As the NBA season moves past the trade deadline, and towards the playoffs, both the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder have things to prove. For the defending champions, it is the very real chance of winning back-to-back championships as well as winning more games than the immortal 72 win Chicago Bulls team of 1995-1996. For the Thunder, they sit at 41-17 on the season but still face questions about their supporting cast and their chances in the postseason against the Warriors and the second place San Antonio Spurs. These questions have grown louder as the Thunder have lost three out of their last four games after the All-Star week including games against the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Indiana Pacers.
Tonight, the Warriors look to lean on the hot hand of the league, reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry to send a statement. Meanwhile, the Thunder look to show that two superstars is more potent than one as their duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook try to prove that they are worthy challengers to the Warriors throne.
Forces of Nature
Both the Thunder and the Warriors rely on game-changing talents to lead their ball clubs. The Warriors have bounced back from a disappointing loss to Damian Lillard and his Portland Trail Blazers with four straight victories behind the strong play of Curry. In his last two games, the MVP has produced 93 points, 14 rebounds and 15 assists, and in the month of February, is averaging an eye-watering statline of 35.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG, and 7.4 APG.
For the Thunder, Durant and Westbrook have both been extremely effective. In their loss to the New Orleans Pelicans and Anthony Davis, Westbrook had 44 points, 4 rebounds, and 9 assists, while Durant had 32 points, 14 rebounds and 7 assists.
Kevin Durant also takes his level of play to another level against the Warriors. He had 4o points and 14 rebounds in their first meeting in Golden State to continue his string of strong performances against the Warriors. Durant's tag team partner Westbrook, however, could be more efficient. Even though he had 27 points, and 12 assists in their first meeting, Westbrook only shot 8-22 from the field, and had less impact than the numbers suggest.
The Thunder will need big games from both of their superstars to pull out a victory.
Backups of Nature
Despite big games from Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Durant, the Thunder and Warriors need support from the rest of their respective teams and this is where the Warriors have been so dominant in comparison to the rest of the league. The Warriors have a legitimate pair of All-Stars in Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, who bring shooting, playmaking, and defense to the already ridiculous skillsets of Curry. In addition to their trio, the Warriors rely on players like Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala, and the rest of their bench that have allowed Curry to sit out several entire fourth quarters throughout the season.
The Thunder, however, have struggled at times, to get consistent production from their supporting cast. After Durant and Westbrook, who average 27.7 and 24.3 PPG respectively this season, the next highest scorer is Serge Ibaka, who only averages 12.8 PPG. Despite his offensive skillset, Enes Kanter has only been playing about 20 minutes a game because of his defensive shortcomings. Finally, the shooters on the team have failed to prove their consistent shot-making ability in order to support their two leaders in big games.
Visions of Things to Come
This matchup between two of the top teams in the Western Conference looks to be an exciting game featuring three of the most electrifying players in the NBA, but despite all of this, the most important part of this game is the potential it can create for both teams down the road.
A victory for the Warriors would add another piece of evidence to their ability to play well against the league's best, while a Thunder win could potentially showcase a blueprint to beat the defending champion