Magic (3-6, 1-3 road) vs. Thunder (6-3, 4-2 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 6:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 98.5 (25th), Magic – 96.5 (29th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 98.3 (4th), Magic – 107.6 (27th)
The Oklahoma City Thunder are currently 3-2 in games that are within 5 points with 5 minutes to play. One of the biggest ‘what-ifs’ heading into the season was how the Thunder would handle late game situations. Would it be all Russell Westbrook all the time, or would he spread the wealth and get others involved? So far, it’s been a mixed bag. Westbrook has performed relatively well in late game situations, scoring when needed and getting others involved when the opportunity presents itself. But against top level talent, the Thunder are viewed as nothing more than Westbrook and the four other players on the floor with him. That thought has kind of reared its ugly head in these last two games.
In the Raptors game, the Thunder battled all the way back to cut the Raptors’ lead to 4 with about 4:58 left in the game. On the next Raptors’ possession, the Thunder got a steal and Westbrook was veering towards the lane to cut the lead down to 2. As the defense converged, Westbrook lost control of the ball and it went out of bounds. Turnover, Westbrook. The Raptors went on score the next 8 points and put the game out of reach.
Two nights later, against the Clippers, the Thunder consistently found themselves with opportunities to stay within reach of taking the lead. Westbrook did a good job of getting others involved, finding Victor Oladipo in the corner for a transition 3 to bring the Thunder within 3 with about 2:47 left in the game. The Thunder battled back and forth and found themselves down by 2 with 11 seconds left and no timeouts. The ball was inbounded to Westbrook who dribbled down the floor, only to pull up for an off-balance 3-pointer which nearly went in. While the results could have been positive, the better play would’ve likely been to drive the ball and get into the paint. It’s all something that Westbrook and the Thunder will learn as they continue in this season.
Season Series Preview
This is the first of two meetings this season between the Thunder and the Magic. The Thunder swept the season series last year, but struggled in putting away a young, lottery team, winning each game by 3 points.
The Magic come into the game with a 3-6 record. The Magic have been consistently inconsistent this season, losing 3 games, then winning 3 games, then losing their last 3. The Magic are in the weird position of being in the middle of a rebuild, with the draft picks they’ve gotten not really panning out. Elfrid Payton, Mario Hezonja, and Aaron Gordon have yet to show their full potential, and Nikola Vucevic seems to have reached his ceiling.
They’ve brought in some veteran, in the form of Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, Jeff Green, and DJ Augustin. Those players would be great as role players around a star, but without that star player, they are just inconsistent vets. The Magic will likely be sellers at the trade deadline, as Payton will be looking for an extension in the offseason and Ibaka hasn’t really panned out like they thought he would.
- Cameron Payne (foot)
3 Big Things1. Rebounding
The Magic ranked 7th in the league in offensive rebounds this season, averaging 11.4 per game. For a team that misses a ton of shots, offensive rebounding almost becomes a part of their game plan.2. Parts of the trade
Victor Oladipo seems to be transitioning well into his position as a backcourt mate for Russell Westbrook. He’s shooting percentage is slowly rising and his shot selection has gotten better from the preseason. Where the Thunder need for him to develop is with the 2nd team. If he is going to be that second scorer behind Westbrook, then the Thunder need for him to produce when he is out there with the second team.
Domas Sabonis is developing nicely. He’s shooting 52% from 3-point territory, which is completely sustainable (insert sarcasm). He’s learning the speed of the game and the abuse that some of the power forwards in the league can give out. Overall, he seems like a great prospect and likely the jewel from the trade.3. Serge Ibaka
The other part of that trade was Ibaka going to the Magic. Ibaka gave the Thunder a big piece in his 7 years on the team as a rim protector and floor spacer. He was a big part of the culture of the team and grew up with the core. With that said, his departure from the team was not acrimonious. The ovation for Ibaka should be bigger than that of Dion Waiters.