Thunder-Nets Preview

While the Oklahoma City Thunder are exceeding expectations so

far, the New Jersey Nets have taken over the role as the league’s

doormat.

The Thunder look to win a season-high third straight Monday

night when they visit the Nets, who look to avoid losing their 10th

straight.

Despite going 23-59 last season after relocating from Seattle,

Oklahoma City (15-14) had reason for optimism when it began 2009-10

thanks to Kevin Durant.

The second overall pick in 2007 behind injury-prone Greg Oden

has lived up to the hype, averaging 27.8 points and 6.8 rebounds

while leading the surprising Thunder, who are looking for the

franchise’s first winning record through December in five

years.

Durant had 30 points in a 98-91 win over Charlotte on Saturday,

while Russell Westbrook added 22 and six assists. The second-year

point guard was 10 of 18 from the floor, and is averaging 20.7

points and 8.7 assists over the last three games.

“He did a great job running the team,” coach Scott Brooks said

of Westbrook. “He gave us a lot of opportunities to score, he set

our guys up for good shots. Thirty-five minutes with zero

turnovers? I’ll take that every night.”

The win was Oklahoma City’s second straight after a three-point

road loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday. After beating

Phoenix the next night, they began a much easier stretch in their

schedule starting with the Bobcats. After visiting New Jersey, the

Thunder travel to Washington.

The Thunder have won seven straight against teams with losing

records. Durant is averaging 31.3 points in 12 games against

opponents that are below .500.

He is also averaging 17.8 points and shooting 40.7 percent

against the Nets (2-28) over four career games, but the Thunder

have gone 1-3.

Although Oklahoma City has lost its last two visits to New

Jersey, it will certainly be favored. The lowly Nets opened the

season with a league-record 18-game losing streak and last won Dec.

8 at Chicago.

New Jersey fell 98-93 to Houston on Saturday. The Nets took

their first lead since the game’s opening basket early in the

fourth quarter, but missed crucial shots in the final minutes and

were outrebounded 51-39.

“You try to learn a lesson from these close ones,” said Devin

Harris, who had a team-high 19 points. “We’re just a few shots

away. It was still a meaningful game with 2 minutes to go. We’ve

got to be proud of the way guys keep fighting.”

Only nine of New Jersey’s losses have been decided by fewer than

10 points, but the last two have been by a combined nine.

The Nets played a second straight game without second-leading

scorer Chris Douglas-Roberts (16.4 ppg), due to an ankle injury.

Rafer Alston, who is averaging 10.0 points, also missed his second

straight with a sore back.

It’s uncertain if either will be available Monday to a lineup

that recently got Yi Jianlian back after he missed nearly two

months with a knee injury. Jianlian, who had 22 points off the

bench Wednesday in a loss to Minnesota, had 17 and six rebounds

while starting versus the Rockets.