Wizards (21-24, 11-9 road) vs. Thunder (36-13, 22-5 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 7:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 109.7 (2nd), Wizards – 102.6 (14th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 101.3 (11th), Wizards – 104.8 (20th)
It’s amazing how, even as a die-hard fan/part-time blog writer, you still notice things that seemed to slip through the cracks. After the Houston game, I realized that great defenders expend so much energy on the defensive end of the floor when they are guarding an elite offensive talent. Its something that we seem to take for granted with the Thabo Sefoloshas and Andre Robersons of the league. What Kevin Durant did on James Harden in the fourth quarter (and especially on Houston’s last offensive possession) was equal parts amazing and eye-opening.
For a player to have to do that 20-30+ minutes per game against a Harden, Steph Curry, LeBron James, Durant, or Russell Westbrook would be draining. Now, ask them to run an offense and/or score 20+ points on the other end of the floor. They would be completely and utterly drained by the 20th game of the season. And yet, that is what we, as fans, expect of Durant and Westbrook every game. To not only dominate on the offensive end, but also be great on the defensive end of the floor. And that, honestly, might be asking too much of a player.
The point guard position and small forward positions in the NBA are probably the most stacked positions in the league. On any given night, you could possibly be facing a team with one or both of those positions stocked with a top 10 talent, position-wise. There’s a reason why players like Westbrook and Durant seem to be aloof through most of the game on the defensive end, but ratchet things up in the fourth quarter. If those players played the kind of defense Durant played on Harden in the fourth quarter throughout the entire game, they wouldn’t have enough energy to be effective on either end of the court in the closing quarter. So here’s to laying off Durant and Westbrook a little on their defensively lapses, while appreciating the help Roberson provides on that end of the court.
This is the second and final meeting of the season between the Thunder and Wizards. In the first meeting, the highly anticipated return of Durant to DC was dulled by Durant’s injury just before halftime that forced him to sit the 2nd half (and 6 subsequent games afterwards) and by the fact that Oklahoma City won the game handily, 125-101. Durant was on his way to a great game racking 14 points and 10 rebounds by halftime. In Durant’s absence, Westbrook messed around and got a triple double (22 pts/11 rebs/11 asts), while Dion Waiters scored 25 off the bench.
The Wizards come into this game with a disappointing 21-24 record, having lost 5 of their last 7 games. The Wizards entered this season with not only visions of improving their position within the Eastern Conference, but also of impressing certain future free agents of the state of their franchise. Throughout the season, injuries and a surprising lack of chemistry have put both goals in jeopardy.
The Los Angeles Clippers apparently do a great job of stealing the “chemist” from every team. From the Rockets, they took Josh Smith, who was eventually traded back to the Rockets. Once that happened, the Rockets started winning again. From the Wizards, they took Paul Pierce, who, apparently, was the heart and soul of a Wizards team that was one win away from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals last season.
The core of the Wizards has struggled to build off of what they have done in the past two seasons. John Wall still has a number of tool palpable to point guard greatness, but has yet to put that all together consistently in a season. Bradley Beal continues to struggle with nagging injuries and is currently coming off the bench. Marcin Gortat continues to be effective, but if he is your third best player, your team may struggle. Nene is a shell of his former self as his athleticism starts to wane. Otto Porter Jr. and Jared Dudley are both role players at the SF position. Garrett Temple and Gary Neal provide the shooting off the bench. Ramon Sessions has probably been the most consistent thing on this team.
3 Big Things1.Rebounding
The Wizards are 27th in the league in rebound%, while the Thunder are first. If the Thunder stay true to form in this statistic, they should limit the 2nd chance opportunities of the Wizards. Allow the Wizards to grab offensive boards and they will make you pay. They are one of the best teams at finding open 3-point shooters off the offensive board. With Kris Humphries out and Nene limited, Gortat is the only player capable of consistently grabbing double-digit rebound numbers.2. Pace
A lot of the Wizards’ offense is predicated on Wall’s speed. When Wall gets on the break, they have wings that can both shoot and finish at the rim. They are 2nd in the league in Fast Break Points per game at 18.7, and 5th in Pace at nearly 100 possessions/48 minutes. Commit too many live ball turnovers and the Wizards will make you pay quickly.3. Durant
Is #KD2DC even a thing anymore? Have the Wizards blown this so badly that their native son no longer thinks about playing there? Regardless, the Wizards really struggle with guarding Durant. Otto Porter Jr is too green and Jared Dudley is too short/slow afoot to stay with him. If the Thunder choose to go small, good night. Durant gets at least 32 tonight if he plays over 30 minutes.
Thunder Killer – Opposing player most likely to have a breakout game against the Thunder:
Bradley Beal – He’s slowly coming back from his latest ailment and his minutes have been steadily increasing. He’s coming off the bench now, which means he may be matched up much of the time tonight against Kyle Singler or Anthony Morrow. Ramon Sessions is a good enough back-up point guard to get the ball to Beal is he has a mismatch. Plus, Beal will likely see plenty of minutes with Wall. With his old college coach in the building (Billy Donovan), this could definitely be a game where Beal tries to show out.