OKC Thunder host 76ers: What to watch for

Oklahoma City Thunder (20-32) are starting the weekend off hosting the Philadelphia 76ers (35-17) in the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

These two teams may as well be in different NBAs right now, with eyes both on completely separate prizes. One wants to win, the other is desperate to…develop young talent. The Thunder have initiated Tank Mode as aggressively as anyone could imagine, losing 8 of their last 10 and mostly in blowout fashion too. The last matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers was a serious beatdown where the Thunder let the entire game slip in the third quarter. Meanwhile, the Sixers are trying to find a steady rhythm with Joel Embiid in and out of the lineup. He fell awkwardly on his knee during the loss against the Pelicans last night and at the time of this article being written his status is unclear for this second half of their back-to-back.

Whether Embiid plays or not, the Thunder will be severely outgunned in terms of availability and capable players. Every man and his dog seem to be out for the Thunder; Al Horford, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Hall, Isaiah Roby, and Mike Muscala are all out of the lineup with Darius Bazley upgraded to probable with his shoulder injury. Lu Dort has also be upgraded to available. George Hill is yet to return to the court since the Sixers-Thunder trade at the deadline and Doc Rivers said earlier this week he “Can’t see it being anytime soon”.

This could be a nice revenge game for Tony Bradley who moved to OKC in the George Hill trade against his old team. The 3rd year big man has been seeing career-high usage in his Thunder stint so far, averaging a steady 20 minutes a game behind new fan-favorite Moses Brown. Will he force out a larger performance in front of his old teammates? One can hope so, but if Embiid is playing it could be difficult for Bradley to out-muscle Embiid or Howard in the paint. The real story for the Thunder will be the continuous Poku watch. With all the Thunder’s usual scorers out, 19-year-old Aleksej Pokusevski is showing out. With the second-highest usage behind the rookie Theo Maledon, these young gunners are running the show in Oklahoma right now. Both players logged 25 points each against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night and are proving they can score on any given night with enough opportunity.

For the Sixers, the game has a higher probability to be a cakewalk than their previous three games where they have lost against the Grizzlies and the Pelicans. For a Thunder team missing their offensive punch, you could expect Philadelphia to still win on their defense alone. The DPOY candidate Ben Simmons should have an interesting matchup with Maledon and Poku, and it will be a real test for the two rookies to see if they can score on one of the best defenses in the league.

A win tonight could bring Sixers level with the Nets for the top seed in the East. Every game counts down the stretch as a home-court advantage could prove important for these two teams in a conference final. Down on the other end of the spectrum, another loss for the Thunder would help cement their lottery odds. OKC will be hoping for Rockets and Cavaliers victories in order to help their quest for a top pick. Tank Mode is on!

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