GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS at OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Tip-off: Tuesday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: NA, Total: NA
As the regular season winds down, the Thunder are still jockeying for ideal playoff position.
The Oklahoma City Thunder were an enigma when the season started, and not much has been resolved since then—no one has any idea how they'll perform when the playoffs roll around. OKC had a big game last week at San Antonio, playing for a tiebreaker (not to mention a better record) against a Spurs team occupying the same range of the Western Conference standings as them, but the Thunder failed to capitalize on the opportunity and dropped to 2-2 on the season against the Spurs with a 103-99 loss. OKC gets a chance against another rival on TNT on Tuesday, when they'll host the Golden State Warriors. It's always a circus when SF Kevin Durant returns to his old home at Chesapeake Energy Arena, and this should be no exception. KD has been feisty lately, earning a first-half ejection on Thursday night for going after a referee a little too enthusiastically. The outburst may have ultimately cost his team a win against the Bucks, as his ejection left PF Draymond Green as the lone "star" on the floor for a team that was already without PG Stephen Curry and SG Klay Thompson due to injuries. Thompson is expected to be back on the floor for Tuesday night's game against the Thunder; Curry will not be back until the second round of the playoffs at the earliest. Oklahoma City has won two of three games against Golden State this season, with none of the three games having been decided by less than 17 points. Fans will hope for a more closely contested affair this week. If OKC winds up seventh in the standings, these two teams will compete in the first round of the playoffs.
The Milwaukee loss was the Warriors' third straight, and their fifth defeat in their last seven games. It's an odd place to be in for the team, who can easily blame the recent losing streak on their extreme number of injuries to key players, but have nonetheless not experienced losing this regularly since Steve Kerr took over as coach a few years ago. Of course, they'll presumably be with the trio of Durant, Green and Thompson once the games come around, but Curry's absence still leaves plenty of questions about how this offense will function. On Thursday, without Thompson and, for the second half, Durant, second-year PG Quinn Cook continued to try and carry the scoring load he has assumed with Curry out—and, despite the loss, he succeeded. Quinn was brilliant with 30 points on 12-of-15 shooting. It was his career-high for points, but not uncharacteristic of what he's been doing this month, as it was his fourth time scoring 20 or more points in March. Green played only 28 minutes in his first return to action after missing three games with illness. He scored 11 points on seven shots, and added six assists and five rebounds. Durant had 10 points and six assists before being ejected immediately before halftime. SG Patrick McCaw, starting in place of Thompson, scored 12 points on 3-of-9 shooting. He's nowhere near the shooter Thompson is—few people are—but at 6-7 his length helps him approach the All-Star's ability as a perimeter defender. SF Andre Iguodala was scoreless off the bench, but chipped in with five rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block. His contributions are extra important with the Warriors' stars out of the lineup.
Thunder PG Russell Westbrook's regular brilliance has created a situation where he gets far more attention for his mistakes than for his successes, but his poor play in the fourth quarter against the Spurs was a pretty prominent example of Westbrook indulging his own worst tendencies. He threw up multiple ill-advised jumpers that landed as air balls, including one with less than 20 seconds remaining and the Thunder trailed by only three. Westbrook shoots four threes per game despite hitting only 29% of them this season, and his choices to heave them up in crunchtime feel especially foolish. He finished the night with 19 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals and seven turnovers. Perhaps the guy who should've been taking that shot is SF Paul George, whose abilities have been consistently underutilized in Oklahoma City's offense. George shoots 40% from three and he was cooking against the Spurs, hitting three threes en route to 26 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals. He'll need to re-emerge as a central tenet of the OKC offense once the playoffs come around if the team wants to get past the first round. Another guy the team could've looked at for that last shot would be SF Carmelo Anthony, a 36% three-point shooter this year. There had plenty of hand-wringing this year about the fading Anthony being featured too prominently on offense for the Thunder, but his nine points on 3-of-6 shooting against the Spurs would probably qualify and underutilization. It was a good night for C Steven Adams, who had 10 points and 13 rebounds, five of which came on the offensive end. Against a Warriors front line that isn't exactly the team's strong point, he should be looking for buckets. SF Corey Brewer, who has thrived on OKC since being added to the team recently, will be of critical importance defending against the likes of Durant and Thompson. After having lost SG Andre Roberson to injury earlier in the year, it was an area where OKC was lacking.