OKC Thunder versus Brooklyn Nets: key matchups to watch

OKC Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) osh Giddey (3) celebrate after scoring against the Dallas Mavericks.: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
OKC Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) osh Giddey (3) celebrate after scoring against the Dallas Mavericks.: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports /

The OKC Thunder complete week 13 of gameplay in Brooklyn facing the Nets. Unfortunately, the team won’t get to face former franchise star Kevin Durant as he’s been shut down for at least a month.

This is the fourth stop of the week as the team played in Miami, Philly, and Chicago earning a 2-1 record in those three matches. OKC had a strong showing in Miami but the whistle heavily favored the Heat which feels even more egregious now given how well the Thunder have played on this trip.

OKC followed up that game with perhaps the most impressive back-to-back set of the season defeating both the 76ers and the Bulls.

By virtue of those wins the Thunder are now seeded in 11th just outside the play-in tournament spots and look poised to be a factor among the teams vying for those four berths.

To finish the week, the OKC Thunder have a date with the Nets although as noted, they won’t get to face Brooklyn at full strength since Durant is sidelined after suffering an MCL Sprain.

Another victory could vault the OKC Thunder up the ladder as three teams (Jazz, Suns, Blazers) all have a half-game advantage. In fact, the Thunder is only 1.5 games back of the sixth (Wolves), seventh  (Clippers), and eighth (Warriors) seeds. So, if they keep winning it’s conceivable they could take a big leap upward.

What to watch for tonight as the OKC Thunder take on the Brooklyn Nets

Certainly, it’s a benefit to face the Nets without Durant although it’s likely if you asked Shai Gilgeous-Alexander he’d rather face KD than not.

To that end, the key matchup of the day is SGA versus Kyrie Irving. Without the best player available Irving will be required to carry more of the scoring load and will be tasked with trying to stop (I’m assuming) Josh Giddey.

That will be a big ask of Irving given the height difference (6’2 versus 6’8) but it’s also equally important for Giddey to be aggressive on offense in order to make Kyrie work on both sides of the court.

Ben Simmons will likely draw the task of defending Gilgeous-Alexander – Good luck with that Ben!

Shai has been on a tear during this entire season but on this road trip, he’s been especially effective.

Living in the East, I can share with Thunder Nation that all the TV programs are discussing how SGA should be starting in the All-Star Game. Of course, Canadian fans are cheering for Shai but I’m seeing NBA fans in New York and other Eastern cities also calling for SGA to start (usually over Curry but some say Doncic).

Moreover, after the wins in Philly and Chicago, there was discussion about how the 76ers aren’t a big playoff threat in the East because they don’t have strong enough backcourt defense. And that assessment was made after SGA exposed them!

The key matchups for today are the two backcourts. Here is the comparison of their four players’ seasonal stats:

Irving: is averaging 26.0 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game.

He’s shooting 48.4 percent from the field, 36.2 percent from the perimeter, and 90.2 percent from the stripe on 19.9, 8.6, and 3.9 attempts from those areas respectively.

Simmons: is averaging 7.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 1.5 steals per game.

Unlike his backcourt partner, he’s not as much of a threat to shoot since he only attempts 5.9 shots per game shooting 58.2 percent from the field and doesn’t’ take 3-point shots.

Simmons also tries to avoid getting to the line given his abysmal 41.3 percent efficiency on his 1.5 attempts per game.

Gilgeous-Alexander: is averaging 30.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.7 steals, and 1.1 blocks per game.

His shooting splits are 50.4% from the field on 20.2 attempts, 35.2% from deep on 2.8 attempts, and 91.3% from the stripe on 10.3 attempts per game.

Giddey:  is averaging 15.7 points, 8.0 rebounds (1.9 offensive boards), and 5.6 assists.

He’s shooting 40.3% from the field on 11.8 attempts, 33.6% from deep on 5.3 attempts, and 75.5% from the free throw line on 3.4 attempts per game.

Ultimately, it would make more sense for the 6’10 Simmons to guard the 6’8 Giddey but asking Kyrie to guard Shai is far out of his realm, and after witnessing how Shai scored so easily against Tyrese Maxey it just isn’t a wise decision or one I expect Jacques Vaughan would make.

It might be asking a lot for the OKC Thunder to win their third game in four days but after the back-to-back success, anything is possible.

Enjoy the game.

Next. Parity pack and Thunder schedules leading into trade deadline. dark