Thunder (42-31, 15-21 road) vs. Magic (27-47, 14-23 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 6:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 105.3 (16th), Magic – 101.0 (29th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 105.4 (10th), Magic – 107.6 (21st)
Defining moments. Those are usually the whipped cream and cherries on the top of a successful MVP campaign. Statistics are always important. As is team record. But those defining moments fuel the emotional narrative for why someone should be an MVP candidate.
If you hark back to the 2013-14 season, when the Oklahoma City Thunder previously had a realistic MVP candidate, it was those moments that propelled Kevin Durant to the MVP. The 44-straight games with 25+ points while Russell Westbrook was in and out of the line-up dealing with knee issues. The comeback win in Toronto in which Durant would not let the Thunder lose, scoring 51 points to include the game-winning 3-pointer in overtime. The 54-point explosion in a win against the Golden State Warriors, as he battled Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson who scored 63 points of their own. And so on, and so on.
The Dallas game in which Westbrook seemingly willed the Thunder to a win after being down by 13 with 3:30 left in the game will be looked back as one of those moments. And Westbrook has had a ton of them this season. Look away from the triple-doubles, and what you’ll see is a resumé that focuses on the most clutch player this season. Someone who has put the team on his back time and time again, and come out victorious. The Clippers game in early November. The Rockets game that same month where Westbrook put the game away by smashing an and-1 hammer on Clint Capela’s head. The Washington game where he struggled mightily, but scored 14 points in overtime to propel his team. The Utah game in February, where the Thunder led for most of it, but then needed Westbrook to bail them out late in the fourth.
Westbrook was never known as a clutch player before this season. Usually, those end of game heroics fell to Durant. But maybe, we caught of glimpse of that ability last season in the same building the Thunder will be playing in tonight. In that game, Westbrook made a half-court heave that sent the game into overtime and then went on to score 12 points combined in the two subsequent overtime periods to will the Thunder to victory. Sound familiar? We should have seen this coming from a mile away.
Season Series Summary
This is the second and final meeting of the season between the Thunder and Magic. The Magic won the first meeting behind a career game from ex-Thunder forward Serge Ibaka, who finished with 31 points, 9 boards, and 4 blocks. In addition, the final two points of his total came on a game-winning 9-foot baseline jumper. The Thunder made an impressive comeback in the second half after completely flat-lining the first, but ultimately fell short, 119-117.
Three Big Things
The Thunder hold a significant advantage on the boards over the Magic, in both size and metrics. The front line for the Magic is not very big once you get past Nikola Vucevic. For as big as Bismack Biyombo plays, he’s only 6’9″ in stature. Outside of those two, the next highest rebound gatherer is Aaron Gordon at 4.7 rebounds per game. The Thunder have three players that average at least 6.8 boards per game, with Victor Oladipo grabbing a solid 5.1 boards per game from the 2-guard position. In addition, the Thunder have four rotational post players that are 6’10 or above. The Thunder should win this statistical match-up easily.
2. Elfrid Payton
I don’t know what Westbrook’s train of thought was that last time these two teams met, but the whole “playing Payton up close like he can shoot” strategy didn’t really work too well for the Thunder. He consistently got past Westbrook and into the teeth of the defense where he either scored in the paint (7-12 from 2-point range) or dished it out to an open teammate (9 assists). Westbrook has got to do a better job of staying in front of Payton, who is a good point guard, even if he can’t consistently shoot a 3-pointer.
3. Pick & Roll
Look for Westbrook to put the Magic big men in a lot of pick and roll situations. Vucevic struggles defending in space, which leaves the middle open for Westbrook to either drive or find Adams or Kanter on their rolls. A lot like his countryman, Ibaka, Biyombo would much rather prefer to stay in the post than to venture out to the perimeter. Westbrook found his big men a lot in the previous Orlando game, as they combined for 29 points.