Oklahoma City Thunder at Golden State Warriors
Time: 8 PM CT (ESPN)
Spread: GSW -8
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The Oklahoma City Thunder are seeded No. 3 in the West and currently riding a five-game win streak. According to NBA oddsmakers that may come to an end, as the Thunder travel to face the Golden State Warriors as 8-point underdogs. The Warriors are a perfect 22-0 at home this season and are riding an eight-game win streak of its own.
It is strange to see a 38-13 Thunder team as such big underdogs, but the Warriors have been that good this season. Oklahoma City averages 109.7 points per game while surrendering 101.6, good for a differential of +8.1. The Warriors, though, are averaging 115.4 points per game while giving up 102.7, a +12.7 differential (second only to the San Antonio Spurs’ +13.6).
The Thunder most recently knocked off the Orlando Magic at Chesapeake Energy Arena, winning 117-114 on a last-second long three pointer by Kevin Durant. The Magic have dropped two games to the Thunder this season by three points, but OKC will need to play much better basketball to beat a time like Golden State.
In the win over Orlando, Russell Westbrook had a triple-double in his first 22 minutes of playing time, eventually finishing with 24 points, 14 assists and a career-high 19 rebounds. Durant meanwhile shot 12 of 25 from the field and 6 of 12 from three point range to finish with a game-tying high of 37 points. The Thunder did not get much from its bench, outside of Enes Kanter’s 13 points. OKC has had trouble getting players other than Durant and Westbrook to step up this season, and Serge Ibaka certainly fits that category.
Ibaka saved the Thunder against Orlando with a key block on Victor Oladipo on Orlando’s last full possession (the Magic would get the ball back following Durant’s shot with 0.5 seconds, and it failed to get off a shot).
Ibaka has been very inconsistent, and over his past five games, just not very good. He has averaged just 9.6 points and eight rebounds per game while shooting a paltry 40 percent from the field. In the Thunder’s win over the Houston Rockets on Jan 29, he had just two points on 1 of 7 shooting.
The Thunder know what Ibaka is capable of at his best, but perplexingly he has played better in losses this season, averaging 14.2 points per game in the Thunder’s 13 defeats (his season average is just 12.8). So perhaps the real key to OKC driving further this season is getting Dion Waiters and Kanter more involved.
Kanter ranks No. 4 on OKC in scoring at 11.9 points per game, but he is very efficient and posts a PER of 23.4, good for third on the Thunder. Over his past four games, Kanter is averaging 18 points and eight rebounds per game, and he had back to back 20-plus point, 10-rebound games in the Thunder’s victories over the Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves.
Kanter’s win-loss numbers are more telling and make more sense than Ibaka’s. In Thunder wins Kanter is averaging 12.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game but in losses he is good for only 9.2 points and 7.4 rebounds. It seems keeping Kanter involved is a key to the Thunder’s success. He attempted 16 field goals in the two aforementioned games but is averaging just 7.5 shots per game over OKC’s last two contests.
Though the Warriors are a tough defensive team, Kanter is skilled on the blocks. He will face tough challenges with Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut at the 4/5 spots. Missing Festus Ezeli (knee) may hurt the Warriors though if Kanter can manage to get Bogut into early foul trouble. It may be the one Achilles’ heel the Warriors have, but even that is mitigated by the fact that Marreese Speights on the bench and also the option of going small.
The Warriors are still in pursuit of the Bulls 72-win season and at 45-4 may have a real shot at it. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, sometimes known as “The Splash Brothers” are both having phenomenal seasons and will compete against one another in the three-point shootout All-Star weekend. It is a well deserved honor, though perhaps it goes without saying the tandem should be in the event.
Curry and Thompson combine for 8.2 threes per game and both are shooting strong percentages (Curry is at 45.9 percent and Thompson 43.4). Curry is averaging a career-high 29.8 points per game in leading the league this season, and it may be that he wins a back-to-back MVP award this season; and he probably should.
Thompson could easily be a No. 1 option on about half the teams in the league but as a sidekick he is at least over-qualified. Thompson also has been relatively on fire the Warriors’ past five games, to the tune of 29.2 points per game on 58.1 percent shooting, and 50 percent on threes at 8.8 attempts per game.
With Thompson shooting as he is, and Curry being what he is, the Warriors seem nearly unbeatable. And most certainly they are at home. Could Golden State go 41-0 at home this season? One can only say that based on results thus far, it is probable.