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2010-2011 Game 24 Preview: Oklahoma City at New Orleans; Mirror Images?

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This also counts as an open thread, so feel free to post your thoughts during the game here.

Records: The Oklahoma City Thunder (15-8) vs. The New Orleans Hornets (14-7)

Time: 7:00 PM Central Standard Time

Place: The New Orleans Arena, New Orleans, Louisiana

TV: Fox Sports Net 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 Meeting(s): Nov. 29th.

Since we last saw the Hornets, they've played .500 ball.

And they're about as average a team as you'll find in the NBA right now. The beat the teams they're supposed to beat quite handily, but when it comes to the teams they shouldn't be beating, they lose quite handily.

But, therein lies the conundrum. Are they supposed to beat the Thunder? Are the Thunder supposed to beat them? Both teams have nearly identical records. Both feature a young PG who is adept at scoring on the inside (Paul and Westbrook). Both feature a high scoring forward (West and Durant). Both have similarly skilled third options (Ariza and Green), defensively focused centers (Okafor and Ibaka), and shooting guards who didn't break out until well into their careers (Bellinelli and Sefolosha). The question is, are we staring into a mirror? Do the Hornets truly represent where the Thunder are at right now?

Below: The Answer, The Thunder's Advantages, Prediction!

My answer would be no. While the structure of the teams is quite similar, the Hornets are much more prone to scoring droughts and troubles. Their offense is much more one-dimensional in that all three of their primary scorers prefer to score on the inside. On top of that, Okafor scores the same way. So the only scorer they have who primarily scores out of the paint is Marco Bellinelli, who can be on or off on any given night. And yes, I know that Chris Paul hits threes, David West goes mid-range, and Trevor Ariza hits threes, but these are all not their primary method of scoring.

Meanwhile, the Thunder has an inside scorer in Westbrook, but also two mid-range scorers in Durant and Green. We still struggle mightily from three point range, but our offense is still much more diverse than the Hornets. But our other main advantage lies in our bench. Serge Ibaka didn't score a single point the last time these two teams met, but he and Nick Collison did a superb job of locking down the paint, especially when New Orleans had their backups in. The Hornets will struggle mightily tonight, but I see no other result than a Thunder victory. (In my head, anyway. The actual result may be much different. :-P)

Prediction: Oklahoma City 97, New Orleans 88