Time: 9:30 PM CST
Radio: WWLS (98.1 FM OKC / 97.1 FM Tulsa)
The wait is finally over, Thunder fans. Basketball is back and in a big way, as the Thunder face the Golden State Warriors in Oakland tonight.
Unfortunately, Russell Westbrook won’t be available for opening night, so micro-analyzing every interaction between him and Kevin Durant will have to wait until November. However, the Thunder roster features explosive talent including Paul George, Dennis Schröder, Steven Adams and rising rookie phenom (yeah, you heard me) Hamidou Diallo. So, put your Thunder in the “all the way up” position and get excited for another season of basketball.
Tip-off is at 9:30PM CT on TNT. According to OddsShark, the Thunder are 13-point underdogs.
- Russell Westbrook: Out — Knee
- Andre Roberson: Out — Knee
- Steven Adams: Questionable — Back
- DeMarcus Cousins: Out — Achilles
- Damion Lee: Out — Foot
Warriors: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Damian Jones
What to Watch For
Looming Lineup. As of publication, Coach Billy Donovan has not released the official starting lineup for tonight’s game. For the first time in a long time, more than one starting spot is up for grabs. With Andre Roberson out, Terrance Ferguson emerged as the obvious choice to start at shooting guard. Ferguson started in place of Roberson for the majority of last season, including the playoffs, after Roberson went down in January. However, everything changed, at least from the viewpoint of Thunder fans, when Hamidou Diallo put on an explosive pre-season performance. The first glimpses of Diallo against NBA players seem to indicate he’s as strong defensively as Ferguson and has a higher upside on the offensive end. Even if Coach Donavan sees what we see in Diallo, he may still opt for Ferguson (who is more experienced and consistent) and tap Diallo for the starting spot in the coming months. Or, who knows? Maybe Ferguson will unlock another defensive level tonight that he’s been saving just for KD.
There are also questions surrounding who will start at power forward– Grant or Patterson? Last season, Grant made huge strides in improving his game, specifically under the basket. Patterson, on the other hand, had a very lackluster season for the Thunder. He was touted as the 3-and-D guy that the Thunder so desperately needed but ultimately fell flat on both accounts. In Patterson’s defense, he started the season coming off of knee surgery and had a diminished role due to Carmelo Anthony starting (pour one out for Hoodie Melo). Personally, I’d like to see Patterson in the starting role (at least for now) and see if better floor spacing can improve his game. Meanwhile, Grant can keep giving us monster dunks off the bench.
Center Situation. For both OKC and the Warriors, the center situation tonight could be… interesting. The Warriors have a real problem in that they only have one active “big” on their roster– Damian Jones. Jones played for the Warriors G-league team last season and is starting a regular season NBA game for the first time in his career tonight. The Warriors will probably be forced to run their small ball line-up (I refuse to call it the “Hamptons 5” for obvious reasons) of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Durant, Andre Iguodala, and Draymond Green quite a bit, which is great for the Thunder if Steven Adams (back stiffness) is able to play. If Adams sits, then the Thunder will rely heavily on new center, Nerlens Noel, and our version of small ball where Grant or Patterson plays center. Obviously, the hope is that Adams can play, but if not, this game could be a great opportunity for Noel to shine.
Better Call Paul. With Westbrook sidelined, it’s Paul George’s team tonight (although “Coach Westbrook” will have a lot to say from the sidelines). I love the Westbrook/George combination as much as the next Thunder fan, but a solo PG putting in work and creating his own shots can be a beautiful thing to watch. George capped off the preseason with an impressive game against the Bucks. In just 26 minutes, he scored a game-high 26 points on 8-13 shooting and 3-5 from three. George will play an especially important defensive role for the Thunder too. With Roberson out, George is OKC’s best defensive player and it will fall on him to guard Durant tonight.
Notes. It’s the first game of 82, so it’s probably best to have reasonable expectations for tonight’s game. If OKC pulls off a win at Oracle Arena without Westbrook that’s fantastic, but it’s also not the end all be all. Here are a couple areas the Thunder can work on tonight that will pay big dividends later in the season regardless of the outcome of tonight’s game:
–Limit turnovers. With Schröeder running the point tonight, he’s got to take care of the basketball better or pay the price. The Warriors are quick and one fast-break dunk off a turnover can send Oracle Arena into a frenzy.
–Don’t foul the shooter. This seems obvious; but with a lot of young guys and the over-eagerness that comes with the first game, it could become an issue for OKC. Ferguson is a repeat offender of this problem, but he needs to stay disciplined on defense tonight.
–Defense wins regular season games. The Thunder will never outshoot the Warriors from three unless Diallo can somehow do that too. However, they absolutely can stifle the Warriors defensively. The Thunder are poised to be one of the most relentless defensive teams in the NBA this season, but they have to bring that defensive energy from tip-off to final buzzer.