Brooklyn tries to pull off the upset in Oklahoma City

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to 2014! 2013 continued to be a disaster for Brooklyn as they were on the receiving end of a 21 point beat down at the hands of the Spurs on New Year's Eve. If you're looking for a (relative) bright spot, this was better than New Year's Eve 2012 in San Antonio, a game the Nets lost by 31. At this point, it's the little things that count.

The opponent this Thursday evening will be the Western Conference leading Oklahoma City Thunder. They find themselves in a bar fight with Portland over the Northwest Division lead, but they're gonna have to hold off the Blazers without Russell Westbrook. The All Star point guard is out until at least the All Star Break due to knee surgery. The Thunder are a Western Conference leading 25-6, but are coming off a close loss at home to Portland on New Year's Eve. They haven't beaten the Blazers yet this season, but do own impressive victories over San Antonio, Houston, and Indiana.

The season so far

What's the story with these teams? Since we're asking:

2013-2014

Brooklyn

Oklahoma City

Record

10-21 25-6

Pace

94.57 98.94

Offensive Efficiency

101.9 106.6

Defensive Efficiency

106.7 97.5

Offensive Rebounding percentage

23 26.3

Turnover rate

15.5 15.8

Assist rate

16.3 16.7

Rebound rate

48.1 53.1

Free throw rate

33 30.8

Effective Field Goal percentage

49.1 51.1

Opponent Effective Field Goal percentage

51.1 46.1

Andrei Kirilenko returned to the lineup on Tuesday & should see an increase on the 10:53 he played against the Spurs. Kirilenko's return hasn't (yet) helped to stem the tide of frustration and anger that has been building all season. If they plan on salvaging this season, they're gonna need Deron Williams to improve upon his recent play. After a solid start after he returned from his (latest) ankle injury, Williams has been mostly mediocre since then. In addition to all the injury issues that have plagued him, he's having the most turnover prone season of his career. Along with Williams, it would be great if Joe Johnson & Paul Pierce could improve on their play as well. I thought Pierce was getting suited to the bench role, but with Lopez gone, he's had to move back into the starting five.

The three point defense has remained terrible this year, allowing teams to hit on 39 percent of their attempts. The Thunder aren't as prolific as the Spurs from deep, but they connect on 35 percent of their three pointers. As Kirilenko gets back into the swing of things, the Nets hope that he will be able to anchor their perimeter defense.

As expected, the Thunder have one of the best offenses in the league. They are fifth in offensive efficiency, averaging close to 107 points per 100 possessions. Where the Thunder do the most damage is at the free throw line. With Westbrook and Durant (more on him in a moment), it's no surprise that OKC is fourth in team free throw rate. Also, hey are second in efficiency, hitting on 81.5 percent of their attempts. When they're not being fouled, they're the best jump shooting team in the association, connecting on 43.7 percent of their attempts in the midrange.

Since 2010, one of the consistent critiques of the Thunder has been the starting lineup Scott Brooks. With the exception of Westbrook's injuries, the lineup has been Westbrook-Thabo Sefolosha-Durant-Serge Ibaka-Kendrick Perkins. In about 280 minutes this season, the team is 5.7 points worse per 100 possessions with this combination. All the other players have had above average seasons by the numbers, so this negative is more than likely the result of Perkins being awful (note: you should know that I will throw shade at Perkins at any opportunity I can get). Royce Young over at the Daily Thunder noticed this, but doesn't see it as too big of a problem. He writes:

My opinion, because as you know it matters so very much: Leave it as is. OKC’s bench is a true weapon again and even if they’re bailing out the starting five some, it doesn’t matter as long as it’s not costing you games (a case could be made it did against the Blazers, though). The issue you face in tinkering with it is messing up the good thing you’ve got going with the second unit. And you don’t want to do that. When you’ve rolled out the same five night in and night out the last three and a half years, it would feel pretty dramatic to shake it up now. And maybe they’re turning a corner after last night’s positive performance against the Pacers.

That bench unit is pretty terrific. With Russ out of action, Reggie Jackson has slid into the starting five. He's maintained his level of productivity from last season and has been doing a better job of spreading the ball around. He'll be matched up against Williams, so I'm sure he'll be very excited to test himself against a player of Williams' caliber. Jeremy Lamb has been doing a solid job in the sixth man as well. The former Huskie has been great finishing at the rim, hitting on close to 69 percent of his attempts. Most of his offense comes from the perimeter (which explains why he averages under one free throw a game), and he's very solid there as well, connecting on 44.9 percent of his jumpers. Not to be undone, Perry Jones has been above average as well. And just to rub it in for us in Brooklyn, seven of Oklahoma's best players are under the age of 26.

Player to watch: Kevin Durant

It's been another banner season for the former Gold Medalist, four time scoring champion and back to back MVP runner-up. He finds himself on top of the leaderboard once again, averaging 28.8 points per game on a blistering 62.8 True Shooting percentage. He's coming off a 50/40/90 season and is a very good bet to do it again. What helps explain his spectacular efficiency at the usage rate he possesses is his shot distribution. He's most known for his jumpshooting, but he is absolutely deadly driving to the basket. He has converted on 75 percent of his takes inside the restricted area and is second to Dwight Howard in free throws attempted.

Outside of LeBron, he's probably the hardest player to cover in the league. For an already bad Brooklyn defense, it doesn't get any easier. Durant has the size, speed, and quickness advantage over Paul Pierce, Kirilenko, and anybody else the Nets throw at him. It's always easy to say for a player of his magnitude, but Durant should have a big evening against the Nets.

From the Vault

Head on back to the Spring of 1997 and catch Gary Payton & the Sonics in the playoffs against Jason Kidd & Phoenix.


More reading: Welcome to Loud City

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