Where They At: Oklahoma City Thunder
Turns out, Kevin Durant makes the Thunder a lot better. The team played .500 ball in his six-game absence, showing little evidence that this Durant-less version of the Thunder was much different than the same group last season without KD. Upon KD’s return, they smoked the Jazz, transforming immediately into the behemoth of athleticism and scoring that we know they should be. They even showed up on defense, locking down the paint, swiping boards, tossing nasty blocks down, and letting poor three-point shooters heave and miss (I’m not actually sure those Jazz players were supposed to be open all night, but it sure didn’t matter).
The truth is, it doesn’t matter how well the team plays without their MVP, as nice as any progress under Billy Donavan looks for their title hopes. The next long stretch with a healthy core will be the first in a long time, and will likely feature a good bunch of wins.
Where They At: Brooklyn Nets
After a dismal start to the Nets’ season (the first of many down years, in all likelihood), the team has recovered a little recently, going 2-2 in their last four games, those victories coming against the Hawks and Celtics. They’re in the bottom-5 in both team defensive and offensive rating, and their roster is sort of embarrassing. While Jarret Jack, starting point guard, or Andrea Bargnani, important role player, work better as high-concept ideas than intimidating basketball components, the Nets do still have some punch. Brook Lopez (the low-post scoring machine Sam Presti left at the trade altar for Enes Kanter) and Joe Johnson (some nights) are good players, and lovable curmudgeon Lionel Hollins is a good coach whose teams don’t check out. This isn’t the Sixers, for whatever that’s worth.
I tried not to be mean about the Nets, but the Thunder would be favorites even without Durant. There’s no reason Russell Westbrook shouldn’t devour Jack, and the way Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka have been playing, the Lopez/Thaddeus Young duo down low shouldn’t be able to produce enough to keep the Nets in it.
Prediction: Thunder 118 Nets 102
|2015-16 NBA Season Game 16
|November 25th, 2015
|Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City
|7 PM Central Standard Time
|TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma, YES, NBA League Pass
|Injury Report: Mitch McGary (DTD)
|This Season's Matchups: N/A