The New York Knicks are the NBA's hottest team with 11 straight wins behind superstar Carmelo Anthony, who suddenly can't miss. The Oklahoma City Thunder look like the top team in the Western Conference, and only the Miami Heat have a better record in the league.
On Sunday, these two giants will face off in what promises to be an excellent contest.
There are plenty of intriguing storylines in this game. Two legitimate contenders for the NBA Finals meeting in a late-season game. Kevin Durant and Anthony doing battle for the scoring title. Talented sidekicks like J.R. Smith and Russell Westbrook going toe-to-toe.
You don't want to miss this game. Let's break down this intriguing matchup.
When: Sunday, April 7 at 1 p.m. ET
Where: Chesapeake Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Stream: NBA League Pass
Knicks Injuries (via ESPN)
Kenyon Martin, Knee, Day-To-Day
Marcus Camby, Foot, Day-To-Day
Rasheed Wallace, Foot, Out
Thunder Injuries (via ESPN)
None to report
What They're Saying
When Phil Jackson says a team has a shot to win a championship, well, you have to listen (per Ian Begley of ESPN):
Phil Jackson said on Friday that the red-hot Knicks had a chance to "challenge" for an NBA title.
"I think they've come a long way in the last two and half weeks. … They're starting to make a run," Jackson said. "I think they're going to challenge. There's a hope in this town that maybe they can surprise some people [and] win this year."
Jackson, who wore his 1995-96 championship ring he won as coach of the Chicago Bulls, was at Madison Square Garden on Friday night to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 1972-73 title team.
Knicks Player to Watch: Carmelo Anthony
Melo has been on fire of late, scoring at least 40 points in three straight games. In the past three contests, Anthony has raised his scoring average to 28.3 points per game, just trailing NBA leader Kevin Durant (28.4 PPG).
While Anthony's torrid scoring streak isn't sustainable—and the Knicks aren't going to be winning any championships if they need to rely on that sort of output from the superstar—it certainly has been fun to watch and definitely could be the tipping point in this contest.
The battle between Anthony and Durant should be entertaining if nothing else.
Thunder Player to Watch: Russell Westbrook
While Kevin Durant leads the NBA in scoring and is arguably the best player in the world not named LeBron James, the more important player in this contest will be Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook is having another fine season, averaging 23.2 points and 7.6 assists per game. When he is hitting his shots at a high percentage, not forcing his own offense and finding open looks for his teammates, the Thunder are extremely difficult to beat.
Westbrook comes into this game on fire with three straight games of at least 20 points, seven rebounds and seven assists—including a triple-double last Saturday against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Durant may be the Thunder's best player, but Westbrook will be their most important on Sunday.
Key Matchup: Battle in the Paint
The obvious choice for the key matchup in this game would be the points extravaganza between Melo and Durant, but those guys are going to get their points—we all know that.
Which team is able to win the rebounding battle and earn second chances offensively will likely be the difference in this contest.
With the Knicks somewhat beat up on the block, Tyson Chandler will have to step up in a big way against Thunder bigs Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison. In a game between two teams that don't exactly struggle to score, defensive stops, turnovers and the rebound battle will be key.
If Chandler has a big game, the Knicks can go into OKC and pull off the win. But if the Thunder control the block, look for the home team to take the W.
The Knicks come into this game hot, having won 11 straight. But the Thunder have won six of seven, and, quite frankly, are simply the better team.
For as hot as Melo might be, Durant can match him point for point. For as good as J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton have been this season, the Knicks don't have an answer for Westbrook. And with the team being beat up on the block, it's hard to imagine New York competing with the Thunder on the boards.
If this game was being played at Madison Square Garden, I think the Knicks would have a shot at keeping the streak alive. But in Oklahoma City, the Thunder will get the win, 106-97.