Chris Paul has been the unquestioned MVP for Oklahoma City this season, taking the reins after the team traded Russell Westbrook and Paul George in the offseason and helping the Thunder to what was viewed as an unlikely playoff appearance.
But close behind George has been Dennis Schroder, Paul’s backup at point guard who has helped Oklahoma City’s offense remain strong even when Paul goes to the bench.
Without Schroder, one of the leading contenders for Sixth Man of the Year, the Thunder have struggled when Paul is not on the court over the last two games.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the centerpiece of the trade that sent George to the Los Angeles Clippers, has been Oklahoma City’s leading scorer this season but without Schroder the last three games, Gilgeous-Alexander has been forced into more time at point guard and has struggled.
Gilgeous-Alexander is shooting just 32.4 percent in the three games Schroder has missed due to the birth of his second child. Schroder is expected to miss Sunday’s game against the Washington Wizards as well.
“I know he can handle it, but it’s probably been a little different for him,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said of Gilgeous-Alexander. “I don’t think that necessarily has anything to do with his play, because he’s just a basketball player. I think the biggest thing for him is you’re gonna have nights where you don’t shoot the ball particularly well. He didn’t shoot it well. I’ve always said this about him, he’s a guy that can impact the game a lot of different ways on both ends of the floor.”
With four games remaining and anything from fourth to seventh place still on the table, the Thunder need more from Gilgeous-Alexander.
“It’s not him, it’s all of us,” Paul said. “We’re a totally different team without Dennis. We rely on him a lot as another ball handler. There haven’t been many times this season we sort of played without having a couple ball handlers on the court.”
The Wizards are 0-5 in the seeding games near Orlando.
Washington was officially eliminated from postseason contention with Friday’s loss to New Orleans.
It’s the second consecutive season the Wizards have missed the playoffs.
“I feel bad for all of us,” Washington coach Scott Brooks said. “We put a lot of time and effort into it, our guys are committed to getting better, but getting better includes winning. That’s the most important element. You cannot lose — the fact that we play 48 minutes to come away with at least one point ahead of our opponents, and we’re not doing that. We’re not happy. But I’m still pleased with a lot of things we’re getting accomplished down here. We’re lucky to be in this situation.”
Sunday’s game is one more, and perhaps final, opportunity to impact the playoff race.
The Wizards close the season with games against Milwaukee and Boston. The Bucks have clinched the top spot in the Eastern Conference and the Celtics are likely to be locked into third place by Thursday’s finale.
“We have three more games,” Brooks said. “We’re going to keep fighting together and keep building the future, what we need to work on.”
The Wizards won the only meeting this season between the teams, although it has been more than nine months since that game. Washington beat Oklahoma City 97-85 in late October in the second game of the regular season.
–Field Level Media