|2013-2014 NBA Season|
|March 2nd, 2014|
|Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma|
|6:00 PM Central Standard Time|
|TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, SportSouth|
|Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), SportsRadio The Fan 610 AM|
|Injury Report: Kendrick Perkins (Out), Thabo Sefolosha (Out), Brendan Haywood (Out), Jeffery Taylor (Out)|
|Previous Matchups: Dec 27 (Thunder Lead Season Series 1-0)|
|Kemba Walker||PG||Russell Westbrook|
|Gerald Henderson||SG||Andre Roberson|
|Michael Kidd-Gilchrist||SF||Kevin Durant|
|Josh McRoberts||PF||Serge Ibaka|
|Al Jefferson||C||Steven Adams|
|2013/14 Advanced Stats|
|95.3 (21st)||Pace||97.6 (11th)|
|99.0 (26th)||ORtg||107.5 (6th)|
|100.7 (6th)||DRtg||100.3 (4th)|
A lot has changed since the last time we played the Bobcats. On that occasion, the Thunder were playing their first game without Russell Westbrook, and everyone wanted to see how the team would fare. The game didn't tell us much of anything, because the Bobcats' forced the Thunder into an unusually slow-paced affair. It was almost like bizarro world that night, with the Thunder shooting poorly yet taking care of the ball well. They even managed to play solid defense, and win the game on a few consecutive empty Bobcat possessions.
I can guarantee you that tonight's game will be much different. On the Thunder's end, Russell Westbrook has returned. He's not athletically at 100%, but still finds a way to be just as effective as his old self. Meanwhile, Kendrick Perkins is sitting out with a long-term groin injury, and Thabo Sefolosha is sitting out with a short-term calf injury. On most teams, this would give a great opportunity for some of the more proven bench players to try and prove their talents with the starters. On the Thunder, it means starting their two mid-first round draft picks, Steven Adams and Andre Roberson. It's a possibly misguided effort to keep the strong bench unit together.
Speaking of the bench, they will be getting a big boost tonight. Actually, a huge boost. In the biggest move for a veteran that the Thunder have made since the 2010 Perk trade, they signed Caron Butler on Saturday. To be perfectly honest, I know very little about him. For a while I kept confusing him with Rasual Butler, and the fact that they both played for the Clippers a year apart really doesn't help matters. I do know that he's 33 years old, a two time All-Star, and that he's pretty renowned for his scoring.
But enough of my yakking. Here's some info on Caron Butler from the people who know him best. This summation of his abilities is taken from a 2012-2013 Season Review by John O'Connor of ClipsNation:
The Caron Butler that the Clippers acquired all these years later is not quite the player he was. Although we still see occasional flashes of athleticism with Butler finishing at the rim, he is primarily a jump shooter at this point in his career. He is no longer the elite rebounder he was for his whole career, and in fact, his numbers are down pretty much across the board since he joined the Clippers. He served the 2013 season as the teams starting small forward, but often found himself on the bench in crunch time, with Vinny Del Negro favoring Matt Barnes down the stretch.
Caron Butler earned his nickname. The guy is fearless, quick to stand up for his teammates. Offensively, he shot an impressive .388 from beyond the arc this season, providing some much needed floor spreading for the starting unit. He is a reliable free throw shooter, and like fellow veteran Chauncey Billups, an outstanding locker room presence and positive role model. Though injury kept him from playing in the Finals, he was a strong presence and contributor for the Champion Dallas Mavericks 2 years ago.
Caron Butler used to be a guy who could do it all. He was a gritty defender, a solid jumpshooter with three point range, and was explosive getting to the basket and finishing at the rim. He used to get to the free throw line as much as 6 times a game, and was one of the best rebounding small forwards in recent memory. But with age and injury, much of that athletic ability has been lost. Caron is still a smart player, but the majority of his shot attempts now are three's and long two's. His ability to attack the rim used to allow him to create for others ( he was a player who averaged above 4 assists a game a couple of time with the Wizards) something we don't really see anymore. While his strength and consistent effort allow him to have some success in preventing typical 3's from beating him physically in the low block, he doesn't quite seem to have the lateral quickness to keep quicker players in front of him.
TL;DR: He's a floor spacer. The one we've needed for eons.
Butler is expected to replace Perry Jones III in the regular 11 man rotation. Losing Jones will definitely give the Thunder an athletic disadvantage, but Butler's length should make him a more than suitable replacement. However, with Perkins and Sefolosha out tonight, Jones could potentially see minutes as a backup stretch four. Thabeet would be the only other player that could challenge him, but I don't think he'll see the floor unless Adams gets into foul trouble. To be fair, Thabeet's performance against the Grizzlies was impressive, but he's mainly useful in defensive situations, and Brooks hasn't favored him in the past.
Anyway, the Bobcats have won 5 of their last 7 games. During that streak, they boast wins over Memphis and Dallas. The success for Charlotte isn't isolated, as they haven't lost more than two straight since January 11th. Overall, the team is still 27-31, but in the Leastern Conference that's good enough for the 7th seed. Smelling success, management made a deadline deal with the Bucks for Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour. Neal is a quality role player that will bring scoring to Charlotte's struggling bench, while Ridnour will provide some level of veteran backup point guard leadership. He'll also probably nail a couple of transition threes in our faces.
Do the Cats have what it takes to win tonight? Really, it's kinda up in the air. Charlotte is very unique. They basically eliminate the transition game, always getting back on defense and rarely generating turnovers on either end of the floor. This means that they're capable of stopping the Thunder's offense in its' tracks, forcing the team out of the paint with excellent pressure.
The downside to that strategy for Charlotte is that the Thunder are a more talented team, so there's always the possibility that we'll just outscore them anyway. Last time, Kemba Walker's D really sent Reggie Jackson into a tizzy, keeping the game close. Tonight, I don't think that Westbrook will be similarly ineffective, so the Thunder should be able to win rather easily. The Bobcats simply aren't quick enough on the whole to take advantage of the Thunder's defensive flaws, and we can beat them at running half-court sets 9 out of 10 times.
What do you think of tonight's game? Let us know in the comments!