Fo’ with the Foes: OKC Thunder

thundergirlsThis ‘winter won’t go away’ edition of “Fo’ with the Foes” – Philadunkia’s advanced scouting series which with the help of an accomplished journalist from around the NBA beat or blog world, previews key upcoming 76ers games – features tonight’s opponent, the Oklahoma City Thunder who are 8-2 in their last 10 game and will have Russell Westbrook in the first-five tonight, but will be without Kevin Durant because of his recent foot procedure.

After the jump, I’ll look a Fo’ key items for tonight’s game.  Additionally, we’ll get a little more insight into the OKC team the Sixers face tonight from our colleague Joey Conger at welcometoloudcity.com as Joey will answer Fo’ questions on the Thunder from us here at Philadunkia.

 

Here are Fo’ key items I will be watching for tonight…

1) Noel vs. Thunder Bigs:  Noel has played great basketball since the trade deadline and continued that trend by posting 17 points on 7 for 7 from the floor against Toronto on Monday night.   #4 has scored in double figures in 8 of the last 9 games; is averaging 13.4 ppg. over his last 5 contests and has shot 83.3% at the foul line over that recent stretch.  I will be very interested to watch what kind of night Noel has against a Thunder frontline that boasts Serge Ibaka; Enes Kanter; Nick Collison and possibly Steve Adams if he is medically cleared by game time. 

2) Shooting Guard for the 76ers:  After sitting out Monday evening’s contest, Robert Covington (elbow) and Jason Richardson (knee) and according to reports out of shootaround in Oklahoma this morning (see Tweet below), Cov will likely not play again tonight and Sampson will get the start.  In the absence of JRich and Cov against Toronto, Sampson (starter; 2-7) and Thompson (reserve; 1-3) shot a combined 3-10; tallied 14 points total and were a combined -17 +/- on the night. Tonight, I’d like to see either Sampson and/or Thompson (off the bench) give the Sixers solid production at the SG spot and help keep this game competitive.

 

3) Thomas Robinson:  I realize that TNasty is putting up career best stats for a team that is tanking for the second straight season, so I should not get too excited about his recent level of play or his long term ability to help this franchise.  However, I have to acknowledge that I like what I have seen from him so far.  Tonight, I’ll have an eye on TRob to see what kind of performance he posts against a very solid Thunder frontline that we discussed previously.

4) Sixers PG Play:  The 76ers are getting very little production out of the point guard spot since the departure of MCW.  Neither Isaiah Canaan (6 games: 10.5 ppg. on 35% shooting from field and 35% from three) nor Ish Smith (5 games: 9.8 ppg. on 42% shooting from field) have been very impressive.  IMO both are being given a fantastic opportunity to showcase their skills and prove they belong in this League and neither one has capitalized.  One of them needs to step up and start playing well or this could be an unwatchable last two months of the season for Sixers fans.  Tonight, I can’t wait to get a good chuckle as this duo takes turns trying to guard Russell Westbrook.   

One last Note: Because the 76ers received a Top 18 protected 1st round pick from OKC (via Denver) in the JaVale McGee trade, it wouldn’t hurt if Sixers lost this game.  The Thunder (33-27) currently hold the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference and as of today are slotted at No. 18 in the 2015 NBA Draft.  They sit just one game “behind” the Wizards (34-26), a team that recently lost to the 76ers and is in freefall of historical proportions — losers of 7 of their last 8; 3-12 in their last 15 games.

 

Q&A with our man Joey Conger at welcometoloudcity.com

 

Philadunkia:  Outside of Westbrook, during Durant’s absence who else as stepped up for the Thunder and played well?

Joey Conger at welcometoloudcity.com:  Serge Ibaka has had a total revelation since the All Star Break.  He’s averaged 18 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks, while shooting just 8 threes in the seven games.  He’s been crashing the boards hard, and protecting the rim, like Serge Ibaka of years past.  Enes Kanter has also stepped up in a big way.  He’s the first center that Oklahoma City has ever had that can consistently catch and finish around the rim, and Westbrook loves him.

Philadunkia:  IMO, it’s amazing given all the team has been through this season, that the Thunder are sitting in 8th playoff spot right now.  How much of that credit goes to head coach Scott Brooks for holding this team together? 

Joey Conger at welcometoloudcity.com:  He’s done an excellent job.  He deserves a ton of credit for keeping morale high during the low points of the season.  The thing is, getting his players to play hard and for each other has never been an issue. As far as basketball X’s and O’s go, Brooks has definitely made progress, but has a ton of room to grow.

Philadunkia:  Russell Westbrook has a fracture to his right cheek and obviously KD recently had a procedure on surgically repaired right foot.  Are you at all concerned that health issues with the Thunder’s two stars could derail this season?

Joey Conger at welcometoloudcity.com:  Westbrook should be able to play on Wednesday (sorry about that).  As for Durant, this particular procedure doesn’t concern me, but the ongoing issues kind of do.  He originally broke his toe, has had a sprained ankle, a sprained toe, and now this.  All they’re doing now is putting in a new screw, so we’ll see how the Thunder cope until he returns.

Philadunkia:  What is your prediction for the Thunder down the stretch and for the playoffs?

Joey Conger at welcometoloudcity.com:  Oklahoma City has an incredibly easy schedule coming down the stretch, with 13 of their 21 remaining games at home.  I think that, as far as seeding goes, they can climb up to the 6th seed, but are probably more likely to get 7. A 7 seed would match them up against Memphis, again, and if they can get past the Grizz, the sky’s the limit.

 

Thank you to Joey for his time and answers.

You can follow us on Twitter @philadunkia.

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