Current Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (49-18), Cleveland Cavaliers (26-42)
Last time they met: Cleveland Cavaliers (114) defeated Oklahoma City Thunder (104)
In one of the more disappointing losses in their post All Star slump, the Oklahoma City Thunder dropped their last meeting against the Cleveland Cavaliers. It will be a different game altogether this time around though as Russell Westbrook is getting back to his best and the Cavs are without the services of their franchise star Kyrie Irving due to a biceps injury.
The Cavs nearly caused an upset against the Miami Heat, narrowly falling short but their performance along with the last time they faced the Thunder will give them hope. The Thunder look like they have things together but split their last games against the Dallas Mavericks (loss) and the ChicagoBulls (win).
If the Thunder want to prove they are contenders and to keep the pressure on the Western Conference leading San Antonio Spurs, they need to get this win and do it convincingly. They need to ensure they stay defensively focused and don’t allow the Cavs to get anything going, while forcing turnovers and getting out in transition.
Kevin Durant vs Luol Deng
This is the marquee matchup of the game with the best scorer in the game going against a talented defensive and All Star swingman. Rarely does Durant not bring his “A” game and when he is on song he is very hard to stop. Deng will be flat out trying to stem KD’s influence and will also need to try and score the basketball himself and make up for the lack of output due to Irving’s absence. This is a must watch.
Russell Westbrook vs Jarrett Jack
It is not as enticing as it would have been with Irving in the lineup, but it will be yet another good chance to watch Westbrook in action. He didn’t play against the Mavericks and the Thunder lost, but he was back in the lineup for the Bulls game and the Thunder won. While it is not completely accurate to say “as Westbrook goes, so do the Thunder” – it does have some merit and we will be watching Russ with a keen eye to see what he can produce.
Steve Adams vs Spencer Hawes
One of the biggest reasons the Cavs were able to cool off the Thunder in the last encounter was Spencer Hawes. His ability to space the floor with his jump shooting and his three point range means you can’t just stay at home in the paint. Adams will need to bring his focus and footwork because Hawes is very fundamentally sound. Rebounding is a key to this game and Adams will be asked to reel in a number of boards while keeping Hawes from allowing the Cavs extra possessions.
The Thunder have done a number of things well and one of them is correct the errors of previous games. They did it against the Los Angeles Lakers and they should do it again against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Without Kyrie the Cavs are going to struggle and although they pushed the Miami Heat, facing a near full-strength Thunder is another challenge altogether. Cleveland at home always give it their best and they can’t be written off, but the Thunder should get win number 50. Thunder 109, Cavaliers 89.