Oklahoma City at Washington
Time: 7 PM CT (TNT)
Spread: WAS -5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Washington Wizards remain red hot. Washington is riding a two-game win streak and has won 9 of its past 10 games, and it will host the Oklahoma City Thunder as 5-point favorites tonight in the first of a TNT double-header at 7 PM (Central). The Wizards are 23-7 at home this season and the Thunder have gone 5-5 over its past 10 games while posting a 12-16 road mark in the 2016-17 season.
The featured matchup of this game, and what should draw some good attention, is that of MVP candidate Russell Westbrook and Washington’s John Wall. Wall has oft gone ignored in discussions of the elite guards, but to make no mistake, he absolutely is one. Tonight could be a chance for Wall to further that discussion by outplaying Westbrook, who continues to receive immense hype (and rightly so) on the basis of his triple-double average which he has now maintained for over half of an NBA season.
Westbrook is averaging 31.2 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.2 assists per game this season, despite shooting some shaky percentages and being the Thunder’s primary option even to a fault. Westbrook is shooting just 42.2 percent from the floor on the season and 33.8 percent from three, but his 1.29 points per possession still rank higher than all other OKC guards.
The Thunder need the return of Enes Kanter, who had become its third-leading scorer prior to suffering a broken wrist from punching a chair. That frustration may cost the Thunder, who relied on his 14 points per game off the bench, and his supplentary playmaking with Steven Adams’ somewhat limited offensive repitoire.
Kanter has improved as a defender and become more than a serviceable big, and given OKC’s relatively weak frontcourt, and depth issues, Kanter’s return is absolutely vital.
In the meantime, Steven Adams is Russ’ primary pick and roll option, and Oladipo needs to continue his strong play at the 2-guard spot. Kanter is out for two months, which means Oladipo’s time to turn into a semi-star (be realistic) is now.
Oladipo is coming off a handful of good games, but he frequently did that in Orlando only to fade into the background for a simiarly-long stretch.
For OKC to take the next step towards contention and be more than a “tough first round out,” it needs an assertive Oladipo and a healthy Kanter, only one of which is possible right now of course. That said, tonight will prove a tough game against Washington if not only because it is in the Nation’s capital, where the Wizards reeled off a 16-game winning streak and have been sheerly domiant this season.
Washington needs to be, too, given that securing home court advantage is now possible and even likely for the currently-third seeded Wizards. Washington trails No. 2 Boston by just 2.5 games, too, so the possibility of securing homecourt until the Eastern Conference Finals remains in play for Wall and company. Washington’s main problem will continue to be its sheer lack of depth, but Wall and Bradley Beal are clicking, and that backcourt is good enough in the softer Conference to equal some postseason success. At long last for Washington.
The Wizards still need to increase the usage rate and shot attempts of Otto Porter, while ensuring Marcin Gortat is healthy at center since there is so little behind him. With so much pressure and demands on its starters, it is difficult to imagine the Wizards’ success is sustainable over the long-term.
Even so, its starting-5 is playoff-caliber and all five starters do average in excess of 32 minutes a game, with Wall seeing nearly 37 minutes a night. It is just that the burn out factor is real, and Washington will be sure to benefit from the All-Star break as it gears up for a second-half push to try to catch the C’s in the standings.