Unpredictable Thunder host wilting Wizards

Oklahoma City Thunder coach Mark Daigneault isn’t one to be predictable.

As the Thunder have surged near the top of the Western Conference, Daigneault has continued to tinker with his rotations. He did it Thursday night in a win over the Los Angeles Clippers, starting Isaiah Joe in the second half in place of Josh Giddey.

Daigneault figures to continue his tinkering — especially as he works newcomers Gordon Hayward and Bismack Biyombo into the rotation — as the Thunder oppose the Washington Wizards on Friday in Oklahoma City.

“Everything we’re doing right now is pushing ourselves to grow,” Daigneault said. “We want to learn as much as we can for these 82 games. We want our players to be put in as many different situations in these 82 games so that they can be adaptive and flexible, mentally tough.

“That’s a huge point of emphasis coming out of the All-Star break. That starts with me. I have to model that and I’m going to stay aggressive in terms of what we’re looking at.”

The Thunder come into play Friday having won three consecutive games and 11 of their past 15. They came back from the break with a 129-107 home win over the Clippers.

Oklahoma City star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander certainly didn’t mind Daigneault switching things up.

“It’s strategic,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Keeps teams on their heels. Throw them a curveball.”

Hayward, acquired from the Charlotte Hornets in a deadline deal, made his Thunder debut Thursday, going scoreless with four rebounds in 14 minutes.

Biyombo, whom Oklahoma City signed before the break, has yet to make his Thunder debut, though he was available Thursday. Biyombo is expected to be used situationally when matchups dictate.

While Oklahoma City continues to surge, the Wizards continue to scuffle. Washington has lost nine consecutive games, including a 130-110 defeat at Denver on Thursday.

Washington interim coach Brian Keefe switched things up as well Thursday, starting rookie Bilal Coulibaly in place of Jordan Poole. It was the first time this season that Poole came off the bench.

“It’s really a positive. It’s actually a credit to Jordan,” Keefe said. “Jordan’s been one of our highest net ratings since I’ve taken over, and I just want to see more of that.

“This gives him an opportunity now, being in that unit, to be the lead handler, lead decision-maker, and kind of be our offensive engine.”

Poole scored 18 points against the Nuggets but shot just 4 of 17 from the floor while finishing with one assist and two turnovers. Coulibaly wound up with four points, two assists and no turnovers in 32 minutes.

Poole wasn’t happy with the move.

“If there’s any common sense with the situation, you should know how I feel,” he said, according to the Washington Post. “But I’m just going to come out, do what I can do to help the team, keep it moving.”

Oklahoma City won the first of the teams’ two meetings this season, a 136-128 victory in Washington on Jan. 8 behind 32 points from Gilgeous-Alexander and 31 from Chet Holmgren.

The Friday matchup features two of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA. The Thunder rank 28th out of the 30 teams at 41.1 per game, while the Wizards are tied for last with the Indiana Pacers at 40.7.

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