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Detroit Pistons vs Oklahoma City Thunder: Game 64 Preview; Pistons Limp Into Loud City

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Records: The Oklahoma City Thunder (40-23) vs. The Detroit Pistons (23-42)

Time: 7:00 PM Central Standard Time

Place: Oklahoma City Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

TV: FSOKHD, Fox Sports Detroit Plus

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), 99X 97.9 FM

Enemy Blog(s): Motown String Music, Need 4 Sheed, Detroit 4 Lyfe

Previous Meeting(s): Thunder 106, Pistons 105

Here is a quote you won't be hearing tonight:

"Jeff really came through." - Kevin Durant

This quote by Durant was uttered after these teams met for the first time this season, and Jeff Green hit a layup with 2.5 seconds remaining to give the Thunder a one point win. This brief moment in the season seems like a lifetime ago, now that Green is gone and the Pistons have gone from plucky to imploding. If you look across their statistics, it is evident that they don't do any one thing particularly well, and on average give up four more points than they score. So you could argue that the Pistons have a stingier defense than the Thunder, but this feat won't help much if they can't score more than 96 points per game.

Ever the pessimist that I am, here are three things by which if the Thunder do not do well, they can slip up at home.

(An aside - an accomplished team is one who knows that if it does ABC, it will win. A young team is one who knows that if it does not do XYZ, it will lose. Subtle difference, but I think the Thunder are still the latter.)

  1. Remember that it is 2011, not 2004. If you look across the Pistons' roster, you might be impressed if not for the fact that all of the recognizable names are past their primes. Big names such as Tracy McGrady, Tayshaun Prince, Richard Hamilton, and Ben Wallace flirt with your memory. However, there is a reason these players are now with Detroit and not a contender. And yet, basketball muscle memory is a funny thing. Even though these guys are a little (or a lot) past their primes where they could perform at a high level on a regular basis, they are not beyond having big games from time to time. There was a time when McGrady was arguably the best player in the league, and the talent still lurks inside of him, even if it isn't always evident. The point is, this dormant talent can suddenly appear, and the Thunder need to recognize where it is coming from and shut it down pronto.

  2. Don't get sloppy. There are two ways in which a good team can allow an inferior team to hang around. The first is through bad defensive rebounding, which gives the lesser team more opportunities to score (See: Golden State Warriors game). The second way is through careless turnovers, and this is a factor that the Thunder definitely slip into from time to time. Yes, we're looking at you Russell Westbrook. Russ doesn't need an A+ game for the team to win. In fact, he could probably get by with a B game. What he cannot do is throw out a C- game with a multitude of offensive charges and bad passes. The Thunder needs to collectively keep the turnovers under about 12 in order to avoid high anxiety as the 4th quarter rolls around.

  3. Remember the coaching lessons from game one. If you recall, the Thunder controlled much of game one up until the very last few minutes. Suddenly, it was a one possession game, and it was debatable which team had the best player on the court (Ben Gordon vs Kevin Durant). There are two parts to this dilemma they faced. The first is that the Thunder never expanded on an eight to 10 point lead they held for much of the game, giving the Pistons a glimmer of hope. The second is that, when the Pistons, and Ben Gordon in particular, started heating up offensively, the coaching never altered its course to get the ball out of Gordon's hands. If a game can be reduced to which team has the best player on the court at that specific time, then upsets result. What will keep the Thunder safe is to remember that even if a player like Gordon or McGrady has a better game than Durant, that Thunder players 2-10 make the Thunder a better team. The discrepancies will even out if they allow them to.

It is always a risky proposition to evaluate how a team is going to respond to internal adversity. Early on this season, we saw that the Cleveland Cavaliers were on the verge of quitting. Other times, teams find inner resolve to play for nothing but their own sense of pride. As Marcellus Wallace once said, pride can mess with a man's head, so it's best if the Thunder eliminate the pride element by playing well early. Perhaps they'll even hold the Pistons to under 30 in the 1st quarter.

Prediction: Thunder 104, Pistons 92