San Antonio Spurs (57-17) at Oklahoma City Thunder (43-31)
March 31, 2017 | 7:00 pm CDT
Watch: ESPN / KENS; Listen: 1200 AM WOAI
Spurs injuries: Dejounte Murray (groin)
Thunder injuries: None
Who needs that Kevin Durant guy anyway? Despite losing two of their best players in KD and Serge Ibaka in the offseason, the Oklahoma City Thunder haven’t seen as precipitous of a dropoff as expected. The Thunder are 8-2 in their last 10 games and are seriously competing for homecourt advantage in the first round of the postseason. Their season can best be explained by the fact that…
Russell Westbrook is everything
What more can be said about Westbrook at this point? Love him or hate him, you can’t fault the man’s effort – he competes every game even when the odds are heavily stacked against him. And, honestly, how can you hate someone that does this?
Of course, Westbrook doesn’t come without his fair share of flaws. A few times a game, he launches jumpers that border between questionable and moronic. He’s currently on pace for the seventh worst three point percentage ever amongst players with at least 500 attempts, largely because of his poor shot selection.
Also, his defense is nonexistent: opponents shoot 3.5% better than league average when guarded by Westbrook, an impressive feat considering several of his teammates are defensive stalwarts. Part of the problem is that he often loses his man after running through a few screens. Limiting Russ’ crazy shots and boneheaded defensive plays will be crucial if the Thunder want to escape the first round.
Westbrook may need to rely more on his teammates in the playoffs, which is problematic because…
They can’t shoot – at all
At a putrid 32.8%, the Thunder are currently the third worst three point shooting team in the NBA. Now, it would be one thing if they realized their lack of sharpshooting and limited their shot attempts, but that’s not the case. They are actually middle of the road in terms of attempts (tied for 16th in the NBA), which is ahead of several prolific shooting teams including the Pacers, Raptors and Spurs.
While their poor shooting is currently abused by opposing defenses, it could be exacerbated even further come playoff time. All season long Russell Westbrook has sliced and diced in the paint, but what happens when opponents adjust in a seven-game series? Victor Oladipo is the only above-average shooter in their rotation, so defenses can pack the paint to slow Westbrook.
Westbrook needn’t fret too much, however, because…
Oladipo has become a key contributor
Since returning from a back injury on March 7th, Victor Oladipo has been the secondary offensive option Westbrook has so badly needed. Over these 11 games, Oladipo’s knocked down 48% of his shots (including 57% from deep!), and has been notably more aggressive than earlier in the season. This is a crucial development for the Thunder to limit Russ’ offensive uptake. If Victor can continue to contribute, OKC could be a more serious threat in the playoffs.
Matchup to watch: Kawhi Leonard vs. Andre Roberson. Andre Roberson has made somewhat of a name for himself as the “Kawhi-stopper”. Perhaps this is a bit of a misnomer – Kawhi is still averaging 27.5 ppg against OKC this season. However, Roberson has certainly slowed him as Leonard has been limited to six three point attempts over two games along with well below average shooting percentages. This tête-à-tête between the MVP contender and one of the NBA’s finest defenders is ultimately what could decide the outcome tonight.
Vegas line: Spurs by
Game prediction: Spurs by 4.
For the Thunder fans' perspective, visit Welcome to Loud City.
As always Tony must dominate Fisher.
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