Matchup: Washington Wizards (21-24) at Oklahoma City Thunder (36-13)
When: Monday, 7:30 p.m. (TV: CSN, CSNMidatlantic.com via NBC Sports Live Extra)
Season series: Oklahoma City leads 1-0
When we last met: The Thunder blasted the Wizards in the first quarter and rolled to a 125-101 win behind 23 points from Serge Ibaka and 22 from Russell Westbrook. Kevin Durant's return to his hometown ended with the All-Star leaving early with a leg injury that kept him off the court for six additional games. It's not like Washington was exactly healthy in that first game. Neither Nene nor Bradley Beal played. ""It's over and done with now. We're two different teams at this point," Wizards guard Bradley Beal said at Monday's shootaround. "We know that wasn't us back then. We were nicked up. We barely had guys playing."
Streaks: Washington's thrilling 123-122 victory at Houston Saturday night snapped a three-game slide.
Three things to know:
Kevin Durant: Sometimes it felt like a week if not a day was complete without some story, some new angle on the concept of Kevin Durant joining the Wizards next summer when he's expected to hit free agency. That's not the case lately. The #KD2DC buzz has quieted a bit since the Thunder visited Washington on Nov. 10. Durant's stated hope that Wizards fans would focus more on current hoops than future hoops played a part. There was something of a first date awkwardness in the Verizon Center that night as many seemed uncertain whether cheering for Durant would go against his wishes. From there, the Wizards still had 75 games remaining so indeed the focus turned to the now, which has included an ungodly amount of injuries plus enough unwanted losing slides to temper postseason aspirations. Fears of Durant's recurring foot injuries have been shelved now that the former NBA Most Valuable Player is averaging 27.2 points. That many sense Durant will actually sign a one-year extension with the Thunder and thus delay free agency until 2017 hangs in the air.
With the trading deadline approaching, some will ask what moves the Wizards should make. Adding help is fine. Compromising any hope of #KD2DC isn't. Even if the chatter about the kid from Prince George's County coming home isn't an overtly hot topic this moment, it remains one. Heat will return when the time is right. Fans crave the Wizards adding another superstar alongside John Wall and Beal. Not just any, but this one, the local kid made good. Seeing as Washington has come this far, setting up the roster so only 5-6 players are under contract for next season, there is probably no point in compromising the situation now. Sure, many other organizations have needed cap space to lure Durant, but not all have the obvious connection even if we learn one day the hometown angle never truly mattered at all. There isn't much #KD2DC buzz right now, but give it a minute. If the Wizards start looking like an East title contender, look out. One way for that to happen? Beat the Thunder in Oklahoma City.
Who's out: We've previously discussed that the Wizards have missed more games this season to injury than any team in the NBA. According to website Manage Games Lost, the Thunder have been the exact opposite, as in the healthiest team in the league. At least Washington is relatively healthy for the rematch with only Kris Humphries and Alan Anderson expected out. Of course, that doesn't include the absence of head coach Randy Wittman, who will miss the next two games following the passing of his brother hours before Washington faced Houston.
No welcome mat: Based on history, the Wizards are in trouble at Oklahoma City. The Thunder have defended their house in each of the last six meetings against Washington. As for this season, OKC has won 17 of its last 19 games at home. "Our coaches told us today they really feed off their energy," Beal said. "It gets loud in here. All they have is basketball here. ... It's important for us to be ready to go from the start. Their first quarters are tremendous. They love to feed off their energy and try to get teams out of here early. It's best we hit them first and control the tempo."
MORE WIZARDS: Don Newman steps into lead role from Wizards' bench