Thunder (11-7, 3-4 road) vs. Heat (10-6, 8-3 home)
TV: TNT/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 – 109.9 (2nd), Heat – 102.9 (20th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 104.0 (16th), Heat – 98.9 (3rd)
There’s a duality that comes with being a fan of a player like Russell Westbrook. You love the passion, the drive, the heart. And because you love those qualities, you deal with the stubbornness, the tunnel-visioning (I’m copyrighting this word), and the general “I got this” attitude. All those qualities were on full display in the fourth quarter of the Thunder’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night. With 6:32 left in game, the Hawks were up by 9 points. For the next four minutes, Westbrook went on his own personal 13-2 run in which he scored 11 points and assisted on a Serge Ibaka layup.
With the Thunder up by four with a little over 2 minutes left, it seemed that the momentum had shifted. But that’s the thing with Westbrook (and the team, for that matter). It doesn’t take a lot to get them going, but once they are going, it’s hard to make them to slow back down. When they are at their most success, the Thunder are able to traverse between their instinctual selves (get out and run, transition machine) and their conservative selves (half-court, pick and roll, 2-man game). The Thunder could have ran some clock. They could have gotten better shots. Instead, they settled for contested midrange jumpers (which led to a costly turnover late in the game) and heavily contested shots in the paint. The fourth quarter half-court stagnation at critical junctures has been an Achilles heel of the team this season.
This is the first meeting of the season between the Thunder and the Miami Heat. The Thunder swept the season series last year, winning both games pretty handily. Their first win against Miami last year propelled them to the positive side of .500 for the first time, 41 games into the season. The second meeting of the season was during Westbrook’s Reign of Triple-Double Terror and he didn’t disappoint, registering 12 points, 10 boards, and 17 assists in an 18 point victory. (Note: That triple double was later rescinded as the rebounding total was brought down to 9 after the NBA’s video people reviewed the game.)
The Miami Heat come into the game with a 10-6 record, having lost 2 of their last 3 games. They have been one of the pleasant surprises in this early season. A lot like the Thunder, they have a talented roster, but were decimated by injuries last season. Healthy once again, the Heat are winning games with their defense and experience. They are still led by Dwayne Wade (18.0 ppg) and Chris Bosh (17.7 ppg). Up front, Hassan Whiteside is quickly becoming a force in the paint, averaging 13.5 points, 11.2 boards, and 4.7 blocks!. Goran Dragic has struggled with his shot this season, shooting 42% from the field and 24% from 3-point territory. The rest of their wings are all long-armed defenders (Luol Deng, Gerald Green, Justice Winslow) that will give opposing wings fits on the defensive side of the court. Deng is questionable with a sore hamstring. Off the bench, Green and Tyler Johnson give the Heat some scoring pop.
On a side note: What the hell happened to Josh McRoberts? He’s played in every game this season, is averaging almost 16 minutes per game, and is shooting only 31% from the field while averaging 2 points and 1.7 boards per game. This was after signing a 4 year/$23 million dollar contract two seasons ago. And we complain about Kyle Singler. At least Donovan stopped playing Singler. With all that being said, I’m fully prepared for McRoberts to go off for about 20 points tonight.3 Big Things
When you score only 96 points per game, but have still won over 60% of your games, that indicates two things: you likely have a good defense and you like to slow the game down. The Heat are 28th in Pace, recording only about 93.6 possessions per game. The Thunder, on the other hand, record almost 98 possessions per game. If the Thunder play the Heat’s game, they will play into their strengths. If the Thunder push the pace, they could find themselves in easy, transition opportunities.
2. Attack the Paint
It seems like a strange plan when Miami has a behemoth that is averaging nearly 5 blocks a game. But shot-blocking big men have a propensity to get into foul trouble when they are constantly being challenged. The Thunder have players that like to absorb contact and still get shots up. With that said, Whiteside has been good about not getting into foul trouble, averaging only 2.1 fouls per game.
3. Justice Winslow
Welcome to the NBA, rookie. He’s already 16 games in, but these next two games will be his baptism by fire. Tonight its Kevin Durant. The next game it’ll be LeBron James. Winslow has yet to start a game, but he plays starter minutes (nearly 29 minutes a game), so he will be in there enough to get experience against the best SF’s in the league.