Hopefully, this one's fun and not soul-crushing. The Oklahoma City Thunder are 12-3 and boast the league's best offense at 108.2 points per 100 possessions. They currently boast the highest-scoring "big 3" in the NBA in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden, and Harden comes off the bench. The last time Durant played in Newark, he scored 40 points on 15-22 shooting in a rout.
To talk a bit about the matchup against the West's best team, Sandy and I welcome Royce Young of Daily Thunder, the best Thunder blog in the universe.
1. D-Will. Westbrook. Who has the upper hand?
- Sandy Dover: D-Will. Deron's finally gaining some momentum from the Anthony Morrow/MarShon Brooks pairing on the perimeter, allowing him to play freer to "change the game," as Jay-Z rapped long ago. Russell Westbrook, while an aggressive All-Star, still plays with an erratic bullishness. He's pressing under criticism about his game, and Deron's so self-assured, I give him the advantage all day.
- Devin Kharpertian: Russell Westbrook is a great individual playmaker. Deron Williams is the better point guard. Put it this way: Russell in New Jersey may never win a game. Deron in OKC is a title favorite. Westbrook is a top-20 player in this league, and he'll only get better, but he's a tier below a focused Deron Williams.
- Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Russell Westbrook is a fantastic player. But I do think Deron Williams might be a better, more well-rounded point guard. What favors Westbrook though is that he has James Harden, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka running with him while Deron Williams has... well.
2. Upset special: how can New Jersey get it done?
- Sandy Dover: If the Nets want to upset the Thunder, they MUST prevent easy penetration from Westbrook and shadow Durant on all possessions. If Durant doesn't get easy touches, then the Thunder will have to try harder to execute their offense. Westbrook and James Harden can only create so much offense--KD is the great equalizer, so the Nets must defend well and attentively.
- Devin Kharpertian: Cut off the paint and slashing lanes, and force the Thunder to create for others. For all their offensive wunderkindness, the Thunder are below average at passing the rock and sport the league's fifth-highest turnover rate. Force one or two of Durant/Westbrook/Harden to beat you alone, play the passing lanes and in help position off the ball without overextending into TVD, and the Nets have a shot at stealing one.
- Royce Young: Seal the paint and force turnovers. The Thunder will give the ball away if you let them. That's probably their biggest issue so far this season -- they routinely take five to 10 fewer shots than their opponent. If you can run somewhat efficient offense and do just enough to make them shoot jumpers, the Thunder are beatable.
3. And the winner is...
- Sandy Dover: I give the Thunder the win. At this time, KD and Co. have a better starting five and a way better bench, but if the lousy Wizards (who have less focus than the Nets) can win against the mighty Thunder, then so can New Jersey, but I'm not betting on it tonight.
- Devin Kharpertian: I called an upset special at the end of Thursday's NASTV, and if I'm anything, I'm a guy that sticks to his guns. My reasoning? None, except that basketball is a logical game in an illogical world -- look at the Thunder's most recent loss to league-worst Washington. If the Nets can force OKC into turnovers and midrange reliance, maybe lightning will strike twice. Maybe.
- Royce Young: Gotta think the Thunder bounce back after a horrible loss to the Wizards and then a couple of days off to think about it. Oklahoma City simply is the better team and I can't picture the Nets sneaking up on them tonight.