Don't ask me questions about him. Ask me questions about someone who is going to be a factor in NBA Live 2012.
The Thunder sit at an impressive 3-3 despite a really rough schedule. The Kings have been the only non-playoff team OKC has faced, with Detroit likely on the bubble. The Thunder's other four games have come against the Lakers, the Magic, the Rockets and the Blazers -- three title contenders and a surprisingly good squad leading its division.
OKC beat the Pistons in Detroit, but lost its other road game in Houston. The proverbial quality win came Sunday against the Magic, where OKC won 102-74. ! Clearly, Orlando isn't at full strength; J.J. Redick, Brandon Bass and Matt Barnes all started the game. Redick and Bass had awful shooting nights, Barnes had a load of turnovers (four in 30 minutes with no assists and only seven FGAs), Dwight Howard was (predictably) awful from the line. At the other end, basically every Thunder player had an efficient night ... which won't happen often, as clearly the OKC offense leaves something to be desired. With the admission it has faced some tough defenses, the OKC offense is ranked 23rd. None of the offensive four factors are pretty: 20th in shooting, 24th in turnover rate, 18th in offensive rebounding, 23rd in free throw rate.
But the defense has been handsome, statistically. The Thunder currently boast the No. 9 shooting defense playing against some deft offenses. The team is 4th in both opponent turnover rate and defensive rebounding, but just 26th in opponent free throw rate. Right now four Thunder players (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha and Jeff Green) average at least one steal per game, and all five starters are doing solid work on the defensive glass (though no one of them wows you -- which makes me believe Jason Thompson can get in there for a few big offensive rebounds; Howard had three in 32 minutes Sunday, Carl Landry managed five off the bench last Friday and JT himself had five in the season opener).
THE KEY BATTLE
Jason Thompson vs. Jeff Green. Uncle Jeff torched the Kings in the opener, scoring 24 points on 9-13 shooting, including 4-5 from three-point territory. Brutal. (Not brutale.) But that was, of course, when Sean May was Thompson's partner in crime. Thompson suffered from foul trouble, playing only 30 minutes and taking only four FGAs. He finished with a respectable 11/9, but when the opposing frontcourt (bringing Nenad Krstic into this) finishes with 44 points and 14 rebounds, that ain't going to cut it. Given that Durant has become otherworldly (in other words, pencil in 20 and hope he only overshoots that by 50 percent) and Westbrook is dangerous with the pass and the drive (and the drive-and-pass), letting Green explode is trouble.
At the other end, JT should have success on the offensive glass (as explained above) and needs to finish the bunnies. With Kevin Martin out, the Kings need every easy buckets they can get. Thompson, through hard word, tends to be in position for many of those easy buckets. Finish 'em.
THE KEY BATTLE PART 2
The Kings bench needs to obliterate the Thunder bench. It's a race against time for Donte Greene's other shoe (when's it gonna drop?), but some combination of Greene and Omri Casspi should be able to break through to double-digits. The Thunder have two legit perimeter stoppers in Westbrook and Sefolosha, so thinking that the starting five for Sacramento can whip the Thunder's first line is overly optimistic. It's likely the Bench Mob will have to lead a comeback, one which is hopefully small.
I mentioned this in the Sunday night recap, but it bears repeating: if the Kings win, they will be .500 for the first time since Dec. 4, 2006. Almost three years of nothing but losing records. No one expects the Kings to finish this year at .500 -- heck, those tossing out 30-win predictions have been called Pollyannas. But it's a minor measure of improvement we can all embrace. To .500! Huzzah!
These previews tend to caught up in talk of the opponent, so let's spare a minute for our protagonists. The Kings are, unbelievably, up to No. 7 in offense after Sunday's win. Playing bad defenses like Memphis, Golden State and Utah has something to do with that, sure. But the fact that Sacramento's offense has been so statistically good despite some rough shooting (19th in the league) is nothing short of inspiring. Be inspired by Jason Thompson's offensive rebounds! Tyreke Evans's lack of turnovers! Kevin Martin's foul-drawing! (Oh, wait ...) The Kings, right now, are 4th in turnover rate, 6th in offensive rebounding and 8th in free throw rate. I don't suspect the turnover rate will stay so low without Martin (and Thompson's turnover rate has been too low to be sustainable), and I'm suspicious of such a good offensive rebound rate with so many poor offensive rebounders in the rotation (Spencer Hawes, Andres Nocioni, Beno Udrih). But I guess, to all of that, we just need to believe in Evans and Thompson. And Udrih, Casspi and Brockman. And Martin's recovery.
This will be a 7PM start. We didn't make it to NBA TV, but there will be other opportunities. Have faith. CSN and KHTK will have the game. Game thread at 7, post-game thread at 9:45, recap on the 11th day of Christmas.