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Refined Thunder concoct plans for resolute Hornets (Update)

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Four new dudes! Who plays, who sits? Also, can Mo Williams replace Kemba Walker tonight?

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There will be soooo many open floaters tonight!
There will be soooo many open floaters tonight!
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Update: Kevin Durant will sit out tonight's game with a sore right foot.

The right foot is the one that Durant had surgery on prior to the season, and it has been giving him some issues over the past week. The Thunder are likely extra cautious, because a re-inured Durant will put OKC's playoff chances in jeopardy. At this point however, the team is not overly worred:

***

It's been a big week for the Thunder. Russell Westbrook took home the All-Star game MVP, Reggie Jackson and Kendrick Perkins were traded away, four new players arrived, the Thunder destroyed the Mavs, and Kevin Durant dealt with more soreness in his foot. If you're reading this, you probably know all of that already.

What you might not know is that the Thunder's newest four players will be available tonight. Any of the new guys stand a chance of getting significant time, as Brooks has historically been known to throw in his new players rather quickly. Here are my bold predictions for how the Thunder's minutes will shake out....

  • Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka will all keep their minutes. Duh.
  • Nick Collison will start and grab 20-25 minutes a game. He's too good when he's out there with the big 3, because they've played together for so long.
  • Andre Roberson will lose his spot in the rotation and become the tenth man (tonight: ninth man). He's just not worth developing when the Thunder have so much on the line. He might play in short stints for his D.
  • D.J. Augustin will start at shooting guard. He works really well off the ball and will shine next to Westbrook.
  • Enes Kanter will play backup center for about 20-25 minutes. Maybe a bit longer with Adams out. We need him to generate offense, and he can't do that so well against starting Cs.
  • Dion Waiters will remain at 25-30 minutes a game. He'll experiment with running point.
  • Anthony Morrow will see his minutes reduced to a Fisher-esque 15-20 a game unless he gets hot. A bit more tonight with Adams out.
  • Kyle Singler will be the ninth man (tonight: eighth man). Sometimes used and sometimes not, he fills out lineups in the middle of the game and takes threes.
  • Steve Novak will be out of the rotation at the 11th man spot. Too much of a defensive liability.
  • Mitch McGary will be out of the rotation at the 12th man spot. He's promising but he's just too inexperienced to be consistently effective at this point.
  • Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones will be at the end of the bench, with Jones in over Lamb. These guys have had their chance in OKC. Jones has seen limited burn, but Lamb is in Coach Brooks' doghouse. Either way, it's hard to see them getting time over all of there established guys.

My predictions are pretty out there, but the Thunder have never had so many new personnel coming in at once. There's no telling what's going to happen!

On the other end of the stick, the Charlotte Hornets aren't in good spirits. Charlotte lost star point guard Kemba Walker to injury until March 16th, and lost three straight games before the All-Star break. Still, the Hornets are legitimately expecting to make a run at the playoffs. Charlotte went 10-4 in January, and currently sits at seventh in the Eastern Conference. The Hornets are even trading as if they were a contender, making a deal for veteran PG Mo Williams a few days before the deadline.

Williams will likely debut against the Thunder, and it's not absurd to think that he'll start over Brian Roberts. This might mean a bit of trouble for Oklahoma City, as Russell Westbrook had a bit of trouble against Mo Williams in the past. For his career, Westbrook is averaging 37.5% from the floor when playing against Mo, as opposed to his regular mark of 43%. Furthermore, Westbrook struggled against Mo earlier this year, shooting 32%.

Still, the Hornets have traditionally not been a match for the Thunder. Simply put, the Hornets are dead last in the NBA when it comes to 3 point shooting. As a team, they average 30%. The Thunder love to trap and defend the rim at all costs, so opposing teams simply must be able to shoot threes in order to survive. The Hornets almost never shoot threes well. If this weren't bad enough for Charlotte, a good deal of their offense runs through Al Jefferson. Grounded players like Al Jefferson have never been effective against the Thunder's more physical defenders. That might change with the loss of Perkins, and Jefferson's line tonight might be a good indicator of how OKC's new defense will stack up against teams like Memphis and Memphis and Memphis.

If you're looking for players to watch on Charlotte's end, look no further than Cody Zeller and Gerald Henderson. The bigger names for Charlotte have had tougher seasons, but these two seem to be finding their stride. Cody Zeller is a really mobile, fundamentally sound big who can hit a 12-foot jumper. Zeller's never going to wow you with any one big thing, but he will do a ton of little things and almost always has a positive line. Henderson is a scoring guard that really struggled to start the season, but has come on as of late. Gerald's not a three point shooter, but is extremely effective at shooting off of screens. Henderson can also drive the lane relatively well and gets to the rim on occasion.

If Charlotte is going to win tonight, it's going to be through defense. Even in their best games, it's rare to see Charlotte shoot a high percentage or push the ball. When the Hornets do win, they do it through forcing turnovers or forcing the other team to shoot an absurdly low percentage. I can't see Charlotte accomplishing either tonight, simply because Steve Clifford will refuse to double-team big stars like Westbrook and KD.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 109, Charlotte Hornets 88.

What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!

2014-15 NBA Season Game 55
@
29-25
(Won 4)

22-30
(Lost 3)
February 21st, 2015
Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, North Carolina
6:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, SportSouth
Injury Report: Steven Adams, Kemba Walker, Bismack Biyombo (Out)
This Season's Matchups: Dec 26 (W 98-75)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Mo Williams
D. J. Augustin SG Gerald Henderson
Kevin Durant SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Nick Collison PF Cody Zeller
Serge Ibaka C Al Jefferson

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