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Sixers-Thunder Preview: T.J. Versus Russ... It's Lit

With out tonight, will look to murder every Sixer past, present, and future... Also, Nerlens is back!

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

IMHBO (in my humble basketball opinion), there is no greater spectacle in today’s NBA than watching Russell Westbrook go absolutely bananas in the absence of Kevin Durant. We were treated to 40 such games last season, as the reigning MVP helplessly watched Russ jack shot after contested shot while sitting on the bench in a suit with a walking boot on his injured foot. As Thunder fans groaned (Westbrook’s led the Thunder to a 22-18 record and an eventual #9 seed in the West without KD), casual observers enjoyed the opportunity to watch a player with the athleticism of prime Vince Carter and the conscience of current-day Kobe Bryant try to absolutely murder everybody who got in his way.

Last year, Westbrook’s usage rate spiked to 42.4% without Durant, and after a setback in mid-February forced Durant to undergo a second surgery Westbrook averaged a ridiculous 31.3 points (41.7 FG%, 30.9 3P%), 9.9 assists, and 8.7 rebounds per game over the final 27 games of the season. He notched nine triple-doubles in that span, and had a stretch in which he did so in four consecutive games. The final triple-double of that four-game stretch came against the Sixers, who traveled to Oklahoma City on March 4 just weeks after dealing away Michael Carter-Williams at the trade deadline.

With Isaiah Canaan and Ish Smith handling point guard duties for Philadelphia that day, Westbrook had, honestly, one of the most dominant regular season performances I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching from beginning to end. He torched the Sixers for 49 points on 16-for-33 shooting, pulled down 15 rebounds, dished out 10 assists, notched three steals, and did this:

With Kevin Durant sidelined once again, this time due to a hamstring injury that is expected to knock him out for 7-10 days, at minimum, Westbrook will surely be given the green light. And with a Sixers trotting out T.J. McConnell and Phil Pressey at the point guard position due to the continued absence of Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten (and the fact that McConnell is GOAT), Westbrook is surely licking his chops.

The Sixers are still looking for their first win of the season, and with Nerlens Noel expected to return to action without a minutes restriction after missing two straight games with dual wrist sprains from a fall against the Cavaliers the team should be more competitive than it’s been the last couple times out. After dropping the first two games of the season by a combined total of 45 points, Philadelphia lost each of its next four by eight or fewer points. Without Noel, they’ve been outscored by 39 total points in their last two losses.

With and without Noel, rookie center Jahlil Okafor has been a monster on the offensive end this season, averaging 20.6 points per game, which leads not only all first-year players but all NBA centers, and shooting 50.7% from the field in the process. The 19-year-old went from averaging 5.5 boards per game in his first six outings to 11.0 in the absence of the team’s leading rebounder, Noel, so it will be interesting to see if those numbers slip again with him back in the lineup.

Undrafted rookie and folk hero T.J. McConnell is coming off a game against the Raptors Wednesday in which he notched 13 assists with just two turnovers. Amazingly, the 23-year-old point guard ranks fifth in the NBA in assists per game (8.3) this year, an even more shocking feat when you consider that the Sixers have the second-to-worst offensive rating in the league.

Richaun Holmes injured his hamstring during warmups on Wednesday and will be out for 8-10 days, according to Coach Brown. And Robert Covington is expected to return to action Monday after missing all but one game this season due to a right knee sprain suffered in the Sixers' preseason finale.

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