It's hard to think of two teams in more different places than the Oklahoma City Thunder and the New York Knicks. The Thunder started the season with questions about Russell Westbrook's health and how they'd make up for the absence of departed shooting guard Kevin Martin. Those questions were answered in short order, as the Thunder weathered the storm before Westbrook's earlier-than-anticipated return. They got the improvement they expected out of guards Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb, along with a nice surprise in the form of rookie big man Steven Adams.
The Knicks? Well, things haven't been rosy. As Oklahoma City chases a championship, New York is just trying to build some momentum. Its longest winning streak of the season is two games. That happened once. The Knicks have limped to a 9-18 record with a combination of heartbreaking losses, catastrophic collapses and embarrassing blowouts. They're just 4-10 at home, while the Thunder have won their last five road games. Unless you're particularly interested in the scoring race -- Kevin Durant is leading the league at 28.1 points per game, with Carmelo Anthony second at 26.3 -- the intrigue here is more about how bad things can get in New York. The Knicks have only two wins against plus-.500 opponents on the year. Both were against the Atlanta Hawks. Can they even compete with the Thunder?
Meet The Thunder
Oklahoma City might be even better than it was last season. The Thunder are 22-5, just half a game back of the league-leading Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers, and they've faced a much tougher schedule than those two. While Indiana and Portland have received most of the attention, there's a strong argument to be made that Oklahoma City has been the league's best team over these first two months of the season. Prior to a surprising home loss to the Toronto Raptors on Saturday, the Thunder were 13-0 at home and had won 17 out of 18 games. After a win over the San Antonio Spurs last Saturday, Westbrook told reporters that he believed he played for the best team in the NBA.
Westbrook himself has been magnificent lately, averaging 23 points, 7.1 rebounds and 8.6 assists over his last 10 games -- all wins except for that Toronto one -- and shooting 48 percent from the field. His main competition for Western Conference Player of the Month is his teammate: Kevin Durant is averaging 28.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists in December, shooting an outrageous 53 percent from the field, 49 percent on threes and 90 percent on free throws. Oklahoma's supporting cast has been solid, but its two superstars have never been better.
Meet The Knicks
Just about everything has gone wrong for New York. It's not only the dismal record, it's the constant drama and the same mistakes being repeated over and over again. Every time the Knicks disappoint, there's speculation about head coach Mike Woodson's job security.
You might have some sympathy for him. This team had outsized expectations, a roster that didn't make sense -- with Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire struggling to coexist, how in the world was Andrea Bargnani supposed to fit in? -- and then it was hit with injury after injury. But even if you attribute the Knicks' misery more to Tyson Chandler's extended absence than any failing on Woodson's part, though, it's hard to ignore his strange lineup decisions and his team's late-game blunders at this point.
New York is coming off a 103-98 win in Orlando on Monday, but even that couldn't have felt great. Anthony sprained his left ankle in the third quarter, then watched the fourth in the locker room with starting point guard Raymond Felton, who strained his groin in his first game back from a hamstring injury.
"Pray for us," Felton said to reporters after the game. "I'm serious."
When: Dec. 25, 2:30 p.m. ET
Where: New York, NY, Madison Square Garden
How to watch: ABC