Okla. City Thunder (41-24, 19-13 road) at Charlotte Bobcats (34-32, 24-8 home)
Offensive Rating: Thunder – 107.1 (16th), Bobcats – 103.5 (25th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 103.3 (6th), Bobcats – 102.8 (4th)
Pace: Thunder – 92.9 (14th), Bobcats – 90.6 (27th)
View from the enemy: Queen City Hoops
Thus starts an appealing, yet dangerous three-game road trip while March Madness engulfs the Ford Center. And tonight’s game in Charlotte, is probably the most difficult of the three. First, the Bobcats are playing extremely well. They’ve won six of seven and have been solid at home this season. They play excellent defense, have an All-Star in Gerald Wallace and a couple trades have really strengthened the team, most recently a deal that brought Theo Ratliff in.
Charlotte coming in: I pretty much just covered all of this, but the Bobcats are playing good basketball, but most recently lost on the road in Indiana last night. So this will be the back end of a back-to-back, but the Cats are good at home, where they’re 24-8.
The marquee matchup of the night will definitely be Gerald Wallace against Kevin Durant, if Wallace is able to play (sprained ankle). Wallace is an above average defender, but surprisingly, KD hasn’t had a ton of issues scoring against him (30 points the last time against Charlotte). Wallace is a bulldog though, and hits the glass as well as any small forward in the league. He prefers to score at the rim so Durant will have to play a little more physical than usual. (Wallace didn’t play Tuesday in the loss to Indiana because of a sprained ankle and is questionable for tonight. If he doesn’t play, it’ll be former OSU Cowboy Stevie Graham playing for him.)
They key matchup of the night though is Ray Felton against Russell Westbrook. Russ played well against Charlotte last time and most importantly, kept Felton from distributing much. Stephen Jackson is a big playmaker, so Thabo matching up on him is nice. Jackson can hit the 3 and is a gifted passer with good size, but Thabo’s length should be able to frustrate him some.
Inside, Theo Ratliff has supplanted Tyson Chandler in the starting five, and has played well. However, OKC’s athletic big men should have a big advantage of Charlotte’s more veteran, slower post players. Boris Diaw is an inconsistent player that can score on some nights, but completely disappear others. Jeff Green played solid against him last time, so this should be another matchup in favor of OKC. The Bobcat bench is stronger with new addition Tyrus Thomas coming off it and that should help with the inside athleticism. And if you’re not excited to watch Serge Ibaka go against Thomas tonight, then click that little red “X” at the top and get out of here.
This isn’t a difficult road trip necessarily, but it is a slightly scary one. Going to Charlotte, who is great at home will be tough. Indiana isn’t good, but the Pacers have beat solid teams in Conseco. And Toronto is a wounded team fighting for a playoff birth so at home, the Raps will likely play hard. A 2-1 trip would make me happy, but a 3-0 one would virtually cement the Thunder in the postseason. It all starts tonight in what will certainly be a defensive focused matchup. If you love pretty basketball, this might not be the game for you. But if you like a score in the 80s and two teams slogging it out on the offensive end, strap in.
Tip at 6:00 CDT. Go DEEE-FENSE.