Current Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (43-14), Cleveland Cavaliers (22-36)
Last time they met: First meeting of the 2013-14 NBA Season
The Oklahoma City Thunder were looking forward to integrating Russell Westbrook back into the lineup and having a full team for the first time in months, but after just 1 game, Kendrick Perkins has injured his groin requiring surgery and will miss the next 6 weeks of action. The Thunder have lost their past two games – both at home – and now face the Cleveland Cavaliers without their starting center (the Thunder are 0-3 without Perk in the lineup).
Westbrook will still be on limited minutes as he works his way back into form and the Thunder have made it known they will be a little cautious with him for the remainder of the season. Kevin Durant was brilliant in the loss to the Clippers and will need to be again. It will be interesting to see how Scott Brooks approaches this game in terms of rotations, lineups etc. He started rookie Steve Adams against the Clippers and will likely do the same again. He also has the option of going small when required or playing Nick Collison and Perry Jones more minutes in the absence of Perkins.
The Cleveland Cavaliers has a nice stretch of games leading into the All Star break, but are back to sputtering again as they try to find any consistency. They lost a close one against the Toronto Raptors and now have a tough ask of facing the Oklahoma City Thunder in Chesapeake Arena – especially difficult when the Thunder will be wanting to stop their two game losing streak. Some tantalizing matchups are still in play even with the minute restrictions and the Thunder will want to come out focused and put this one away early. If the Cavs can hang around long enough, they can cause an upset.
Kevin Durant vs Luol Deng
An interesting battle between two stellar small forwards. Deng will have to work really hard to negate the influence of Durant and if he can do that, the Cavaliers will be in with a chance. Still trying to find his niche in the Cleveland system, he has had a couple of solid if not spectacular outings and would like a good game against one of the leagues best. One of the better defenders at this position, Durant will need to work hard without the basketball if he wants to add another scalp. His efficiency is still his strength and it will be interesting to see him again try and re-establish the chemistry with his running mate Westbrook.
Russell Westbrook vs Kyrie Irving
Although some of the sting will be taken out of this one due to the restriction in minutes Russ has, when they are on the floor, it is going to be a battle. Irving is coming off a solid showing against the Raptors and the All Star game MVP will not back down from the challenge of facing Westbrook and Reggie Jackson. Irving can have absolute blinding performances but he can also go missing and try to force the issue a little too much to the detriment of the team. Cleveland will need his best if they are going to cause an upset. Westbrook will be looking to deliver some effective minutes, getting himself back into a rhythm and knocking down some shots as he finds his feet. Jackson will also play a key role and can’t allow any drop off when Russ goes to the bench.
Steven Adams vs Spencer Hawes
Steven Adams will likely get the start again and he will be keen to show just what he can bring to the team and the starting five. He will face off against Spencer Hawes who was traded from the Philadelphia 76ers at the deadline. Hawes has already shown promise and a level of comfort in the middle for the Cavs and he had a solid 15pt 7reb performance against the Raptors. Hawes is a tough center to guard as he can move right out to three point range, so Adams is going to have to be wary. The Kiwi rookie will also need to avoid foul trouble if he wants to stay in the game and give the Thunder some structure and balance.
All signs point to the Thunder winning this one and quite convincingly. They are at home and will really want to deliver a win for their home crowd fans and the Cavs will be on the second night of a back to back which makes it even tougher for them. Deng might be able to slow Durant a little but that task proves impossible on most evenings so we can likely see another 30 or 40 points from the scoring leader. The most interesting aspect of this game will be how the Thunder go when Russ is in the lineup and how Westbrook performs. Third game back and they should be a little more in sync which spells trouble for Cleveland. Thunder 110, Cavs 92.