Golden State Warriors

Golden State Warriors vs. Oklahoma City Thunder is about far more than Kevin Durant vs. Russell Westbrook

This is the 8th matchup between Durant and Westbrook
This is the 8th matchup between Durant and Westbrook (Getty Images)

When the Warriors and Thunder take the floor at Oracle Arena on Wednesday, it will be the eighth time that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have squared off since Durant signed with Golden State in the summer of 2016 after eight seasons alongside Westbrook in Oklahoma City.

The previous seven meetings - all of which have come in the regular season - have been all about Durant and Westbrook.

There have been nail-biters and blowouts, cupcakes and comebacks, triple-doubles and 40-point games.

In their third season apart, this one feels different.

With the Warriors suddenly struggling and Westbrook working his way back into the fold, there's far more to watch than one of the league's most scintillating personal rivalries.

Durant and Westbrook battle for a loose ball during Durant's return to OKC
Durant and Westbrook battle for a loose ball during Durant's return to OKC (Getty Images)

01 Head-to-Head history

OK, so maybe there's still significant interest in following these two even if there are other pertinent storylines to follow.

Durant owns a 5-2 edge and has been the far more efficient player.

His best game came in their second meeting of the 2016-17 season when he scored 40 points on just 16 shots and was the game's leading scorer in each of the four quarters.

Westbrook's had some big games as well, including 44 points and 16 rebounds in the last meeting, a four-point Warriors win last spring.

Durant: 32.7 Pts, 7.7 Reb, 2.4 Ast, 3.0 TO, 54.7 FG pct, 51.9 3-pt FG pct

Westbrook: 31.6 Pts, 11.3 Reb, 8.9 Ast, 6.0 TO, 44.9 FG pct, 31.7 3-pt FG pct

Their complete head-to-head stats and game log can be found here.

Golden State has lost three straight (NBA Getty Images)

02 Golden State's losing streak

The Warriors enter this game on a three-game losing streak and are in danger of losing four straight games for the first time under head coach Steve Kerr.

As Kerr said this week, the Warriors are finally facing some real adversity in the regular season after sprinting through what's been the most dominant regular-season run in NBA history over the last four years.

During the current three-game losing streak, all on the road against the Texas trio of Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks, the Warriors are shooting a ghastly 23.4 percent from beyond the arc while averaging just over 20 assists per game, about nine fewer than they did last season.

Offensively, this is the worst we have seen the Warriors play since losing Games 5-7 of the 2016 NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers, a loss which prompted the offseason signing of Durant.

Westbrook recently returned after missing six games
Westbrook recently returned after missing six games (Getty Images)

03 Russell Westbrook's return

Russell Westbrook will be playing his second game back after missing the previous six games with a sprained ankle sustained against the New Orleans Pelicans at the beginning of the month.

In his return against the Sacramento Kings, Westbrook showed no signs of lingering issues as he finished with 29 points on 12-25 shooting to go along with 13 rebounds and 7 assists.

Though his per-game averages are down from the last few seasons, much of it is due to the arrival of Dennis Schroder, who has relieved some of the playmaking burden. Westbrook is currently averaging 32.1 minutes per game which would be the second-fewest of his career.

Stephen Curry will not play against OKC
Stephen Curry will not play against OKC (Getty Images)

04 The Warriors really miss Stephen Curry

It seems like we go through this every year.

Whenever Stephen Curry is out of the lineup, the Warriors simply do not look like The Warriors.

He's missed the last six games since suffering a strained groin in a loss against the Milwaukee Bucks.

With Curry in the lineup, the Warriors were 10-2 and sported an offensive rating of 118.8, which would be the best in NBA history over the course of an entire season. At the time of his injury, Curry was leading the NBA in scoring and looked like an MVP frontrunner.

Since Curry's been out, Golden State is just 2-4 and has been outscored by 8 points in the 470 minutes he's been off the floor.

Since the start of the 2015-16 season, the Warriors are 187-34 with Curry in the lineup and 23-20 with him out of the lineup.

Paul George has OKC defending as well as any team
Paul George has OKC defending as well as any team (Getty Images)

05 Putting the D in Thunder

That 0-4 start feels like an eternity ago.

Despite the loss to Sacramento in their last game, the Thunder have won 10 of their last 12 and own the NBA's best record since Oct. 28 when they picked up their first win of the season.

The key behind OKC's surge up the standings? Defence.

Over that span, the Thunder rank tied for first in defensive efficiency. Leading the way has been Paul George, who is averaging a career-high 2.4 steals per game and has arguably been the NBA's best perimeter defender.

During this 10-2 stretch, the Thunder have allowed just 97.3 points per 100 possessions with George on the floor and 110.3 whenever he's been off the floor. His presence has essentially amounted to the difference between the league's best and 25th-best defence.

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