OKLAHOMA CITY – The Nets (18-29) aim for a season-best third-straight win when they face the Thunder (26-20) at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Brooklyn has a chance to get its first sweep since 14-15 over Oklahoma City on Tuesday, thanks to an impressive 100-95 win over the team in Mexico City on Dec. 7 – a game that was considered a Nets’ home game. The Thunder are a significantly improved team since that encounter though.
Oklahoma City comes into the game riding high on a four-game winning streak and things appear to finally be clicking for Billy Donovan’s team after some early struggles. The Thunder’s biggest improvement has been on the offensive side of the ball as it appears as if star Russell Westbrook is finally buying into a team-first approach. His 20 assists were the catalyst for his team’s stunning 148-point outburst against the Cavaliers in a victory at Cleveland. It was one of the most talked-about performances of the season.
Still, the Thunder are still prone to taking some nights off as they’ve lost games to the Suns and Dallas over the past three weeks. The Nets will hope to frustrate the Thunder at their home stadium on Tuesday.
Here are Three Things To Watch For:
Key Matchup: Paul George vs. DeMarre Carroll
This will likely be the first and only time the Nets will face George this season as the star small forward was sidelined with injury in the last game between these two teams. After some uneven performances in the first two months of the season, he’s has really taken off in January.
George is averaging 21.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists on 49.3 percent shooting this month and has emerged as the clear second scorer behind Westbrook on the team. Fortunately for the Nets, Carroll is playing some of his best basketball on both sides of the court.
Over the past five games, the 31-year-old is averaging 17.6 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.2 steals while shooting 48.4 percent from the floor. Carroll will need to work on frustrating George early on defense as he’s a streaky shooter. If he can do that while continuing his offensive production, it could be key for Brooklyn.
Can the Nets Finally Get Some Consistency?
Brooklyn has had some tough outings in January, but they need just one win to get their highest tally of victories in a month this season (six).
The Nets appear to be reinvigorated by having almost the full contingent of their roster, thanks to the return of D’Angelo Russell. While the third-year guard has shown some rust, the 14 minutes a game that he’s currently averaging has allowed Kenny Atkinson to change a rotation a bit, allowing the coach to utilize Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert differently. It’s not a coincidence that both players have seen an uptick in their fourth quarter minutes, as Atkinson has been able to rest the pair earlier in games.
A win at Chesapeake Energy Arena would give Brooklyn consecutive away victories for the second time this season.
How will the Nets Slow Down Westbrook?
The reigning MVP is still almost averaging a triple-double with a 24.8/10.1/9.7 stat line on the season. That’s with the additions of George and Carmelo Anthony on the roster and a rebounding monster in Steven Adams. It speaks volumes about the 29-year-old’s drive and relentlessness.
The last time these two teams met, Russell had 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists but shot just 10-for-27. Caris LeVert was a big reason why. In one of the best games of his career, the 23-year-old went for 21 points, 10 assists and five rebounds while shooting 60 percent from the floor. He hounded Westbrook all night in Mexico City, not allowing the guard to get to the basket and forcing him to take jumpshots – an area where Westbrook struggles.
While George’s return will definitely change how the Nets guard Westbrook, it’s safe to say that the Nets will look to utilize LeVert in a similar role on Tuesday.