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2012-2013 Game 77 Preview: Thunder Face the Small But Fiery Knicks

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Last time, it took three consecutive defensive holds to secure a Thunder victory, after Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook came up short twice while trying to close the game.

A true clash of the titans.
A true clash of the titans.
William Bennett Berry

2012-2013 NBA Season
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The New York Knicks (49-26)
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The Oklahoma City Thunder (56-20)
April 6th, 2013
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
12:00 PM Central Daylight Time
American Broadcasting Company
WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1), ESPN New York 98.7 FM
Enemy Blogs: Posting and Toasting, Buckets Over Broadway, Knicks Journal, Knickerblogger
Previous Meetings: Mar 7 (Thunder Lead Season Series 1-0)
Injury Report: Amare Stoudemire (Out), Kurt Thomas (Out), Rasheed Wallace (Out)
Probable Starters
Raymond Felton PG Russell Westbrook
Pablo Prigioni SG Thabo Sefolosha
Iman Shumpert SF Kevin Durant
Carmelo Anthony PF Serge Ibaka
Tyson Chandler C Kendrick Perkins

Last time, it took three consecutive defensive holds to secure a Thunder victory, after Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook came up short twice while trying to close the game. The situation was helped out, perhaps, by the fact that Carmelo Anthony was sitting out for that particular game, forcing the Knicks to rely on a monstrous performance from J.R. Smith to pull them through.

Luckily for the Thunder, it's appearing as if the Knicks will be similarly handicapped tonight. Amare Stoudemire is out with right knee surgery, making them lose a major interior presence. In fact, their front line is so beat up that they had to basically play small ball against the Bucks on Friday. Veteran bigs Rasheed Wallace and Kurt Thomas are confirmed to be out Sunday, while the condition of Kenyon Martin and Marcus Camby is unknown, though they were both out Friday. Should they not be able to go, the Knicks sole backup bigs would be the undrafted Chris Copeland and (sort of) Steve Novak.

This should turn out to be a big advantage for the Thunder, who are one of the best open court teams in the league. But, it also opens up the possibility that the Thunder will seriously struggle. The Knicks are the best team in the league at limiting turnovers, and they can kill you from three if you're not careful. Comparatively, the Thunder love to pressure and will often lead shooters wide open. This could cause a catastrophe of points against the Knicks, much as what happened against the Bucks on Friday. Plus, the Knicks have a 11 game win streak under their belt, and aren't exactly looking weak.

Today, the Thunder should look to do against the Knicks what they did to the Pacers, at least on offense. Take the ball inside, try to get offensive rebounds, and take advantage of their size weaknesses. Defensively, they need to keep tabs on the Knicks perimeter shooters, while applying the pressure to main scorers like Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith. Neither of them can kill you with sweet dimes like LeBron James, so there's no harm in pressuring them as much as you can.

Perhaps the most helpful thing to remember is that the Knicks have both of their primary scorers ready to go, and an even meaner passing attack than they had before, with the addition of more guards. So the Thunder can't expect to win by staving their lead off at the line and defensively holding the opposition. They'll need to score when it matters, and they can't make their offense so one-dimensional, as it was in the first half of the Pacers game. For Carmelo Anthony is on the charge, and he will make them pay.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 110, New York Knicks 107.

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