Thunder vs. Hornets: Pregame Primer

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Thunder (21-14, 8-8 road) vs. Hornets (19-16, 11-7 home)

TV: FSOK
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 6:00 PM CST

Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)

  • Offensive Rating: Thunder – 104.6 (15th), Hornets – 105.5 (13th)
    Defensive Rating: Thunder – 103.5 (6th), Bucks – 103.6 (7th)

The winnable games. The ones teams look back on when their playoff seeding is not as high as they intended it to be. The ones that haunt you. The Milwaukee game was extremely winnable. The Thunder had the Bucks down by as much as 15 in the first half. But the bench couldn’t maintain the lead like they had in previous games, and Russell Westbrook wasn’t quite “watch the world burn” Russell Westbrook for all four quarters of the game. In the end, the result of the game kind of mirrored the Thunder’s performance as the game wore on.

Seven of the Thunder’s 14 losses have been by 4 points or less. Win just three of those and the Thunder’s standing in the conference is that much stronger. With the propensity for the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz to be injury-prone, winning those types of games could be the Thunder’s answer to sneaking into the top-4 of the Western Conference. January could have gotten off to a better start, but the Thunder have a winnable game in front of them as they face the Charlotte Hornets on the road tonight.

Season Series Preview

This is the first of two meetings this season between the Thunder and Hornets. The Thunder swept the season series last year, winning both games by at least 16 points.

The Opponent

The Hornets come into this game with a 19-16 record, having lost their last 2 games. The Hornets are offensively efficient, while being a nightmare for wings on the defensive end. The pairing of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Nic Batum on the perimeter allows the Hornets to focus a lot of their energy on the interior defensively. The only issue is the fact that the Hornets do not have a rim protector. Roy Hibbert is not the same defender he was in Indiana, and the Hornets haven’t been able to replace Bismack Biyombo’s presence in the two years since he left.

The team is led by point guard Kemba Walker, who is playing the best ball of his career, averaging 23.0 points and 5.4 assists per game on 42% shooting from deep. Nic Batum has become the jack of all trades for this team, leading them in rebounding and assists, while also providing nearly 15 points per game. Marco Belinelli returns from an ankle injury to further provide perimeter shooting for the Hornets. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is completely healthy after missing much of the past two seasons with shoulder issues. Former Thunder guard Jeremy Lamb has been Jeremy Lamb’ing since signing a 3 year extension last season. He’ll look great for a game or two, and then go back to his inconsistent self. Up front, the Hornets will be without Cody Zeller for a second consecutive game as he recovers from a concussion.

Injuries:

Cameron Payne (foot)

3 Big Things

1. Rebounding

The Hornets grab 79.7% of the available defensive rebounds. That is 2nd best in the league. Oklahoma City, on the other hand, grabs 26.2% of the available offensive rebounds available to them. Whoever wins this battle will likely dictate the style of play each team wants to play.

2. Forcing turnovers

The Hornets average on 12 turnovers per game, which is best in the league. Their offense is not too flashy, with a lot of it being predicated on Walker either shooting, driving, or dishing it out to someone who is likely open. If the Thunder can create a couple more turnovers than usual for the Hornets, it may help them in getting a road victory.

3. Russell Westbrook/Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan just saw his team get torched by Jimmy Butler to the tune of 52 points in Jordan’s old stomping grounds. While the relationship between Jordan and Westbrook is very friendly, I could see Westbrook taking this opportunity to have one of those surreal, statistical games that could have Jordan reacting like this….