Thunder (23-10, 7-6 road) vs. Hornets (17-15, 13-6 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 6:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 109.5 (2nd), Hornets – 103.8 (7th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 100.5 (10th), Hornets – 100.6 (11th)
23-10. As the calendar year turns, the Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves with the fourth best record in the league. Could it be better? Of course. Could it be worse? Very much so. But let’s remember a couple things: Of the top four teams, the Thunder are the only ones that experienced a coaching change. Of the top four teams, the Thunder and the Spurs were the only ones to experience significant roster changes. Yes, the Thunder retained all of their rotational core from last season, but with Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka coming back from injury, having to implement those two players with Enes Kanter, DJ Augustin, and Kyle Singler made it seem like a significant roster turnover. And of the top four teams, only the Thunder (Durant) and Cavaliers (Irving) had to deal with an early season injury.
With all that being said, the Thunder could be better. Their bench play has definitely been a weakness. The apparent switch of Cameron Payne for Augustin seems to have galvanized the bench unit in the last three games. The defense has been inconsistent all season long. This may be an effect of a new coaching staff/philosophy. But while they’ve shown improvement of late on the defensive end, they’ve also coupled that with with games where opponents seemingly get into the paint at will. In the last four games, the Thunder have allowed 59 points in the paint per game. Ironically though, they usually find a way to win games in the fourth quarter by dominating on the defensive end. Of the top four teams in the league, the Thunder seem to be the ones that can do the most improving by season’s end, which should be a scary proposition for the rest of the league.
This is the first meeting of the season between the Thunder and Hornets. The Thunder swept the season series last year, as Russell Westbrook dominated Charlotte by himself, posting averages of 31 points and 7.5 in the two games. Kevin Durant was absent for both meetings last year.The Opponent
The Hornets come into this game with a 17-15 record, having lost 7 of their 10 games. The Hornets did a major overhaul of their roster in the offseason to address their biggest weaknesses, which were perimeter shooting and wing play. They traded for Nic Batum, who is one of the best two way wings in the league. They traded for Jeremy Lamb and signed Jeremy Lin to be their main guards off the bench. And they drafted another perimeter-oriented big in Frank Kaminsky III. Those changes have netted the Hornets a much improved roster. They are a more balanced team and have spent much of the season in the top 10 of both offensive and defensive rating.
Injuries have begun to take their toll on the Hornets of late. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist suffered a torn labrum in the preseason that necessitated season-ending surgery. Al Jefferson will likely be out for 6 weeks following surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Lin (ankle) and Spencer Hawes (back) have been out the last few games with nagging injuries.
The Hornets are spear-headed by point guard Kemba Walker, who has played extremely well this season, averaging 18.8 points per game on 36% shooting from deep. Batum and PJ Hairston are one of the better defensive wing tandems in the league. Up front, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller are both undersized, but extremely crafty.3 Big Things
1. Small Ball
The injuries to Jefferson and Hawes have forced the Hornets to play small-ball. Zeller has started at center the last two games, and while he is a legit 7-footer, his game is more tailored to be a PF in the NBA. The same can be said about Kaminsky. Marvin Williams is a SF on most other teams, but is currently playing most of his minutes at PF this season. With that said, a small ball lineup can give the Thunder fits to start the game. Zeller, Kaminsky, and Williams will draw the Thunder big men away from the post defensively and can cause match-up nightmares. At the same time, the Thunder may finally be able to trot out a small ball line-up that features Durant as the 5 man.
There’s a saying in the NBA that benches don’t travel. Reserves tend to play good at home, but inconsistently on the road. If Billy Donovan follows the substitution pattern of the last 3 games, this will be Cameron Payne’s first road game as a bonafide member of the rotation. Luckily, Payne doesn’t seem to rattle easily.
He destroyed the Hornets last season. And when he looks across the court this season, he’ll see a player in Jeremy Lamb that he can lump together with Reggie Jackson. When Russell thinks of Reggie, he gets angry. Good luck, Charlotte.Slump-buster (The opposing player most likely to either break out of a slump or have a career game):
Marvin Williams – As a power forward, Williams is a match-up conundrum for the Thunder’s PF’s. He’s too quick on the perimeter for Ibaka and Collison. And he can shoot 3’s . I could definitely see Williams having a big game against us.