Oklahoma City’s record versus the Hornets in 2010-11: 3-1
Average score: 96.3 – 91.3
Kevin Durant’s average and shooting percentage: 29.0 ppg, 45.5 percent
Games against them in 2011-12: Four
How they match up: Maybe one of the most entertaining head-to-head matchups in the league is Chris Paul versus Russell Westbrook. Both are extremely feisty, emotional point guards and they don’t hold back one bit in going after each other. The Hornets rely so much on CP3 that in games where Westbrook played as well or better than Paul, Oklahoma City handled the Hornets. Because looking at the Hornets roster, there’s not a ton of help. The Thunder didn’t play them after the Perk trade but if anything, this current Thunder roster matches up much better with the Hornets than the old one.
David West may or may not be back in New Orleans but substituting Serge Ibaka for 40 minutes on West instead of Jeff Green is a major help.
Why they’re a problem: Because of Chris Paul. He showed in the opening round of the playoffs last year that when he’s good, the Hornets are dangerous. And if David West returns, the CP3-West pick-and-pop combo is one of the toughest offenses to defend in the league. The Hornets aren’t always great, but under Monty Williams they’ve become a sturdy defensive team that can and will grind out games against you.
And in the end, it’s all about having the best point guard in the league. They’re a problem any time No. 3 is on the floor because when he’s healthy, he can make all the difference.
Why they’re not: There’s just not enough talent on the team. Again, Paul is wonderful, West is great (if he returns and recovers from his knee injury) and there are some other decent complimentary pieces. But looking back, giving away Marcus Thornton for Carl Landry wasn’t a good idea because the Hornets need more scoring help. Trevor Ariza isn’t an answer, Marco Belinelli doesn’t give you consistent scoring and after that, where do the points come from? The Hornets could be good enough to slide into the back end of the postseason, but that’s just a credit to Paul. And if West doesn’t return, the Hornets will likely become fodder for the top of the West.
Are they a roadblock? Not really, but the Hornets do have a chance to build around Paul. They’re working on clearing a little cap space and are trying to bring in some young talent. As of today, they aren’t a team that will stand in the way of the Thunder and the top of the West, but there’s an opportunity for them to climb the ladder. Re-sign West, bring in another scorer and make sure Paul is happy and healthy and that’s a top six Western team. Lose West, flop on any new faces and you’ll have a disgruntled CP3 and really, a pretty average Hornets team.