The NBA moves south of the border when the Oklahoma City Thunder take on the Brooklyn Nets in Mexico City on Thursday. The Thunder are winners of three in a row while the Nets began their trek south with a convincing road win at Atlanta on Monday.
Brooklyn, which will stay in Mexico City and serve as the host in a game against the Miami Heat on Saturday, traded wins and losses over its last six games and fell at home to the Hawks last Saturday before turning things around on both ends of the floor in a 110-90 triumph in the back half of the home-and-home set. “I think we’re going to grow as a basketball team and grow as an organization from a trip like this,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson told reporters of going to Mexico. “You’re together a lot more and there’s a lot of stuff to do, whether it’s (visiting) pyramids or team dinners that are at an authentic Mexican restaurant. To me, that’s what it’s all about.” The Thunder spent the first two months of the season trying to come together as a team and seemed to put all the pieces together while overcoming a 17-point, second-half deficit in a 100-94 victory over the Utah Jazz on Tuesday. “It was just executing, taking our time and getting stops,” Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook told reporters. “It all starts with our defense.”
TV: 10 p.m. ET, FS Oklahoma, YES (Brooklyn)
ABOUT THE THUNDER (11-12): Westbrook is trying to integrate Paul George and Carmelo Anthony into the Oklahoma City system but still finds opportunities to show why he is the reigning NBA MVP. Westbrook exploded for 34 points, 14 assists and 13 rebounds in his league-leading seventh triple-double on Tuesday and came within one rebound of a triple-double in each of the previous two contests. “Russ had a win-at-all-costs attitude at every point in the game,” George told the team’s website after Tuesday’s victory. “He kept us fighting. He kept us in the game. It was his mentality. It just felt that we weren’t going to lose that game.”
ABOUT THE NETS (9-14): Brooklyn is finding different contributors on offense on a nightly basis and got a season-high 17 points off the bench from shooting guard Caris LeVert on Monday. “I was just trying to be aggressive, just trying to make plays,” LeVert told reporters, according to Newsday. “...I’m learning every game, a lot of film. Obviously, coach has confidence in me. He puts the ball in my hands a lot, so I’m just out there trying to make plays.” LeVert is leading a second unit that also includes rookie center Jarrett Allen, who is 12-of-16 from the floor in the last three games.
1. Thunder C Steven Adams is 28-of-34 from the field over the last three games.
2. Nets PG D’Angelo Russell (knee surgery) is traveling with the team but is not expected to play.
3. Westbrook averaged 27.5 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds in a pair of wins over Brooklyn last season.
PREDICTION: Thunder 108, Nets 102