Thunder (0-0, 0-0 road) vs. 76ers (0-0, 0-0 home)
TV: ESPN/FS Oklahoma
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 7:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats for the preseason)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 102.1 (9th), 76ers – 91.6 (29th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 101.8 (21st), 76ers – 102.4 (22nd)
This season, for the Oklahoma City Thunder, will be painfully connected to Kevin Durant. It’s unfortunate, but it’s also reality. When a team and a player are so intricately intertwined, the fallout from their parting usually takes about a season to subside. Durant, along with Russell Westbrook and Nick Collison were the pillars upon which the Thunder organization was built. For eight years, you could usually count on two things come opening night in the NBA: the Oklahoma Sooners would have at least one loss on their record by now, and the original trio would be in uniform for the Thunder. That all changed July 4th. Durant signed with Golden State and sent the fanbase into a harrowing depression for about the next week.
The thinking was that without Durant, Westbrook would soon follow suit. Westbrook was due to become an unrestricted free agent the following offseason, and the Thunder did not want a repeat of what had just occurred. Many in the Thunder fanbase swallowed the reality pill and found solace in knowing they likely HAD to trade Westbrook. We were resigned to that fact. But something funny happened in the month between July 4th and August 4th. Nothing. Absolutely nothing happened. The Thunder didn’t trade Westbrook, and Westbrook didn’t make any demands for a trade.
Instead, Westbrook stepped up and proclaimed, “This is my team, and I will lead my team,” by adding 2 years to his current contract. All of the sudden, that gloom from losing Durant transformed into joy over keeping Westbrook. With Number 0 leading the charge, the Thunder moved towards this new reality with a renewed sense of confidence; a renewed sense of vigor. Are we still championship contenders? Probably not. But we aren’t starting over, either. We’ve gone from being the hunted to being the hunters. And to a player like Westbrook, I think being a carnivorous predator probably suits him better anyways.
This is the first meeting of the season between these two teams. The Thunder have won the previous 14 meetings against the 76ers, dating all the way back to November 2008. That was Westbrook’s rookie season and the Thunder’s inaugural season in Oklahoma City. Think of everything that has happened since then, not just with this team, but also in your life. That’s a long time to be losing to the same team.
The Philadelphia 76ers come into this season pretty much the same way they’ve come into the last 3 seasons: seemingly without a plan, and hoping that a young superstar pops up out of nowhere on their roster. The major difference between this season and the last 3 is that the Sixers may actually be looking at a superstar on their roster. Joel Embiid has all the makings of a generational big man. He’s a 7’2″ behemoth that can move like a gazelle. He’s Shaq with a jump shot. Unfortunately, though, as his first two seasons in the league showed, he may also possess the feet of Yao Ming. This will be Embiid’s first action in an NBA game since being drafted in the 2014. He suffered two navicular fractures in his right foot that necessitated surgery each time. Now, seemingly healthy, the Sixers are counting in Embiid being that guy.
Number 1 pick Ben Simmons is out after having surgery for a broken bone in his foot and his timeline to return is still in the air. Fourth year power forward Nerlens Noel is out after having surgery on his left knee to address an inflamed plica. The Sixers’ injury history is so bad, they are having surgery for body parts that most people never knew existed. Jahlil Okafor will be available for tonight, but will likely be on a minutes restriction (less than 15 minutes) as he continues to recover from a torn meniscus. Both centers on the Sixers roster will be on minutes restrictions.
This team is bad. They are going to struggle to win 20 games. The hope is that sometime in the second half of the season, the young core of Embiid, Simmons, Noel, Okafor, and Dario Saric will start to click and find a rhythm in the league. Until then, though, this team will struggle on both ends of the floor and that struggle will show in their record.
- Cameron Payne (foot)
3 Big Things1. Russell Westbrook
Westbrook is entering a season in which he is the undisputed leader on the team. He’s entering a season in which most people are doubting the Thunder’s position, not only atop their conference, but also atop their division. He’s entering a season like this and the first two targets in his sights are Sergio Rodriguez and TJ McConnell. I feel sorry for those two guys.2. Turnovers
One of the easiest ways to jump-start a bad team, is to all them to score points off turnovers. The Thunder have a tendency to produce turnovers at an alarming rate (19.5 per game in the preseason). If they don’t take care of the ball, the Sixers may pounce.3. Steven Adams and Enes Kanter
The key to this game may rest with the center position. Both Embiid and Okafor are on minutes restrictions. There will be times in the game where the Sixers will have to go small, likely with Richaun Holmes in the post. If one or both of Adams or Kanter doesn’t end up with a double/double, it will be a disappointment.