WASHINGTON WIZARDS (26-21)
at OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (26-21)
Tip-off: Thursday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: NA, Total: NA
Wall vs. Westbrook is always a matchup worth watching.Something's a little off in Washington. On Sunday, Wizards players told a Washington Post reporter about a recent players-only meeting they had, with their primary takeaway being that the meeting did not go well. SG Bradley Beal, in particular, seemed displeased with how things went. On Monday night, the Wizards were blown out on the road by a lottery-bound Mavericks team, and Dallas PG J.J. Barea told reporters after the game that Washington PG John Wall's teammates didn't like him. Given all the drama around the Wizards lately, it seems like Barea may be on to something. Perhaps the Wiz can learn something from a now-reformed dysfunctional team on Thursday night when they visit the Thunder. After a prolonged opening stretch to the year when they struggled to jell as a team, Oklahoma City has stepped up in recent weeks to look like a contender (or as much as any team can be considered a contender while the Warriors are healthy). As of Tuesday afternoon, the Wizards (20-27-0) and Thunder (18-27-1) were two of the NBA's worst teams against the spread this season.
It probably won't happen given their reputations, but many believe Beal has outplayed Wall this season and deserves an All-Star Game nod, while Wall does not. If it does happen, that could just mean more resentment in the locker room. Wall's 42% field goal percentage is his lowest since his rookie year, and he hasn't shown much effort on the defensive end of the floor. He has also missed 11 games. His 11 points in 36 minutes against Dallas—and his spat with Barea—epitomized the struggles he's had in both shooting and leading his team this year. Meanwhile, Beal is just having an obviously better season. He's shooting and scoring more than Wall and Wall, while a league-leader in assists like always, is dishing out fewer dimes than in past year. Beal also struggled against Dallas—every Wizard did—with 18 points on 4-of-14 shooting, but he had scored 26 points in each of his two previous games. Wall's 11-point outing marked his third straight game with no more than 16 points. SF Otto Porter is still an accurate shooter, but he doesn't shoot often enough—less than 4.0 3PA per game—to fully take advantage. (Or, more accurately, his high shooting percentage is a result of careful shot selection and would decrease with greater volume.) The bench isn't much deeper than past years, either. SF Kelly Oubre has fully assumed the sixth-man role, but isn't particularly efficient or inspiring in his play. On the interior, C Marcin Gortat is scoring and rebounding less than he has since his days as a little-used reserve in Orlando last decade. The 33-year-old is clearly past his prime. All that said, Washington is in contention for a top-four seed in the East, and the unpredictable nature of the conference means anything could happen come playoff time.
The Thunder had a fun afternoon this past Saturday, exploiting a reeling Cleveland team to set the nets on fire in an outrageous 148-124 victory on the road. It was the fourth straight victory for the Thunder, all of which came by double-digit margins. Against the Cavs, OKC's starters combined for 121 points, and that was with defensive-minded SG Anthony Roberson—back in the lineup recently from a knee injury—scoring only eight. SF Paul George led the way with 36 points on 12-of-19 shooting and seven rebounds. He's the Thunder's best two-way player, but is only considered a borderline All-Star candidate this year thanks to his team's slow start and the depth of talent in the West. Reigning MVP PG Russell Westbrook undoubtedly had a fire lit under him when he wasn't named a starter in the ASG, and he thrilled on Saturday with 23 points, 20 assists(!) and nine boards. He's still doing some stat-hunting, but is slowly curbing his worst habits as the season goes along. Perhaps most detrimental to the Thunder early on this year was SF Carmelo Anthony's insistence of being an equal member of the team's Big Three, which suited neither his skillset nor his skill level at the age of 33. He had one of his best games of the year on Saturday with 29 points on 11-of-19 shooting and 10 rebounds. He also had 27 points in his previous game, a win over the Lakers. C Steven Adams also got his stats against the Cavs with a season-high 25 points and 10 rebounds. He's been a mainstay of the Thunder playoff teams for years now, but is still only 24 years old.