After a full slate of 14 games on Wednesday night, the NBA schedule quiets down on Thursday with a pair of prime time contests on TNT. The New York Knicks (37-21) will host Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder (44-16) in the early game at 8 p.m. ET, and then Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers (44-19) will visit the Denver Nuggets (40-22) at 10:30 p.m. ET to close out the night. Four premium playoff teams will face off, and the two teams with the best records of the quintet will be on the road. It should make for an excellent night of NBA basketball.
Thunder vs. Knicks (8 p.m. ET, TNT)
The New York Knicks moved into the No. 2 slot in the Eastern Conference standings last night, but they will fall back to even with the Indiana Pacers if they can't beat the Thunder on Thursday night. The upward movement is merely symbolic at this point, but it speaks to the resiliency of the team.
The Knicks dropped five of six games in the middle of February and the defense came apart at the seams, but New York has responded with six wins in seven tries coming into this contest. Their only loss during that stretch came against the Miami Heat, but it highlights a dangerous trend. New York owns a 14-14 record against plus-.500 teams -- compared to a 23-7 mark against sub-.500 squads -- and the recent wins have come against bottom feeders such as the Sixers, Wizards, Cavaliers and Pistons.
The worst sign is that the Knicks have struggled to defend the pick-and-roll, which is something good teams tend to excel at:
Wow, Knicks are 28th in the league at defending pick and roll, via Synergy— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) March 6, 2013
Sure, the Knicks struggle with defending the pick and roll but it’s not like it’s an important or widely used play in today’s NBA.— netw3rk (@netw3rk) March 7, 2013
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook handle primary pick-and-roll responsibilities in the Thunder offense, so of course OKC is a very potent PnR team. It will be interesting to see if Tyson Chandler can hold up when the Thunder move him around the court and put him in tough situations as they bend the rest of the Knicks defense into a pretzel.
Welcome to Loud City put the spotlight on Russell Westbrook in their weekly awards column:
What Westbrook did scoring this week was just sick. He got off to insanely hot starts in the game and his speed and ability to get to the basketball completely destroyed the Lakers. He averaged 33 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists. I mean he was even able to get Hasheem Thabeet a basketball on a roll to the basket.
The Knicks are 21-9 at home this season, but the Thunder are seven-point favorites as the road team according to Odds Shark. The over/under for the game is set at 206.5 points.
Carmelo Anthony (knee) missed the game on Wednesday against the Pistons, and he questionable for the contest.
Clippers vs. Nuggets (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT)
Blake Griffin posted a 23-point, 11-assist and 11-rebound triple-double in a win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night, and he tossed in one of the most spectacular in-game dunks of the year for good measure.
The Bucks played fairly well, but the Clippers offense was firing on all cylinders. That's how things have gone for L.A. recently, as they've won nine of their last 11 games and solidified their No. 3 spot in the Western Conference standings.
The Nuggets have been playing well in their own right. As winners of seven of their last 10 games, the Nuggets have built a five-game lead over the Warriors for the No. 5 seed, and now they sit just 1.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for a shot at home-court advantage in the first-round of the playoffs.
Denver is also riding a six-game home winning streak, and they are four-and-a-half-point favorites at home Thursday night. The over/under is set at 214 points.