Oklahoma City Thunder need to keep coming against Wizards

Oklahoma City Thunder head to Washington to face red-hot Wizards.

Thank God that one is over. After an emotional night at Chesapeake Energy Arena against the Golden State Warriors, the Oklahoma City Thunder can get back to basketball when they travel to Washington to play the Wizards.

When these two teams met on the first day of December, the Thunder won 126-115 in overtime thanks to Russell Westbrook’s 14 points in the extra quarter. The Wizards were 6-11 and everyone questioned whether they could win with the John Wall-Bradley Beal combination. The Thunder were 12-8 and everyone praised how the team had come together and stayed above water.

Things are different now.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are still being praised for how they’ve performed despite the loss of one superstar, but these aren’t your December Wizards. Washington now sports a 32-21 record, Wall and Beal are playing some of the best basketball of their careers, and Otto Porter Jr. has emerged as a bucket getter. The Wizards are 9-1 in their last ten, with their only loss coming to the Cleveland Cavaliers in overtime, a game they would have won if not for an amazing Kevin Love full court pass and LeBron James turnaround three.

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It turns out, Scott Brooks might not be such a bad coach. Most Thunder fans knew this given the way he groomed young guys like Westbrook and James Harden. Other’s are still surprised given his lack of offensive imagination and rotation decisions.

Keep Coming

Things didn’t go OKC’s way on Saturday, but the biggest positive was their fight. They battled, almost literally, until the end. When your team is led by Russell Westbrook, it’s tough not to have that fight in you. Westbrook plays like a kamikaze on every play, which is sometimes a detriment but is also admirable.

Andre Roberson followed suit on Saturday, and officially earned his spot on the Oklahoma City Thunder War Team. The rest of the team has to follow their leader against Washington and play with that same intensity and effort that sparked them against the Warriors. The Wizards have proven that they aren’t afraid of the top dogs and they won’t back down. Neither will the Thunder.

Bench Play

Saturday’s game turned when many OKC games turn: when Westbrook took a seat. Cameron Payne came in and looked overwhelmed (it was still a block, though), and the rest of the bench couldn’t keep up with the speed of the Warriors.

Fortunately for OKC, the only team with a worse bench than them might be the Wizards. Kelly Oubre Jr. is their only solid option off the bench, and even he is still trying to find his game as a sophomore.

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Don’t put too much stock into how the bench played against the Warriors. Golden State is the only team in the league with the luxury of being able to keep two all-stars on the court at the same team. They can decimate any bench unit. Prior to Saturday, the OKC bench was starting to find a decent rhythm. Billy Donovan began using Victor Oladipo and Steven Adams with the bench unit, and the results looked better with each passing game. Payne turned in a strong performance against Cleveland, Alex Abrines was working his way back into the rotation, and Joffrey Lauvergne provided serviceable work.

If the Wizards bench outplays the Thunder bench, then we’ve got issues.

Finish Strong

This is the final game of OKC’s “hell” schedule that started near the end of December. After tonight, they play a schedule filled with teams below .500 that should allow them to comfortably secure a playoff spot.

The results over the past month have been mixed. Losing Adams for a couple of games and then Enes Kanter in the middle of things didn’t help. Westbrook had his ups and downs, the bench looked lost at times, Oladipo struggled with his shot coming off the wrist injury, and Billy Donovan mixed and matched his rotations. OKC is 10-11 since January 1st, not a great record, but a solid record given the schedule and untimely injuries.

Going 11-11 before playing the Knicks at home, and then heading into the All-Star break, would be ideal. It gives them a chance to finish just above .500 prior the trade deadline, where moves are likely to be made. Losing tonight means they’ll be 11-12 at best heading into the break, and while the schedule does get easier, you want to have some positive momentum and good vibes prior to your mini-vacation.

Thunder at Wizards tips off at 8PM ET, 7PM CT and will be nationally televised on TNT.

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