Where They At: Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder are on a roll, winners of three straight and enjoying MVP-level play from both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Westbrook has somehow improved on his production from last season, and Durant has showed very little rust in his limited time back from a hamstring injury (which interrupted his comeback from those foot surgeries last year). The Thunder are in the chase for the two-seed in the Western Conference, again looking to be even with the Spurs and a notch below the Warriors.
More important than the explosive scoring that the team will always bank on, team defense has improved of late. Durant’s impact on D is often overlooked—he’s no anchor, but he is very good, and the trickledown effect of having another plus defender for 35 minutes a game alleviates some of the subpar defenders in the rotation. Turnovers are still a problem, but as long as the Thunder are forcing turnovers and snatching every available rebound, they can do a lot more in transition and semi-transition than almost any opponent they face, and they have been.
Where They At: Detroit Pistons
Remember the Reggie Jackson thing? That was weird. After the good times went bad in Oklahoma City for Jackson, he has proven his worth as a starting point guard in Detroit, forming one of the league’s best pick-and-roll combos with Andre Drummond. With an offense built around that dynamic, and a defense anchored by Drummond’s reprisal (enhancement?) of the Dwight Howard role in a Stan Van Gundy scheme, Detroit has bumped up into the Eastern Conference playoff race.
This is one of those games that has intrigue both from the on-court matchup and off-court storyline. There didn’t appear to be much love lost from the Thunder players when Jackson was traded. Most notably, both Durant and Westbrook kinda said "good riddance". Westbrook is making a statement every second of his playing time, but could he have circled this one as even more of a statement game than usual? Jackson made no bones about his desire to increase his role while behind Westbrook in the pecking order—surely Westbrook isn’t exacting enough to try and remind everyone how wide the gap between the two is (he totally is).
The four-man lineup of Jackson, Drummond, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Marcus Morris (who is suddenly the better of the Morri) has been pretty great all season, with some big drop-offs when bench pieces like the raw Stanley Johnson or very ripe Steve Blake feature very heavily. Both teams rebound like crazy, but Detroit relies on their big monster in the middle while the Thunder get their boards by ganging up with an assortment of lanky leapers.
The two factors that I see swaying the outcome are turnovers and bench production. The Pistons take very good care of the ball, and force their opponents to cough it up frequently (an aforementioned problem for the Thunder). The Thunder bench has much more firepower than the Pistons’, but there have been plenty of "where’d the bench go?" games thus far. If the game was in Detroit I’d be tempted to give the Pistons the edge, but the Thunder have plenty of motivation to focus on those elements they need to win the Reggie bowl.
Prediction: Thunder 105 Pistons 100
|2015-16 NBA Season Game #|
|November 27th, 2015|
|Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City|
|7 PM Central Standard Time|
|TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma, Fox Sports Detroit, NBA League Pass|
|Injury Report: Brandon Jennings (Out), Spencer Dinwiddie (DTD), Danny Granger (DTD)|
|This Season's Matchups: N/A|
|Russell Westbrook||PG||Reggie Jackson|
|Andre Roberson||SG||Kentavious Caldwell-Pope|
|Kevin Durant||SF||Marcus Morris|
|Serge Ibaka||PF||Ersan Ilyasova|
|Steven Adams||C||Andre Drummond|