This edition of “Fo’ with the Foes” — Philadunkia’s advanced scouting series which with the help of an accomplished journalist from around the NBA beat or blog world, previews upcoming 76ers opponents — features tonight’s opponent, the young, talented and highlight reel making Oklahoma City Thunder.
While we believe this is going to be a very interesting contest featuring two very young, athletic teams that play very similar styles of ball. And we honestly think this is a huge game for the Sixers. Basically it’s exam time for 7-6 tonight. They’ve won 7 of the last 8, but all of those victories have come against teams with less then .500 records. So while this recent run has been nice, it’s not all that impressive.
Tonight should give us a very good idea of exactly where this much improved Sixers team (30-17 since the brutal start) stands among the NBA’s playoff teams. The Thunder are 39-23 and sit in 4th place in the ultra competitive Western Conference playoff race. A victory tonight by the Sixers would make a statement to the rest of the League that the Sixers are for real-for real.
OKC won the first meeting 109-103 on Nov. 10 thanks to 31 points from Kevin Durant. If you recall, that game was played during Iguodala’s Achilles’ tendonitis hiatus. For us Iguodala’s presence and the lockdown defense that’s comes with him is the key to tonight’s game. Durant has averaged 30 points per night in his last three meetings against the 7-6. However, the list of elite scoring wing players whom Iguodala has shutdown this year is long and distinguished. Dre really has taken his efforts at that end of the floor to another level this season (just ask Kobe) and he is a legit Defensive POY candidate. Simply put, if Iguodala can hold KD to 20-25 points, the Sixers win this game.
Additionally it wouldn’t hurt the Sixers cause if Jrue could keep Russell Westbrook under wraps and the Sixers bigs can control the improving Serge Ibaka.
For a little more insight into the Thunder team the Sixers face tonight, we turn to our man Royce Young from dailythunder.com to answer two questions on the Thunder from us here at Philadunkia as well as provide us with two points of analysis on this OKC squad from an insider’s perspective.
Philadunkia : At the end of February, the Thunder suffered losses at San Antonio, at Orlando and vs. the Lakers. So are you worried about OKC’s ability to contend with the NBA’s perceived elite and make a deep playoff run or possibly win a championship?
Royce Young @ dailythunder.com : I wouldn’t say I’m concerned, mainly because I don’t think it’s time anyway. The Kendrick Perkins trade will help the Thunder a lot once he’s healthy, but right now it’s still about moving forward for OKC. The Thunder has struggled against the top teams in the league (I think they’re 4-11 against “elite” squads), so I am a bit concerned about the Thunder being successful in the postseason.
Philadunkia : What was your take on the trade for and contract extension given to Kendrick Perkins?
Royce Young @ dailythunder.com : It’s a fantastic deal for OKC. Jeff Green simply wasn’t part of the Thunder’s long-term future so OKC traded him away and got a piece in Perkins that can help them for two months instead of just plodding along with Green and losing him over the summer. Then signing Perkins for the next four years (he’s only 26, keep in mind) is as much a part of sticking to the long-term plans as re-signing Green would’ve been.
Two Points of Analysis from Royce Young @ dailythunder.:
1. Kevin Durant hasn’t played that great his past two, shooting just 11-34 and scoring only 18 and 23 against the Suns and Grizzlies. Durant is battling an ankle sprain a bit, and as a result, he’s slacked a bit attacking the rim. So if his jumper isn’t working, he could have trouble again.
2. Since the Jeff Green trade, James Harden has really elevated his game. The past six, Harden is averaging 18.2 ppg on 51 percent shooting in 31.5 minutes per game. The Thunder needed a third scorer to step up and replace Green’s 15 points a game and Harden is doing it, and more.
Our thanks to Royce Young for his insights.