The Brooklyn Nets will go from one 2012 NBA Finals participant to another when they host the Oklahoma City Thunder at Barclays Center on Tuesday night. In the Nets’ last game on Saturday, they had a double-digit second half lead on the road at the defending champion Miami Heat, but could not hang on after the Heat turned up their defensive intensity in the second half. That loss snapped a 5-game win streak for Brooklyn. The Thunder are currently on a 5-game winning streak of their own and have won 8 of their past 9 games while scoring at least 100 points in every one of those games.
These two teams have had similar starts to the season. Both began the season at 1-2 and have won most of their games since. Oklahoma City (14-4) has a 13-2 record since their bad start. Brooklyn (11-5) is 10-3 since losing 2 of their first 3.
Not only have the Thunder won their last 5, they haven’t even been challenged in their last 4 games, winning each by 12 or more points, including a 45-point victory over Charlotte and a 22-point win over Houston. The Thunder are led by their Big 2 now after trading away James Harden before the season. Durant and Westbrook are combining to average 46 ppg this season. If this team has a weakness, it is their bench. Aside from Kevin Martin, who is essentially a starter, the Thunder don’t have any big scorers or playmakers coming off the bench. The Nets will need to take advantage when their second unit is in the game. OKC is playing well right now and the Nets will need a full 48-minute effort to win.
Injuries: Brooklyn will most likely be without Brook Lopez for the third straight game tonight. He was limping yesterday and unless there is a “miracle”, according to Avery Johnson, Brook will not play. Oklahoma City has no significant injuries.
Deron Williams vs. Russell Westbrook. Advantage: Williams
Russell Westbrook has played well so far this year and has put up better stats than Deron Williams including a career high 8.7 apg. However, passing point guards are always better than shooting point guards if both are very talented and although Westbrook has passed more this year than last year, he will always be a shooting point guard. Both played together on Team USA over the summer and Williams was higher on the depth chart than Westbrook. Westbrook is still one of the best 10 or 15 players in the NBA and is very tough to guard. He may score a lot of point tonight.
Joe Johnson vs. Kevin Martin. Advantage: Johnson
Kevin Martin is not starting (Thabo Sefolosha is), but Martin will get the minutes in crunch time for this team. Martin was famously traded for James Harden just prior to the start of the season and has played pretty well to this point, averaging 16 ppg. However, he is only 185 pounds, which means that Joe Johnson will have a big size advantage over him. If the Thunder don’t help with their defense, Johnson could have a big game.
Gerald Wallace vs. Kevin Durant. Advantage: Durant
Wallace played LeBron James as well as a player can play LeBron James on Saturday, but still got beat. He will have another tall task tonight against arguably the best player in the western conference in Kevin Durant. Durant is averaging 26 ppg, 9 rpg, and 4 apg this season, so Wallace will surely have his hands full again. The Nets traded for Wallace last season to guard players like Durant and we will see if he can do so tonight.
Kris Humphries vs. Serge Ibaka. Advantage: Ibaka
Ibaka is having a great season for OKC. He is averaging over 14 ppg this year after only averaging 9 ppg last season. He is also averaging over 3 bpg and 7 rpg while shooting 59% from the field and 86% from the foul line. All those numbers look spectacular, and there is no denying that Ibaka has played well this season, but he is a similar player on offense to DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers, who the Nets shut down when they faced him this year. If they can keep Ibaka out of the paint, he will not do any damage. One difference between the Clippers game and the game tonight is that the Nets will not have Brook Lopez. We will see if Blatche, Evans, and Humphries can keep Ibaka out of the paint.
Andray Blatche vs. Kendrick Perkins. Advantage: Blatche
Andray Blatche has been great for Brooklyn this season, including in his last two games, both starts. Offensively, he has been a beast and he has even improved his defense. Perkins is one of the most overrated players in the NBA. After winning a championship with Boston, some people thought he was the best defensive center in the NBA. This is definitely not true. Also, offensively, he does almost nothing except set picks and he is not a great rebounder. Blatche should be able to have a pretty good game.
Prediction: Nets 104, Thunder 103.
The Nets are 7-1 at home this season and they will make it to 8-1 tonight. The Thunder will be a tough test, but the Nets will be able to pass that test in front of their sold out home crowd. The Nets are finally developing a home court advantage, something they never had in New Jersey, and the home crowd will push them to a victory against a team who is probably more talented than they are.