Tip-Off: 7 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
Arguably the hottest team in the NBA right now, the Oklahoma City Thunder look to improve upon their impressive four-game winning streak against an equally hot Brooklyn Nets team. The Nets come in looking for their first three-game winning streak of the season. The Thunder seeks revenge after losing their first matchup against the Nets back in December, 100-95. OKC head coach Billy Donovan is optimistic, but is aware of the challenge in front of them when it comes to a young and revitalized Nets team:
"They do a great job in transition. We have to get back and matched up." Donovan explained. "Ball containment is huge, because the ball gets penetrated and now you’re in rotation. They get you that way as well."
Here are the 4 things you need to key in on that will lead to a Thunderous victory:
4) Continue to play well against sub .500 teams
One of, if not the biggest early season issue the Thunder dealt with was their inability to beat teams with weaker records than them. A strange anomaly for a contending team with championship caliber aspirations. Over the past two weeks, however, it appears OKC has conquered their “Sub-500 Kryptonite” and pummeled 3 teams with losing records in that span (Hornets 101-91, Kings 99-85, Lakers 114-90). Those three victories, along with a thrashing of LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon, has propelled OKC into the 5th seed in the Western Conference. Even with momentum currently on the Thunder’s side, OKC fans, personnel, and players have seen repeated consistency lags from within this OKC squad. As demonstrated on December 7th when the Thunder rolled into Mexico City on a 3 game winning streak high that collapsed in the wake of an all-around piss-poor performance and a 100-95 loss to the Nets.
Yes, Paul George and sixth man Jerami Grant were out due to injuries, but the Thunder’s 38% shooting performance from the floor, 24% from beyond the arch, and an appalling 52% from the charity stripe is a sign of an all-around offensive collapse rather than the effect of two missing players. Fast forward a month and a half later, and OKC’s starting 5 are healthy and playing as well as they have been all year long, and coming off a franchise setting 148 points against the Cavs, they look to bring that crisp offensive performance back home to Chesapeake Energy Arena on Tuesday night.
3) Thunder need to play at the ‘same pace’ as the Nets
In Saturday’s 148-124 blowout win over the Cavs, the Thunder played with an even and aggressive pace throughout the game. The offense was constantly helped out with second-chance points thanks to the board dominance of Steven Adams. Adams, along with help from fellow big-man Jerami Grant, was able to keep the rhythm on offense alive as Adams and Grant collectively secured 11 offensive rebounds combined. Between the ‘Big 3’ in the backcourt of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, they were able to haul in 26 rebounds between the 3 of them on the defensive side of the ball. With the blinding speed and athleticism of Westbrook sprinting down the court in transition and marksman George and Anthony on the wings, Westbrook compiled a mind-boggling 20 assists to help set up 5 made 3’s from George and 3 from Anthony. Anthony went on to speak (and humor) about Adams contributions on the offensive glass:
The offensive and defensive transitioning will be a huge factor against Brooklyn. The Nets ran relay races around Thunder defenders in their last matchup, as Caris Levert poured in 21 points off the bench and Allen Crabbe hit 2 big three-pointers in transition late in that game. For this sporadic Thunder team, they will have their hands full with a Nets team that also jacks up about 34 three-pointers per game, (2nd in NBA) and play at the 5th highest overall pace.
2) Let the bench continue to impress
There’s an old saying that goes: "A team is only as good as your weakest link". Which could not reign truer than what the Thunder have been proving for the past two weeks. Their bench has been playing as well as they have been all season long, providing offensive and defensive stability, but are still subject to random slip-ups (see 2nd quarter vs Cavs). Overall, the entirety of the bench over the course of this winning streak has been averaging 29 PPG, 6.5 APG, and 17 RPG.
Noticeable contributors have been Jermai Grant who’s averaged 5.8 PPG, 1.0 APG, 3.8 RPG. Grant, who has been solid in pick and roll situations, is averaging the most minutes off the bench for the Thunder this season (20.7 MPG). Forward Patrick Patterson has also provided a big spark off the bench and has started to find his 3-point shot in recent games (at 39.1% from distance, 2Pat has moved up to second among Thunder rotation players). During the course of this winning streak, Patterson has hit at least one three in each game, going 7-13 in that stretch. He too has posted a very solid stat line lately averaging 6.2 PPG, 1.2 APG, 2.8 RPG. In addition, veteran guard Raymond Felton and rookie forward Terrance Ferguson must continue providing much-needed depth to help keep this streak alive.
1) Thunder look to take advantage of starting five matchups
It might sound simple, but the execution has been the overlaying factor this year for the Thunder. With a healthy Paul George and Jerami Grant to battle against the Nets this time, the Nets will have matchup problems throughout. Although guard Spencer Dinwiddie has had a solid comeback season, there is no man alive (especially on the Brooklyn Nets roster) that can stop the human bulldozer also known as Russell Westbrook. Dinwiddie is known as a solid perimeter defender but lacks the necessary quickness to stop Westbrook when he attacks the paint.
Andre Roberson, the Thunder’s best perimeter defender, will be on Allen Crabbe, the Nets best 3-point shooter (36% from three), and will hope to neutralize Crabbe and a Nets team that averages 34.1 3-point attempts per game. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will most likely be going up against Carmelo Anthony, with DeMarre Carroll on Paul George. Carroll, picked up during the summer in a trade with the Toronto Raptors, is a player better known for his ability to guard the 3-point shot than to make one. His ability to limit George’s career-high 43% from distance could play a big factor in this one. However, Anthony is a matchup nightmare for Hollis-Jefferson, as he has little to no defensive value and Anthony is coming off his season-high point total (29) against Cleveland.
Finally, and most notably, the biggest discrepancy in the starting line-ups is in the paint between Steven Adams and Tyler Zeller. Zeller, who is not your prototypical board dominant center, will struggle to contain a man averaging 5 ORB/gm this season (tops in the NBA). Adam’s dominance on the glass will keep the Thunder offense flowing as well as his ability to back Zeller down in the post whenever necessary.
It is hard to really find a matchup in where Brooklyn has the upper-hand over OKC, but they somehow found a way to get it done in their last matchup. OKC is going to do all they can to make sure they even up this season series and keep the win streak alive.
Who will win tonight’s matchup?
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