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Brooklyn Nets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview: Nets and Thunder close out 2023

How do you bounce back from your worst loss of the season? That’s what the Nets have to answer as we close out 2023 in Oklahoma City

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Oklahoma City Thunder v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

No one likes to lose, but taking L’s is a part of life. Earlier this month, the boss, Joe Tsai, had this to say when he and Yao Ming announced a new sports program for Chinese schools: “You always want to win when you play, but learning to face failure is more valuable,”

However ... as Tsai might also say, certain losses just can’t happen under any circumstances.

After the Brooklyn Nets rested their main players in the last home game of 2023, they hit the road to start a four-game road trip. The Washington Wizards were first up, and the Wiz have had their struggles throughout the season, including two losses to the Nets. With everything favoring them and a rested squad, the Nets had a chance to open this tough trip with a good start. Instead, they did the complete opposite and had a disastrous, unacceptable loss on Friday. It doesn’t get any easier from here.

And waiting for this suddenly reeling Nets team is the Oklahoma City Thunder. OKC has been one of the best teams in the league and have limitless amounts of potential. They pushed their current winning streak to three after beating up the reigning NBA champion Denver Nuggets on the road Friday night.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN on radio. Tip after 7:00 p.m. ET.

Injuries

No Ben Simmons or Lonnie Walker. Nic Claxton is probable with an illness. The Nets injury report seems to indicate Jalen Wilson will be available but he did play Saturday for Long Island in Cleveland.

Everyone’s good to go for OKC.

The game

When you have a disastrous effort like the Nets did on Friday, it’s a moment to reflect. You reflect on how you got to this point, what you’ve been doing wrong, and how to make sure something like that never happens again. In a moment like this, you can’t wallow in self pity and lament your circumstances. You have to do the work, put your best foot forward, and represent yourself and the fans to the best of your ability. That’s where Jacque Vaughn and the Nets organization find themselves currently. How they approach this game will go a long way in setting a more positive tone than the past few days have been.

That tone starts with Mikal Bridges. He’s had a rough go of it recently and as the player who gets the most arrows when things go wrong, has more weight on his shoulders compared to other players on the team. That’s the deal when you’re the team’s best player, and it’s a responsibility Bridges has accepted since he joined the franchise.

You never know “the leap” is happening until it actually happens. Young teams that have potential and steadily improve over the years suddenly find themselves near the top of the standings and ready to make a big run. Thunder fans are used to this as they did it once before when Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and friends made the leap from eighth seed in 2009-2010 to fourth and eventually the Western Conference Finals in 2010-2011. It’s an exciting feeling to watch a young team start to figure things out together and build something special. Winning is hard to do in the NBA, so enjoy the journey as much as you can.

In late October, SKIMS, the NBA, and WNBA entered into a partnership agreement. Shai Gilgeous Alexander has been featured prominently in a lot of advertisements for SKIMS, and it’s helped expand his profile off the court. It also helps that he’s playing outstanding ball and might have a great chance of capturing the MVP award this spring. He’s third in the league in scoring at 31.4 points per game on 54.8 percent shooting from the field and pairs that with around six rebounds and six assists a night. He’s an absolutely sensational finisher at the basket and can break down any defender that has the misfortune of trying to guard him

The Nets defense has been lousy for large parts of the year, and they’re going to need to get their acts in gear in a hurry or risk letting him go off for 40+ points.

The Thunder allow around 38 3-pointers a game, third highest in the NBA. We know the Nets love to operate from deep and will need to find their magic from deep early and often. Unfortunately for the Nets, the Thunder are the second best 3-point shooting team in the league and have players that can break you down off the dribble and force the defense into constant rotations. The Nets flipped the starting lineup on Friday, and that first five has to get back to the level of success they had earlier in the year. They’re going to need to ensure they have the appropriate energy and focus on defense to contend with this excellent OKC ballclub.

I am so excited to watch Chet Holmgren tonight! Big Chet is finally in the league after a fluke knee injury kept him out all last season. He has a great chance of capturing the Rookie of the Year award, and he’s already third in the league in blocks per game, just ahead of Nic Claxton. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s giving you around 17 points, eight rebounds, and three assists a night on 54/39/84 splits.

A 7’1” rookie who can do everything on the court and is getting better by the second? Sign me up!!

Claxton will have to battle with the rook tonight. Claxton and Day’Ron Sharpe have been solid as a one-two punch, and the Nets will need them to make life tough on the budding superstar. Clax had three blocks on Friday night, and the Nets need that level of rim protection every night if they want to climb out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves. The road won’t get any easier, so tonight’s as good a time as any for the team to figure it out.

Player to watch: Josh Giddey

Generally speaking, the NBA doesn’t suspend people when they have an open criminal case. League commissioner Adam Silver said as much earlier this month. That said, when guys with certain cases are playing, it leads to a lot of uncomfortable conversations. That’s where the league and the Thunder finds itself with Josh Giddey.

Towards the end of November, police in California launched an investigation after Giddey was alleged to have had a relationship with an underaged (15-year-old) girl. There haven’t been any major updates on the investigation since early December, so Giddey is here until he’s not. Similar to Miles Bridges of the Charlotte Hornets, we have someone accused of something heinous on the court playing every game. Fans in opposing cities have made their displeasure of Giddey well-known, and it’s something that will likely continue until there’s a resolution on the current case. The question of whether he should be playing is a fair one, but for now, we have to wait until something happens off the court. Frustrating, but that’s what we’re stuck with for the foreseeable future.

On the court, Giddey needs to find his shot. On a great shooting team, he’s only shooting 32.9% from downtown. It limits his ceiling and that of the team. The OKC coaching staff is able to work around it as he only plays 25 minutes a night, but there will come a time when they’ll have to count on him to win a big game, and a deficiency like that can be exploited by the other side.

Spencer Dinwiddie will need to get a good game under his belt. When the Nets get stagnant on offense, it’s because they don’t force enough pressure on opponents and get going downhill. Dinwiddie can, but he often gets frustrated when he doesn’t get a whistle and it leads to him not getting back on defense as quickly as he should. When that happens, it throws everything off kilter and leads to things like this

Yeah, gotta leave things like that behind in 2023.

From the Vault

As we say goodbye to another year, I just wanted to send a special shout out to everyone here at NetsDaily. I work with a bunch of kind, hard-working, wonderful people who support and always encourage me to be the best version of myself. The work is hard, but working with the folks I do here makes it fun.

And I wanna thank all the folks who visit the site every day, comment on our posts, and take the time to engage with what we do. We do our best to provide top notch Brooklyn Nets and New York Liberty coverage, and I hope my work has left a positive impression on you, made you think, made you laugh, etc. It’s a blessing and I hope 2024 brings even more good vibes!

Alright, enough of me. Here’s Dick Clark to take us in to the New Year!

More reading: Thunderous Intentions, SB Nation NBA, Nets Republic, The Oklahoman