Thunder vs. Kings: Pregame Primer
Thunder (54-25, 23-16 road) vs. Kings (31-48, 17-23 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 9:30 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 110.1 (2nd), Kings – 103.6 (14th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 103.2 (12th), Kings – 106.4 (26th)
I really do enjoy this time of the season when the team you are cheering for is in the position the Oklahoma City Thunder are currently in. They are locked into their seeding and really have nothing left to play for. They are resting most of their main rotation players, while at the same time seeing what the cupboard has in store for the future. It’s like preseason basketball for the postseason. Like preseason games, the main purposes of these last few games is to maintain momentum/chemistry and prevent injuries.
The Thunder reserves really showed a lot in their last game against the Portland Trailblazers. And let me preface that by saying that I know the Trailblazers aren’t elite by any stretch of the imagination. Yes, they are a playoff team, and yes, they have been one of the better teams since the All-Star break, but they aren’t the Warriors or the Spurs. By that same logic though, they still are one of the top 12-15 teams in the league and the Thunder reserves stayed with them until the end of the game. Enes Kanter had the first 30-20 game in Thunder history, while Anthony Morrow and Dion Waiters filled it up from the perimeter to the tune of 44 points combined on 50% shooting from the field (17/34). If the close game between the Thunder and Clippers the other night, in which the Clippers sat most of their starting lineup, raised eyebrows against the Thunder, then this game should have the same effect, but in the opposite direction for the Thunder.
This is the fourth and final meeting of the season between the Thunder and Kings. The Thunder lead the season series 2-1. The first meeting was a nail-biter in which the Thunder let a sizable lead slip away in the fourth quarter, only to put together their own frantic run at the end of the game to win the game back from the Kings. The next two meetings were blowouts in which the road team won. In the one game the Thunder lost in the series, they were without the services of Kevin Durant who was out with an injured toe.
The Kings come into the game with a 31-48 record, sitting 11th in the West and out of the playoff race. They’ve lost 7 of their last 8 games. They sit in the precarious position of having a pick that is top-10 protected, but being just 1.5 games ahead of the 10th worst team in the league. They have been “resting” their two stars, Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins, even though they aren’t injured in hopes of preventing that pick from possibly slipping to the 11th spot, where it will then be transferred over to the Chicago Bulls. The Kings still lead the league in pace (102.1 possessions/48 minutes), but have seen their offensive efficiency go down as the season has progressed.
Cousins and Rondo are likely to play in this game, while Omri Casspi (hamstring) and Marco Belinelli (foot) are both doubtful for the game. The most surprising thing about the 2nd half of the season for the Kings has been the play at shooting guard. Ben McLemore was replaced by Seth Curry in the starting line-up for defensive purposes, and Curry has made the most of the opportunity. In the 7 games he has started, Curry is averaging 14.3 points on 48/55/94 shooting splits. Because, of course, he’s a Curry. Rudy Gay continues to have a good season, averaging 17.1 points while playing relatively efficient to his usual inefficient standards. Darren Collison continues to be one of the best back-up point guards in the league.
Up front, the Kings are a lot like the Thunder in the center position. Cousins takes the lion’s share of the minutes, but they have two other big men (Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos) who will share minutes with Cousins on the floor and fill different needs for the team. Cauley-Stein is more of the defensive, energy guy, while Koufos has a more all-around game.
3 Big Things1. Getting Back on Defense
Sacramento loves to push the pace of the game, so if the Thunder fail to get back on defense, they may find themselves out of position. That is what happened in the fourth quarter of their first meeting back in December. The Thunder played lazy defense in the beginning of the fourth quarter and the Kings got hot from the perimeter. By the time the Thunder blinked, they were down by 7 late into the fourth quarter. Let’s not repeat that scenario.2. Steven Adams vs. DeMarcus Cousins
It’s the end of the season, and I’m pretty sure DeMarcus Cousins is in “I don’t even care”/YOLO mode. Meaning that if Adams pushes the right buttons, Cousins could completely flip his lid and wind up with a couple technicals or worse. While I would love for that trainwreck to happen, I also don’t want Cousins to take anyone on the Thunder down with him.3. Rest
No one. The team has stated that no one will be resting tonight.
Seth Curry – His last name is Curry. Enough said.