This is a big one.
The Philadelphia 76ers take on the Oklahoma City Thunder at home tonight in what was be looked at as one of the early measures of the Sixers’ ceiling. At least, it would have been if Andrew Bynum were healthy and playing. With the team the way it is currently, this game won’t be held to those same lofty expectations, but it’s still a prime opportunity for Jrue Holiday and company to show what this squad is capable of when it’s firing on all cylinders.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are led by
trio duo of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Kevin Durant. (Sorry, I wrote this pregame 3 days before the season started.) Defensively, they are anchored by Serge Ibaka—a legitimate threat to record ten blocks in a single game.
Even though he’s only 24, at this point is his career there’s very little that needs to be said about Kevin Durant. He’s a perennial contender for the scoring title. His length makes his shot almost uncontestable, and he has nearly unlimited range. Wherever he’s put on the floor, he’s a matchup nightmare. He’s scoring a little bit less than in seasons past, but he’s been compensating by handing out more assists and grabbing more rebounds than he ever has in his career. If he can be held to 25 points, the Sixers have done their job defensively.
Russell Westbrook (who might one day be officially named the “The Oft-Maligned Russell Westbrook”) is having a down season of sorts so far. He’s averaging 21.2 points, down nearly 2.5 from last year, and is only shooting .411 from the field. That’s his worst percentage since his rookie year. Westbrook’s decision making—namely his decision not to give the ball to Durant every time down the floor, which is apparently what some people want him to do—is called into question with just about every loss. Still, there’s no question that with Russell’s size, strength, and speed, he’s just as capable of taking a game over as his lanky counterpart.
The Thunder also have an excellent bench with plenty of players that have been trusted during big moments. Kevin Martin has been a leading scorer for teams in the past and Eric Maynor is considered one of the best backup point guards in the league. As you would expect from a playoff lock and finals favorite, this team has very few flaws from top to bottom.
It’s hard to envision a scenario where the Sixers win this one by honest means. Jrue Holiday, who normally has an advantage over the other team’s point guard, will have his hands full on both ends of the court with Russell Westbrook. Thaddeus Young will probably be responsible for chasing Kevin Durant around for the majority of the game, and it’s gonna be tough to score in the paint with Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka lurking.
For this game to work out in the Sixers’ favor, they’re going to have to get major contributions from Spencer Hawes, who might be able to help draw one of the OKC forwards away from the rim if he’s hitting shots. They’re also going to need a lot of production from the Evan Turner/Nick Young/Jason Richardson triumvirate. Still, even if both those things go in the Sixers’s favor, the Thunder are going to have to make major mistakes to let this one slip.
Tipoff is at 7.
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