Oklahoma City Thunder vs New Orleans Hornets: 2011-2012 Game 32 Preview

Records: New Orleans Hornets (7-23) at Oklahoma City Thunder (24-7)

Time: 7:00 PM Central Standard Time

Place: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Cox Sports Television

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), KMEZ 106.7 FM

Enemy Blog(s): At The Hive, Hornets 24/7

Previous Meetings: Jan. 11, Jan. 25 (Thunder lead series 2-0)

***

A night after the Thunder put forth a three man effort made for the record books, OKC welcomes the Hornets into the Chesapeake Arena tonight to try and keep their two game win streak going. The Hornets come into tonight's game with a a weak 7-23 record. However, it is important to consider not what the Hornets did a month ago when the two teams played last, but what they've done most recently. They are on a win streak of their own, having won three in a row. Most importantly, the Hornets were the team that halted the Jeremy Lin tidal wave that had swept the nation. Last Friday night, the Hornets played Lin and the Knicks extremely physically, forced him into a nine turnover game, and came away with the huge upset win.

I expect that the Hornets will take a similar approach tonight as they contend to deal with Russell Westbrook. Just like they did with Lin, the Hornets have forced Westbrook into a combined nine turnovers in the two times they have played. Even though the Hornets are struggling offensively, they are still playing well on the defensive end of the court. They are allowing only 93 points per game, and so if they can continue to hold teams to the low 90's, they give themselves a chance to win in the end.

Of course, the opposite side of that coin is also true - the Hornets only average 87 points per game, and so even if the defense does its job, the team is still stretching to their limits to put enough points on the board to even give themselves a chance.

I think that the biggest challenge for the Thunder tonight is to disassociate themselves from last night's track meet and remember that New Orleans is a completely different team with a completely different philosophy. They will play stout defense, slow the game down, and hope they can force Westbrook, Durant and company into unforced errors on which they can capitalize. OKC's tendency might be to try and bury the Hornets early, but I think that if they take a more patient and deliberate approach, by the 3rd quarter the talent disparity will manifest in a lead. The Hornets want to prey on OKC's biggest weakness, which is turnovers. OKC must prevent that from happening.

A strong defensive focus tonight should force the onus on the Hornets to score enough points to win. Careless play is the recipe for disaster, so let's hope the Thunder are ready to concentrate tonight at tip-off.

***

Prediction: Thunder 97, Hornets 89

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