After a split home-and-home series against the Boston Celtics last weekend, the Nets have two difficult road games before returning home to play nine straight games in New York (one at Madison Square Garden). They’ll head to Cleveland on Saturday to take on the Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers.
But before that, the Nets (3-11) will take on the replenished Oklahoma City Thunder tonight. They’re fresh off a 111-89 rout over the Utah Jazz, led by Kevin Durant’s 27-point, four-steal performance in his first game back since injuring his hamstring on November 10th.
The Northwest Division-leading Thunder (9-6) won three out of the six games Durant was on the shelf, led by the explosive four-time All-Star Russell Westbrook, who averaged 32.6 points and nine assists per game during the stretch. On the season, Westbrook is averaging career-highs in points (28.1), assists (10.1), rebounds (7.5), steals (2.4), and field goal percentage (46.6) thus far in 15 games. On the flip side, he’s also averaging five turnovers a game, tasked with the bulk and burden carrying the offense as much as anyone in the league.
Westbrook (broken hand) and Durant (fractured foot) missed both contests against the Nets last season. The Nets prevailed in both games: 116-85 in Brooklyn on November 3, and 94-92 in Oklahoma City on November 21.
The Thunder are an imposing force offensively thanks to the aforementioned superstars and a load in the paint in part to Serge Ibaka (12.6 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.7 blocks) and Enes Kanter (12.6 points, 8.5 rebounds, 58.5 FG%).
The Nets front court duo of Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young has more than pulled their weight this season too. Lopez has been steady, averaging 19.7 points and 8.4 rebounds. Thaddeus Young, averaging 5.6 rebounds for his career, has upped his glass game this season, averaging 8.5 boards to go along with 15.3 points per game, including double-doubles in four of the last five games.
The perimeter game continues to be the Nets biggest flaw. They’re shooting an uninspiring 30.3 percent behind the arc, and still trail Stephen Curry in three-pointers made as a team.
What to watch for: Can the rookie clamp down an All-Star? Lionel Hollins has extended rookie swingman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s minutes of late, eclipsing 30 minutes in back-to-back games. In Sunday’s win, Hollis-Jefferson filled the stat sheet, tallying nine points, seven rebounds, five steals, four assists and one block. The Nets have been a better team lately with him in the lineup, and tonight his defensive prowess should be tested against two of the most versatile offensive talents in the league.
Tip-off is at 8:00 pm E.D.T. at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, OK.