The Golden State Warriors have a big advantage heading into their first game of the season against the Oklahoma City Thunder: They’re hosting, and they have one more day of rest. But all of that becomes irrelevant when you shift the focus towards what everyone is interested in: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook facing each other for the first time since the breakup.
And there’s bad blood in this breakup. Durant, if you haven’t heard, decided he’s had enough of not winning a championship. After the Thunder lost to the Warriors in the conference finals, a grueling series which also included the Thunder choking away a 3-1 lead, Durant hit free agency. For a number of reasons, some of them easier to swallow for Thunder and neutral fans while others are more difficult, Durant chose to join the Warriors, creating a superteam out of an existing one.
Westbrook stayed. Instead of turning his final season in OKC into a ‘will he, won’t he’ kind of year, he signed an extension, ending the drama early, and putting the Thunder in a position to retool around him, which has been working quite well so far. Westbrook is averaging an NBA-best 37.8 points in 37 minutes a night through the first four games, all wins for the Thunder. He’s averaging in triple double (yes, like Oscar), with 10.8 rebounds and 10 assists per game. MVP-like numbers, which was expected once Durant bolted.
Not that things have been going poorly for Durant. After getting beaten up by the Spurs on opening night, the Warriors have gone on to win three in a row. Durant is averaging 28.5 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists per game. Nothing to complain about, especially when he’s next to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. And as much as it’s fun to focus on how much Westbrook hates Durant and how many times Durant is trying to calm down the situation and only seems to be making it worse, there are other players involved.
Thompson has been struggling since the beginning of the season, and Green is on-off offensively. Can the Thunder take advantage of that? Will they make it a one-man show on offense like in their win against the Clippers, with Westbrook (35 points) being the only one scoring in double figures? Is the combination of Victor Oladipo and Enes Kanter in the same lineup going to be a problem for the Thunder or the Warriors? And will the Thunder’s advantage at the ‘5’ position give them some sort of edge? As much as it’s possible that Westbrook destroyed Curry in an individual battle, especially if Westbrook doesn’t lose focus on defense, the Warriors, especially at home, have more going for them and options to end this one in their favor.
One last thing. I really don’t get the NBA by scheduling this game to early November, and for the Warriors to host first. The main reason this is a big game isn’t the playoff series from last season, but the personal angle: Kevin Durant facing his former team. It’s a much bigger event when he comes to Oklahoma City, and I think the emotion and power of the reaction would be much greater if the first game would be there. From a ratings standpoint it might not make that big of a difference, but it would have been more special to see Golden State coming to Oklahoma City for the first game with Durant and Westbrook not in the same jersey.