The Brooklyn Nets (16-15) will play another difficult road game Wednesday night when they visit the team with the best record in the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder (24-6). After winning their first two games after Avery Johnson’s firing, Brooklyn got blown out on Monday night in San Antonio and managed to score only 73 points, highlighted by a 5-point third quarter. Oklahoma City, meanwhile, has been on a roll. They have won 3 straight games and have won 15 of their past 17, including winning their last two games by a combined 48 points.
The last time these teams met up was one of the best games of the season. Both teams were playing well at the time and OKC won by only 6 points in Brooklyn. Deron Williams had one of his best games of the season with 33 points and 7 assists, while Andray Blatche added a double-double of 19 points and 11 rebounds. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 57 points and 15 assists for OKC.
However, since that game the teams have went in completely different directions and now the Nets are just trying to stay above .500. If they lose tonight, they will be a .500 team again.
As with the San Antonio game, history is not on the Nets’ side tonight. The Nets have never won in Oklahoma City (0-3) and have lost 7 straight games to the Thunder overall. All-time against the Thunder/Sonics franchise, the Nets have a .351 winning percentage and are 27-50. To make things worse, Oklahoma City has won 12 straight games at home and is 16-2 at home this year. This will be a difficult game for Brooklyn to win.
Injuries: For Brooklyn, Jerry Stackhouse is out with a sore hamstring. C.J. Watson is a game time decision but is expected to play. After missing Monday’s game in San Antonio, Gerald Wallace will be playing tonight. OKC is a young team and has no significant injuries.
Deron Williams vs. Russell Westbrook. Advantage: Westbrook
It is undeniable that Deron Williams has been playing badly this year. He admitted it in a recent interview and he thinks that it is mostly a confidence issue. However, Russell Westbrook is probably having his best season, averaging 22 ppg, 9 apg, and 5 rpg. He is a young, athletic point guard, the kind of point guard that Deron Williams can’t keep up with on defense. I expect him to have a very big game tonight, maybe scoring 35.
Joe Johnson vs. Kevin Martin/Thabo Sefolosha. Advantage: Martin/Sefolosha
Thabo Sefolosha will start, but Kevin Martin will get more minutes off the bench. Martin is averaging 16 ppg this year, not quite James Harden-level production, but still very good for a bench player, and almost as good as Joe Johnson, who is starting. Both Martin and Sefolosha are very good shooters and they will mainly beat you if you leave them wide open. The Nets’ 3-point defense actually has been pretty good this year so hopefully these two will be contained. Joe Johnson has been pretty terrible his last 5-or-so games and still appears to be in a slump.
Keith Bogans vs. Kevin Durant. Advantage: Durant
Durant is neck-in-neck with Lebron James in the MVP race and is having another spectacular season, averaging 29 ppg, 8 rpg, and 4 apg while shooting 50/40/90 from the field, 3, and free throws. Bogans probably will not be guarding him. Expect either Gerald Wallace or Joe Johnson to switch onto Durant for most of the game. He is nearly impossible to guard and he should have near 30 points tonight.
Gerald Wallace vs. Serge Ibaka. Advantage: Ibaka
Ibaka is having a very good season with 14 ppg and 9 rpg on 57% shooting and 82% shooting from the foul line (wow). On defense, he is among the league leaders in blocks with 3 per game. Expect him to get a few good blocks on Brook Lopez.
Brook Lopez vs. Kendrick Perkins. Advantage: Lopez
Perkins is a big body mainly used for defense. Don’t expect him to play in crunch time if this game is close, but it probably won’t be very close. Lopez is coming off of a bad game, but has been playing very well since Avery Johnson was fired. The Nets will need another big game from him tonight to have any chance at a win.
Prediction: Thunder 105, Nets 88.
Expect this to be another blowout loss for Brooklyn, or should I say New Jersey with how they have been playing recently. Oklahoma City is maybe the best team in the NBA and the Nets are still in a big slump. Until Deron Williams AND Joe Johnson get out of their slumps, the Nets will be unable to beat a good team. As a Nets fan, I am just hoping that they can keep this game close.