Tip-Off: 7 PM CST
Location: Chesapeake Energy Arena (Oklahoma City, OK)
Radio: The Sports Animal
Twitter: Follow @TheThunderGuys for live-tweets during the game
Player to Watch
F Kawhi Leonard is a slight outsider in the running for the MVP, but he is having a career-season with the Spurs, and he has definitely earned some consideration. Leonard is currently averaging 26.3 points, and he is shooting 48.7% from the field, 38.5% from three, and 89.6% from the free throw line while pulling down 6.0 rebounds and dishing out 3.4 assists. Although his offensive stats are impressive, Leonard’s defensive capabilities should not be forgotten, as he is also averaging 1.9 steals per game and is in the running for his third consecutive Defensive Player of the Year. In the sole matchup between the Spurs and the Thunder so far this season, Leonard absolutely destroyed Oklahoma City as he put up 36 points on 13/26 (50%) shooting to go along with 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 blocks. Andre Roberson needs to play top-notch defense and take Leonard out of his typical flow, or it could be a long night for Oklahoma City.
Keys to the Game
- Start off Strong: In the first meeting between these two teams in San Antonio a little over a month ago, the Thunder ended the first quarter down 11 points, and they struggled to make a game of it the rest of the way. San Antonio is not a team that Oklahoma City can afford to mess around with. The Thunder started off strong against Portland on Tuesday, but they let it slip away in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. Oklahoma City needs to come out with some intensity and get the crowd involved early to give them every possible edge they can get over the Spurs.
- Defend with Some Dignity: The Thunder’s defensive efforts lately have been absolutely atrocious. Scoring 121 points on your home court while your superstar MVP-candidate point guard drops a career-high 58 points should undoubtedly be enough to get a win, but it was not two nights ago. Oklahoma City had one of its best shooting nights of the season on Tuesday, which was a nice change from the trend as of late, but the defense cost the Thunder the game. With only 18 games left, now is not the time to experiment with lineups and attempt to figure out defensive rotations. These issues need to be settled in practice, and the team needs to come out ready to defend whatever offensive scheme an opponent throws at them. When it comes down to it, though, the Thunder need to take some pride in their defensive efforts and start shutting teams down.
- Play as a Team: Russell Westbrook has been putting up astonishing numbers for the entire season, but his scoring explosion since the All-Star Break has been unmatched. As impressive as it has been, the 3-4 record for the Thunder has been bad, considering all 4 losses have come consecutively against sub-.500 teams. Westbrook needs to do whatever it takes to get this team a win, and while he very well may need to continue scoring in high volume, he has to get the rest of the team involved as well. Alternatively, his teammates need to give him a reason to trust them. If guys cannot do the simple things like holding on to passes in the paint or make an effort to get open, then Westbrook is going to have a hard time working to get them the ball. San Antonio is a prime example of what team ball looks like, and if Oklahoma City wants to break this losing streak and get a win at home, they are going to have to play team ball themselves.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.