Chesapeake Energy Arena -- Oklahoma City, OK
5:00 PM Pacific
TV: ESPN (national), CSNBA (local) // Radio: KNBR 680
Blog Buddy: Welcome To Loud City
Could we be looking at a possible Western Conference first-round series preview when the Warriors and the Thunder match up for the last time in the regular season in Oklahoma City?
It's certainly possible, if OKC can get in. The Warriors are the first seed and have been since basically the start of the season, and Oklahoma City has clawed their way back from NBA purgatory to return to the thick of the Western Conference race -- 3.5 games back of eighth-seeded Phoenix with over half the season left.
Neither Kevin Durant nor Russell Westbrook can *officially* lead the NBA in any categories because each has not played in enough games to qualify yet, but their presence has no doubt lifted Oklahoma City from good to great. Case in point: Oklahoma City's .714 winning percentage with Kevin Durant healthy would rank third in the West. It's only a matter of time before the Durantula and Westbrook help the Thunder back into the top eight. Right? (chews on nails thinking of playoffs without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook)
Anyway, when healthy, these guys are as good a duo on the offensive side of the floor as there is. Durant and Westbrook are both averaging over 24 points per game, with Durant putting up a sparkling slash line of 52%/43%/85% to boot, via basketball-reference.com. The dude is a handful, as the Warriors saw earlier this season with KD having one of those "NBA Jam" games -- 30 points in the first half. Fortunately for the Dubs, Durant was out the second half of that December game and Golden State outlasted the Thunder 114-109.
No doubt, the Warriors will need to do better defensively against Durant to walk out of Oklahoma City with a win. I don't think any Warrior fan needs reminding that it was Durant who set his career high of 54 points against the Dubs last season. Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green will have to be on their games. KD ain't no Luol Deng, that's for sure.
The Dubs have done a much better job defensively since Andrew Bogut returned; only Portland has a lower effective field goal percentage defensively over the last five games, per NBA.com/stats. Obviously, with Bogut back, their defense is going to thrive on all ends; I don't care what Mark Jackson said.
Bogut's return has also seen the massive return of the dribble hand-off, an effective play designed to get Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson an open three curling around a Bogut pick while the defense is run ragged around the perimeter. Since the return of Bogut the Warriors have the best net rating, the best assist ratio as well as the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the league, per NBA.com/stats. They've just been thrashing all comers.
Oh, and those turnover problems we wailed about in the beginning of the season? Well, Golden State is now averaging a shade over 15 giveaways per game -- not that great, but a decrease of seven per game since the start of the season. Ranked merely eighth -- no longer at the top of that awful category -- in the NBA. Steve Kerr has done a fantastic job of getting Steph Curry and the Dubs to take care of the ball and make the smart play; the Warriors are fully immersed in the new, fast-paced, heavy-movement, share-the-ball offense.
The recent impact of Justin Holiday as a solid rotation player should not be discounted. Holiday has provided a bright spark off the bench with not only length and defensive acumen but also an ability to shoot the ball a little bit. Kerr gave him a chance after Leandro Barbosa couldn't produce and Shaun Livingston (scheduled to play against the Thunder) got hurt, and the undrafted rookie is running with it. With Holiday rather than Barbosa or Livingston (or, gulp, Brandon Rush) the Warriors have a very good (albeit not as good as Livingston) defensive guard with a shooting touch to space the floor, something the Warriors desperately need when playing bench-heavy lineups.
Livingston, Iguodala, David Lee, and Marreese Speights are all good players in their own right, but none of them brings true floor-spacing out to the three-point line. Holiday does, and the extra space helps those four to be able to create a shot a little easier when Curry and Thompson rest. The bench mob will have to produce when the Warriors inevitably sit their starters.
Westbrook and Durant as well as Serge Ibaka are sure to play heavy minutes for the Thunder, and it will be important for the Dubs to be able to match up defensively. The Thunder recently acquired Dion Waiters from Cleveland to succor their bench scoring. Marine Mangiaracina of Welcome To Loud City told Nate yesterday that Waiters' arrival in Oklahoma City means: "more broken plays, more scores, and more excitement. In general, just expect Waiters to encourage more chaos rather than balance in this already dynamite matchup."
Chaos and excitement. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Russell Westbrook and Klay Thompson. Warriors and Thunder. Sounds fun. Tune in.
- Steph Curry and Kevin Durant each go for 30+ points.
- Serge Ibaka and Andrew Bogut combine for 10 blocks.
- The halftime score will total in the 120s.
- Warriors 117, Thunder 107. Season sweep of Oklahoma City complete.