How many times have you heard Sixers fans long for our team to be like Oklahoma City? If only we had a guy like Durant. If only we could stockpile high lottery picks, make shrewd cap moves and set ourselves up for the future like they have. If only. Well, year three in OKC's upward progression is off to a slower start than most expected and the Sixers have a chance to make that start even slower tonight.
If you're wondering why OKC is only 3-3, the simple answer is they've gone from a top-ten defense to a bottom five defense. Nick Collison's absence accounts for some of that, maybe more than you'd expect, but it can't be the whole picture. If you took a look at their roster last season, they had strong defenders at the one and two. A productive defender at the three, in that he blocked a lot of shots and got a lot of steals. An explosive defensive big off the bench (Ibaka), and another under-rated defensive big (Nick Collison). That's pretty much it. It seemed like smoke and mirrors, and maybe it was. Maybe the book is out on them.
What the Thunder were, are or will be isn't relevant tonight, though. So let's talk about the matchups:
- Jrue vs. Russell Westbrook: Westbrook shot a combined 4/23 against the Sixers last season, and Jrue was every bit the reason. He did an excellent job of turning Westbrook into a jump shooter, and Westbrook couldn't turn the jumpers down. We're talking about two excellent young point guards, on both ends of the floor, going at each other. Matchups don't get more exciting than this one for me.
- Kevin Durant vs. ?????: Your guess is as good as mine. I think Turner will want the matchup, I'm not sure if Collins will give it him. He may opt for Andres Nocioni's toughness (until he picks up three quick fouls). Ultimately, this game will probably illustrate exactly how much Andre Iguodala is missed. The Kincks have no explosive scoring threat on the wing, missing Iguodala wasn't a huge deal against them, defensively. But whenever the Sixers do face a team with a guy like Durant, or even on the next level down, it's going to be clear exactly what his defense gives the team. Best case, the Sixers use that 1-2-2 zone we saw against the Knicks, Durant settles for mildly contested threes and doesn't hit too many of them. I'm not expecting the best case to happen.
- ET vs. Sefolosha: In Summer League, Turner had a ton of problems with long, athletic defenders. Sefolosha is ten times better than anyone he faced in Orlando. Keep an eye on whether ET is able to shake him, or if he even tries. This is one game, but it's important to me to see if he's able to get the space he needs against a long defender, especially if the expectation is that Iguodala might be traded and Turner might slide to the three, where he'll be facing long defenders on a nightly basis.
- Lou vs. Maynor: If the Sixers get this matchup, I like it a whole lot. Lou has been eating young guards alive with his pump fakes and penetration. I see no reason why he won't be able to do the same to Maynor.
Jeff Green is listed as questionable for OKC. Iguodala and Kapono are expected to miss the game for Philly. I'd say the Sixers are on the losing side of that equation.
OKC has shot the all horribly all season long, if the Sixers are going to pull a big upset in this one, they're going to have to make OKC shoot jumpers and hope their cold streak continues. On the offensive end, the team will probably live or die with Jrue. If he can keep his production and efficiency up with Westbrook on him, they've got a legitimate shot. If he can't, well, I guess hope Brand and Turner can combine for 50+ points, or something.
Prediction: Believe it or not, I've got the Sixers winning and breaking triple digits on the back of a big game from Jrue. PHI 107, OKC 103.
The tip is at 8pm.