Anyone that knows me and everyone on the Liberty Ballers staff knows I’ve had this game circled on my calendar since last year’s All-Star Game. Today, the Philadelphia 76ers play the Oklahoma City Thunder in South Philadelphia. Russell Westbrook will be in town once again, and Joel Embiid will be waiting.
Let’s slice some more of this Grade-A prime NBA beef!
Last year, the Sixers lost both games to the Thunder (a 119-117 triple overtime thriller in South Philly and a 122-112 loss in Oklahoma City). The latter of which provided this great moment which gets a lot of play on any column I write about Embiid/Westbrook and in my personal memory storage.
The home squad enters this game winning three straight and seven of their last ten games. The last two wins have been in blowout fashion: a 149-107 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves and a 120-96 #beatemdown in Indiana on Thursday night.
In his post-game interview, Joel Embiid praised the defense for the last stretch of games -- which is fair -- but let’s not throw shade at the offense. Through nine games in January, the Sixers have scored 121.4 ppg while averaging just under 31 assists per game (30.7). Both of these are high marks for the season.
Jimmy Butler has been more of an offensive catalyst amidst all of the noise surrounding him lately. In January, Butler’s ORtg has spiked to 129 versus the 113 he had in December, and his plus/minus is now +12.1 (up from +3.8).
Oklahoma City comes in losers of their last two and six of their last ten games. On Thursday night, Lakers guard/forward Kyle Kuzma dropped 32 points on the Thunder’s noggin in a 138-128 loss in overtime in Oklahoma City. Despite the losses, the Thunder are still tied for third in the West with the Portland Trail Blazers.
This may sound like a broken record, but it bears repeating. The Sixers have to keep their turnovers down against the Thunder — which is easier said than done given they’re facing Westbrook and George who are #1 & #2 in both steals per game and total steals. The Thunder are also fifth in the league in fast break points (18.1).
Today, most of the casts from last years’ meetings are the same with noticeable differences. The Sixers, of course, added Jimmy Butler to this year’s squad, and he’ll try to keep Westbrook in check with the rest of the home team.
In the two games against the Sixers, Westbrook averaged 32.0 points, 15.5 rebounds, and 12.0 assists in the two games. (Granted, Westbrook took 33 shots in BOTH of those games to get those numbers.)
Paul George re-upped with the Thunder (much to my chagrin). In the pair of games against Philly, George averaged 27.5 points shooting 45% from three. This season, George might be the player to keep more under control. Westbrook is Westbrook, but he’s always been a horrific shooter. (This year, he has a TS% of .481. That’s not good.)
George, the one-time Sixer (in my head, anyway), leads the Thunder in points (26.6), is third in TS% on his team with 1300+ minutes (.574), second in usage rate (29.5%), and leads the Thunder in 3PT% (.384). I don’t count Abdel Nader as the Thunder’s best three point shooter since he’s only taken 26 to George’s 370.
The new face in Oklahoma City is Dennis Schröder -- who came over in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks. Schröder has had an okay year with OKC so far (15.4 ppg, 4.5 apg), so he represents another point guard whom the Sixers might struggle against -- since they struggle so mightily against opposing point guards.
Two former Sixers (Jerami Grant and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot) will suit up for the Thunder. It would have been three former Sixers, but Nerlens Noel is recovering from concussion symptoms after a nasty fall against the Minnesota Timberwolves a week and a half ago.
The Thunder might be feeling desperate for a win since going 4-6 in their last ten games. What better way to get some swagger back than coming into the Wells Fargo Center and defeating our Sixers.
... so, let’s not allow that, shall we?
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
When: 3:30 pm EST
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
Vegas: PHI -2, O/U 235
PHI: Justin Patton (right foot surgery); Haywood Highsmith (G League two-way); Zhaire Smith (Jones fracture, right foot); Shake Milton (G-League two-way); Markelle Fultz (thoratic outlet syndrome)
OKC: Alex Abrines (personal); Andre Roberson (left patellar tendon)