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First stop on the big road trip: Oklahoma City and the Thunder

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Oklahoma City Thunder v Denver Nuggets Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Sometimes you gotta fight for a win and sometimes the win just sort of lands in your lap, like a nice friendly dog in a park, or something. I don’t know. What I do know is that the Nets absolutely trounced the Pistons to the tune of 103-75 and looking back on that score the next day, it looks closer than the game actually was. At no point did the Pistons even sniff the chance of a win in the Barclays Center, and the Nets played them out of the building. It was beautiful. AND Brooklyn took back the six seed and the tiebreaker against the Pistons! One of the better nights in recent Nets History, for sure.

Brooklyn will have a shot at extending their winning streak to five, and this current four-gamer is their third longest of the season, behind the famous seven game winning streak and a less celebrated six game win streak in January. In order to keep the streak alive, the Nets will have to go through the Thunder who are one of the toughest teams in the league. We haven’t seen them since the Collapse/Paul George game that sparked a players only meeting and the turnaround of the entire season. Thanks Paul! Oklahoma City is 41-26 and fourth in the West. They seem to have really figured out this whole Russell Westbrook and Paul George thing. Let’s get into it.

Where to Follow the Game

YES, WFAN, and ESPN (!!) at 7 p.m., ET. National Game, baby!!

Injuries

DeMarre Carroll hyperextended his knee against Detroit, which is going to leave a vacuum on the wing. The Nets just don’t have anyone else who can do the things he does. Get well soon DeMarre. Also Treveon Graham (back) remains out.

Markieff Morris (neck) is doubtful and Andre Roberson (knee) is out.

The Game

Paul George is Batman and Russell Westbrook is Robin. I feel like some people might think that’s a hot take, but at this point not only is Paul George a significantly better player, but he’s just so much more collected and in control of whatever is going on on the court. Westbrook still flies around like a maniac, and he’s once again averaging a triple double of 23.1 points 11.1 rebounds and 10.5 assists while shooting 42/28/65 which is atrocious. Truly terrible, especially for such a high usage guy. Westbrook, of course, leads the Thunder in Usage Rate with 31.1%. His best skill is running downhill at such an intense speed and at such ridiculous times that he puts immense pressure on the defense which often collapses wing defenders, opening up space for shooters, and drawing a bunch of fouls.

George on the other hand has transcended to Superstar-level play this season. He seems finally fully recovered from his gruesome injury a couple of years back and after re-signing in OKC and getting some time to get comfortable with the system and his teammates and Westbrook, he is dominating the league. 28.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists, a league-leading 2.3 steals and shooting splits of 44/38/83 put him in the MVP conversation. Last time we saw him in the Barclays Center he put up a season-high 47 points and 15 rebounds, including the dagger that clinched the last loss in the Nets worst stretch of the season. He is going to be an issue, and with DeMarre hurt it’s going to take a big effort from a few different guys to stop him from putting up another crooked number.

One of those players who might draw a lot of Paul George defensive matchups is Rodions Kurucs, who has proved once again to be a vital part of this team despite being twelve years old (okay 21). Since he returned to the starting lineup, the Nets have not lost and Rodi is putting up 14.5 points and shooting 64/61/75 which doesn’t even cover how great he’s been on defense. He seemed to completely fluster Blake Griffin, grabbing three steals and playing with a fire and energy that only a rookie trying to prove himself can bring. He wants that starting job for good, and he should keep it for a while. He’s been great.

The only Net who played more than 30 minutes against the Pistons was Allen Crabbe, which highlights a hidden advantage of a blowout win: Rest. The season is winding down and the players have been at it for a while and the Nets got away with playing DLo and Caris and Spencer some light minutes in a blowout win, that could be a big help as they start off this extended West Coast road trip.

The Thunder are second in the league in rebounding, led by Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams, and Paul George. It’s rare we see a team so good at rebounding whose leading rebounder is their point guard and whose third leading rebounder is a wing, but that’s the Thunder. They’re constructed in an interesting way, not being necessarily deep at any one position but having options everywhere. Guys like Dennis Schroeder, Nerlens Noel, Markieff Morris, and Jerami Grant are all important role players for the Thunder. They can beat you with their stars or they can beat you with their role players. Usually it’s the stars, but you gotta watch out for those wings.

It cannot be stressed enough how much I, and a lot of you guys, love this Nets team. It seemed important to mention this ahead of an ESPN broadcast, where some casual fans will be catching a glimpse into the bench dancing and the DLo passes and the LeVert shimmies to the rim and the Joe Harris knock down threes and the Jarrett Allen blocks. It’s been the most fun Nets season I can ever remember, period. It all feels organic and loose and most importantly, earned. We all sat through those hopeless teams, with no draft picks and no talent to speak of, and now we get to see the Phoenix rise from the ashes. Hope Brooklyn can come out of OKC with a win and show everyone just how good they can be.

Player to Watch

Dennis Schroeder was often compared to Rajon Rondo coming into the league due to their similar body types, but as his career progressed it became clear he was much more of a run-and-gun type player than a game-managing, pass-first point guard. He’s found a home as OKC’s sixth man, averaging 15.6 points in 28.8 minutes off the bench and shooting 41/33/81. He’s fearless, and can put up big numbers in a hurry if he gets the space he needs. If he doesn’t, there’s a good chance he’ll force some bad shots and tank a couple of possessions for the Thunders second unit. He’s played 9 games where he’s scored less than 10 points this season and 16 games of 20 or more. Hit or miss guys always scare me. Gotta hope it’s a miss game.

THE controversy

As the Nets arrive in OKC, the big news is not the upcoming game, but how Westbrook was fined $25,000 and a Utah Jazz fan was banned for life after an altercation between the player and the plan.

Here’s how The Daily Oklahoman described it.

The Utah Jazz announced Tuesday afternoon that it has placed a permanent ban on the fan who was involved in a verbal altercation with Russell Westbrook on Monday in Salt Lake City during the Thunder’s 98-89 win against the Jazz.

A statement from the Jazz on Tuesday said that “the organization conducted an investigation through video review and eyewitness accounts,” of the incident. Monday night after the game, Westbrook and Thunder teammates Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton alleged that the Jazz fan told Westbrook to “get on your knees like you’re used to,” while Westbrook was on the bench. In postgame, Westbrook said he felt the comments from the fan were racial.

On Tuesday afternoon, the NBA fined Westbrook $25,000 for “directing profanity and threatening language to a fan.” Westbrook was caught on video threatening to “f*** up” the fan and his wife.

Expect the Nets players to be asked about the controversy.

On the road again. Just can’t wait to get on the road again

Nets superfans Dawn M Risueño and Johnson are, for the fourth time in five years, on the road following their team all the way to the West Coast ... and back.

We’ll be tracking their journey and wishing them the best of luck... (They might stop at a casino).

From The Vault

Here’s a nice little piece of Thunder History.

Enjoy.

For a different perspective, head on over to Loud City, our Thunder sister site on SB Nation.