The Oklahoma City Thunder are hoping their latest acquisition will spark their bench and accelerate their climb up the West standings.
They appear likely to continue their dominance of the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night even if Dion Waiters isn’t in uniform, however.
The visiting Thunder (17-18) are 9-3 with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the lineup, though they still haven’t be able to top the .500 mark, taking a 117-91 loss at league-leading Golden State on Monday. Westbrook is averaging a career-high 27.0 points and Durant appears to be finding his form, scoring 44 and 34 in wins over Phoenix and Washington on Dec. 31 and Jan. 2.
Oklahoma City has still been searching for another perimeter scoring threat, especially off the bench, since dealing James Harden to Houston after losing in the 2011-12 Finals. The Thunder rank near the bottom of the league’s middle third with 33.2 bench points per game, and Anthony Morrow is their only reserve shooting better than 31.0 percent from beyond the arc. Harden averaged 16.9 points and shot 39.3 percent from deep as a sub in his final season with the Thunder.
They traded for Waiters on Monday night in a three-team deal, sending a protected first-round pick to Cleveland and Lance Thomas to New York. Waiters, who reportedly began to clash with first-year Cavaliers coach David Blatt, is averaging 10.5 points on 40.4 percent shooting – both career-worst marks.
Oklahoma City hopes he can recapture his stroke from last season when he averaged 15.9 points and shot 36.8 percent from 3-point range.
"Dion provides another proven scorer that positively impacts our roster and adds depth and flexibility," general manager Sam Presti said. "We have a lot of respect for his toughness and competitiveness, and believe that he is a physically playmaker who will enhance the versatility of our team."
Waiters could perhaps also provide a boost when Durant and Westbrook are stymied, like Monday night when they were a combined 8 for 37. Outside of Morrow, who scored 17 points, the bench had 20 points on 8-of-32 shooting.
"Sometimes there are nights like that, but you have to keep going, find a way to keep attacking and find a way to try to keep your team in the game," Westbrook told the team’s official website after the Thunder shot 30.6 percent.
The Thunder have won 12 straight against Sacramento, the longest winning streak by either team in series history and tied for the league’s third-longest active series streak. They took a 101-93 home victory on Nov. 9 without Durant and Westbrook, and the duo combined for 58 points in a 104-92 win at Sacramento on Dec. 16. That was the last in a 10-game absence for DeMarcus Cousins due to viral meningitis.
The Kings (14-20) are playing the first of six straight at home, where they’ve dropped five of seven while allowing 109.3 points per game and averaging 17.6 turnovers. They ended a 1-3 road trip Sunday with a 114-95 loss at Detroit.
Sacramento, which is 3-7 since firing coach Michael Malone, has given up 107.6 points per game in going 5-15 since limiting opponents to 100.0 points per game during a 9-5 start.
"We’re not the team we were – that’s clear," Cousins said. "Our problems go well beyond anything between the lines, but we can’t continue to make excuses. Regardless who the man is on the bench, we’re the ones playing, and we have to stop feeling for ourselves."