The New York Knicks face a true road test on Sunday, as they face off against one of the league’s hottest players in Kevin Durant, and one of it’s hottest teams in the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Oklahoma City pounded the Knicks by a score of 123-94 in a Christmas Day blowout that was over as soon as Carmelo Anthony’s absence was made official. Russell Westbrook dropped a 14-point, 13-rebound, 10-assist triple-double, but re-aggravated a knee injury in the process. He went under arthroscopic surgery on December 27th and hasn’t played since.
Without Westbrook, Oklahoma City hasn’t missed a beat. Kevin Durant has blossomed from an All-Star to an out-of-this-atmosphere player, averaging 35.9 points in the month of January en route to being named the Western Conference Player of the Month. The Thunder now sit at 40-12 (22-3 at home, yikes!) and own a three-game cushion as the West’s top seed, which is about as safe as Mike Woodson’s job these days.
This time around, the Knicks can counter with a Player of the Month of their own. Carmelo Anthony took home the Eastern Conference honors, putting up 28.7 points and 9.0 rebounds in January, but, New York won’t win this game by simply outdueling Durant. At some point, the defense is going to have to pick up. Serge Ibaka is surprisingly efficient from the outside, and will be a tough guard for Melo, who will be giving up some size at his position. The Knicks also can’t lose track of Reggie Jackson, who has been quietly keeping the Thunder afloat by averaging 14.1 points and 5.0 assists as a starter.
Still, the key to beating Oklahoma City is quieting Durant. I’m not going to pretend that there’s some sort of philosophy to it, besides crossing fingers and hoping for the best. His “Slim Reaper” nickname might just be one of the coolest in all of sports, but the Knicks can’t get caught up in the Kevin Durant show. Matching buckets isn’t going to happen.