The Oklahoma City Thunder are Taking Care of Business
As of November 29th, the Oklahoma City Thunder are 8-0 against teams with a sub-.500 record. Which means OKC is one of only three teams to take care of business against their lesser competition—those other two teams are the Toronto Raptors and the Utah Jazz.
In the hyper competitive Western Conference, every single win counts. Currently sitting at fourth in the West, the Thunder are only two wins from first place. However with only three wins separating them from the eight place Dallas Mavericks, a two-game skid in either direction could propel them to the extremities of the playoff race.
They match up with the Detroit Pistons who are in a similar situation (fifth in the East, but one win separated from eighth). After this match the Thunder will face three sub-.500 teams in Brooklyn, Chicago, and Utah. So it is vital for Oklahoma to get this win and finish what should be a comfortable East coast road trip.
Blake Griffin Needs to Improve his Shooting
In the last three games Pistons F Blake Griffin has actually been putting up decent numbers from the field. Shooting no lower than 42% while getting to the free throw line more than ten times each game, Griffin’s ability to take the reigns of the offence has been a massive expansion to his game.
Despite his offensive versatility, Griffin has left many wanting in terms of his three-point shooting. In the same three-game span Griffin has shot 2/6, 2/8, and 0/5 from range. Allowing Griffin to handle playmaking duties has opened up unique opportunities for the Pistons, but his offensive freedom has led to some questionable shot selection.
A player of Griffin’s caliber deserves freedom with his offense. If anything, it is in moments of freedom that we see Griffin’s real creativity and prowess. But it’s important for him to not fall into the trap of taking the easy shot, but rather making the correct basketball play. A true disciplinarian, head coach Dwane Casey will surely be quick to rectify this behavior.
Who Will Bring the Energy for Oklahoma?
After a heartbreaking injury for G Hamidou Diallo, the Oklahoma City Thunder lost a key energy piece off the bench. While not starved for depth at the guard position, injuries to other backcourt teammates G Terrance Ferguson and G-F Andre Roberson have their reserve list piling up.
While G Deonte Burton has done his utmost with increased playing time, it’s difficult to expect too much of the rookie guard. Meanwhile Spanish G Alex Abrines, one of OKC’s more talented shooters, has yet to find his shot in the last three games.
In fairness, Russell Westbrook has put up spectacular numbers with the Thunder’s current injury woes. Capping off a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers by posting an impressive 23p-19r-15a. Frankly speaking if there’s any player that could carry his team and would relish the opportunity, it’s Russell Westbrook. That doesn’t mean the supporting cast shouldn’t be more productive.
Is Reggie Jackson the Point Guard the Pistons Need?
Gone is the tricky, dynamic Reggie Jackson that spurred the Pistons to their first playoff appearance since 2009. Coming in from Oklahoma City, Jackson was looked to be the heady, utility knife point guard the NBA wanted to see. In 2018 the NBA has moved away from his strengths and he has been left searching for his rhythm.
Jackson is a ball-dominant guard that performs best when drawing defenders and creating plays for others or finishing himself. However, with the NBA’s transition toward more efficient play the ball has been taken out of Jackson’s hands and is being swung around the horn.
Seeing as 36% of Jackson’s shots are catch-and-shoots, you’d hope that he would convert at a higher rate. Unfortunately he is shooting a low 31% from three and his one-on-one play stifles any offence, especially with non-shooters like Andre Drummond and Stanley Johnson sharing the court.
What’s at stake?
A quarter of the season has passed for every team and we can see some positioning take hold. The Pistons are not quite in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference and it will take gutsy wins against strong teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder to establish their place in the publics mind as a true competitor.
After this match, the Thunder will be facing three teams with losing records. While every team in the NBA is dangerous on their day, the Thunder want to come back from their Eastern Conference road trip with a positive record. Seeing as Detroit is the only plus-.500 team on this trip, the Thunder need to establish their seed with a win.
Questions to answer:
Will Blake Griffin continue to be asked to handle the ball?
Can Alex Abrines find his range?
Should the Pistons keep up from three or take advantage inside?
Are Westbrook and George enough to carry the Thunder in the West?
Oklahoma City Thunder at Detroit Pistons Predictions and Odds
The odds makers have the Thunder favoured over the Pistons by 1 with an over/under of 110.