The Oklahoma City Thunder won't have time for a Thanksgiving hangover this year. After a key overtime victory against the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night, they are right back in action when they take on the Boston Celtics in Beantown on Friday.
The team is currently in first place in the Northwest Division and riding a three-game winning streak. They'll look to extend that against the Celtics, who have lost two straight and sit three games behind the New York Knicks in the Atlantic Division.
This is still going to be a great game; however, as it will be a fine showcase of youth against experience.
As good as the Thunder are, they are a young team still learning what it takes to be a championship caliber team. They made the NBA Finals last year, but their inexperience showed as the Miami Heat won in five games.
Boston, on the other hand, has regularly contended for a championship every year since 2008. After winning a title that year, they made the NBA Finals again in 2010 (losing to the Los Angeles Lakers) and the Conference Finals in 2012, where they lost to Miami in seven games. This team may be old, but they still know how to win.
These skills will be in full swing against the Thunder, and should make for one great game.
Time: Friday, November 23rd, 8:30 p.m. EST
Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (9-3) vs. Boston Celtics (6-6)
Betting Lines: Oklahoma City (-3 1/2), Boston (+3 1/2)
Key Storyline: Young Thunder Look to Extend Winning Streak Against Aging Celtics
As great as the Boston Celtics are to watch, they're one old team. Of their five starters, three are 35 years of age or older. Still, experience counts for something and age should not be written off immediately.
Oklahoma City's lineup, on the other hand, is one of the youngest in the NBA. Everybody is under 30 and likes to play the athletic, sometimes fast-paced system of coach Scott Brooks.
The difference in ages is going to play a key role in the game, with the old-school Celtics and their tough defense going toe-to-toe with the young, plucky Thunder. Oklahoma City will want to extend their streak to four, but there's always the chance that they'll get overexcited and make mistakes.
Boston, however, just wants to get back above .500. They know that they are a better team than their record indicates, and will stop at nothing to prove it.
Win or lose, one thing is certain: The Celtics are not going to give up this game easily.
Key Matchup: Rajon Rondo vs. Russell Westbrook
The defensive duel between veteran Paul Pierce and three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant is sure to be a fun one, but both will surely manage to put their fair share of points on the board. Rather, the battle at the point will be the one to watch as Russell Westbrook becomes the latest man who tries to slow down Rajon Rondo.
After being very shoot-first last year and averaging just 5.5 assists per game compared to 23.6 points, Westbrook appears to have found the balance again this year. Through a dozen games, he is averaging 20.8 points and 8.4 assists per contest.
Westbrook has still been a bit impulsive with his shooting, making just 40 percent of his field goal attempts. He is playing some good basketball this season, but needs to be willing to take a step back on offense every so often. He is a phenomenal passer and has a great go-to guy in Durant, so it's just a matter of remembering that.
Fellow point guard Rajon Rondo has been having a career season thus far. Through Boston's first 12 games, he is averaging 14 points, 13.3 assists and 1.9 steals per game. His scoring accuracy has improved mightily, as he has shot 53 percent from the field.
If the Thunder are to win this game and extend their streak, then Westbrook needs to undertake the Herculean task of completely shutting down Rondo. If the Celtics' dynamic point guard can be taken out of the game, their odds of winning shrink.
Westbrook is 6'3" and has two inches on Rondo, but both men weigh the same. Rondo is also a freak athlete, so he's going to make life hell for Westbrook on both sides of the hardwood.
In the end, only one man can win this battle. Whoever does will be on the winning team.
X-Factor: Kevin Durant
Durant is only 24 years old, but has led the league in scoring for each of the past three seasons. He is currently averaging 25.4 points per game, second in the league behind Kobe Bryant.
The former Texas Longhorn has also added a refined defensive game to his arsenal this season. On top of his scoring, Durant is also averaging 10.1 rebounds per game.
He appears committed to living up to his full potential on both sides of the court.
This makes it all the more important for Durant to have a big game against the Celtics. Teammate Russell Westbrook is going to have his hands full with Rondo all night, so Durant needs to make an even greater effort in the event that his point guard is shut down offensively.
That's not going to be easy with Paul Pierce guarding him, but he is a good enough athlete that he can get past the veteran's tough defense and put the team on his back. If he can find a way to take control of the scoring while also keeping up the defensive effort, and without Westbrook helping to shoulder the load, then Oklahoma City will easily extend its streak.
This game will certainly be close at some points, as both teams will rely on a balanced defensive attack to come away with the victory. Unfortunately for Boston, theirs just won't be enough. The younger and faster Thunder will eventually pull away in the second half and extend their winning streak to four games.
Durant will have a double-double and sink some key shots. Westbrook will score his fair share of points, albeit with a low field-goal percentage due to Rondo's tough defense. The Celtics' point man will have a fine game of his own, coming close to a triple-double, but it won't be able to stop Oklahoma City's onslaught.
Who will win?
Look for Serge Ibaka to have a fine defensive game, absolutely taking Brandon Bass to school in the paint. Watch for Kevin Martin coming off the bench and providing some phenomenal scoring.
The Celtics will do everything in their power to slow the game down and play it their way, but their core players' collective age will show. No matter how hard they try, they'll just be outplayed from start to finish, and leave the game with a sub-.500 record.
Oklahoma City Thunder 103, Boston Celtics 91