The Oklahoma City Thunder (30-24) are on one of their trademark streaks again. After reeling off eight consecutive wins in January, they’ve now dropped their last four games in a row, the last two of which have been particularly shocking as they lost to the New Orleans Pelicans and the Los Angeles Lakers at home.
Russell Westbrook (36 points, nine assists) and Paul George (26 points, seven rebounds) both bounced back from their listless offensive performance against the Pelicans, but they didn’t receive enough help from their teammates to handle the struggling Lakers. Carmelo Anthony’s recent shooting slump, meanwhile, has been getting worse. He’s now averaging just 13.6 points on 34 percent shooting over his last five games.
Perhaps a matchup against the Golden State Warriors (41-12) is just the game that can jolt the Thunder back to life. The Warriors have been weary themselves as they dropped two of three games during their recent road trip. Coach Steve Kerr has described his team as “mentally fried,” which does not sound good at all. They conspired to give up 38 points in the fourth quarter against the Nuggets en route to a 115-108 defeat.
Kevin Durant will at least be in blistering form ahead of his next matchup against his former team. Durant has topped 30 points in each of his first two games this February while shooting an insane 73 percent from the field. Stephen Curry has leveled off after his torrid January, but he has continued to put up over 20 points per game.
Three keys to the game
Mindset - The Warriors may not be locked in mentally as in past years, but they can still turn it on when they want to. They proved that with their impressive win over the Celtics the previous week. They’ve had two days’ rest back home, which should go a long way toward recharging their batteries. On the other side, though, the Thunder should be amped up as they aim to snap their recent losing slump, so they don’t expect them to concede to the champs, who they beat in OKC in November.
Thunder supporting cast - Oklahoma City really need to find someone other than their Big Three of Westbrook, Paul George, and Anthony to step up offensively. And even within that trio, Melo must also wake up from his current slump. The Warriors defense, if fully locked in, can cause that Thunder offense problems if OKC keep relying on Westbrook and George as heavily as they have in recent games.
Warriors bench - The Golden State bench has been a bit of a disappointment this season. No one has really stepped up and carried the torch as the reliable sixth man from Andre Iguodala, who is no longer able to bring it as consistently nowadays. They’ve been getting close to nothing offensively from that unit, particularly in terms of outside shooting. But the good news for them is that they face an equally inept Thunder bench, so Golden State’s reserves would likely consider playing OKC’s reserves to a draw as a big win for them.
Matchup to watch
Paul George vs Kevin Durant - Durant wasn’t quite at his best in his first meeting against the Thunder as he was still dealing with an ankle sprain. Because of that, George got the better of their particular head-to-head and the Thunder won the game quite comfortably. But both players will be pretty much at the peak of their powers heading into Round 2, which should make for a much more interesting battle this time around.
Thunder projected starting lineup
PG - Russell Westbrook | SG - Terrance Ferguson | SF - Paul George | PF - Carmelo Anthony | C - Steven Adams
Warriors projected starting lineup
PG - Stephen Curry | SG - Klay Thompson | SF - Kevin Durant | PF - Draymond Green | C - Zaza Pachulia
Westbrook is always a big fantasy threat whenever he steps onto the court, yet George has been the much more intriguing Thunder fantasy player of late. Over his last 10 games, PG-13 is averaging 264 points on nearly 50 percent shooting with 5.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals. He posted an impressive all-around line of 20 points, 11 boards, four steals, four 3-pointers, and two blocks against the Warriors in November, and could be set for an even bigger night given how well he’s been playing.
As for the Warriors, Klay Thompson may just end up providing the most fantasy value ahead of even Durant - who, as mentioned earlier, has been in sizzling form in February - or Curry. With Andre Roberson out, the Thunder have been much more susceptible to giving up big fantasy nights to opposing shooting guards. Thompson obviously has the ability to fully exploit that particular matchup if given the opportunity.
The Thunder will be ten-point road underdogs, which is basically the norm nowadays for teams that visit Oracle. But even with their recent struggles, they have the upside to give the Warriors a game. The Warriors are a mere 10-14 ATS at home and given their current mental state, they may not have enough to cover that double-digit spread.
The Warriors come out on top as they beat the Thunder in a relatively close contest, 114-107.
This game will be broadcast nationally on TNT. Tip-off is at 10:30 pm Eastern.