In a showdown between two of the inter-conference elite, the Oklahoma City Thunder will travel to play the New York Knicks. Although they compete in separate conferences, both teams are in need of wins to improve their postseason positioning.
So who's going to win and how's it going down?
The Thunder are currently 44-16 overall and 17-12 on the road. They're also 13-7 against Eastern Conference foes and have won five of their past six games.
The last time OKC played at Madison Square Garden, however, they lost 112-98—on Dec. 22, 2010.
As for the Knicks, they are 37-21 and .5 games ahead of the Indiana Pacers for second in the Eastern Conference. They're also 21-9 at home and 13-8 against the Western Conference.
The Knicks have also won five of their past six games—so which hot team is going to see their fire grow larger?
Time: Thursday, Mar. 7 at 8:00 p.m. ET
Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (44-16, 17-12 road) at New York Knicks (37-21, 21-9 home)
Betting Line: N/A as of Mar. 6, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.
Oklahoma City Thunder's Injury Report
New York Knicks' Injury Report
Rasheed Wallace, Fractured Fifth Metatarsal in Left Foot, Out
Key Storyline: Fighting for Position
The Oklahoma City Thunder are 44-16 and 2.5 games behind the injury-plagued San Antonio Spurs for first in the Western Conference. They're 2.0 games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers, who have recently hit full strength.
Every game OKC plays will help decide their seeding come the postseason.
The New York Knicks are 37-21 and .5 games ahead of the Indiana Pacers for second in the Eastern Conference. They're 3.5 games ahead of the Brooklyn Nets for the division lead.
Much like the Thunder, a single loss could prevent New York from gaining position. It could also force them to lose their grasp on the division lead.
From both angles, this game is a must-win.
Key Matchup: Serge Ibaka vs. Amar'e Stoudemire
In 2011-12, Serge Ibaka was a glorified shot-blocker whose fundamentals were limited at best. Since playing with the Spanish national team at the 2012 London Olympics, however, Ibaka has been a different player.
Not only is he averaging a career-best 13.6 points, but Ibaka is shooting 49 percent from mid-range—on 261 attempts.
This places pressure on Amar'e Stoudemire to step up and provide points in response. It also calls for STAT to step out defensively and contest Ibaka's mid-range jump shot.
Just don't think Ibaka has it easy, either.
Over his past five games, Stoudemire is averaging 16.4 points in 23.8 minutes of action. More impressively, he's shooting 74.5 percent from the field.
The All-NBA power forward is back—he simply has a minute cap.
If Ibaka can contain STAT's contributions, the Thunder will win this game. If Stoudemire is able to limit Ibaka's mid-range game and score with efficiency, however, the Knicks will be in position to win.
It all starts at power forward.
X-Factor: Kevin Martin, Oklahoma City Thunder
If the Oklahoma City Thunder are to defeat the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, they need the three-ball to fall. In order for that to transpire, it is imperative that sixth man Kevin Martin steps up.
OKC is 1-5 when Martin doesn't hit a three.
Against the sharpshooting Knicks, K-Mart must hit more than just one. In fact, Martin needs to come out firing early and often to combat the efforts of players such as Steve Novak and J.R. Smith.
Behind Novak and Smith, the Knicks are averaging a league-best 29.1 three-point field goal attempts per game. They're also converting a league-best 10.8 three-point field goals per game.
If Martin doesn't play his role in responding to the deep ball, the Thunder will find out just how difficult it is to win at MSG.
If this game were played on neutral ground, the Oklahoma City Thunder would likely prevail. They're a supremely talented team with superstars abound with the ultimate X-Factors of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
With that being said, they aren't playing on neutral ground—this will be decided at Madison Square Garden.
The Thunder are a quality road team, but the Knicks are an elite home team. They're 21-9 at MSG in 2012-13 and have recently rediscovered how to win games.
With or without Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks will achieve victory against the Thunder.
When a game in New York is on national television, something special tends to happen. That could lead to Durant and Westbrook going off, but don't think the Knicks will lay down for them.
Smith will come out firing, Stoudemire will pace the team down low and Tyson Chandler will remind the world why he's the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. All in all, it will be decided in the final minutes.
As clutch as Durant may be, this is New York—the Knicks defend their territory with pride and consistency.
New York Knicks 111, Oklahoma City Thunder 106