On Saturday, the Thunder earned themselves an important 104-94 victory against the Spurs. Russell Westbrook had a triple-double in the win, scoring 21 points, pulling down 12 rebounds and dishing out ten assists.
The win put OKC in a tie for fourth place in the Western Conference standings, but they will need to keep winning if they want to stay there. Denver are currently in ninth place with a record of 37-30, just 1.5 games behind the Thunder.
Things aren’t quite as important for the Kings. They are in 12th place in the west with a record of 21-46, and have little to gain for the rest of the season other than better lottery odds. Sacramento were soundly beaten by the Nuggets on Sunday, going down 104-130. Buddy Hield impressed off the bench, scoring 18 points and dishing out four assists in 27 minutes.
Three keys to the game
Can the Kings back up? - Sacramento haven’t shown a lot of ability to perform on the second leg of back-to-backs this season. From 13 such games, they have won just four, and considering this is a back-to-back which has required them to travel from Denver to Oklahoma City, fatigue is likely to play a major role.
How many shots for Russ? - Westbrook seems to be alternating between game styles in recent weeks. In his past nine games, he has shot 15 times or less five times, and in these games OKC are 4-1. In the other four games during this stretch, he has shot 25 times or more, and the Thunder are 2-2. Both the team and Westbrook benefit from him playing more in control, and if he does so in this game it will be tough for the Kings to get close.
The battle of the boards - OKC, thanks largely to Steven Adams’ offensive rebounding prowess, are the second best team in the league on the glass this season, grabbing 52% of available rebounds. In contrast, the Kings have really struggled in this area. They secure just 48% of rebounds on offer, better than only Orlando and Dallas.
Matchup to watch
Russell Westbrook vs De’Aaron Fox - The reigning MVP might be having a down year compared to his 2016/17 campaign, but he is still one of the best players in the game. This season, he is averaging 25.3 points, 9.6 rebounds, 10.1 assists, and 1.8 steals, and is shooting a respectable 44.7%. He is still a flawed player, but he is also supremely talented, and Fox will learn a lot from this matchup. Last year’s number five draft pick has shown plenty of glimpses of his talent this season. In 57 games, he is averaging 11.4 points, 4.3 assists and 1.0 steals. He won’t be able to compete anywhere near to the level of his opponent in this game, and expect Westbrook to have a big one against the rookie, but Fox will no doubt relish the challenge of playing against one of the best.
Oklahoma City Thunder predicted starting lineup
PG - Russell Westbrook | SG - Corey Brewer | SF - Paul George | PF - Carmelo Anthony | C - Steven Adams
Sacramento Kings predicted starting lineup
PG - De’Aaron Fox | SG - Bogdan Bogdanovic | SF - Justin Jackson | PF - Zach Randolph | C - Kosta Koufos
Westbrook has really struggled in the three matchups between these sides so far this season. He is shooting just 38.7% from the field on the way to an average of just 18.7 points, and has had just one more assist than turnovers. He averages 8.7 assists per game to go with 8.3 turnovers, and gave up the ball ten times in a single games against the Kings in January. His career numbers against Sacramento are better though; in 33 career outings he averages 21.1 points on 44.7% shooting, 7.1 rebounds, 8.5 assists and 4.6 turnovers.
Unsurprisingly, the Kings have been given no love in this game. Oddsmakers have handicapped the Thunder by 13.5 points, and though they should have no trouble winning the game, it’s difficult to justify them winning by over this margin. OKC haven’t always performed to their best against low quality opposition, so expect the Kings to cover this line.
This game will pose no problems for the Thunder, who will earn themselves an important win in what is becoming an increasingly tighter race for the postseason. Westbrook will bounce back from his poor games against the Kings earlier in the season, and will show Fox how to be an NBA point guard with a 25+ point triple-double. Adams will dominate on the glass, grabbing 7+ offensive boards against Koufos and Randolph. The Thunder will be far too strong, running out 111-99 winners.
The game will be broadcast locally on Fox Sports Oklahoma and NBCSCA. Tip-off is at 8pm ET.