Playoff-bound but not out the woods, the Golden State Warriors will take on the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night in a possible first round preview between two of the Western Conference’s most effective offenses.
Expect a shootout.
As it stands now, Golden State holds a one game lead over the Houston Rockets for the sixth seed, while the Thunder and San Antonio Spurs are tied at the top of the standings. If both teams stumble in the final four games of the season, the Warriors would split their first playoff series in six years between Oakland and Oklahoma City.
It wouldn’t be a favorable matchup.
Tonight’s game gives Golden State the opportunity to tie their season series against the Thunder, whose core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka has presented an unholy number of challenges for opponents all year.
Expect OKC to target Durant early, as the three-time scoring champ matches up favorably against pretty much anyone the Warriors will throw at him.
If the Warriors somehow manage to keep the ball out of Durant’s hands (I’m looking at you, Draymond Green, Kent Bazemore, and Festus Ezeli, anybody?), scoring will fall to Russell Westbrook, who despite his faults, remains one of the deadliest point guards in the league.
Forcing the Thunder to go with Westbrook will be key, as he will likely have his hands full at the other end of the floor guarding Stephen Curry, who has catapulted himself into the not-real-but-still-cool “best shooter in the league” title over an aging Ray Allen.
Westbrook has been extremely effective against Curry this year. The Warriors are minus-4.8 points per 36 minutes when Curry matches up against the former UCLA shooting guard, according to NBA.com.
That being said, Curry also averages an astounding 10 assists-per-36 minutes also when Westbrook takes the floor. And the Warriors are now playing with a (sorta kinda) healthy Andrew Bogut, who should have no problem overpowering Oklahoma City’s coterie of post players, especially if David Lee draws coverage from Kendrick Perkins or Nick Collison.
If Curry’s interior passes are effective, expect Bogut to get a disproportionate number of looks tonight.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (45-33) vs. The Oklahoma City Thunder (57-21)
WHERE: Oracle Arena, Oakland
WHEN: 7:30 PM PST, TNT
AT STAKE: Truth, beauty, the American Dream. Also Western Conference seeding.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Andrew Bogut. The Warriors will need a breakthrough night from the Australian big man, who is coming off a season-high 14 rebound night against Minnesota.
PREDICTION: As much as I enjoy his play, experience tells me that injury-prone Australians will only let you down in the end. OKC tops Golden State, 112-103, and “Crocodile Dundee II” sucks.