So, the Brooklyn Nets are this year's NBA chemistry disaster. After paying top dollar to get some experienced championship players and excellent free agents, they have crashed and burned. Things are so bad that the team literally forgot to finish off their loss against the Spurs on New Year's Eve, forcing Jason Kidd to call his squad back to the court. Speaking of Jason Kidd, he has been viewed by many as an absolute coaching failure, clashing with his assistants and his players. Injuries haven't helped out his situation, to be sure, but that doesn't excuse a woeful 10-21 record with a roster that was supposed to go all the way. This is especially true when you consider that a roster containing largely inferior players was able to nearly get into the second round of the playoffs last season.
What's gone wrong? The best reason that I've heard is the lack of a real team identity. The Nets don't have a star to hang their hat on, and nobody on the team has a defined role. The roster is basically an amalgam of random talent. Many players just came in from other teams, and nobody seems to compliment one another. As a result, they've got tons of guys who are playing really inefficiently at well below their career averages.
Going back to the injury situation, the Nets will be seriously thin on the front line tonight. Brook Lopez will remain out while rehabbing from right foot surgery, and Andray Blatche will miss his fourth game in a row due to a personal issue. This leaves them fielding an inconsistent and aging Garnett, an impressive but one-dimensional Teletovic, the rookie Plumlee, and the untested Tornike Shengelia. The Nets will never have to go small, but they likely won't have a legitimate post threat, and will instead rely upon a lot of pick and pop.
Andrei Kirilenko is recovering from back surgery, and recently returned to the Nets active roster in their blowout loss to San Antonio on New Year's Eve. He's expected to get a "minutes increase" tonight, and may see his largest role with the team yet this season. Kirilenko has been an able Durant-stopper in the past, so he's definitely someone to watch out for.
Another name to watch out for will be Mirza Teletovic. Only die-hard fans knew his name before this season, but his recent performances will soon have him become an NBA household name. Signs pointed to him heating up during the 2013 Eurobasket, when he nearly single-handedly led an underdog Bosnian team to advancing out of the first round at the expense of Lithuania. More recently, he's averaging 16.3 points on 54.3% shooting over the past four games and earned himself a place in the Nets starting lineup. He and Ibaka will basically take turns chucking up long jump shots, though Ibaka will pump fake while Teletovic releases without hesitation.
Coming into this game, the Thunder have hit a bit of a rough patch. They're 3-2 over their past 5 games, with losses to the Raptors and Blazers blemishing their record. Westbrook's 6 week injury has hampered the team's offensive talent and pace, and Reggie Jackson has struggled to fill his role. On the other hand, both of those losses came down to the final moments, and the Thunder do boast impressive wins over the Rockets and Bobcats.
When it comes to the Thunder's bench, Steven Adams, Perry Jones, and Derek Fisher all seem to be given time on a case-by-case basis. There's certainly the possibility that all three of them will play, and two of them are certain to play. But a third might have to wait until garbage time if Brooks can't find a way to fit him in. Meanwhile, Andre Roberson seems slated to only get time when Thabo Sefolosha is injured, though he remains on the active roster. Ryan Gomes gets only pinch time, and Hasheem Thabeet is completely in the doghouse.
Another interesting development in the Thunder's rotations occurred against the Trail Blazers on New Years Eve. For the first time since the Westbrook injury, Scott Brooks played an extended amount of time without Kevin Durant or Reggie Jackson on the floor. With Derek Fisher pushing 40 and never having been much of a point guard in the first place, Brooks usually has to juggle his lineups to make sure that Durant or Jackson was there to handle the ball. But Fisher ran the point during the early second and fourth quarters that night, actually faring rather well for himself. Turnovers were not a problem, and the lineup basically treaded water. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues tonight.
All things considered, the Thunder should be able to run away with this one. The Nets have gotten absolutely thrashed by anyone not named the Bucks or 76ers lately, and there's no reason to think that they'll be much of a force without Blatche or Lopez. The Nets do have tons of talent and experience, so there's always the possibility that they could put it together. I mean, they did it against the Clippers on December 12th. But that would require a great defensive effort on the Nets part, and I just don't think the team is motivated enough at this point.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 109, Brooklyn Nets 91.
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