Current Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (45-15), Philadelphia 76ers (15-45)
Last time they met: Oklahoma City Thunder (103) defeated Philadelphia 76ers (91).
It looks as though the Oklahoma City Thunder have turned the corner after their “mini-slump” after the All Star break where they dropped three home games. Since those losses, the Thunder have won back to back games against the Memphis Grizzlies and the Charlotte Bobcats. Russell Westbrook seems to be getting back to form and Kevin Durant is still showing off his terrific all around game. The Thunder do have some injury concerns with Kendrick Perkins successfully undergoing groin surgery ruling him out for the next six weeks and also Thabo Sefolosha being sidelined for the next month or more with a calf injury.
However, the Thunder are looking to incorporate new pieces to the puzzle, starting rookie Steven Adams, playing Hasheem Thabeet who had been buried down the end of the bench and also incorporating newly acquired Caron Butler. Butler has now joined the Thunder and participated in training and will be dressed and ready if called upon in this one. In the run to the playoffs, getting Butler and others accustomed to the rotations, systems and generating some cohesion will be key. If this is a blowout, expect Butler and the rest of the reserves to log plenty of minutes.
The Philadelphia 76ers on the other hand are in full “tank mode”. They have lost their past fourteen games and only once in that stretch, have they allowed less than 100 points. They are just 2.5 games ahead (or behind) of the Milwaukee Bucks for the worst record in the NBA and therefore more balls in the 2014 NBA lottery. They recently shook up the lineup prior to the trade deadline, moving key pieces Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes to the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers respectively and they won’t be rushing Nerlens Noel with so little time left in the season.
Philly will rely on output from rookie of the year candidate Michael Carter-Williams and talented forward Thad Young to at least make this a contest for the most part.
Russell Westbrook vs Michael Carter-Williams
Russell Westbrook was back to his best with a stellar showing against the Charlotte Bobcats the other night. While still on restricted minutes, Westbrook scored an efficient 26 points and looked like he has finally regained the touch he displayed before the latest knee surgery. He will want to follow it up with another solid performance as he goes against rookie Michael Carter-Williams. MCW has been terrific this season and one of the only bright spots in a bleak season that will likely be judged by the lottery pick they receive. Carter-Williams is a proud player though and will relish the challenge against one of the games best at his position.
Kevin Durant vs someone / anyone
This looms as a very big danger for the 76ers who are really left without anyone to really slow down or guard the four-time scoring champ. Thad Young will be far too busy dealing with Serge Ibaka on the block which leaves the task of limiting Durant to Hollis Thompson, Jason Richardson and even James Anderson – not ideal. If the margin in this one blows out, then KD might find himself with plenty of time to rest up however, if the Sixers can manage to somehow keep it close we could see a scoring explosion from Durant who will be looking to make up for a poor shooting night in his last game. Watch this space.
Caron Butler watch
Will we see Caron Butler in this one and if so, how much? All eyes will be peeled for a Butler sighting as fans and foes will want to see what he can add to the Thunder rotation. If he sees solid minutes, we might be able to get a bit of a gauge as to how the Thunder and Scott Brooks plan to use the All Star and NBA Champion.
The Thunder can really use this game to send a bit of a statement to themselves and others. They have looked mortal of late and although the losses to the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers weren’t horrible, the loss to Cleveland was unacceptable by Thunder standards. They allowed the Charlotte Bobcats to hang with them for three quarters as well and will want to really tighten the screws on Philly. If this is the case, then the winning margin could be 30 or 40. I think the Thunder quite comfortably get ahead early and then try to give the extended rotation minutes to gel and mesh. However, could we see KD drop 50 or 60? Thunder 123, 76ers 89.