame Primer: Thunder (36-22) vs. Kings (24-33)

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7pm @ Chesapeake Energy Arena, ? Fox Sports Oklahoma

Projected starting lineups:

Oklahoma CitySacramento
PG: Chris PaulPG: De’Aaron Fox
SG: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander SG: Bogdan Bogdanovic
SF: Lu DortSF: Harrison Barnes
PF: Danilo Gallinari PF: Nemanja Bjelica
C: Steven AdamsC: Harry Giles

3 Big Things:

  • A Royal Pain: Over the past season and a half, the Kings have been disproportionately successful against the Thunder. They went 3-1 against OKC in 2018-19, including winning both contests at The Peake. They have played twice so far this season, splitting the two games in Sacramento. While it’s a small sample size, the fact that the Kings are 4-2 against the Thunder in their last six meetings while compiling a record of 58-74 against everyone else, does beg the question as to whether or not there is some sort of “reason” the Thunder struggle with the Kings or if it’s just general NBA randomness. One thing to keep an eye on is that the Kings are capable of matching the Thunder guard trio with a fairly formidable trio of their own (at least offensively). Fox, Buddy Hield, and Bogdanovic can really light it up. They aren’t exactly going to lock you down on the other end, but if you take the bait and get into a shootout with them, you could find yourself in trouble. After a promising 39-win season last year, Sacramento entered this season with high hopes. A disastrous start dashed those hopes, but they’ve played better for the past few weeks and are fully capable of beating the Thunder. The fact that they haven’t lost in OKC in almost two years should be all the motivation the Thunder need to not take this team lightly.
  • Rotation Watch: Matt Pinto revealed that prior to the game in New Orleans right before the break, Billy Donovan told him he planned to settle on a 9-man rotation. So far, he appears to be holding true to that. Dort seems to be entrenched as the starting shooting guard and I really don’t see any non-injury scenario where that will change. Beyond that, Dennis and Nerlens are the clear top two options off the bench. For now, Nader and TFerg have been chosen to round out that 9 man rotation. The only time we’ve seen a deviation from that over the past four games has been due to injury, foul trouble, or a late game situation with a lopsided score (Spurs). While the top 7 isn’t changing, I do think the door remains cracked for those 8/9 minutes. Nader is holding his spot down fairly well. While not dynamic or explosive, he’s certainly steady– both in terms of effort and production. You can’t ignore him as a shooter and he’s also capable of finishing at the rim when teams close out hard on him. I’d prefer to have someone in that role with more history/experience, but for the current situation, Nader is the best bet. That leaves TFerg, Diallo, Muscala, and Bazley (when he returns) battling for that final regular rotation spot (I’m not counting Burton or Roby, by the way). Muscala is just the odd man out right off the bat because he really can’t play on the wing. With Adams, Gallo, and Nerlens holding down the 4 and 5 positions, I only see Muscala being used when one of them is unavailable for whatever reason. More importantly, it appears Donovan feels that way as well. To me this all boils down to TFerg/Diallo/Bazey as options for that last spot in the rotation. Clearly, TFerg is getting the first crack at it. Prior to the Bulls game, he wasn’t doing much cracking. That little spurt in Chicago was huge for him and now I find it essential that he follows it up with another strong performance. At some point, a solid outing once every 8 games isn’t going to cut it. This is a prime opportunity for him in a relatively low pressure situation to prove once and for all that he belongs.
  • Standings Don’t Lie: While I’m not sure I consider jumping all the way to the 2 seed “realistic,” the reality is that the Thunder are only four games behind the Nuggets. There are three other teams sandwiched between them, and Denver and Dallas isn’t far behind OKC. So it’s fair to say that the 2-7 seeds in the West are still very much unsettled. Even if you think the 2 or 3 is a bit too lofty of a goal for OKC, I think we can all agree that striving for the 4 seed should be the bare minimum. The only way the Thunder will be able to get there is by taking care of business against almost ALL of the sub .500 teams remaining on their schedule. This will give them some margin to lose the most difficult remaining games. The most difficult (on paper at least) looms on Friday night in Milwaukee. The Bucks are 26-3 at home and will be entering that game having not played since Tuesday night. Conversely, the Thunder will be on the second night of a back to back. Some may argue that the Thunder should rest Gallo or others against the Kings in order to have them fresh for the Bucks. I think the opposite is the case, though. Better to ensure that you take care of the game that is more in your control. Get the win against the Kings and it really lessens the pressure on the Bucks game. The Thunder could potentially throw out an A+ effort in Milwaukee and still lose; that would feel a whole lot worse if it was their second loss in as many nights. In a vaccum, losing to Sacramento wouldn’t be a huge deal, but with Milwaukee waiting for them less than 24 hours later, it would behoove the Thunder to stay laser-focused on the Kings.

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