Preview 71 of 82: Thunder vs Heat
Time: 7:00 PM CST
TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma
The Oklahoma City Thunder (42-28) will take the floor at Chesapeake Energy Arena without Russell Westbrook tonight, as the former MVP is set to miss the contest due to a mandatory one-game suspension for reaching the 16 technical fouls limit. Paul George will assume total leadership responsibilities in Westbrook’s absence, trying to snap a two-game slide against a Miami Heat (33-36) team that has won six of their last eight to climb into the Eastern Conference the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Tip-off is at 7:00 PM CST and will be televised on Fox Sports Oklahoma. The Thunder are 3.5-point home favorites according to Odds Shark.
- Russell Westbrook: Out — Suspended
- Andre Roberson: Out — Knee
- Justise Winslow: Questionable — Thigh
Heat: Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters, Josh Richardson, Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo
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What to Watch For
No Brodie. Westbrook won’t be with the team tonight, as the NBA has put him in timeout to think about what he’s done. He’ll serve his one-game suspension and rejoin the party on Wednesday against the Raptors. Dennis Schroder figures to start at point guard in Westbrook’s absence.
The PG Show. With Westbrook unavailable, George will take center stage as the Thunder’s fearless leader. He’s averaging 30 PPG on just under 45 percent 3-point shooting over the Thunder’s last three games, putting to rest the concerns about his shoulder. PG put 43 points on the Heat when the teams faced off on February 1 in Miami, and hit a ridiculous 10-of-16 from long distance. If he’s looking for an encore, he’ll have the full green light in this one.
Step On Up. There are 23 points and roughly 20 shots per game missing from the lineup, so the Thunder will obviously need someone to help pick up the slack on offense. That starts with Schroder, who has been alright in his 12 starts but is wildly inconsistent. Increased opportunities/production from Steven Adams and Jerami Grant should also be expected if OKC comes away with the win.
The Heat Attack. The Heat are led in scoring by Josh Richardson’s 16.9 PPG (41.6% FG, 36.3% 3P), followed by Goran Dragic (14.4 PPG), D-Wade (14.1 PPG), Justice Winslow (12.7 PPG), and Hassan Whiteside (12.7 PPG). They play the sixth-slowest brand of basketball in the league this season, and win games with their 7th-ranked defense (107.1 DRTG). Without Westbrook stressing them out in transition, Miami will probably look to slow things down, dictate the tempo, and try to grind it out on the defensive end — where they are giving up the second-fewest points in the paint this season.
A Return to Waiters Island. Waiters has appeared in 31 games for the Heat this season (17 starts), and comes in averaging 10.4 PPG on 40.7 percent shooting (36.8% 3P). I’m not sure why Thunder fans love the guy so much (I think it was his total lack of self-awareness), but expect a warm reception for Downhill Dion, aka Kobe Wade, tonight at the ‘Peake. The prodigal son has returned.
One Last Dance. I’ve never been much of a Dwyane Wade stan (I’m indifferent), but tonight is Chesapeake Energy Arena’s chance to say goodbye to a future Hall-of-Famer. While Thunder fans may never forgive him for his involvement in the 2012 NBA Finals, Wade will likely receive another hero’s farewell in this one. As far as the all-important post-game jersey exchange is concerned, Westbrook’s suspension complicates matters. PG13 got the honors after the Thunder’s win over the Heat earlier this season, so one could only assume Westbrook’s moment was coming tonight. The race is now wide open, but my money is on Nerlens Noel — OKC’s number 3. Raymond Felton is the dark horse.