The 44-16 Oklahoma City Thunder venture to midtown Manhattan tonight to take on the 37-21 Knicks. At first glance these two teams would seem to have little in common beyond their membership in Commissioner Stern’s club.
The Thunder were established when the Seattle SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City in 2008, while the Knicks are one of the oldest franchises in the league. OKC is one of the smallest markets in pro ball; New York City is the biggest market this side of London or Seoul. The Thunder are the fifth youngest squad in the league; the Knicks have the oldest roster. And Oklahoma City has the National Cowboy Museum, while Gotham City is inhabited by millions of city slickers.
However, both the Thunder and the Knicks currently sit second in their respective conferences and lead their divisions. Both have won five of their last six games and are looking to make it three in a row with a W tonight. OKC has the league’s top scorer in Kevin Durant (28.6), and the Knicks have the second best scorer in Carmelo Anthony (28.2).
The Knickerbockers played last night in Detroit and came away with an 87-77 victory despite committing a season-high 21 turnovers – a surprising stat given that New York averages a league-low 12.1 turnovers per game.
This sloppiness with the rock may have been attributed to the fact that many of the Knicks were pressing to make up for Anthony’s lost production since he was forced to miss the game with a right knee injury that will keep him sidelined again this evening. The Knicks were led by 6th man extraordinaire Amare Stoudemire, who scored 22 points and had 9 boards in 31 minutes off the bench. Over the last six games Stoudemire has been on fire, shooting 72.9% from the field.
The Thunder last played Tuesday at home against the Lakers. Unlike the Knicks, Oklahoma had a franchise-record two turnovers in the contest and tied the NBA record – quite a feat considering they are the second-worst offenders in the league. Behind PG Russell Westbrook’s 37 points, 10 boards, 5 dimes and 2 steals, OKC held off a late Laker rally and prevailed 122-105. Westbrook has averaged a team-best 32.2 ppg over the last 6 contests.
Tonight’s 48 will be the first of two matchups between these two sides this season. Tune in to TNT at 8PM ET to watch the Knicks defend their home court against the young, hungry Thunder and their 17.1 fast break points per game.
The Grizzlies come to Oklahoma City without their leading scorer Rudy Gay. The 7th-year, 6’8” SF was traded along with reserve C Hamed Haddadi (1.2 ppg) to the Toronto Raptors after spending his entire career with Memphis.
In return, the Griz got PG Jose Calderon and 3rd-year, 6’10” PF Ed Davis from north of the border. Memphis GM Chris Wallace then shipped Calderon to Detroit for 11th-year SF Tayshaun Prince and 4th-year, 6’11” F Austin Daye.
New owner Robert Pera didn’t want to pay the steep luxury taxes the next two seasons, so Memphis cut salary while acquiring three quality forwards in exchange for one exceptional forward.
The 29-15 Memphis squad has won five of their past seven games including a 103-100 victory at Philly on Monday. Rudy Gay scored the winning basket off his own rebound with 13.3 seconds left. He went for 26 points, 7 boards and 5 dimes in his last 48 as a Grizzly.
Memphis’s starting 6th-year PG Mike Conley sat out the Philadelphia game with an ankle sprain. The ultra-quick Conley and his 13 ppg, 5.8 apg and 2.3 spg will be a game time decision tonight.
The Thunder at 34-11 own the NBA’s second best record and are 19-3 in their own building.
The league’s top scorer and MVP-frontrunner Kevin Durant and cast return home after a 3-3 road trip that ended on Sunday with a 105-96 loss to the Lakers. KD poured in 35, and PG Russell Westbrook had 17 points and 13 dimes on 6 for 22 shooting in the defeat.
On November 14th, Memphis beat the Thunder in OKC 107-97. Gay had 28 points, 6 boards and 5 assists, while 2X All-Star Zach Randolph went for 20 points and 11 rebounds. The Griz outscored the 2012 Western Conference Champs 36 to 15 in the pivotal second quarter.
Tune in to TNT at 8:00 PM ET to see who will win the battle between the Thunder’s prolific offense and the Grizzlies’ shutdown defense.
The 16-banner Los Angeles Lakers come to Oklahoma City tonight to try and extend their season and get this second-round series back to Hollywood. The young Thunder, with a 3-1 advantage, will push, prod and pounce on the teetering LA squad in an effort to return to the Western Conference Finals for the second year in a row.
Current 3X NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant and his teammates are 30-7 in their building this season and have exhibited more poise and composure than the finger-pointing Lakers at the end of games in this high-profile series. Los Angeles and their worldwide fan base know that tonight’s 48 and accompanying scenario could be reversed very easily if this group performs better down the stretch.
The Purple & Gold were blown out in Game 1 in OKC, 119-90, but their other two defeats in Games 2 and 4 were by two and three points respectively. And in the last game on Saturday at Staples, LA blew a 13-point lead with eight minutes remaining, capped off by a KD tie-breaking 3-pointer with 13 seconds left. 2X All-Star, SoCal native and UCLA product PG Russell Westbrook poured in 37 in the victory.
14X All-Star Kobe Bryant had 38, 8 and 5 in Game 4, but needed help down the stretch from his two All-Star 7-footers. Both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum have performed decently in this series. However to beat this surging OKC group they’ll have to significantly upgrade their end-of-game focus and production.
Bryant, in a sign of frustration and lonely leadership, has called out Gasol specifically. The Mamba knows that this core Laker group went to the NBA Finals three years in a row and ended up with rings in 2009 and 2010 – so they have the experience and talent to get back there. Granted this year in LaLa land is different in that Phil Jackson and Lamar Odom are gone, and 5X champ Derek Fisher now plays for OKC.
The Denver Nuggets took the Lakers to seven games in the first round, whereas OKC swept the defending champion Mavericks in four. Team fatigue was definitely a factor in the Lakers’ loss in Game 1 of this tilt. The other pair of L’s that have them on the edge of elimination this evening had more to do with crunch-time execution, trust and desire. If they lose Game 5 tonight, this will most probably be the last time this championship Laker group will play together as teammates.
Tune in to TNT at 9:30 PM ET to see if the Lakers can stay alive against the title-hungry Thunder.