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Streaky Thunder face Kings, look for consistency

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- An air of mystery about the fate of the Oklahoma City Thunder surrounds the team as they prepare to embark on the final 23 games of their season.

The Thunder remain optimistic they possess the talent to move up another couple rungs in the Western Conference. Their critics remain steadfast that the inconsistency Oklahoma City showed in the season's first half may continue to bite them now that the All-Star break is over.

The Sacramento Kings only wish they had such problems. With them, there's no mystery whatsoever.

The Thunder (33-26) and Kings (18-39) resume the regular season Thursday night at the Golden 1 Center. To say the two teams are headed in different directions is an understatement.

Oklahoma City, considered among one of the Western Conference favorites before the season after acquiring Carmelo Anthony and Paul George to complement reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, experienced a first half of fits and starts. Oklahoma City rolled through separate eight- and six-game winning streaks, but it also struggled through two four-game losing streaks, the second of which followed their season-best winning streak.

The Thunder lost six of nine heading into to the break. They sit two games behind the San Antonio Spurs for the third spot in the Western Conference and one game back in the loss column behind fourth-place Minnesota.

Anthony has been particularly inconsistent. His 41.2 percent shooting from the field in the season's first half is a career-worst mark, as is his 17.1 points per game.

A season-ending injury to Andre Roberson on Jan. 28 only seemed to add to Anthony's struggles. According to the Daily Oklahoman, Anthony has the team's second-lowest net defensive rating (point differential per 100 possessions when in the game) since Robertson's injury, with a mark of negative-1.

"I haven't really got a chance to sit down and kind of breathe a little bit and relax," Anthony told the Daily Oklahoman on Wednesday. "Everything's happened so fast. So this past week (of the break) was very helpful for me."

Westbook and George each enjoyed big first halves. Westbook, who averaged a triple-double (31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists) in his MVP season, is only slightly off a triple-double pace this season (25.4 points, 10.4 assists, 9.4 rebounds). George is averaging 22.5 points and career-high and league-best 2.2 steals.

The Kings, now a full year removed from the trade of All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, start the second half of their season with far less fanfare than a season ago. The team has been open about a rebuilding effort that started from ground zero after the Cousins trade, and their first half went about as expected.

That said, they've seen glimpses of promise, particularly from the backcourt. Rookie De'Aaron Fox averaged 11.3 points and a team-best 4.3 assists in 27 minutes per contest. Fellow rookie Bogdan Bogdanovic totaled 11.5 points in 27.4 minutes while canning 40 percent of his 3-pointers.

Bogdanovic also provided one of the Kings' highlights by nailing seven 3-pointers in 22 minutes and earning MVP honors in the Rising Stars Challenge. He scored some of those points while going against Fox.

"It was fun to play against him," he told reporters. "As you can see, we have great chemistry on the court, and I'm looking forward to transferring that to the Sacramento Kings."

The two teams have split their two meetings this season, with Oklahoma City winning 95-88 at home on Jan. 15 in their most recent contest.

Updated February 21, 2018

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