Nets vs. Thunder: Pre-game primer

njn vs. okc4

New Jersey Nets (20-24, road 11-10) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (9-35, home 6-17)

FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD 722)
WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM)

Offensive Rating: Thunder: 102.0 (29th), New Jersey: 107.7 (14th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder: 109.2 (20th), New Jersey: 110.9 (27th)
Pace: Thunder: 93.8 (6th), New Jersey: 90.2 (20th)

The Nets should feel right at home tonight. With awful road conditions and the biggest basketball game in the state being played about 60 miles north, the Ford Center may be more empty than Charles Barkley’s wallet after a weekend in Vegas.

But that’s no excuse to not see what we should tonight. We should see a team hungry to erase last Friday’s bad loss to Eric Gordon and Al Thornton. We should see a group of guys that play hard for 48 minutes. We should see a team that takes nothing for granted and plays like it’s got something to prove (again). That’s what we should see.

We all remember what happened last time these two teams met. The Nets won in overtime and the Thunder couldn’t guard rookie Brook Lopez. Devin Harris was just back from injury and Vince Carter hit some big shots down the stretch. But that was in East Rutherford and Oklahoma City plays far better at home – empty or not – having won four of its last seven in Loud City.

The two teams play pretty contrasting style with the Nets being more of a half-court, motion team and the Thunder being more of a fast-paced, but not necessarily fast-break team. OKC rebounds much better than New Jersey and plays better defense. Save Lopez, the Nets are really weak on the inside. But Lopez can dominate, as evidenced by his 31 points two weeks ago. If Russell Westbrook can limit – and I say “limit” because that’s all you can hope for – Harris’ drive-and-dish opportunities, the Thunder can handle the Nets defensively. There’s no secret to what they want to do. They want Carter and Harris to score and Lopez to grab rebounds and give Harris and Carter another shot at it. But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy to stop.

The key matchup is Westbrook vs. Harris for the aforementioned reason. But the Thunder’s going to need the big three to click on all cylinders. In the 103-99 overtime loss, Durant had 26, Westbrook 19, but Jeff Green had just 15 on 4-15 shooting. Also, it would be really nice to see Nenad Krstic finally have a big impact on a game instead of just a 3-7, nine points four rebounds kind of night. He’s fully capable of going off for 20. He’s just got to start knocking down open jumpers.

The Nets ended a five-game skid before now having won four straight. One thing OKC can hope for is a letdown from New Jersey. I feel good about tonight. Losses don’t keep this team down. After Sunday’s practice, players hung around for an extended period of time getting extra work in. You don’t see that from 9-35 teams. These guys are hungry to win and hopefully they’re embarrassed with what happened in Los Angeles and come out fired up and intense. Kevin Durant had a career game in L.A., but he wants the win. And if OKC can give full tilt effort for 48 tonight, I really think the they’ll get it.