Thunder vs. Kings: Pregame Primer
Thunder (41-18, 16-10 road) vs. Kings (24-33, 14-15 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 9:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 109.8 (2nd), Kings – 103.1 (14th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 102.6 (13th), Kings – 106.2 (24th)
That one hurt. The last time I felt like this was when Pau Gasol tipped in the game-winner during Game 6 of the Thunder’s first round series against the Lakers in 2010. It was that devastating. But a lot like that first playoff series, it was also amazing. As many media pundits have stated, this may have been the greatest regular season game ever. The back and forth between these two teams and the atmosphere in the game was something more reserved for May or June than late February.
The outcome, though, was definitely not in Oklahoma City’s favor. There were a series of mistakes at the end of regulation and at the end of overtime that allowed the Warriors to both stick around and, eventually, win the game. But with all that said, everything we could’ve ask from the Thunder, we got. Kevin Durant had that Slim Reaper look in his eyes, scoring 37 on 7-11 from deep. Russell Westbrook, despite 7 turnovers, played a very balanced game with 26 points and 13 assists. Four other players on the Thunder’s roster scored in double figures. Outside of Stephen Curry, the Warriors shot 2-16 from deep. The Thunder outrebounded the Warriors by 30. It was basically the perfect game to play against the Warriors…
Except for the fact that the reigning MVP had the game of his life. Stephen Curry has scored more points before. But the impact with which he scored his 46 points was tantamount to the outcome of the game. His return from an ankle injury not only galvanized the Warriors, but also gave them another dosage of hope. Silly me, when Curry went down, I said, “Ahhh, c’mon. I don’t want to win the game this way (because of the injury)”. There’s a defensive philosophy in basketball to allow a superstar to get his, but stop the players around him from getting theirs. Well, the Thunder did just that for the most part (Klay Thompson had 32), but couldn’t contain Super Saiyan Curry.
In that, though, lies the positives from this game. The Warriors needed every single point Curry put up. They needed him to play in the fashion that he did to make their offense work. The Thunder did a great job defending everything from 0-24 feet from the basket. It was the 25-38 foot range that posed the problem for the Thunder. And honestly, you take those odds all day, everyday. The Thunder made the Warriors sweat and put a little doubt in their heads in regards to a possible future match-up. And that, could possibly be a victory in and of itself.
This is the third of four meetings between the Thunder and Kings. The first two games of the season series were played in Oklahoma City. In the first meeting, the Thunder foiled a near epic collapse by scoring 12 of the final 14 points of the 4th quarter to pull out a 98-95 victory, after entering the final quarter with a 12 point lead. In the 2nd meeting, the Thunder were without Kevin Durant and could never put together a good run to come back once they got behind, losing the game 116-104.
The Kings come into the game with a 24-33 record, having lost 10 of their last 14. They sit 4 games out of the 8th spot in the West, and still have aspirations of sneaking into the playoffs. They were a lot closer several weeks ago when they were coming off a 5-game win streak, but have since gone on multiple game losing streaks to put them in their current position. Their Achilles heel continues to be defense. They are the third best scoring team in the league, at 107.1 points per game, but give up the most points in the league, at 109.2 points per game.
The catalyst for that offense is point guard Rajon Rondo, who leads the league in assists per game at 12.0. Rondo has been suffering from tendinitis in his thumb and is a game-time decision for this game. While Rondo is the catalyst, DeMarcus Cousins is the heart and soul of the team. He’s arguably the best big man in the league, averaging 27.1 points and 11.3 rebounds. If Rondo can’t go tonight, back-up point guard Darren Collison will get the nod. Collison is one of the best back-up point guards in the league. Offensively, the wing position for the Kings is one of the more deep in the league. Rudy Gay, Marco Belinelli, Ben McLemore, and Omri Casspi all have the ability to score on the perimeter and on the drive. Up front, rookie Willie Cauley-Stein and veteran Kosta Koufous give the Kings a good big man rotation.
3 Big Things1. All-around Defense
The Kings are very active on the offensive end. They usually have five players on the court that can all dribble, penetrate, shoot, and pass at a high level. They are second in the league at points in the paint, at 49.2 points per game. They are 5th in the league in free throw attempts per game, at 26.4. And they are 6th in the league in 3-point percentage, at 36.1%. When you play the Kings, you have to stay disciplined at all levels of the defense; something, they didn’t do in the last meeting against the Kings.2. Kevin Durant
For the first time this season, we saw the Slim Reaper. I know he doesn’t like that moniker, but he finally played a game where he was fully focused and in tune on both ends of the court. Too many times this year, he’s acquiesced to the team in order to get teammates involved. On Saturday, Durant put the team on his back and said, “Follow me!” We hadn’t seen that since his MVP season in 2013-14. Could the Warriors game be the catalyst to a several game run of the Reaper? Hopefully, it is.3. Short-term Memory
The way the Thunder lost the game on Saturday could have deleterious effects on the team. If they wade too much in the malaise from that game or look too far ahead to their rematch with the Warriors on Thursday, they could forget about this game and the game on Wednesday against the Clippers. The Thunder need to get over the game on Saturday, and move on from there. The Kings are the kind of opponent that will crush you if you come into their game half-asleep.
Seth Curry – He’s a Curry and he’s playing against the Thunder. He had a career high 19 points in his last game on 3-4 shooting from deep against the Clippers. A 30-point career high game on 10-10 shooting from deep is upcoming. Mark it down.