5 Things to Look for in OKC vs. GSW
Here we go. The first of four matchups between Russell Westbrook and Oakland's Superteam. Your classic David vs a team of Goliaths. All the pressure this year will be on Kevin Durant and the rest of the Warriors. Westbrook is playing with house money this year. Nothing to lose for him. But he is also playing at a rate that we haven't seen in a while. This tension and drama has been building since the final whistle blew on the Western Conference Finals. KD deciding to end his relationship with OKC and RW has been the most public and controversial break up in the NBA since "the decision".
5 things to look for: !) How do KD and RW greet each other: How will this go? Will they dap? Will they cold-stare each other? Will they hug off camera? Will Westbrook dance in front of Durant? Both men have shown over the summer to keep their relationship and fallout very professional, except for Durant continuing to talk about Westbrook in interviews and Westbrook posting this. That said, the two have gone through a very public "uncoupling". It would only be natural that they may be in their feelings for this first meeting. I expect the greeting to be smooth with maybe an awkward bro-hug. Either way, I'm watching for that moment. Will KD shrink in the spotlight: I wouldn't want to be in KD's shoes tonight. If RW plays with house money this season, KD is the one under the house. I'm sure he was very aware of the backlash he would receive for not just leaving the Thunder but leaving them for the best team in the NBA, the Warriors. And I'm sure he's been thinking about this first matchup since his decision in July. The Warriors have gotten off to a rocky start and this game will only add to that personal pressure. Will he rise to the moment? We all know RW is ready.
Will Steph Curry show up against RW: Chef Curry has looked more like a sous-chef at IHOP (no offense to IHOP chefs) against RW, than the 3-star Michelin chef that we've grown accustomed to seeing against anyone else in the league. Curry doesn't play the same against RW. That may be due to plenty of factors but the main reason is the PG standing in front of him. Westbrook attacks Curry every chance he gets on offense and plays him physically on defense. I imagine the Warriors will try to hide Curry on defense and place him on Oladipo whenever they get the chance but I expect to see plenty of pick-and-rolls to get Curry on Westbrook. That said, Curry needs to show up tonight with a big game to relieve some of the pressure from Durant and the rest of his team.
(Speaking of) Oladipo needs to have a good game: He needs to take advantage of his match-up with Curry. Period. The man who just got a contract extension needs to score at least 18 points if the Thunder want any chance of winning this game. Whenever Oladipo sees Curry across from him, he should be screaming for the ball and drive on him as much as possible. Penetrating will make the Warriors collapse to the paint and Oladipo needs to either dish and find the open man or score. He can not allow Curry to rest on defense. A big part of this will be Westbrook giving up the ball. Big if. Thunder's bigs need to show up: When the Thunder guards penetrate and the Warriors collapse, the OKC big men need to slip and find open spaces or be ready to rebound. Last years Western Conference Finals showed us how badly OKC bigs beat on the Warriors inside. This year should be the same as the Warriors have arguably gotten weaker in the paint. If they can take advantage of their size and strength they might be able to keep the game close enough to give Westbrook an opportunity to close it out late.
The best part? This is only the first of four meetings this season.