Kings (7-14, 2-7 road) vs. Thunder (11-8, 8-3 home)
TV: FS Oklahoma
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 6:00 PM CST
Offensive Rating: Thunder – 109.5 (2nd), Kings – 104.9 (12th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 104.0 (17th), Kings – 108.9 (27th)
The bad news: The Oklahoma City Thunder are 11-8. That not necessarily a record you’d expect in the first 19 games for a team with this kind of talent. In a “loaded” Western Conference, you’d prefer to secure as many wins as possible to help with your seeding in the future. Luckily, the “loaded” West has been a bit underwhelming so far this season. Of course, that could change in an instant, as the Clippers, Rockets, Grizzlies, and Mavericks all seem to be getting out of their offseason haze and are starting reel off wins in quick succession. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that out of the Thunder eight losses, seven have been by single digits. While this opens up a different set of questions, the reality is that the Thunder have been competitive in all of the games they have played. Outside of the Boston game, the average margin of defeat for the Thunder has been by 5 points. That’s a difference of two possessions in a game. If two of those possessions in each of those games breaks right for the Thunder, we’re probably looking at a much better record.
This is the first meeting of the season between the Thunder and the Kings. The Thunder won the season series 3-1 last year. For all of their troubles last year, the Thunder handled the Kings pretty easily in their three victories, winning by an average of 11 points. Of course, in pure Thunder fashion, their only loss to the Kings last year was by 21 points.The Opponent
The Kings come into the game with a 7-14 record, having lost 4 of their last 5 games. Offensively, they are one of the best teams in the league. They are 12th in offensive efficiency and score 105.2 points per game (4th in the league). Where they completely struggle is on the defensive end. They allow 109.3 points per game, which is the worst in the league. They allow 10 three pointers per game and allow teams to shoot 52.8% on 2-pointers, both worst in the league. They are Swiss cheese on the interior and ole’ artists on the perimeter. Add all that up, and you’re looking at a team that can only win games by outscoring their opponents. (I know. Every team that wins a game outscores their opponents.)
The Kings are led by their trio of DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, and Rajon Rondo. Cousins has been his normal great self, putting up 26.2 points per game and 10.5 rebounds. Gay is averaging 18.5 points per game and has been surprisingly efficient this season. Rondo is starting to look like Boston Rondo and has already racked up 4 triple-doubles this season. They are extremely balanced on offense, with eight players averaging at least eight points per game. On the perimeter, Marco Belinelli, Omri Casspi, and Ben McLemore have benefited from the attention that is constantly drawn by Cousins and Gay. Off the bench, Darren Collison is one of the better back-up point guards and Kosta Koufos is one of the better back-up centers in the league.3 Big Things
1. Small Ball
The Kings put a lot of pressure on teams offensively due to their ability to exclusively play small ball. They alternate Cousins and Koufos in the post, usually playing them with 3 wings and a point guard. Cousins can also shoot from outside which further helps the spacing in whatever line-up he is in. How Billy Donovan adapts to this will be very important to how successful the Thunder will be in this game. Which big will he use most in the small ball line-ups? Could he possibly put Durant at 5, with four other wings. The Kings, for as bad as their record is, have talent and have a good offensive system. George Karl is a mad scientist when it comes to offense, and he’s creating his own little Frankenstein in Sacramento.
Both the Thunder and the Kings average over 16.5 turnovers per game. The team that has the fewest turnovers wins this game.
3. Thunder Offense
Two straight games where the Thunder’s offense has stagnated at various times throughout the game, most noticeably at the end of the game. Is this a system issue or a slump issue? I think its a little of both. When the team begins to struggle offensively, they seem to abandon the new system and revert back to what has worked for them for the past 5+ seasons. If this is going to work with Donovan, the team (aka KD and Russ) need to learn to trust the system. At the same time, the others (Serge, Morrow, Adams, Kanter, Waiters) need to hit timely shots when the opportunity is there. It’s an arduous learning process that may answer the question as to why the Thunder are struggling late in games.Slump-Buster (The opposing player most likely to break out of a slump)
This is a new section I’m starting where I mention an opposing player who has been struggling of late. The Thunder have always been a team where struggling players have a resurgent game or roster nobodies have career nights.
The Thunder become like the ugly girl at the club (aka a slump buster). So without further ado, this game’s slump-buster is Marco Belinelli. He has struggled a bit with his shot this season, shooting only 38.5% from the field and 34.3% from 3-point territory. The Kings brought Belinelli in to be a floor spacer, and he has struggled in that role. So, of course, I’m calling for Belinelli to revert back to his San Antonio days this game and hit at least 4 threes on us.