Thunder vs. Warriors: Pregame Primer
Thunder (4-0, 2-0 road) vs. Warriors (3-1, 0-1 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 9:30 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 94.0 (28th), Warriors – 107.3 (9th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 88.8 (1st), Warriors – 105.2 (19th)
On Thursday, Oklahoma will go on the road to play a conference opponent to solidify their standing within their conference. It’ll be a primetime match-up, and Westbrook will be the key to everything Oklahoma does. He’s the catalyst to their offense and his numbers these last four games should have him in contention for various regular season awards. But enough about Dede Westbrook and the Sooners. We have a more important game on the docket tonight.
The Oklahoma City Thunder face the Golden State Warriors in a match-up the entire NBA has been anticipating since it was realized on August 4th that Russell Westbrook would be a member of the Thunder for the foreseeable future. The narrative for this game was established that day, as people wondered how Kevin Durant and Westbrook would react to each other once they were on the same court.
The former teammates once shared a locker room for 8 years and appeared to have one of the best relationships a superstar duo could have. But in the months leading up to this match-up after Durant left, a lot of the conversation from Durant’s camp was about his relationship with Westbrook and how it wasn’t what it appeared to be in public. Every compliment about his new team was taken as a slight against his old team. Every compliment about his new teammates was taken as shade against Westbrook and his old teammates. Whether it was media-driven or not, the storyline for this game was set, and it had hardly nothing to do with the game itself.
After all the pomp and circumstances about what Durant and Westbrook will do when they greet each other on the court (will they hug, shake hands, fist bump, cage fight?) has subsided, the game that remains will likely be the most important game of this young season. The Thunder are the lone undefeated in the Western Conference, while the Warriors have looked shaky in their 3-1 start. This game could have lasting ramifications on the psyche of each team moving forward.
Season Series Preview
This is the first of four meetings this season between the Thunder and Warriors. The Warriors swept the season series last year, winning the three games by an average of 8.7 points. Then they met in the Western Conference Finals, where the Thunder held a 3-1 lead, before dropping the last 3 games of the series to end their season.
The Warriors come into this game with a 3-1 record, having won their last 3 games (all on the road) after losing their opener against the Spurs by 29 points. The core of the Warriors, which has been to the Finals the last two seasons, was boosted even more by the addition of Durant. Now a superteam, the thought was that the Warrior would run roughshod over the entire NBA.
What people tended to forget was that to get Durant, the Warriors needed to to shed about $20 million in salary. While the more successful parts of their core remained (Curry, Green, Thompson, Iguodala, and Livingston), there were about 5 other players who had to be shed to bring on Durant. In their stead, the Warriors have had to rely on veterans on minimum contracts and young, inexperiend players to fill in the holes. The results, so far, have been mixed.
Durant and Curry have been their usual selves, but Green and Thompson seem to still be adjusting to their new roles. In addition, Livingston and Iguodala seem to have aged a bit in the offseason. Add all that up, and you have a team that is still adjusting to its roster turnover.
- Cameron Payne (foot)
3 Big Things1. Attack the Paint
The San Antonio Spurs gave teams a model of how to beat the Warriors in this early going. Get into the paint and kill them on the boards. Westbrook and Victor Oladipo should be driving into the lane all game long, attacking the Warriors at their weakness. And when the weakside post defender leaves to assist on Westbrook or Oladipo, then Steven Adams or Domantas Sabonis or Enes Kanter need to be ready to grab the board and put it back up.2. Maintain Composure
The atmosphere for this game will be ELECTRIC. Not only do you have the tension with the Durant/Westbrook thing, but you also have two teams that have recent history. I’m not too worried about Westbrook, though. For all the talk of him being a hothead, the one thing that he does do is maintain his composure in big spots. It’s when scrubs like Charlie Villanueva or Alex Len come looking for trouble that Westbrook loses his marbles. It’s the other players that I worry about. The new guys who have never been on a stage like this. How will players like Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, Joffrey Lauvergne, Semaj Christon, and Jerami Grant perform on this stage? All five of those players stepped up at some point last night against the Clippers. The Thunder will need for them to do the exact same thing tonight.
Also, at some point, Draymond Green will do something. I don’t know what it is. Likely a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick, a Ryu Haduken punch, or a Cobra Kai kick to someone’s nether regions. Whatever it is, he will do something. The refs will be on high alert, so the Thunder players need to be vigilant to not fall for Green’s antics. Because as the story usually goes, the refs usually catch the reactor, not the instigator.3. Westbrook
Like the Somali pirate on the movie Captain Phillips, Westbrook is “the captain of this ship now”. He’s done a great job commandeering it so far, but this is his Moby Dick. This will only be one game in the standings, but it likely means so much more to Westbrook. Don’t be fooled by his “I play the same way every game” routine. That’s player-speak. Westbrook is human just like any one of us. And he likes to stick to those he feels have stuck it to him. In this case, it’s Durant and the Warriors. Westbrook wants to win, especially on their home court. I just hope he stays focused enough to remain disciplined and not go off-script too much.