Pregame Primer: Oklahoma City Thunder (14-4) at Nets (11-5); 7:30 P.M.

Deron Williams

Deron Williams

The Brooklyn Nets return to action in Barclays Center tonight at 7:00 P.M. when Deron Williams and company play host to Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Nets are coming off of a loss to the Miami Heat on Dec. 1 and have the rare opportunity to play back-to-back games against the Eastern and Western Conference Champions.

If the Nets want a victory tonight, here are some keys…

Reggie Evans Joins Brook Lopez on Injured List

As most Nets fans are aware at this point, Brook Lopez is battling a minor injury to his foot. He is expected to miss his third straight game and Andray Blatche is expected to start in his place. The bigger news coming out of this morning’s shootaround, though, is the fact that Reggie Evans is going to miss tonight’s game. Evan has the flu and has been ruled out.

Without either Lopez or Evans, the Nets will be awfully thin in the paint. The Thunder lack a traditional post offense, but Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both adept at attacking off the dribble and both are extremely explosive finishers at the rim.

The Nets now have the tough task of limiting the Thunder’s points in the paint without its two best rim defenders.

Kevin Durant Fired Up

Earlier, Kevin Durant told the media that he was excited to play in Brooklyn. With most alpha males, that normally means they’ll put up a lot of shots and attempt to take over the game. Durant, though, is a different type of superstar. Even still, it will be interesting to see how he plays tonight.

What makes the Thunder one of the NBA’s best teams is their balance. Kevin Martin, the team’s sixth man, scores 16.1 points per game, and he rounds out of foursome of Thunder players that each average at least 14. Serge Ibaka (14.3), Russell Westbrook (20.7) and Durant (26.2) all score the ball well.

If the Thunder stick to that script and find that balance, it may make the game tougher for the Nets.

With Keith Bogans and Gerald Wallace defending Durant, if they can turn him into a volume shooter and have him attempt more than the 16.6 shots he averages per game, it may actually improve their chances tonight.

Kris Humphries Must Step Up

Without Evans, Kris Humphries will be needed, perhaps more so than at any other point this season. Humphries struggled defensively early and even saw his usual productivity on the glass slip. Last season, he averaged 13.8 points per game ad grabbed 11 board to go along with it. He was one of only a few NBA players to average a double-double and that made the Nets decision to reward him with a two-year contract worth $24 million easier.

Thus far this season, though, Humphries has struggled. He’s averaging just 8.1 points per game and 8.1 rebounds. Those numbers are solid, but many expected more from Humphries. Entering play on Tuesday, he’s averaging just 24 minutes per game, a significant decrease from the 35 he played last season. Evans’ productivity is a major reason why. But with no Evans, Humphries will have an opportunity to regain some of his coach’s trust if he can hit midrange jumpers, keep Ibaka out of the paint and help open up the floor for Joe Johnson and Deron Williams.

Obviously, he will need to be a more productive rebounder, as well.

Homecourt Advantage

As 7-1, the Nets enter Tuesday night’s contest as the fourth best home team in the NBA. But the Thunder (5-2) are the second best road team in the league. Something has to give, and that explains why coach Avery Johnson, earlier, said that the Nets “need” their fans tonight.

Tune in tonight at 7:30 P.M. as the Nets play host to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The game will be televised on the YES Network but will also be broadcast on NBA TV.