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FutureStarrOklahoma City Thunder vs Brooklyn Nets
The All-Star break is a time for teams to reset and refocus. For the Oklahoma City Thunder, this is an important chance to regain momentum after their recent win streak.
On Tuesday night, they'll try to achieve this by facing off against the Brooklyn Nets. A win here could give them a great boost towards making a run at the postseason.
LeBron James is averaging 30.2 points per game this season and on track to surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the NBA's all-time scoring record. However, his pursuit of that title will be put on hold for one night as he's been declared ineligible for Monday night's game against the Brooklyn Nets due to injury management.
Los Angeles Lakers are currently 13th place in the Western Conference with 24 wins and 28 losses, two games out of a play-in tournament berth. They only have three games left to play against teams already qualified for playoffs.
On Wednesday night, the Lakers are playing their final home game of the season against the Houston Rockets. This year, the Lakers have been unbeatable on the road, going 6-0 and matching their franchise-record road record.
However, they've still lost four of their last five games - two against the Boston Celtics - leaving them in no great position to win their opening round matchup with the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday.
The Nets are in a similar predicament to the Lakers, but with a different strategy. Under new ownership and coach Sean Marks, they are placing much greater emphasis on player development than under previous regimes.
Marks is taking a more measured approach, rather than going after the biggest free agents in the world. He has restricted free agency, is taking an extensive European scouting trip and has even started participating in the D-League.
That stands in stark contrast to the Nets' former rap-happy regime, which was driven by Jay Z and produced a roster so weak it couldn't even have a chance against an elite NBA squad.
The Brooklyn Nets remain on their quest for their first championship, but it appears unlikely they'll achieve it any time soon. After losing six of their last eight games, the team is in much better shape than a year ago. They've made some significant moves lately, such as trading Kyrie Irving to the Mavericks on Sunday.
Russell Westbrook has helped the Oklahoma City Thunder to become one of the league's premier teams with two scoring titles and two NBA All-Star game MVP awards. Additionally, his "Why Not?" foundation works to support community education programs and family service projects while inspiring youth to believe in themselves.
Although he has faced plenty of negative criticism throughout his career, the Oklahoma native has always found a way to look on the bright side. He's renowned for his remarkable ability to engage others in his offense - an attribute which helps him lead the Thunder.
It's essential to remember that he has the unique ability to bring teammates together, so it is up to him to remain focused during games. Doing so will guarantee his continued value to the Thunder in the future.
On Monday, Russell Westbrook achieved an incredible milestone: He became the NBA's all-time leading scorer! Becoming just the eighth person in history to achieve this distinction, Westbrook utilized some spectacular shooting from beyond the arc for success.
Russell has had difficulty getting the ball into his hands so far this season, but he should start finding ways to take shots. Whether it's from midrange or around the basket, his goal should be to get some uncontested looks this weekend.
He should aim to make up for the five times he's missed this season by hitting more shots, so that he can regain his rhythm and start playing like he once did.
Brooklyn has been an unbeatable team this month and they'll face another formidable opponent on Tuesday: Oklahoma City Thunder. Currently sixth in the Eastern Conference, Brooklyn needs to win this matchup to keep their playoff hopes alive. On the other hand, Oklahoma City are coming off of a big win against Cleveland Cavaliers and will be eager to pick up their fourth consecutive victory.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is having a remarkable season. He's averaging 24.6 points, 4.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds in 28 minutes per game for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Additionally, Shai can shoot from beyond the arc with 11.7 3-pointers per game as well as 4.3 treys per contest.
He's also displaying impressive defensive abilities. This season, he has allowed just 79 points and averages a league-high 2.21 steals per game.
His ability to shoot from beyond the arc has been a key factor in this Thunder team's success. He leads the NBA in 3-point shooting and ranks eighth for assist-to-turnover ratio.
On Tuesday, he scored 33 points, grabbed six rebounds and provided three assists in 36 minutes to help the Golden State Warriors claim a 137-128 victory. Now in three straight games while dealing with an abdominal injury, he has averaged at least 30 points per contest.
Gilgeous-Alexander was forced to miss Wednesday's game against the Suns due to maintenance, but is scheduled to return and start against the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday. Fantasy managers should confirm his status prior to tipoff at 7 p.m. ET, as Gilgeous-Alexander could be a key target in 9-cat formats.
Giddey's triple-double was his fourth of the season and he's now scored at least 15 points, handed out at least 10 assists and made at least five 3-pointers in every game this year. He was especially effective during the third quarter when he made 6 of 11 3-pointers to help Oklahoma City overcome a 10-point halftime deficit.
The Nets failed to score a point during an impressive 25-9 third-quarter run that gave the Thunder a commanding 121-107 lead - their largest of any game this season. The Thunder used that quarter to turn around their fortunes and never looked back, dominating throughout the remainder of play.
In the fourth, New York hit just two field goals during a 15-0 run that gave Oklahoma City an unassailable lead. Brooklyn never got within four after that and Oklahoma City held on for their fifth consecutive victory.
Aleksej Pokusevski, a third-year forward for the Oklahoma City Thunder, will be out of action until at least the end of this season due to a non-displaced tibial plateau fracture in his left leg. On Monday he was assigned to their G-League affiliate team - OKC Blue - but there is still no clear timeline for when he might return.
He is averaging 8.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game this season and has been one of the team's most effective players. His scoring and rebounding numbers have gone up since arriving in Oklahoma City; however, his shooting percentage has slightly declined from 50.0 percent to 44.0 percent.
After a slow start that saw the Nets take an early 16-point lead at halftime, the Thunder used a strong third quarter to take control of the game. Led by Lu Dort's five 3-pointers, Oklahoma City outscored Brooklyn 38-20 during that span.
The Thunder have now won three straight games and six of their last seven. While they remain in the playoff hunt, they need to improve defensively and more consistently if they want to make a deep run.
Furthermore, the Thunder will need their young core to continue developing. Injuries have been an issue this season for Chet Holmgren, Kenrich Williams and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with all missing extended periods of action.
Despite injuries, the Thunder are in excellent form. They have won three straight games and six of their last eight, with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander averaging 22.5 points and 6.0 assists during that span.
On Tuesday night, rookie forward Jaylin Williams scored a career-high 21 points in 32 minutes against Sioux Falls to become the Thunder's leading scorer at center position. They will travel to Charlotte and Philadelphia this week before returning home for their home finale against the 76ers on Saturday night.
Aleksej Pokusevski has been out with a leg injury since late December, but his progress makes him increasingly likely to return soon. On Monday he'll practice with the Blue and could potentially make his Thunder return on the road in Toronto.