- When: Wednesday, 21 January 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
- Where: Verizon Center, Washington D.C.
Finally! It took exactly half the season to get a game over .500. With the Thunder injurious past (hopefully) behind them, it is now time to conquer the next mountain, which is getting the 8th seed in the Western Conference. The schedule makers did the Thunder no favors as they face three of the Eastern Conference’s top teams on the road in the next 5 days. With little room for error, the Thunder need to start piling up the wins in bunches in order to stay afloat in the West. The four teams above the Thunder are currently on a collective 11 game win streak.
This is the 2nd and final meeting of the year between these two teams. The Thunder beat the Wizards in OKC, 109-102 on January 2nd. On that night, Kevin Durant scored 9 of his 34 in the final 6 minutes of the 4th quarter to keep the Wizards at bay in what was a very close game throughout.
The Washington Wizards currently sit at 29-13, good for 2nd in the Eastern Conference. They aren’t nearly as explosive as you would think with John Wall and Bradley Beal in the backcourt, but they are great defensively. They allow just under 97 points per contest (3rd best in the league) and have the league’s 8th best defensive rating. This is where their bread and butter lies. As mentioned before, the backcourt is one of the better ones in the league. Wall has become a top-10 point guard and is moving quickly into the conversation of being a Top-5 PG. Beal has regressed a bit from the season he had last year, but is still one of the best two-way SG in the league. On the other wing, the veteran Paul Pierce continues to move up the scoring list with his perimeter shooting and penchant for getting to the line. Up front, Nene and Marcin Gortat are two fleet footed behemoths that can cause problems with their size and rebounding. Off the bench, Andre Miller always gives the Thunder issues and Rasual Butler has turned into one of the best 3-point shooters in the league. Also, Kris Humphries and Kevin Seraphin form a pretty good back-up duo that would start on some other teams in the league.
Probable Starting Line-up
- PG – John Wall
- SG – Bradley Beal
- SF – Paul Pierce
- PF – Nene
- C – Marcin Gortat
Oklahoma City Thunder
- PG – Russell Westbrook
- SG – Andre Roberson
- SF – Kevin Durant
- PF – Serge Ibaka
- C – Steven Adams
3 Keys to the Game
1. Perimeter Defense – The most important thing will be keeping John Wall (and Andre Miller, for that matter) out of the paint. Once those two get into the lane, they become chaos-creaters and can hurt you in several different ways. At the same time, the Thunder have to contend with the shooters on the outside. The Wizards have 3 rotation players that shoot 39% or better from the 3-point line. It’s a little bit of a pick your poison type recipe, as guarding a player like Wall is an “all hands on deck” type directive, while hoping that the shooters miss some of their shots.
2. Pace – The Wizards are a lot like the Memphis Grizzlies in that they have two skilled big men, a talented PG, and two good shooters on the wing. So they love to run their halfcourt offense. The Thunder on the other hand, need to turn this game into a track meet by causing turnovers and getting out on the break. The last game these two teams played together was more at the Thunder’s pace and the outcome was a Thunder victory.
3. D.C. aka The Little House of Horrors – The Thunder have not won in D.C. since the 2010-2011 season. That’s 3 straight seasons of going to Durant’s hometown and losing in front of his kinfolk. That needs to stop. Not because we want to solidify our footing in the KD2016 campaign. But because we need as many wins as possible to get into the playoffs. Thinking about this season, not the offseason after next season.
On a side note, I hope Thunder fans don’t fret too much about Durant’s decision in the summer of 2016. Is it fast approaching? Yes. But this team will do everything it can to put a winning product out there on the floor. That’s what these last few moves (the Waiters trade and the proposed Lopez trade) are about. They’re not about impressing Durant. They are about putting the pieces in place to get better. The Thunder may finally have their most talented team yet, and their record would have reflected it if it wasn’t for the injuries at the beginning of the season. Enjoy this game for what it is (a match-up of two great teams) and not for what everyone outside of Oklahoma will turn it into (small market vs. big market politics).