This time last week, the Washington Wizards looked like they were well on their way to another one of the franchise's patented early season implosions. Two wins later and they're on top of the world. Well, at least as much as a 2-3 team can be.
Anyways, the tough teams keep coming today, as they get to not only play the Thunder, but do it in Oklahoma City. This should be a fun one.
Where and when? Tip off is at 7 p.m. (EST) in OKC.
Why should I care? The Thunder are America's team. Has anyone else actually made that case? If not, here's why: They have some of the most likable superstars in the NBA, are a hoot to watch, play hard, are located in middle America and should be good for 50+ wins for a decade. If you don't like Kevin Durant, you don't like basketball.
Are they good? Yes, and they haven't even hit their stride yet. The Thunder are 4-1 and should get even better as Westbrook gets his timing back and guys like Steven Adams, Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones get more experience. Losing Harden and Martin hurt them but I actually think that they have enough promising youngsters that at least two will become the kind of semi-stars that need to surround the core to put them over the top. Jackson's almost there, Adams has all the physical tools to be a solid center, Lamb can score without taking the ball from KD and Jones still has as many physical gifts as any young player in the league. They're good now and they're only going to get better.
What are they good at? Putting the ball in the hole. Durant is one of the most efficient volume scorers of all time, someone who can put the ball in the basket in any way imaginable while posting elite shooting percentages. Westbrook, coming off a knee injury that could have easily robbed him of at least some of his quickness, is back like nothing happened and is averaging almost 10 free throw attempts per game in less than 33 minutes of action. He's not shooting like he used to but that will come as he gets his timing back. Even if he had been limited, the Thunder could have still fielded an elite offense by running everything through KD and having him kick out to shooters like Serge Ibaka, Lamb and Thabo Sefolosha.
What are they bad at? Making sound coaching decisions. Kendrick Perkins is great at setting screens, I'm sure he's a great teammate and you can't deny that he was a key defensive anchor on one of the best teams in recent memory, the 2008 Celtics. At the same time, Durant is more than capable of playing power forward in small lineups and guys like Ibaka and Nick Collison are much better than Perkins on both ends of the ball. At this point in his career, Perkins is a specialist who should only play 15 minutes a game, less if the opposing team lacks a strong post scorer. So far this season he's down to 18 minutes per game, so maybe things are starting to change.
Who's going to win tonight? The Thunder are a better team and are playing at home, so I'm going to go with OKC. Keep an eye on how Wall and Westbrook match up, though. Westbrook has looked great since coming back from his knee injury, at least in terms of his physical condition, but Wall could take advantage of him if he's a step slow or in pain. Either way, though, Washington is playing the Thunder on the road. As long as they play hard and keep things competitive, I won't lose sleep over this one.
Who would you rather have on your team at the end of the season: John Wall or Russell Westbrook? Right now, Westbrook is the better player and nine out of 10 people would choose him, but that could change if Wall continues to improve. Keep in mind that as good as Westbrook is, he's the second best player on the Thunder and they still haven't won a title, so Wall's going to need to surpass him if the Wizards are ever going to bring home a trophy. I like bold predictions and can't make up my mind here. What do you guys think?