Game 1 Preview: Kings at Thunder
I don’t know if you’ve heard but the NBA is officially back. And for Kings fans, a new era begins tonight at 5PM PST in Oklahoma City. So let’s get down to the details then the breakdown then the final outlook.
Opponent: Oklahoma City Thunder
Tip-off Time: 5:00PM PST
Where To Watch: Comcast Sports Net
Record Last Year (Home Record): 23-59 (15-26)
Record Against Last Season: 1-2, 0-1 in OKC
Kings Out With Injury: Francisco Garcia (Wrist), Kenny Thomas (Flu)
Thunder Out With Injury: None
What the Thunder Did Well Last Year: Offensive Rebounding % (4th), Free Throw Shooting (10th), Opponent Free Throw Shooting (8th)
Knowing your opponent is just as important as knowing your team going into any contest. So I called upon Royce Young of Daily Thunder because he knows more about the OKC team than anybody on the internet. He was kind enough to break down the matchups with me and give his outlook on the game.
Point Guard: Tyreke Evans v. Russell Westbrook
Daily Thunder says: Holy hybrid super athletes, Batman. I know it’s Kings/Thunder, two of the worst teams in the league last year, but this game should be on national television just for this matchup. Two guys possibly playing out of position with insane ability, playing AGAINST each other. I know where I’m looking all night. I give the edge to Westbrook though because he’s a quality defender and has had a year in the league. This is Evans first game of his pro career and he’s playing it on the road against a solid defender.
Cowbell Kingdom says: Although I think Evans will be the better player within four years, I agree that Russell Westbrook probably gets the better of Evans in this matchup (this time). Westbrook is going to be a real challenge for Evans to stay in front of. Westbrook can very easily get Evans into foul trouble because he’s quick enough to get by him and strong enough to get contact and finish. Evans will have to be careful with his dribble because Russell is opportunistic and will probably pressure full court. But the one place Evans can get the best of Westbrook is in the post. I’d love to see Evans put Westbrook in the woodshed that is known as the low block.
Shooting Guard: Kevin Martin v. Thabo Sefolosha
Daily Thunder says: This is the opposite matchup. Thabo is a defensive stopper. Martin is a pure scorer. A nice clash indeed. I would think Thabo is the ideal defender to take on Martin though, Thabo is long (6’7) and is extremely quick. But Martin torched the Thunder a couple times last year and sometimes even class defenders can’t stop a good scorer.
Cowbell Kingdom says: I like what Thabo can do on the court but he has very little chance of succeeding against Kevin Martin. Martin should be able to torch the Thunder for at least the 24 points per game he averaged against them last season. I expect 10 free throw attempts (minimum) against the Thunder and plenty of easy backdoor buckets.
Small Forward: Desmond Mason v. Kevin Durant
Daily Thunder says: The more I go down this list, the more intrigued I am by this game. Nobody knows how to defend KD better than Dez. And nobody should know Durant’s defensive capabilities better than Dez either, considering he taught him basically everything he knew. Durant obviously wins this matchup because, well, he’s going to win most every matchup. But Dez is going to be his usual bulldog self for sure.
Cowbell Kingdom says: Mason will definitely make Durant work because he made him work in every practice of last season. But Kevin Durant is still Kevin Durant and if he didn’t go off for 35 points (whether it’s a tough 35 or an easy 35), I would be shocked and ready to anoint Desmond one of the greatest defenders in Sacramento history. Durant averaged 36 points per game on 60% from the field and 62.5% from three against the Kings last season.
Power Forward: Jason Thompson v. Jeff Green
Daily Thunder says: Tough choice here. Thompson is a nice power forward that’s big and pretty physical. Jeff Green is a little undersized and a bit of a finesse four. Thompson could abuse Green on the boards, but Green may be able to suck Thompson away from the paint and use his quickness. Hard to pick a winner here, but since I’m a shameless homer, I’ll use that as a tiebreaker and go with Uncle Jeff.
Cowbell Kingdom says: Uncle Jeff? You’re older than him, Royce (I think)! This matchup seems pretty simple to me – if Jason Thompson is in senseless foul trouble, Jeff Green will pick him apart. But I think we’re going to see a different Thompson. He’s sort of taking part leadership of this team as one of the more vocal players. He’s worked his tail off and been for the most part encouraging during the preseason. I think he’ll be the leading rebounder in this game, block a shot or two and be good for 16 to 20 points. I don’t see Green besting that performance.
Center: Sean May v. Nenad Krstic
Daily Thunder says: Krstic struggles a bit defending post scorers. And May is predominantly a post scorer. Krstic does his damage on the offensive end shooting jumpers. Which May will likely give to him because he’ll likely sag off a little for fear of a drive. I honestly see this one as a push.
Cowbell Kingdom says: I think Krstic’s size will be too much for May. May will play nice defense and hit the boards but he isn’t going to give the Kings much in scoring. Krstic on the other hand will probably get double-figure scoring. I’d like to say it’s a push but I’ll give a slight edge to Nenad.
Daily Thunder says: The Kings depth took a major hit when Francisco Garcia went down because Mason had to be inserted into the starting five. But the Thunder’s bench has been so erratic in the preseason that I honestly have little to no faith in it. James Harden is really the only scoring option off the pine and he’s a rookie. Omri Casspi and Andres Nocioni torched the Thunder in their preseason matchup last week and there is just more scoring coming off the King bench. I think this matchup goes to Sacto, easily.
Cowbell Kingdom says: Kings bench gets a huge boost with Spencer Hawes coming off of it. Between him and Nocioni, they have to two best second unit players in this game. James Harden will be nice in his debut but he isn’t going to be half the player we’ll see from him at the end of the season. I expect Hawes to really have a big performance. He should be upset about the fact that he isn’t starting and come out trying to prove he belongs in the first five. Throw in Casspi’s debut, Brockman’s brute strength and a hopefully solid performance from Beno and they should be able to at worst match the contributions of Nick Collison, James Harden, and Shaun Livingston.
Daily Thunder says: I would expect the Thunder to come out charged up, excited and ready to play. Home opener, tons of excitement for the season and a chance to get off on the right foot at 1-0. If OKC were to lose, it would be extremely deflating. The season would take on a “Here we go again” feel, reminding folks of the bad opening night loss to the Bucks last year.
But I think the Thunder will be ready. You don’t want to spoil a chance to start the season right, especially at home. And Kevin Durant and company have been looking forward to this game for six months. No doubt the Kings will play tough, but I just feel like OKC is out to prove something.
Cowbell Kingdom says: I don’t think we really can take anything from the matchup we saw a few games ago in the preseason between these two. It’s asking a lot of the Kings to win the first road game of the season in a tough environment, especially after going 6-35 away from Arco last season. But we’re going to get to see just how tough this team is both mentally and physically. They’re going to want to be physical with guys like Green and Durant to slow them down. They’re going to have to hit the boards against a pretty solid rebounding team. And they’re going to have to find a way to play solid defense.
My prediction is a loss but an encouraging loss. This Kings team needs to be thrown into the fire to see what they have in them and this three-game road trip to start the season will do that. I expect nice numbers from Tyreke Evans but not a great performance in his first pro game. Kevin Martin will score and not have to worry too much about defense going against Thabo. And someone between JT and Hawes will have to step up as THE big man of the team. But ultimately, the scoring of this Thunder team at home could prove to be too much.
(Also, I’ll be taking part in the Daily Dime’s Live Chat tonight at the mothership. It’ll be a big group discussion and you’re welcome to pop by if you’d like.)