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2012-2013 Game 18 Preview: Thunder Quest For Blowout #2 At Hornets

After closing the door on the Jazz at home, the Thunder are facing the Hornets for the second time this season, and for the last time in New Orleans Arena. We take a look at the Hornets' upset of the Clippers this Monday and apply it to tonight.

Probably one of the more disturbing faces I've ever seen. He looks like "success" kid.
Probably one of the more disturbing faces I've ever seen. He looks like "success" kid.
Derick E. Hingle-USPRESSWIRE
2012-2013 NBA Season
The Oklahoma City Thunder (9-4)
The New Orleans Hornets (4-10)
November 24th, 2012
New Orleans Arena Seasoned by Zatarain's, New Orleans, Louisiana
7:00 PM CST
Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network New Orleans
WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1), KMEZ 106.7 FM
Enemy Blogs: At The Hive, Hornets 24/7
Previous Meetings: Nov 16th (Thunder Lead Season Series 1-0)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Greivis Vasquez
Thabo Sefolosha SG Roger Mason, Jr.
Kevin Durant SF Al-Farouq Aminu
Serge Ibaka PF Ryan Anderson
Kendrick Perkins C Robin Lopez

After closing the door on the Jazz at home, the Thunder are heading down to New Orleans to face the Hornets for the second time this season, and for the last time in New Orleans Arena.

When we last checked in with the Hornets, they were a promising young team that was fun to watch and semi-viable as they stood. GM Dell Demps had just signed a contract extension, and things were looking up.

....Yeah, that's all kinda hit the crapper. The Hornets have gone 1-6 since their encounter with the Thunder, with the sole badge on their chest being a big win over the Clippers. Making things worse is the fact that Anthony Davis has been out for most of that time, and will continue to be out for at least another week.

But, it is pertinent to explore what worked for the Hornets in their win over the Clippers, to see what it would take from them to make things interesting with the Thunder. To give us a quick rundown, I'm going to paste here three things the Hornets did right in their 105-98 win over the Clippers, as seen by RedHopeful of At the Hive:

1) Sustained offensive execution. The Hornets managed to avoid those drawn out putrid lulls we've become accustomed to this season. Despite missing Davis and Gordon, the Hornets shot over 50% from the floor (60% from downtown.) Sure the shooting was hot, but much of that had to do with our ability to get wherever we wanted to on the floor.

2) Invisible Clipper big men. Blake Griffin scored 4 points (lowest of his career), DeAndre Jordan did one worse with 3 points and Lamar Odom had 0. 7 points from your 3 best front court players? Thank you, I'll have another! Finally, the Hornets were able to remove a significant chunk of the opposing team's strategy when giving up their nightly allotment of open perimeter looks.

3) No Clipper transition. The Clippers were stuck playing half-court basketball. They've got one of the best at it in Chris Paul but this team relies on getting up and down the floor. Besides Caron Butler launching jumpers, no one else seemed to be having much fun out there. That's not good for a team that feeds off the energy from emphatic plays.

Obviously the Thunder are a different team than the Clippers, so all of the above reasons don't apply. But #1 certainly does. The Hornets can be a fantastic offensive team, and will score a lot at certain points of even the worst blowouts. But they usually endure long periods of stagnation, as evidenced by the Hornets near collapse despite obtaining a 17 point lead well into the fourth of that game.

The Hornets go through these doldrums because they're a team that likes to shoot. They don't get to the line very often and they don't rebound especially well, so how hot they are on any given night is critical to their success. Pretty much every player on their roster, even the bigs, have a jumpshot in them. This can lead to the team forcing some low percentage looks, since nobody likes to get to the rim except Anthony Davis. It's especially true for their guards, who like to stop and pop a lot. Still, when things are clicking, they click in a big way, and the Hornets offense is a beauty to behold.

I decided to investigate Red Hopeful's #2 reason for the Clippers' loss by taking a look at the shots taken by Griffin and Jordan in that game. What I found was rather surprising. The Hornets weren't using help defense to look for steals. Rather, some really solid post defense from Ryan Anderson and Robin Lopez kept the Clippers bigs grounded.

However, it should be noted that Chris Paul was basically able to get whatever he wanted against Greivis Vasquez, and Caron Butler was able to get tons of open threes. The Hornets would work too hard to play help defense and keep opposing guards from penetrating the lane, and they'd often be fooled by a simple screen to set someone up on the perimeter. In other words, like in the last matchup, this team should be easy picking for shooters like Durant and Martin, but guys who use their strength, like Perkins and Westbrook, will probably struggle.

But reason #3 holds especially true for tonight's matchup. The Thunder love to pressure and get out on the break, so if the Hornets got back on defense and controlled the ball, they could force the Thunder to a relatively even matchup. Well, even in the sense that if Thunder shooters were going cold, they would probably struggle.

In any case, I expect tonight's game to be an easy win, but not a blowout of epic proportions like the last matchup. No team can lose that badly twice. The Hornets will probably come out with a chip on their shoulder and at least challenge the Thunder for a few quarters. Perhaps they'll take the lead at some point. But at the end of the day, the Thunder just have the scorers necessary to destroy this team, and the pressure defense to interrupt their flow. The Hornets could win, but if they did, it would have to do with a few of their players just getting insanely hot from behind the arc.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 113, New Orleans Hornets 101,

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