Heat (23-17, 8-9 road) vs. Thunder (29-12, 19-5 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 6:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 109.5 (2nd), Heat – 102.5 (13th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 100.6 (10th), Heat – 99.5 (6th)
One of the most important things to remember as a fan in an 82 game season is to keep things into perspective. That has been a little difficult in the franchise’s most important season with Golden State and San Antonio both playing at a historic pace. But there are always factors that you have to look at when teams are starting off a season in historic fashion. One of the questions that needs to be asked is whether those teams are playing quality opponents up to that point in the season. And wouldn’t you know it, the numbers proved what I had suspected.
See, I thought the Thunder’s schedule up this point had been relatively easy. But I wanted to see if that was the case for the rest of the NBA’s upper echelon. If you list the teams in terms of record, it goes as follows:
- 1. Golden State – 37-4
- 2. San Antonio – 35-6
- 3. Cleveland – 28-10
- 4. Oklahoma City – 29-12
- 5. LA Clippers – 26-13
Now here are their ranks in terms of Strength of Schedule (a.k.a the winning percentage of their opponents)
- 25. LA Clippers – .488
- 26. Cleveland – .487
- 27. Orlando – .481 (??????)
- 28. Oklahoma City – .479
- Golden State – .479
- 30. San Antonio – .476
It’s no coincidence that the league’s most marketable teams usually begin the season with the easiest slate. Why? Well, the NBA, like any other sport, likes to showcase itself when there is no other sport vying for the viewers’ attention. During this time of year, the NBA is competing with the king of all current U.S. sports, football. And not just regular football, but playoff football. But playoff time means the football season is soon coming to an end. And once it ends on February 7th (Superbowl Sunday), the NBA jumps into the forefront to show off its top teams/players.
While it seems like the Thunder has an insurmountable mountain to climb to catch the Spurs and Warriors, its comforting to know that they will have a chance to prove their worth coming up in the second half of the season. In the final 41 games, they play the Warriors, Spurs, and Clippers three more times each, and get the Cavaliers one more time at home. In all honesty, the season may just be beginning for the Thunder in the second half of the schedule.Series Review
This is the second and final meeting of the season between the Thunder and Heat. The Heat won the first meeting 97-95, in a game that was back and forth and featured 38 lead changes. In the end, Dwayne Wade made a jumper to tie the game with 29 seconds left to tie it and then drained two free throws with 1 second left to win it.The Opponent
The Heat come into this game with a 23-17 record, having lost four of their last six games. They are one of the more balanced teams in this league, bringing with them a capable offense and a great defense. That defense is keyed by center Hassan Whiteside, who is leading the league in blocks at 3.97 per game. He does a good job of not getting into foul trouble and also grabs 11.3 rebounds in the process. In the Heat’s last game, he messed around and got a big man’s triple double (19 pts, 17 rebs, 11 blks). On the perimeter, the long arms of Luol Deng, Justice Winslow, and Gerald Green, along with the pick and roll-busting ability of Chris Bosh, help to funnel shooters into the lane where Whiteside awaits them.
On the offensive end, Wade and Bosh are still able to have great games. Age and wear are starting to take their toll, but both can still rewind the clock back and be great in moments. Wade is battling a shoulder ailment and is questionable for Sunday’s game. Goran Dragic was playing much better of late, but he’ll be out for Sunday’s game with a calf strain. Deng is more of a defensive role player these days, and is still capable of scoring from the perimeter. Tyler Johnson is showing signs of being a consistent NBA player. This team is battling injuries, as Dragic, Josh McRoberts, and Chris Andersen are likely out, and Wade is a game-time decision.3 Big Things
The Heat have Tyler Johnson and Beno Udrih as their active point guards. I’m not saying they’re bad, but they aren’t Russell Westbrook. He’s been more of a facilitator in these last two games, but look for him to be more of a scorer in this game. Like most teams though, the Heat may put a bigger wing, like Gerald Green, on Westbrook and hide the point guard on Andre Roberson.
Just as is done with the Thunder from time to time, one of the ways to get Whiteside out of the paint is to play a smallball lineup. If the Thunder use Ibaka as their small ball big, that would necessitate Whiteside to guard him on the perimeter, where he has been a lot more efficient of late.
Which Dion will we get this game? In the last 2 games, Waiters has scored 15 and 18 points. When Waiters scores 15 or more, the Thunder are 7-1. When he’s on, he adds another dynamic to, not just the bench, but also the team as a whole. He is the closest thing the Thunder have to the mythical unicorn that is the 3-and-D shooting guard. If he can be consistent….ah who am I kidding? Keep Dion’ing Dion.Thunder Killer – Opposing player most likely to have a breakout game against the Thunder:
Gerald Green – As a child, Gerald Green used to wet the bed when he would hear thunder. Since then, he has made it his life’s mission to destroy the Oklahoma City Thunder. Two years ago, as a member of the Phoenix Suns, Green dropped his career high of 41 on the Thunder. He just has a knack of getting hot against Oklahoma City.