Oklahoma City Thunder (14-4) vs. Brooklyn Nets (11-5)
It is tough to be a new team on the block. No one quite takes you seriously until the Playoffs when the games really matter. The regular season is a never-ending question of "are they for real."
So games against the league's elite take on added importance. Brooklyn has gotten off to a strong start and most peopley would say the team will remain among the East's best . . . in the regular season at least.
Brooklyn continues its "Take Us Seriuosly" tour when it hosts Oklahoma City, the defending Western Conference cahmpions tonight at the Barclays Center. There will not be the glaring lights of the national television spotlight, but after a set back in Miami, Brooklyn is looking to make a statement once again. A win over the Thunder would be such a statement.
Look for the Nets to come out strong once again and focused. The question is whether they can keep it up. Sure beating the Knicks was nice last week, but two blowout losses to the Heat do not exactly scream contender from this squad. And the Nets also have that loss to the Lakers to stew over.
Yes, Brooklyn is not quite in the title contending class. Perceptions though can only be changed one win at a time. For that reason, this migth be a big game in Brooklyn's rebranding.
Other Storylines to Watch
-Amazing how the Thunder have quietly gone about their business of late. Oklahoma City seems to be running through its schedule right now and has had hardly a bump in the road. It will be interesting to see how this team continues to fight off the boredom of the NBA's regular season.
-The Nets should still be without Brook Lopez. But as of late, Andray Blatche has stepped in and filled the role admirably at starting center. He had two really solid games against Orlando and Miami. Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka might pose more of a defensive challenge however.
Tonight's Other Games
Minnesota Timberwolves (7-8) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (10-7)
Alexey Shved has made a moderate impact for Minnesota in his first year in the NBA. The young guard from Russia has already proven himself to be an adept and capable shooter. Where he has really put his focus on though in this transition is in his playmaking ability. Without Ricky Rubio that has been a plus, but soon Minnesota will need him to focus on getting his scoring numbers up.
Miami Heat (12-3) vs. Washington Wizards (1-13)
The Heat and the sports world are still buzzing over LeBron James being named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year. Really the award is a testament to everything he accomplished this year -- an NBA championship, MVP award, Olympic gold medal -- and the goodwill he seemed to regain after his controversial departure from Cleveland. With a championship in tow, James seems more relaxed and free on the court. It is an honor very much deserved.
Indiana Pacers (8-9) vs. Chicago Bulls (8-7)
The word coming out of Chicago is that Derrick Rose is closer to a return than many are letting on. The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Rose could be weeks away from returning to practice and, therefore, a return to game action may not be that far behind. The Bulls are clearly a .500 team without him and getting him back would be a big boost for this team. Of course, there are no firm dates set for Rose's return tot he practice court. Chicago must soldier on.
Phoenix Suns (7-11) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (12-3)
We all want a vintage Grizzlies practice court, right? The Vancouver Grizzlies' practice court went on sale on Craig's List with a $13,000 asking price. It is sure to be the dream purchase for any fan of Bryant Reeves, Anthony Peeler, Lee Mayberry and Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Just think of the bright teal and Eskimo-like drawings you would own as your very own!
Los Angeles Lakers (8-9) vs. Houston Rockets (8-8)
Pau Gasol appears to be in a heap of trouble right now with the Lakers. Kobe Bryant has already called him (or maybe it was his team) out publicly for his lax play. It is clear he does not quite fit. And so the trade rumors have started with the Lakers reportedly making inquiries about Ryan Anderson from the Hornets (a deal that would make no sense for New Orleans). To put the cherry on top, Gasol is now out indefinitely with tendonitis in his knees. Does not seem like he can hurt the team that much anymore.