Current Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (55-21), Sacramento Kings (27-50)
Last time they met: Oklahoma City Thunder (108) defeated Sacramento Kings (93). Thunder leads regular season series 3-0.
There is no doubt about it, the Oklahoma City Thunder need to get this win. After two consecutive road losses, the Thunder need to get back on track and a win over the Kings would be an ideal start. OKC have fallen off the pace out West with the last two losses almost granting the San Antonio Spurs the #1 seed, but they are dangerously close to losing their spot as the #2 seed. The Los Angeles Clippers are breathing down their neck and sit just one game behind. A loss is just not realistically an option for the Thunder.
There are also a number of worrying signs that the Thunder will be keen to come out and fix. Their lapses defensively and inability to stop teams scoring – particularly from the perimeter – has shown opponents the key to beating them. The Rockets and the Suns both lit up the Thunder defence, but they were two teams fighting for a playoff spot and are armed with terrific outside shooters. The Sacramento Kings are a different situation all together.
Sacramento won’t be making any noise in the playoffs and will enter this game short handed as Isaiah Thomas (who dropped 38 points on the Thunder the last time these two teams met) won’t be playing due to his quadriceps injury. This give the Thunder the perfect platform to deliver themselves and their fans a dominant win. Look for the Thunder to make a statement and to come out with a heightened focus and intensity – even without Russell Westbrook.
The marquee match up of the evening without a doubt. Kevin Durant’s effectiveness and efficiency on the offensive end and Rudy Gay’s athleticism and volume shooting at the other. Both small forwards are capable of taking over a game although it is more likely Durant will emerge as the difference maker. The luster of the “streak” has now dissipated after Durant surpassed Michael Jordan‘s mark but the Thunder will still need 25+ points from the superstar to get a win.
While the job of guarding one of the West’s best centers will likely be shared, Ibaka will have a large part to play. DeMarcus Cousins has been sensational this season and the Kings have really been riding on his coattails of late. With Thomas out, DMC has been asked to do a lot more, and he is doing it well. He possesses the blend of skill, size and athleticism that can cause the Thunder all sorts of trouble in the post if they let him. Ibaka will need to maintain his focus on defense and bring Cousins out of the paint with his mid-range jumpshot.
While many wouldn’t look at this like it is a vital matchup, it will be very interesting to see two super talented young shooting guards in action. If Westbrook sits, Lamb will get more minutes and he will need to make the most of them. Lamb’s minutes have been sporadic at best since the All Star break and with the addition of Caron Butler. Games like this are vital for his confidence and development leading into the playoffs. McLemore will be relied on to carry a bit more of the scoring load with Thomas out. He is a crafty guard with a lovely stroke and can put up points in a hurry.
You have to take the Thunder in this one. It is on the road, and while the first two games of this trip haven’t shown it, the Thunder are a decent road team. They should have far too much scoring potential and no doubt a renewed defensive focus. They showed in their first quarter against the Utah Jazz just how potent the defense can be and you can expect OKC to try and lock down the Kings and blow this one out early. If the Kings can remain in the hunt – a very tough ask without Thomas – then you never know, but smart money is on the Thunder to prevail. Thunder 112, Kings 88.