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Thunder meet Knicks for classic KD-Melo Duel

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It's been almost two years since KD and Melo have met on the court!

It's a metaphor for our success!
It's a metaphor for our success!
W. Bennett Berry

The Thunder are in New York riding a wave of bad energy. First off, OKC lost for the first time in eight games on Sunday. Secondly, that loss was to the lowly Brooklyn Nets. Thirdly, Steven Adams missed that game with a elbow injury, and might not be back to play the Knicks tonight. Fourthly, Andre Roberson went down with a knee injury in the second quarter of the Knicks game, and will be out for three weeks.

But there is still plenty of good fortune to be had. The Thunder's stars appear to be as healthy and effective as ever. Kevin Durant has scored 20 points or more for the past 31 straight games. Furthermore, Durant shot 41% or better in all of those games but one. Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook has had double digit rebounds or assists in five of the past six games.

The Knicks are thouroughly middlin'

The New York Knicks have been kicking around .500 all season. Undoubtedly New York's biggest win this year was at Oklahoma City. Next to that, you can look to some wins over the Hawks and Bulls. But generally speaking, the Knicks have been horrifically inconsistent. Horrible losses last week to the Clippers and Hornets, with the Knicks not even being competitive in either game.

Generally speaking, the Knicks suffer because of poor defense. The only thing the Knicks do well there is defend the three. Opposing teams shoot just 33% against the Knicks from beyond the arc, good four fourth in the league. Other than that, the Knicks don't force turnovers, they don't rebound, and they foul too much. Individually, there are three Knicks with a defensive box plus/minus lower than -2: Derrick Williams, Lance Thomas, and Aaron Afflalo.

How it went last time

Of course, none of that mattered when the Thunder met the Knicks back in November. Kevin Durant was absent from that game, and OKC had absolutely nobody to rely upon from three. As a team, the Thunder finished shooting 3 of 29 from beyond the arc. The good news is that the Thunder were very effective on the offensive boards that night, grabbing 21 in total. Tonight's Thunder shouldn't be so extreme in either area. Durant will essentially be replacing Roberson. This means more three point shooting, and less offensive rebounding.

Perhaps the most encouraging part of the game was Westbrook's offensive effectiveness from two. Westbrook shot 9 of 19 from inside the arc, shooting most of those shots in the paint. And Westbrook got to the line 12 times. The bad three point shooting (2 of 10) did happen, but I don't think Westbrook would take that many threes with KD on the floor. Westbrook's points per game have been down in general, so tonight's easy matchup should get him back in the scoring flow.

Nick Collison played 20 minutes against the Knicks in November, good for his third highest total of the season thus far. The extended playing time for Collison can be attributed to his defense of Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis has had a fantastic rookie campaign, but had his third lowest point total of the season when dealing with the defense of Collison and Ibaka. I believe that the physical nature of Collison and Ibaka's defense helped them keep track of Porzingis off-ball.

Durant vs. Anthony

There's no question that Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony are the two best scoring small forwards in the game right now, if not all-time. Thus, it's an absolute treat when the two get to go head-to-head. Unfortunately, due to injures, we haven't seen a KD-Melo duel since February 4th, 2014. In fact, KD and Melo have only met twice since January of 2011. Regardless, here's how the two have fared against each other over the course of their careers:

Player G W L GS MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
Carmelo Anthony 13 11 2 13 36.9 10.8 22.1 .488 1.2 3.1 .375 6.3 7.5 .845 2.2 4.8 6.9 3.6 1.5 0.8 2.2 3.5 29.0
Kevin Durant 13 2 11 13 38.6 8.2 19.0 .433 1.7 4.2 .407 9.8 11.2 .870 0.7 6.1 6.8 3.8 1.2 1.4 2.8 2.4 27.9
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 1/25/2016.

Generally speaking, Melo has been the better player. But given the fact that 11 of these 13 games occurred before January of 2011, it's hard to believe that Melo is the better player right now. Fact is, Melo is 31 years old, and scoring a little bit less effectively than he has in the past. Meanwhile, KD is 27, and is back to the super-consistent player that we all know him to be.

How tonight's game will go

Coach Donovan might normally be inclined to go with Andre Roberson as Anthony's defender. But with Roberson out, the Thunder don't have a purpose-built defender at the wing position. Kyle Singler is the closest thing, but he's not equipped to guard the other team's leading scorer. Thus, the Thunder will likely have to rely upon Kevin Durant to lock up Anthony on defense. With Durant expending so much effort on the defensive end, it will be up to Westbrook to shoulder more of the offensive load.

As far as the benches go, expect a big game from Enes Kanter. Kanter will be matched up against Lou Amundson , Derrick Williams, or some other backup power forward. Kanter, as a strictly power player, should have no problem getting to the rim against them. The Thunder's back court might come into more trouble, as Payne, Morrow, and Singler all take the majority of their shots from outside. As long as OKC can get the ball in to Kanter frequently enough and avoid turnovers, this game shouldn't be too difficult to win.

Unless the Knicks get hot from three, of course. We might start to really miss Dre.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 102, New York Knicks 96.

What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!

2015-16 NBA Season Game 47
@
33-13
(Lost 1)

22-24
(Lost 2)
January 26th, 2016
Madison Square Garden, New York City, New York
6:30 PM Central Standard Time
TV: National Basketball Association Television, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Madison Square Garden Television
Injury Report: Steven Adams (Questionable), Carmelo Anthony (Questionable), Andre Roberson (Out), Cleanthony Early (Out)
This Season's Matchups: Nov 20 (L 93-90)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Jose Calderon
Kyle Singler SG Aaron Afflalo
Kevin Durant SF Carmelo Anthony
Serge Ibaka PF Kristaps Porzingis
Nick Collison C Robin Lopez