Nets wrap up road trip against Russell Westbrook and the Thunder
The Brooklyn Nets will look to improve their record to 5-8 as they conclude a tough four-game Western Conference road trip against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Brooklyn fell in consecutive losses to the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers earlier in the week, but things won’t get easier as they must go against a potential MVP candidate without Jeremy Lin once again.
Despite losing Kevin Durant in the offseason, the Thunder have stayed relevant thanks to MVP quality play out of Russell Westbrook. The 5x All-Star is enjoying his best season to date, blitzing opponents to the tune of 31.8 points, 9.8 assists, and 9.5 rebounds per game thus far. Without Lin, it’ll be up to Sean Kilpatrick and Isaiah Whitehead once again to slow down the All-NBA guard as he looks to be the first player since Oscar Robertson in 1962 to average a triple-double over the course of a season.
Elsewhere, the Thunder replaced Serge Ibaka with the efforts of Victor Oladipo and re-signed Steven Adams to a cushy new deal. However, after starting 6-1, the Thunder have just managed a 1-4 record since then, as depth and reliance issues have doomed the former conference powerhouse down the stretch. A Nets loss tonight would be disheartening as they face three 2016 playoff teams next week, but it’s important to realize that this process won’t always be pretty.
Even with heroic performances from Brook Lopez (30 points, 10 rebounds) and Bojan Bogdanovic (29 points, 11 rebounds) against the Lakers, they’ll need a better all-around effort to stop a young Thunder team that features game-changers at every position on the court. Whether that’s Enes Kanter against Luis Scola off the bench or the talented Domantas Sabonis going toe-to-toe with Trevor Booker, the Nets will have their hands full once again.
If the Nets’ motion offense is firing on all cylinders and Westbrook has an off-night, Brooklyn stands a fighting chance against the Thunder. Considering that Westbrook’s one “poor” game came against the Miami Heat in a 12-point victory with a line of 15 points and 11 assists (albeit on 5-16 from the floor), Nets fans might be better off not holding their breath.
3 Things to Watch for in Nets-Thunder:
1. Who Can Stop Russell Westbrook?
Well, no one can entirely, but it’ll take a platoon of Sean Kilpatrick, Randy Foye, Isaiah Whitehead, and Yogi Ferrell to slow down the league’s most enigmatic and hyper-focused point guard. Given the Nets’ lack of rim protection outside of the chippy-but-undersized Booker and slow-moving Lopez, head coach Kenny Atkinson may be forced to throw Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on Westbrook and hope for the best.
2. 3 is worth more than 2
If Atkinson’s motion offense can yield a good ratio of three-pointers made relative to the great volume of shots they will most likely take, the Nets can steal this one on the road. After Lopez took 11 three-pointers on Tuesday, there’s no telling just how many the Nets will put up against a team that features two young bruisers down low in Adams and Sabonis.
3. The return of Olympic Bojan?
After Bogdanovic’s gaudy performance against the Lakers — which included an early season highlight poster on Timofey Mozgov — fans are optimistic that the player that tore it up for an Rio Olympics-high of 25 points per game has returned. Bogdanovic has averaged just 15 points as a starter, but he’ll need to be the primary playmaker on this depleted Nets squad.