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 key upcoming 76ers games — features tonight’s opponent, Kevin Durant and the red hot Oklahoma City Thunder, who may be the best team in the NBA not from Miami.
We believe this is going to be a highly entertaining contest featuring two very young, athletic teams. It’s also a huge game for the Sixers as it basically is exam time (again) for 7-6 tonight. The Sixers went 5-2 during their “death row” stretch in February and one would have thought that would put the League and the “experts” on notice that this squad was for real. However there were those who still refuse to recognize the Sixers as a quality team and the recent 5 game losing streak only served to give those doubters more ammunition. A victory tonight by the Sixers could make a strong statement to the rest of the League and the haters that the Sixers are for real (again).
But a W will not come easily tonight. If fact we’re not liking the Sixers chances vs. the Thunder. Forget for a second that OKC currently owns a 5 game winning streak and that the Sixers are 1-5 in their last six. Also try to ignore the stat that tells us the Thunder have won 5 in a row in this series. What has us worried for tonight’s contest is Russell Westbrook and the match-up nightmare he will present for the 7-6. The Sixers struggles vs. the League’s elite point men (D-Wil and Parker to name two.) in 2011-12 have been well documented on this site. Westbrook is yet another of the best lead guards in the Association. Given his history vs. the Sixers (29 ppg. last year) and the Sixers issues with top PGs, Russ should have a monster game tonight. That would likely doom any hopes of a Sixers victory. Then throw in All-World wingman KD as well as Serge Ibaka, James Harden and Thabo and the Thunder present a lot of offensive fire power for the Sixers to overcome — at both ends of the floor — in order to grab a W.
The hope for a Sixers win tonight lies in two things. The first is the fact that OKC turns the ball over a ton (League’s highest turnover rates at 16.9 per.). Obviously under Collins, the Sixers value the rock and live off their tough defense that takes it away from opponents. If the Sixers can get a slew of TOs, get out on the break, score a lot of easy baskets and avoid half-court situations, it could help lead to an upset tonight. But easy baskets won’t be enough. The second item the Sixers will need tonight is superior bench play. Outside of Harden, the Thunder bench is decent, but does not measure up to the “Night Shift”. If the 76ers starters can play even or better against the first-five from OKC and then Thad, Louis, Nik & Co. have an outstanding game vs. the Thunder’s second unit our chances of a win certainly improve. Lots of easy buckets + dominating bench play = Sixers W.
One other interesting note: 6 of the Thunder’s 7 losses this season have come on the road.
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 four questions on the Thunder from an insider’s perspective for us here at Philadunkia.
Philadunkia : Obviously the Thunder played very well headed into the ASB. What have been two of the keys to their recent hot streak?
Royce Young @ dailythunder.com : Better defense, but really, just Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook reaching new levels. They’ve been incredible lately. The Denver game was something special, but it’s becoming routine for them to combine for 50 points, and on some nights 60 or even 70. When you have two guys playing that well, it’s going to make you good.
Philadunkia : Sixers fans are very much looking forward to this game tonight. However, Oklahoma City is 27-7, has a five game winning streak going and owns a five-game win streak in the series, including back-to-back victories at the Wells Fargo Center. So we are wondering if there any excitement at all in OKC land for this game tonight?
Royce Young @ dailythunder.com : Oh, there’s excitement, mainly because the Sixers are pretty good right now, but still a bit of a mystery. It’s a little hard to know how good they are and with the West’s best team rolling in, it should be a big night. Durant and Westbrook typically draw a good crowd and I’m sure the 76ers are eager to grab some attention.
Philadunkia : Aside from the OKC turnover issues, is there anything about this game / the Sixers that worries you tonight?
Royce Young @ dailythunder.com : The Sixers are one of the few teams that not only match OKC’s depth, but probably surpass it. The 76er bench is incredibly good and while the Thunder have had a solid second unit led by James Harden, it’s not as good as Philadelphia’s. Normally, OKC’s second unit is able to overwhelm the second unit they’re matched with in the second quarter, but I don’t think that’ll be the case tonight.
Philadunkia : What’s one weakness OKC posses that could stop a deep playoff run for this team?
Royce Young @ dailythunder.com : I think perimeter defense is something OKC has to worry about. The offense might bog down at times, but with guys like Durant and Westbrook, they can make plays. But against teams like the Spurs that excel in the pick-and-roll and can kick to shooters, the Thunder have struggled.
Our thanks to Royce Young for his insights.