- Teams: Oklahoma City Thunder (3-1) at Detroit Pistons (2-2)
- Date: November 8, 2013
- Time: 7:30 p.m.
- Television: FS Detroit
What to look for
The Detroit Pistons will host one of the most explosive teams in the league tonight at the Palace of Auburn Hills. The Oklahoma City Thunder will make a quick stop in Motown and then return home for a matchup against the Washington Wizards in two nights.
Russell Westbrook recently rejoined OKC and he gives the team a dimension that is incredibly difficult to game plan for. Indeed, with the former UCLA Bruin on the hardwood, the Thunder are one of the best offenses in the league.
Westbrook has a knack for speeding up the tempo and attacking defenses with reckless abandon. With their starting point guard on the floor, the Thunder are far more aggressive and also, they play with an edge that is borderline maniacal.
In two games without Westbrook, Oklahoma City had the feel of a mediocre team. They sported a negative scoring differential, which is hardly the sign of an elite squad. Kevin Durant and company scored at a league bottom-third rate sans their second-best player.
Mind you, in the two games since he returned from injury, the Thunder are a different team. NBA.com’s advanced stats tool tells us Scott Brooks’ unit is among the 10 best offenses in the league if projected over the course of all of their games.
Obviously the sample size is small, but it is still telling. Per Team Rankings, OKC is a top-10 team in fast break points per game, and it stands to reason they will climb in the rankings because of Westbrook. His ball-handling coupled with his speed and athleticism make him a nightmare in the open floor.
Hence, he easily gets himself to the basket or sets up his teammates. Further exacerbating issues, the Pistons do not have anyone with the strength and speed necessary to stay with the point guard.
The Pistons’ best bet is to go underneath screens and trap him in pick-and-rolls. Also, Westbrook can be tricked into taking low-percentage jump shots, which is a plus for opponents.
With that said, he will probably attack the paint and lunge himself at the likes of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. If Detroit’s frontcourt can contest his attempts and force misses, the Pistons will be in business.
The UCLA product loves throwing himself into the fray, but he also does a good job of setting up his teammates. His drives typically suck in defenders, which allows the likes of Kevin Durant to shake free for uncontested jumpers and finishes at the rim.
Also, Serge Ibaka is an incredibly underrated floor spacer. His jump shot is now amongst the most lethal in the league, even though he is not necessarily regarded as a spot-up shooter. NBA.com tells us that he converted 50.8 percent of his mid-range jumpers in 2012-13 and he is not that far off from last year’s pace in this current campaign.
Ibaka has converted nine of his 20 mid-range jump shots (45 percent) in 2013-14. He might very well end up pulling away a big man on Detroit’s frontline with the threat of his shooting.
The matchup that will captivate most of the attention though will be Josh Smith versus Durant. Both players are incredibly talented at their respective heights, and it will be fun to watch Smith chase the former Olympian around the court in an attempt to make his life difficult.
They will challenge each other and provide an interesting matchup, but Durant will probably be Smith’s superior. On paper, OKC should win this matchup by virtue of talent, chemistry and collective experience.
However, the Pistons have two things that might play in their favor tonight: turnovers and rebounds. That will cut into the Thunder’s possessions and give the home team a chance at the upset tonight.