Injuries subtracted some of the Kentucky nostalgia from the Oklahoma City Thunder’s visit to the Miami Heat on Tuesday night.
Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a first-round pick out of Kentucky in 2018 and the 11th overall selection, is the only member of the gathering of Wildcats hoops alumni expected to play in the matchup as injuries sideline Miami’s Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo.
Gilgeous-Alexander has improved his scoring average in all five of his NBA seasons.
The 24-year-old has become a monster this season, averaging 30.9 points, 5.6 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals. He leads the Thunder in free-throw percentage (91.1) and is shooting 34.3 percent on 3-pointers and 52.7 percent inside the arc. He has an impressive 24 games this season with at least 30 points.
Herro, a first-round pick out of Kentucky in 2019 and No. 13 overall, is averaging a career-high 21.2 points. Herro, who will turn 23 on Jan. 20, also is averaging 6.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists and a steal per game. He’ll sit this one out with left Achilles soreness.
Adebayo, who is averaging 21.4 points and 9.9 rebounds, was ruled out Tuesday at shootaround. He has been battling a thigh injury and a right-hand contusion.
“I don’t like to see my guys nicked up or hurt, that being Bam,” Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “I hope he’s OK. He’s been carrying a lot of the load on both sides of the ball.”
The Heat bench is not a strength at the moment. Miami won’t have Kyle Lowry (knee), Caleb Martin (quadriceps strain) or Duncan Robinson (finger) against the Thunder.
Butler, who is averaging 21.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.1 steals, missed what would have been the game-winning shot at the buzzer Sunday night in a 102-101 loss to the visiting Brooklyn Nets.
“We have to figure out how to win games like that, and I think we can,” Butler said of the loss to the hot Nets, who are 14-1 in their past 15 contests.
“This was a step in the right direction, even though we didn’t win.”
The Thunder have won three of their past four games, including 120-109 over the visiting Dallas Mavericks on Sunday night. Dallas was without star Luka Doncic.
Gilgeous-Alexander scored 33 points against the Mavericks, making 11 of 17 shots from the floor. He also hit 11 of 13 free throws.
Greatness has long been predicted for Gilgeous-Alexander. As a freshman following road games, he would sit next to an assistant coach on the plane, going over the film while his teammates slept.
While Gilgeous-Alexander is the face of the Thunder’s attempted revival, other key contributors include 6-foot-3 guard Lu Dort, an elite defender who is averaging 14.3 points; and 6-7 wing Josh Giddey, who is averaging 15.3 points, a team-high 7.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists.
The Thunder’s young core of Gilgeous-Alexander, Dort, 23, and Giddey, 20, also includes 7-foot rookie center Chet Holmgren, 20. But Holmgren, the second overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, is out for the season due to a foot injury.
Jalen Williams, a 6-6 wing, is another Thunder rookie first-rounder. He has played well, starting 23 of his 36 games while averaging 11.6 points.
White showing All-Star form, Gilgeous-Alexander continues to preach dirty work for the Thunder.
“We have to be first to (get) loose balls,” he said, “first to offensive rebounds.”
–Field Level Media