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Sixers vs. Thunder Preview: Silencing Loud City

After a two-day Thanksgiving break, the Philadelphia 76ers take on the Oklahoma City Thunder in an early season test against one of the elite teams in the NBA's Western Conference.

Hands up, baby, hands up.
Hands up, baby, hands up.

Something has to give.

With the Philadelphia 76ers (7-5) preparing to face the Oklahoma City Thunder (9-4) at the Wells Fargo Center tonight, Jrue Holiday and Co. simply cannot afford to stumble coming out of the blocks.

Earlier in the week, Doug Collins hinted at a possible lineup change given the 76ers propensity for slow starts. Through 12 games, the Sixers have been outscored in the first quarter nine times. The beginning of Wednesday's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers was particularly atrocious: Collins used 11 players in the first quarter in an effort to find some sort of viable combination, but the Sixers still found themselves down by 13 after 12 minutes.

If Collins does shuffle the starting lineup, Evan Turner would appear to be the odd man out. And while using Turner off of the bench would leave the Sixers at a disadvantage defensively early in games, a change may be just the spark that the team needs in order to avoid digging itself into a hole. For a squad that has trouble scoring over the course of 48 minutes (89.8 PPG - 29th in the NBA), a strong start is vital: In those games in which they've led after the first quarter, the 76ers are 3-0.

Conversely, the Thunder have been pretty good in the first quarter this season: Oklahoma City has outscored their opponents in 10 of 13 games so far in the 2012-13 campaign. But even a 28-21 opening quarter lead last night couldn't prevent the Thunder from suffering a 108-100 loss to the Boston Celtics at the TD Garden. Kevin Durant led Oklahoma City with 29 points, while point guard Russell Westbrook added 26 points, eight assists, seven rebounds.

Kevin Martin may not be as versatile as James Harden, but the former Houston Rocket has adjusted rather well to his role as the Thunder's 6th man. Martin is averaging 16.7 PPG this season, and is shooting an impressive 52.4 percent from beyond the arc. Martin, Durant and Westbrook are the three leading scorers for an explosive Oklahoma City attack that currently ranks second in the league in scoring (102.8 PPG).

The Thunder are absolutely dangerous in transition (a league-best 1.39 points per possession according to Synergy), so if the Sixers don't knock down those long 2s that they've become enamored with, it may be a long night down at the Wells Fargo Center.

Player to watch: Russell Westbrook

Jrue Holiday's intensity on the defensive end has been downright beautiful at times this season, so getting a chance to see him go one-on-one with Westbrook tonight will (hopefully) be a treat. In five career games versus the Sixers, Westbrook is averaging 19.4 points and 11.4 assists (and also 4.8 turnovers). Holiday, meanwhile, averages 16.6 PPG and 5.4 APG against Oklahoma City.

Odds and Ends:

  • In last season's sole meeting between the two teams, the Thunder beat the 76ers 92-88 at the Wells Fargo Center back on February 29. Oklahoma City shot only 38.5 percent on the night as Durant and Westbrook combined to shoot 14-for-38 from the floor.
  • "Saving Grace" is the only major network show that was set in Oklahoma City.
  • There are a few unofficial OKC/Thunder Up/Loud City theme songs out there on the World Wide Web. This one isn't terrible.
  • To get the OKC angle on tonight's game, Welcome to Loud City.
  • Philadelphia 76ers Tickets

Prediction: Thunder 98, Sixers 89

Typically, this would be a good chance for the Sixers to steal one from an Oklahoma City team on the latter half of a back-to-back. But with a loss to the Celtics still fresh on their minds (and with a 3-0 record in the second half of back-to-backs this season), expect the Thunder to pull out a hard-fought victory.

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