Current Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (40-12), New York Knicks (20-30)
Last time they met: Oklahoma City Thunder (123) defeated Orlando Magic (94)
It seems a long time since Christmas Day when these two sides faced each other last. Russell Westbrook was playing and the Thunder were looking very dangerous. Since then, the Thunder have gone from strength to strength finding ways to replace the production lost by Westbrook’s injury through Reggie Jackson, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and the bench. They have been winning, and winning well but will come into this one reeling from a loss in a game they should have won easily.
Losing to the lowly Orlando Magic on the buzzer is likely going to spur the Thunder into action as they look to rectify the wrongs and get themselves back on the winners list. The New York Knicks will be brimming with confidence after routing the Denver Nuggets by 27 points.
While things looked to be going horribly wrong for the Knicks, they have been able to turn it around this past few weeks. Carmelo Anthony has found his rhythm, but the supporting cast have been just as important. JR Smith has been putting up numbers off the bench and rookie Tim Hardaway Jnr is finding his feet in his rookie season and contributing double digits in the points column more often than not.
This game could be an offensive explosion with two of the best scorers in the game going head to head, but it will be the team that can lock it down defensively that will get the win. The Thunder are at home, and Chesapeake Arena holds a great deal of value for them.
Kevin Durant vs Carmelo Anthony
Offensive firepower. Two words that describe this matchup. Between these two players we could see 100 points – Durant has already scored 54 in a game against Golden State this season and Melo had 62 in the Garden. Putting the ball in the basket is what these two do best and we can expect a lot of it in this head to head contest. Durant is coming off a career high 12 assists in the loss to the Magic as he got everyone involved on the offensive end. Anthony has also been getting significant help, but the brunt of the load will fall on the Knicks #7. It’s not going to be who scores the most points wins, but each team needs their franchise forward to deliver in a big way to get the W.
Serge Ibaka vs Amare Stoudamire
Two athletic power forwards who can score and rebound will go head to head. Serge Ibaka has been a solid source of points, rebounds and blocks this season and has been hitting the mid-range shot with increasing accuracy. Amare returned from injury and put up some great numbers in limited minutes and he will need to provide that same stat line again. Ibaka’s improvement on the offensive end has allowed Durant and even Jackson a little more freedom which has given the Thunder team great balance. The Knicks frontline have been hit hard by injury but will welcome Stoudamire back to the fray and want to build on his game against the Nuggets.
Reggie Jackson vs Raymond Felton
Knicks fans might not always be fond of Felton, but he is their starting point guard and is going to need to be on his game to avoid being dominated by the much improved Reggie Jackson. When Felton is on his game, he is a great distributor of the ball and can make it difficult for opponents by getting to the rim. Jackson has been doing his best Russell Westbrook impersonation since Christmas and will see this challenge as another way to improve and develop.
After watching the Thunder blow a big lead by playing lazy basketball, I expect them to come out of the gates strong in this one – especially at home. You need to show you are the real deal by winning the games you are meant to – and the Thunder are meant to win this one. OKC will need to make it as difficult as possible for the Knicks to get into any kind of flow, and force Anthony into poor shots. They will also need to attack the basket, push the ball in transition and get it through hands. You can’t just rely on Durant in this one – it will take a complete team performance. If they get it right, then another blowout like Christmas day is very likely.