OKC’s six-game winning streak was brought to an end on Tuesday when they went down 99-100 in a thriller to the Celtics. Paul George had 24 points in the loss, the most he has had in a long time, to go with 13 rebounds. Despite the defeat, the Thunder remain in fourth place in the Western Conference standings. They will need to keep winning if they want to stay there though, as the eighth placed Jazz are just 1.5 games behind.
For a time it seemed like the Heat were destined to drop out of the top eight places in the east, but on the back of a good run of form, they have well and truly cemented their spot in the playoffs. They have now won three games in a row, the latest of which was a 119-98 victory over the Knicks. Kelly Olynyk continued his good form off the bench in that game, scoring 22 points and dishing out ten assists in 30 minutes of action.
Three keys to the game
Whiteside’s absence - Hassan Whiteside has missed the Heat’s last six games, and is expected to sit this one out. Though he is inconsistent, he is an important part of Miami’s lineup, particularly at the defensive end of the floor. Without him, the Heat will likely struggle to stop Steven Adams on the offensive glass.
Offensive Thunder - Having made a name for their strong defense for much of the season, OKC’s offense has been clicking lately. In their past ten games they score 110.6 points per possession, which over the course of the season would make them the fifth best offensive side in the league.
Can Miami take care of the ball? - They’ll need to. OKC score the most points off turnovers in the league, averaging 18.9 per night. The Heat are generally reasonable in this category, ranking around the league average for percentage of possessions on which they turn the ball over, and in their last game they had just seven turnovers. They will need to make a concerted effort to repeat a similar performance in this game.
Matchup to watch
Russell Westbrook vs Goran Dragic - Two of this season’s All-Star point guards will matchup in this game, albeit two with vastly contrasting game styles.
Westbrook, as everybody knows, plays at a breakneck speed, regularly winning games almost alone but equally capable of putting in performances hugely detrimental to his own side. Numbers like his don’t come easy though, and he deserves credit for a season which has seen him average 25.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 10.2 assists and 1.8 steals a night.
Dragic, in contrast, plays at a consistent pace, and while he is unlikely to take a game away from his opposition, he also rarely puts in bad games. This season he is averaging 17.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists, and is in good touch of late, averaging 24 points a night in his last five games.
Oklahoma City predicted starting lineup
PG - Russell Westbrook | SG - Corey Brewer | SF - Paul George | PF - Carmelo Anthony | C - Steven Adams
Miami Heat predicted starting lineup
PG - Goran Dragic | SG - Tyler Johnson | SF - Josh Richardson | PF - James Johnson | C - Edrice Adebayo
Westbrook’s sometimes inefficient game style has never been as apparent as in his 17 career games against Miami. He averages 19.2 points in these games, but shoots just 37.5% from the floor and 21.4% from 3-point range, both of which are lower than against any other team. His 7.5 assists are a little below his career average, and are accompanied by 4.4 turnovers a night.
The Thunder have been given a 6.5-point handicap, and they’ll be able to cover this line. They are a much more talented side than the Heat, and have been playing good basketball for an extended period now. Expect them to win with relative ease, and cover this line in the process.
This is an important game for each side, with both jostling for playoff positions in their respective conferences. OKC will come out on top relatively comfortably though, with the talent differential in this game simply too much for the Heat to overcome.
George appears to be slowly returning to form, and he will put in his first 25-plus point game in weeks. Adams will be dominant on the offensive glass in the absence of Whiteside, grabbing 6+ offensive boards and proving too much for Miami to handle.
Combined with a Westbrook triple-double, this will all lead to a relatively easy OKC victory. They’ll run out 112-101 winners.
The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Oklahoma and FS-Sun. Tip-off is at 8pm ET.