Oklahoma City Thunder (24-19) vs
Cleveland Cavaliers (33-11)
Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH
Saturday, January 23, 2010
7:30 PM EST
When I was planning for the lottery to split up Cavs group season tickets, I marked this game down as my top choice. The Thunder have an exciting young team paced by superstar 21 year old Kevin Durant. While it may not receive comparable hype, the LBJ-Durant matchup is just as exciting as the LBJ-Kobe matchup we saw on Thursday. Those who watch the NBA closely have considered Durant must see tv every night but the national wave of attention has really started to swell.
Durant has scored as least 25 ppg in 17 straight games – a record for someone his age. It’s hard not to like Durant as a player and Chris Ballard in this week’s Sports Illustrated had a nice bio which portrayed him as a kid who loves to play ball but has an exceedingly strong work ethic. Teammate Nick Collison was quoted in the story as saying
“It’s kind of refreshing, someone with that much talent and ability…all he wants to do is play basketball and hang out. He’s not trying to rule the world or become a global marketing icon – he just wants to play ball.”
Hmm, it could be read that Collison had a particular someone in mind when making that general contrast.
Projected Starting Lineups
Oklahoma City Thunder:
-G Russell Westbrook (15.7 ppg, 7.4 apg, 5.0 rpg, 16.03 PER)
-G Thabo Sefolosha (5.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.21 spg, 9.31 PER)
-F Jeff Green (14.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg, .436 FG%, 13.03 PER)
-F Kevin Durant (29.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 36% 3P, 24.44 PER)
-C Nenad Krstic (8.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg, .73 bpg, 13.81 PER)
Key Reserves: Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, James Harden, Eric Maynor
Injuries: DJ White (out), Nick Collison(probable)
-G Daniel Gibson (5.6 ppg, 0.9 apg, .483 3P%, 11.57 PER)
-G Anthony Parker (7.3 ppg, 1.7 apg, .477 3P%, 9.79 PER)
-F LeBron James (29.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 7.8 apg, 31.47 PER)
-F JJ Hickson (6.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 0.4 bpg, 13.06 PER)
-C Shaquille O’Neal (10.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.1 bpg, 16.52 PER)
Key Reserves: Anderson Varejao, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Jawad Williams
Injuries: Mo Williams (out), Delonte West(out), Jamario Moon (out), Leon Powe (out)
Team Efficiency Stats
Oklahoma City Thunder:
-Off (98.2 ppg, 43.3 rpg, .456 FG%, 19.4 apg, 15.7 TOpg, Eff-102.8, Rank-21)
-Def (95.6 ppg, 40.9 rpg, .436 FG%, Eff-100.3, Rank-5)
-Off (100.9 ppg, 42.2 rpg, .483 FG%, 21.5 apg, 14.6 TOpg, Eff-108.1, Rank-5)
-Def (94.5 ppg, 37.8 rpg, .436 FG%, Eff-100.4, Rank-6)
- Cleveland 102 at OKC Thunder 89 – 12/13/09 [box ]
Tonight’s game would be a real test for the Cavaliers even if the team was at full strength. With Mo and Delonte both out, the offense will be a work-in-progress with Daniel Gibson running the point. LeBron will have to carry the burden created from the injuries to both primary ballhandlers. The Thunder guards, Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha, are both big and physical and Gibson will have his hands full on both ends of the floor. I imagine Westbrook will go right at Gibson on the offensive end in combination with the Thunder’s heavy reliance on isolating Durant. Reserve guard Eric Maynor torched us when he was with the Jazz last month.
I think newly signed Cedric Jackson may have to see the floor because of the dearth of available ballhandlers and guards. He will be undersized as well against the Thunder backcourt in whatever limited time he may see. Anthony Parker must have an efficient game on offense and try to combine with Boobie to fill some of the scoring void created by Mo’s absence. We cannot afford to have Parker disappear on the offensive end or be any kind of defensive liability. Matching up against Sefolosha should not be that onerous a defensive assignment for AP.
The Thunder lack a true power forward and presence in the paint (in their starting lineup-Collison/Ibaka combo can fill in off the bench). Both Durant and Jeff Green are stretch forwards who typically create offense facing the hoop and outside the paint. Durant is obviously dangerous from everywhere shooting nearly 48-36-87% for the season. Either Durant or Green will present a mismatch for JJ and I expect Andy to receive heavy minutes tonight, as he always does, for defensive purposes. Lebron will guard Durant in crunch time or if Durant starts to go off and put the game in doubt. Durant’s main weaknesses exist in his TO rate and on the defensive end but you can pretty much mark him down for at least 25 every night.
The lack of a true PF means that the Thunder do not have a dominating presence in the paint. Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka can provide effective minutes but I still expect the Cavs to try and score a majority of their points in the paint and at the rim. This means pounding the ball into Shaq who should be able to take advantage of Nenad Krstic. Lebron needs to focus on driving to the hole and scoring at the rim. There is no presence on this team that can stop him or challenge him in the lane. Lebron went off for a then season-high 44 last against OKC last month and he will need to provide a similar effort tonight.
I think this is a near 50-50 game because of the injuries. Mo was such an important factor in the big win month dropping in 22 on Westbrook and the Thunder backcourt. One mitigating factor is that the Thunder are coming into town on a back-to-back after a final shot loss by Rudy Gay in Memphis last night. They should be road weary but also looking to steal a game from the depleted Cavs who always have the bulls-eye on their backs – in particular with a young team that is ascending up the standings and looking to make a statement.
Next Game For The Cavaliers
Monday, January 25, 2010
7:30 PM EST
Cleveland Cavaliers at Miami Heat
AP Photo: Sue Ogrocki