For the first time since Kevin Durant left the (31-23) Oklahoma City Thunder in the offseason, the 2007 second overall pick will be returning to the Chesapeake Energy Arena as a member of the visiting team. His (45-8) Golden State Warriors will take on the Thunder in a huge pre-All Star break showdown today (8.30pm ET Saturday).
This is the third meeting of the two teams this season, the first of which was won handedly by the Warriors at home. The first game, in early November, pitting Durant against his old team saw the Warriors win by 26 points, only to follow that up in January with a 121-100 point victory. It has been clear that Golden State has OKC’s number this year but will the Thunder be able to turn that around at home? Or will Russell Westbrook and company suffer another defeat at the hands of Durant and the Warriors? Read on and this preview will give its analysis, predictions and betting picks.
Leaving Oklahoma City Behind
In 2007, Kevin Durant was drafted to be the centerpiece of the Seattle Supersonics franchise, which was founded in 1967 and was a one time NBA champion in 1979. Little did Durant or the city of Seattle know at the time, but the Supersonics would soon be on the move to Oklahoma City where they became the Thunder.
From 2008-16, the Thunder was the only team Durant had ever known. He won the rookie of the year with them in 2008 and the MVP award in 2014. Durant’s Thunder rose to prominence during his eight year tenure, leading OKC to five division titles and a conference championship in 2012. The Thunder played the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals that year, losing in five games. The following year, James Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets. In his absence, Durant got even better and had his best career year in 2014, averaging a best 32 points per game.
Now with the Warriors, a team that has no shortage of shooting depth, Durant’s numbers have dipped. But the trade-off is that the NBA veteran has his best chance to win a title, thanks to playing on a team with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green just to name a few.
Durant leaving was a big blow to the Thunder but it did allow the team to see the full development of Russell Westbrook, who has become one of the best players in the league and is an early favorite to win the MVP. The last first round draft pick of the Supersonics, Westbrook has come into his own now that the Thunder is his team. He is averaging a triple-double with a line of 30.9 points per game, which is best in the NBA, 10.2 assists per game and 10.5 rebounds per game.
If Durant leaving did have a silver lining it has been the season Westbrook is having. At home, with the energy and atmosphere that this game will bring, Westbrook might attempt 50 shots, likely continuing his triple-double prowess. They say athletes play with something to prove when they are traded or released but the same can be said for those who were left behind. It’s Westbrook’s team now and he’ll want nothing more than to lead the Thunder to that first victory over Golden State since Durant left this past summer.
Our Preview’s Golden State Warriors vs OKC Betting Predictions & Picks
It has been a good week for the Thunder, who sit as seventh seed in the highly competitive Western conference playoff picture. They picked up a big win against the Portland Trailblazers to start the week on Sunday and defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in their most recent game. Behind Westbrook, the Thunder are playing well and seem to be heating up at a good time as their pre-All Star stretch does not exactly follow an easy road.
The Warriors meanwhile, have won seven of their last nine and only have eight losses on the season. Now, putting that in context to last year’s historic and record-breaking win totals, the Warriors already have ensured they will finish with a worse record than they did in 2015-16. A bad record for the Warriors is still a good record by any other team’s standards. Golden State has lost just eight games this year, which once again leads the NBA, and by a decent margin at that.
No one is as prolific a scoring team as the Warriors and this has been the case both home and away. While the team has easily dispatched of the Thunder in their prior two meetings, the Warriors won’t face a game as emotional as Saturday’s promises to be. The Thunder will no doubt be playing for everything and while they haven’t fared so well against the Warriors this year, that extra desire to win in Durant’s homecoming could be an X-factor of sorts.
Golden State are favored on the top United States-friendly sportsbooks’ betting lines by up to 7.5pts. It is a modest margin considering that they have beaten the Thunder by almost 60 combined points in their two prior meetings. But then again, as I mentioned earlier in this preview, there is a lot more at stake here than just OKC trying to keep pace in the West.
Ultimately, I still don’t think it is enough for the Thunder to defeat their rivals but I do think it’s enough for the team to keep this one close, much closer than the other games this season. So here is my betting prediction and pick: