Suddenly surging Nets, Thunder on hot streaks going into matchup
The Brooklyn Nets and Oklahoma City Thunder have traveled similar paths since the NBA All-Star break.
The Thunder lost their first five games after the break. The Nets lost their first four.
Brooklyn has won five of its last six since. So has Oklahoma City.
Something has to give Tuesday when the Nets and Thunder square off in Oklahoma City.
Brooklyn comes into the game tied with the New York Knicks for the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference, three games behind Cleveland.
The Thunder are one of a large group of teams in the mix for the play-in tournament in the Western Conference.
Defense has keyed the surge for both teams. During their recent hot streaks, both the Nets (105.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) and Thunder (108.4) are in the top four in defensive rating.
The Nets are coming off a 122-120 win at Denver on Sunday, a victory center Nic Claxton said doesn't quite qualify as a statement victory even as the team is surging after trading away Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in separate deals in early February.
"Not yet. We got three in a row? Five out of six? That's solid," Claxton said. "But we've just got to keep building off of it. It's definitely a game we can build off of."
While Brooklyn lost Durant and Irving, adding Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie in the Irving deal and Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson in the Durant deal has transformed the Nets, especially their defensive identity.
It's taken some time for things to come together, but the recent results have been positive.
"It's tough having a whole new team," Claxton said. "Having to create new defensive schemes, dudes are used to playing certain ways on both sides of the ball, and some people's roles, they've been given bigger roles, including myself. So you just got to find your flow and we're doing that."
For Brooklyn, Tuesday's game is the last in a five-game road trip.
After the matchup with the Thunder, the Nets play 10 of their last 13 at home.
The Thunder didn't make many changes at the deadline, though a big piece of their recent success has been the return of All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Since returning after missing five games, Gilgeous-Alexander has averaged 35.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 3.0 steals and is shooting 54.7 percent from the field in three games.
Gilgeous-Alexander has sat out two games during the stretch, missing the second night of back-to-backs both times.
Rookie Jalen Williams has also been a key piece of Oklahoma City's recent success, averaging 22.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists and shooting 60.7 percent from the floor over his last four games.
"It's good to win when Shai doesn't play as well," Williams said. "Just kind of lets us know that we are doing the right things and playing hard in that way. I think we're doing a good job kind of staying together. I think that's been our biggest thing through the ups and downs."
Tuesday's meeting is the second of two between the teams this season.
Oklahoma City won the first matchup 112-102 in Brooklyn on Jan. 15.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 13, 2023