Over the first seven games of the season Seattle has demonstrated a willingness to let opposing guards score rather freely. Opposing guards have scored above their season average (as a unit, not necessarily as individuals) against the Sonics in all but two of the seven games. Orlando's guards hit their average against Seattle and Charlotte guards fell far below their average against Seattle, though they were missing one of their starting backcourt players. Miami barely outscored their average as well. I am more concerned by the glaring 17 points above average allowed to Portland; however, it is only a single game.
New Jersey gets essentially all of its scoring from four players, Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson, Nenad Kristic and Jason Kidd. They have some balanced scoring off the bench from Antoine Wright, Marcus Williams and Bostjan Nachbar all averaging 7-8 ppg at this point in the season. Richard Jefferson is not likely to play tonight as he continues to recover from a Grade 2 ankle sprain, which exposes a hole in New Jersey's offense as well as its defense. Antoine Wright struggled offensively in his first start of the season last night filling in for Jefferson, but Nachbar filled in admirably off the bench.
The Sonics face a team tonight that possesses offensive strength in the Sonics greatest area of defensive vulnerability. If the Sonics intend to even up their season at 4-4 before returning home on Wednesday, they will need to control Jason Kidd's penetration, limit Vince Carter's access to the basket and stay up on him on the perimeter. Carter is shooting 40.6% from long range this season, and in last night's game against the Wizards his three point shots seemed to come when the guards backed off him to cut off his drive, rather than from spot up shooting.
Nenad Kristic continues his strong play from last season, averaging eight rebounds, and almost 15 points per game. Last night he showed off a solid midrange jumper on the pick and pop as well as a solid hook shot. With Jefferson out the Sonics increase their chances of a win if they keep Kristic under control without letting the defensive minded Collins get going. Collins is not generally an offensive threat, but he will clean up the glass if not blocked out and he has a capable jumper if the Sonics choose to double team Kristic.
Nachbar and Robinson represent a threat off the bench with their shooting. The Sonics bigs have to remember that these guys are shooters and step out on them when they get the ball off the block. Williams' jumper looked a little unsteady last night, but he showed the ability to penetrate and score close to the basket.
Ridnour, Watson and the bigs will be critical in setting the defensive tone of the game. If they can hold Kidd, Williams and Carter below their season average of 50.2 points by staying close to them on the perimeter and closing out the paint to stop penetration, they Sonics can control the flow of the game.
The Nets are only allowing 96 points per game this season, with only one team even breaking the 100 point mark this year. Judging from last night's game against the Wizards, they are doing this with excellent team defense. Their guards limit penetration in the half court set and the bigs close gaps quickly if someone gets beat on the perimeter.
Defensively I saw two weak spots in the Nets play against the Wizards. Kristic does not play great defense, but he gets excellent help from Collins. So far this year the Nets have only won a single game where their bigs were outscored by the opponent, but that took 53 points from Carter and Jefferson to overcome. With Jefferson out of the lineup the Sonics need to exploit New Jersey in the post early and often, including using Rashard Lewis to post up the smaller Antoine Wright. Collins is a solid defender, but he has a tendency to foul which the Sonics can exploit. They need to let Wilcox, Petro, Collison and Fortson work the block. The Nets are excellent at rebounding and running, with Jason Kidd being a master of the break, and the bigs showing skill at the outlet pass. The Sonics cannot afford to take sloppy shots early in the clock from the perimeter because that will feed the Nets offense.
The Sonics need at least 30 points out of their post players to ensure a win tonight. Wilcox, Collison and Fortson will be critical, and anything that they can get out of Petro will be a bonus. I would love to see Nick hitting that midrange jumper so that Lewis can post up without threat of a double team.
All in all, this game is eminently winnable, though the presence of Carter and Kidd will make it a journey fraught with peril for the Sonics if they are not focused on their defense.