Thunder update. Two years ago, the Bucks beat a disinterested Thunder team in Oklahoma City on the final day of the 10/11 season. Tonight they'll hope to similarly take advantage of circumstances, as the Thunder locked up the first seed in the West on Monday in Sacramento with their 60th win of the season. With nothing left to play for, Thunder coach Scott Brooks admitted afterwards that his stars would see only limited minutes tonight, so if you miss the first quarter you might not get much of a glimpse of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka. That's good news, too: Durant will join Larry Bird as the only players to ever score 28+ ppg while shooting .500/.400/.900, while Ibaka will edge Larry Sanders to claim the league's shot-blocking crown for a second time in as many seasons. Kevin Martin (back) and Kendrick Perkins (hamstring) also missed Monday's game due to injury and presumably will be watching from the sidelines again tonight.
Not that anyone really knows what to expect from Oklahoma City's B team. Scott Brooks has rigorously stuck to a nine-man rotation throughout the season, leaving precious little opportunity for youngsters like Jeremy Lamb, Daniel Orton, Perry Jones III and DeAndre Liggins to get on the court. Those four have combined for a grand total of 215 points all season but figure to see extended minutes tonight.
Sanders seeks second opinion. Larry Sanders went to Chicago on Tuesday to seek a second opinion on his bothersome back, which will keep him out of a fifth straight game tonight. We haven't heard much of anything about whether he'll be ready to go against the Heat, but any hope of containing the defending champs figures to rely on Sanders' defensive presence in the middle.
Henson rising. The silver lining has been the encouraging play of rookie John Henson in Sanders' absence, so look for him to once again figure prominently tonight. Henson's 14 points and 15 rebounds on Monday upped his averages to 11.8 ppg, 14.8 rpg and 3.5 bpg over the last four games, though it's worth noting that he remains a low-efficiency scorer (44% fg in the last four, TS% of just 48% for the season). On the plus side, his recent monster rebounding numbers aren't terribly surprising--he's been doing that most of the year--but it has been nice to see him blocking shots at a rate more commensurate with what he did in college. Henson's seven block effort in Orlando last week marked the first time in three months he swatted more than one shot in a game, and while playing time is a big part of the story it's certainly not all of it. Charles Gardner reports:
"John played really well," Boylan said. "He's starting to learn how to play a little bit. It's all about his awareness defensively, the speed of the game, then the strength factor. Sometimes he gets a little overwhelmed.
"But he certainly can come up with some rebounds that most guys can't get. With his ability to shoot with his left hand and right hand, it really puts the defense in a tough spot to defend him."
Win vs. rest. Aside from sitting Sanders, Jim Boylan may also go easy on some of his other key players, with Brandon Jennings (sore Achilles) the most obvious candidate to see a reduced workload tonight. Jennings returned to the lineup on Monday but finished the game 1/11 and watched from the bench in crunch time. Gardner writes that Jennings wanted minutes this week in order to prepare for the upcoming series with Miami.
"I'd rather it be now than in the playoffs," Jennings said of his injury. "That's why I came back for the last two games, just to get used to playing and get back in the flow of things.
"We're on the biggest stage in the world (against the Heat). If you can't get up for that and you're not motivated for that, I don't know what else to tell you. I don't know what other type of stage you want to be on."