The OKC Thunder will continue their road trip throughout the month of January. However, one game stands out above the rest as the game of the month for OKC.
This season, the OKC Thunder are having their respective ups and downs. As a team, you can expect to have good and bad stretches during an 82 game season. Still, the Thunder have a current record of 25-17, they are one game behind Utah for fifth place in the Western Conference.
Despite the record and the statistics, the Thunder have played well this season. This is due in part to the will of Russell Westbrook and the bench production of Enes Kanter. Both of whom have been monsters this season. Westbrook is averaging 30 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.5 assists per game. Whereas Kanter is averaging 14.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1 assist in just 21 minutes per game.
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While the outcome of this season is still in writing, the Thunder are a dark horse in this Western Conference Playoff picture. On Wednesday, the Thunder will see the defending Western Conference Champion Golden State Warriors for the second time this season.
The first meeting between these two Western Conference rivals took place on November 3rd, and it wasn’t pretty. The Oklahoma City Thunder struggled to control their emotions during that game. Westbrook shot 4-of-15 from the floor for 20 points. Andre Roberson went 1-of-6 from the floor for two points in 18 minutes. Even more puzzling, was the fact that Enes Kanter played just three minutes in that game.
Former Thunder great Kevin Durant went off, shooting 15-of-24, dropping 39 points (including seven three’s) against his former running mates. Stephen Curry added 21, and Klay Thompson brought 18 to the party as the Warriors defeated the Thunder 122-96.
However, the game took place on November 3rd, which seems like it happened six months ago versus two and some change. Nevertheless, the Oklahoma City Thunder must approach this game differently than other games. This isn’t just another game. Sure, it’s a regular season game, and the Thunder will play this team twice at home. Still, the Thunder must prove to themselves that they can compete with Golden State in their gym.
This is about the mental toughness of this team, OKC needs a mental boost. If they can compete and challenge Golden State, it would do wonders for their mental toughness. The Thunder can’t treat this like it’s just another game. They have to have a playoff mindset and bring their ‘A’ game. The Thunder will see this team again in Oklahoma City on February 11th, and again on March 20th.
The Thunder need to win this game on Wednesday, not just for the fans, but for themselves as well. Within the game on Wednesday, is the individual competition between Westbrook and Durant. Westbrook has to be polished and on point against Golden State. He’ll have to block the noise and not worry about throwing shade at Kevin Durant. The Thunder must be locked in from start to finish and top to bottom.
This includes head coach Billy Donovan. Under no circumstances should Kanter play less than 25 minutes in this conquest. The Thunder can beat the Warriors by going inside out due to their size. Offensively, the Thunder can dominate the paint and control this game. Westbrook should go right to the rim every play, dishing to Kanter or Steven Adams for the easy buckets. Now, if the Thunder start jacking up three-pointers and try to run with this team, it will be a long night.
Golden State averages 47.2 points in the paint and 52.7 rebounds per game. The Thunder will have to win both of those categories in order to have a chance. Adams and Kanter must be on the floor together for much of this game. Also, I would be concerned about Domantis Sabonis defending the three-point line.
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This game is going to be over-hyped over the course of the next couple of days. Theoretically, this game could prove as big as the meeting between these two last season in OKC. This, of course, being the February 27th game where Curry drilled a half-court shot at the buzzer to give Golden State the win in overtime 121-118.