Thunder (19-12, 7-6 road) vs. Heat (10-21, 5-11 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 6:30 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 104.5 (16th), Heat – 100.9 (27th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 103.4 (10th), Heat – 103.5 (12th)
The Oklahoma City Thunder currently find themselves 7 games above .500, which is the highest above the midline mark they’ve been all season. And that is a testament to the team that has been built around Russell Westbrook. When Victor Oladipo went down with a sprained wrist on December 11th, the feeling was the Thunder would not fare too well with only one competent ball handler on the team (Westbrook). That prophecy seemed to be coming true when the Thunder went on to lose 3 of their next 4 games after Oladipo went down. It was an ominous time as the Thunder were heading into their most difficult stretch of the season in January. If they could not build up some capital in the form of wins in December, then the playoff aspirations for the team may have been dead in the water by the time the All-Star break rolled around.
But lo and behold, this team has once again rallied and has gone on to win three in a row. They say a team takes on the characteristics of its leader, but I’ve never seen that to be more true than with this team and Westbrook. The relentlessness of Westbrook is starting to show with this team, as they constantly chip into deficits and stay within striking distance to give themselves a chance in games. Like Westbrook, they don’t seem to be too scared of the moment. Andre Roberson, Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Jerami Grant, Alex Abrines, Semaj Christon have all played big roles in closing moments of tight games lately. A lot like Westbrook, this team doesn’t seem to care too much about individual stats, instead focusing on team goals (i.e. wins). This team may not be a championship contender, but they do have the pieces and the style of play to shake the championship picture up for this season.
Season Series Recap
This is the second and final meeting of the season between the Thunder and Heat. The Thunder used a balanced attack in the first meeting to win 97-85. The Thunder were led in scoring by Enes Kanter who had 24 points, followed by Victor Oladipo with 17 points and Domantas Sabonis with 15 points. Westbrook had a season-low 14 points in that game.
The Heat come into this game with a 10-21 record, having lost 4 of their last 5 games. When the season started, it was unknown whether this would be a rebuilding season or whether the young players on this Miami team could propel this team to a playoff spot. Well, I think that question has been answered pretty emphatically. Hassan Whiteside has been a man this season, putting up 18 points, 14.9 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game. Unfortunately, the rest of the team around him is either too young to actually make an impact (Justice Winslow, Josh Richardson) or too oft-injured to help out (Goran Dragic (back), Dion Waiters (groin), Josh McRoberts (foot)).
The thing with the Heat is that a rebuild for Pat Riley is really just a reload. Once he sorts out the money situation with Chris Bosh, the Heat will be back in the game pursuing the game’s top free agents. It’s happened before, and flushed with the new TV money, it’s bound to happen again, and soon.
Cameron Payne (foot)
Victor Oladipo (wrist)
3 Big Things1. Rebounding
Whiteside gets most of the credit, but Miami is not a bad rebounding team. Justice Winslow and James Johnson each grab over 5 rebounds per game from the forward position. When you are dealing with a young team, stopping them from getting second chance points could be key to winning the game. The Thunder bigs will always have to be weary of where Whiteside is, and box him out as much as possible.2. Injuries and turnovers
The Heat will be without their starting backcourt (Dragic and Waiters) due to injury. Even though the Thunder have their own injury issues, they seem to be better equipped to handle injuries than the Heat. Tyler Johnson will have the responsibility of guarding Westbrook, which he has done decently in the past. With their main ball-handlers out, look for the Thunder to pressure the Heat’s backcourt in an attempt to force turnovers.3. Pace
With the Heat’s offense running mainly through Whiteside now, their pace has dropped to 24th in the league. The Thunder, 6th in pace, will look to run on rebounds and force the Heat into a faster game. That speed may disrupt the Heat’s offensive rhythm, especially if they get behind early.