The Oklahoma City Thunder (33-26) did not have a particularly great run up to the All-Star break. After winning eight straight games, they proceeded to drop six of their last nine. However, they did get Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook back into the lineup after both missed a couple of games due to ankle problems.
Those two helped the Thunder get the 121-114 win over the Memphis Grizzlies in their last game prior to the break. Westbrook had his customary triple double with 23 points, 13 rebounds, and 15 assists. Meanwhile, Paul George remained on fire from the field as he dropped 28 points on 10-of-15 shooting (6-of-9 from beyond the arc).
The Thunder will visit the Sacramento Kings (18-39), who will be back home after going into the break with three straight road games. They lost two of those three games to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Houston Rockets, but they did stay relatively competitive in those tough contests.
They were within striking distance of the Rockets thanks mainly to the hot shooting of Bogdan Bogdanovic. The rookie had 20 points, four rebounds, and five assists and went 4-of-8 from beyond the arc to lead the Kings’ resistance. Bogdanovic carried over that impressive play to the Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star weekend, as he dropped 26 points (9-16 FG, 7-13 3-PT FG), four boards, and six assists to help Team World to a dominant 155-124 win.
Three keys to the game
Kings’ rookie backcourt – Sacramento’s rookie guards, Fox and Bogdanovic, have grown in stature as the season has worn on. Fox has taken on more of a leadership role on the team ever since George Hill was traded, while Bogdanovic has added more playmaking this month to go along with his stellar 3-point shooting. Both rookies are vital to the Kings’ limited offense, and they will need to be at their best to keep pace with the explosive Thunder.
Melo and PG – The Thunder’s talented forward duo have inexplicably struggled shooting the ball against Sacramento this season. Anthony is shooting a mere 30 percent in his first two games against them, while George hasn’t been much better at 33 percent. However, PG-13 has been shooting the lights out 50 percent over the last ten games and should provide more consistent support alongside Westbrook this time around.
Buddy Hield – While Melo and George have struggled against the Kings, Hield has thrived. He’s averaging 18.5 points on 54 percent shooting against them this season. He’s also is coming off the high of dropping 29 points in the Rising Stars Challenge. The Kings could definitely use that sort of production out of him off the bench to bolster their offense against OKC.
Matchup to watch
Carmelo Anthony vs Zach Randolph – After a rough January, Randolph has picked up his play in February. He’s averaging 17 points and eight rebounds over his last seven games. For the Kings to be successful, they’ll need Z-Bo to capitalize on his size advantage against Anthony in the paint and keep the Thunder forward preoccupied on defense all night.
Thunder projected starting lineup
PG – Russell Westbrook | SG – Alex Abrines | SF – Paul George | PF – Carmelo Anthony | C – Steven Adams
Kings projected starting lineup
PG – De’Aaron Fox | SG – Bogdan Bogdanovic | SF – Justin Jackson | PF – Zach Randolph | C – Willie Cauley-Stein
Apart from Westbrook, George is the obvious fantasy star for OKC. PG-13 is having a phenomenal February, putting up nearly 30 points with five rebounds, four assists, and over two steals this month. While he’s struggled with his shot against the Kings, it should be noted that he has a whopping eight steals in just two games against them this season.
Sacramento’s shooting guards, Bogdanovic and Hield, are two options to look out for. As mentioned earlier, Hield has had his way with the Thunder this season. Meanwhile, Bogdanovic has also been coming into his own recently. He’s averaging 15.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.2 steals over his last five games. The two will now face a Thunder defense which has cratered against opposing shooting guards ever since losing Andre Roberson.
The Kings have generally been pretty competitive in their first two matchups against the Thunder. However, that was with Anthony and George shooting surprisingly low percentages. At least one of those two – probably George – will likely show up this time around, which will be trouble for the offensively challenged Kings. Take the Thunder to cover as 7.5-point road favorites.
The Thunder’s star trio leads the team to a winning start after All-Star break as they beat the Kings, 105-94.
This game will be broadcast on NBC Sports California and Fox Sports Oklahoma. Tip-off is at 10:00 pm Eastern.
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