Thunder take on Pistons in what may be battle of big men

The last time Chet Holmgren and Jalen Duren met in an important game — the second round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament — Holmgren got the better of Duren in Gonzaga’s 82-78 win over Memphis.

On Monday night in Oklahoma City, Holmgren and Duren square off for the first time in the NBA regular season when Holmgren and the Oklahoma City Thunder host Duren and the Detroit Pistons.

Both have had solid starts to their seasons.

Holmgren set a Thunder rookie record with seven blocks in his second game after missing last season with a foot injury.

Duren, a second-year player, is leading the NBA in rebounding with 15.3 per game through three games.

“I’m feeling really comfortable in my second season, but that’s not because of me,” Duren said. “My teammates and coaches have helped me make the game a lot easier.”

Duren has clicked particularly well with Cade Cunningham.

The pair is expected to play a key role in the Pistons’ future after Cunningham was the top overall pick of the 2021 NBA Draft and Duren was picked 13th overall in 2022.

The two played together in just nine games last season before Cunningham suffered a stress fracture in his left shin that ended his sophomore season.

Through three games, the duo is averaging more than 40 points and 18 rebounds.

“I think Cade and I are just kind of a match,” Duren said. “He’s got a high IQ and I’ve got a high IQ, and we know the type of players we are.

“When he’s got the ball in his hands, good things are going to happen. So I’m trying to get the ball to him.”

Holmgren has drawn plenty of tough assignments early in his rookie season, but none tougher than facing Denver’s Nikola Jokic in Sunday’s 128-95 loss to the defending champions.

Holmgren finished with 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting but struggled defensively as Jokic had 28 points, 14 rebounds and five assists.

Oklahoma City is also looking for better things from All-Star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who was just 2-of-16 in Sunday’s loss and finished with seven points, his fewest since December 2019.

“Some of it’s just the bounce of the ball,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “The things I respect about him is his ability to stay even through the ups and downs of the season, and this is obviously a down early on for his individual play. … There won’t be many nights like this for him.”

In each of his last two games where he was held to single-digit scoring – both during the 2021-22 season – Gilgeous-Alexander scored 30 or more points his next game.

James Wiseman (finger) could make his season debut for the Pistons. He’s listed as probable for Monday’s game, though Bojan Bogdanovic (right calf strain), Isaiah Livers (left ankle sprain) and Monte Morris (right quadriceps strain) remain out.

Jaylin Williams (right hamstring strain) and Kenrich Williams (lower back spasms) remain out for Oklahoma City.

The game is the first of two meetings between the teams this season. The teams have split their season series each of the last two seasons.