The Washington Wizards will welcome in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and the Oklahoma City Thunder to Verizon Center tonight, the Wizards last home game before a road trip that will take them to Chicago and Toronto.
The Thunder (42-23) currently sit in fourth place in the Western Conference behind the Spurs, Mavericks and Lakers, and will be making a big push over their final 17 games of the regular season to hold onto at least the fourth spot to ensure home court in the first round of the playoffs.
The Thunder will be on their second night of a back-to-back, having rolled over the woeful Cleveland Cavaliers by 20 points, 95-75, on Sunday.
“It’s going to be a tough matchup. They are two of the top 15 players in the league. But for us, it’s a good opportunity to play against two quality guys and a quality team that’s a playoff team. They’ll be coming in with a big focus because they’re trying to win a division title (Northwest). They’re going to try to pounce on us early and our young guys have to see that, and seize that opportunity,” said Wizards coach Flip Saunders.
The injury riddled Wizards will be without forwards Andray Blatche (shoulder) Rashard Lewis (knee) and swingman Cartier Martin (knee) for tonight’s game, and the lack of front court players has become a bit of a game changer for point guard John Wall.
“Losing Rashard and Dray and with Nick not being 100 percent, John has felt that he has to score a lot. As I told him this morning, ‘I want to see some of those 12-13 assists’. That’s the best thing he does is make other people better. He’s very competitive, so what he wants to do is keep us in games, so he plays a little bit out of character,” Saunders said.
Saunders remembers the numbers: the last time Wall and Westbrook were matched up, the OKC shooting guard scored 35 points, 13 rebounds, and went to the free throw line 16 times.
“He kind of went at John a little bit, so that’s part of the learning process. I’m anxious to see how he reacts.”
Another side effect of the Wizards bigs being out is the extra pressure it puts on guard Nick Young, who is also battling a sore left knee.
“Dray is really our only low block scorer, so what’s happened is by him not being out there it puts so much pressure on the perimeters. Nick all of sudden, everywhere he goes he’s got two guys [guarding him]. They’re overextending on their bigs to help out on Nick because they don’t think that we have anyone that’s going to be able to score a low block,” Saunders said.
“Our young guys have to go out there and grasp this opportunity. We’re not favored to win tonight.”
The Thunder and the Wizards tip off at 7pm tonight at the Verizon Center.