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Thunder vs. Hornets Preview: Will Thunder continue to sleep on Jeremy Lamb?

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The Hornets are hurting--could the former Thunder guard haunt them in the reunion?

W. Bennett Berry

Where They At: Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder are rolling, gripping tight to the third seed with an opportunity to make up some games against San Antonio over a fairly easy stretch through mid-January. The face of Billy Donavan’s latest rotation shift is Cameron Payne, who has been a revelation while running second-team offense, which has fortunately masked some really poor defense from the rookie.

Payne is not the only, or even most significant, thing happening with the Thunder rotation, though. Donavan has abandoned his five-man bench unit along with D.J. Augustin, and leaned on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook for more minutes of late (watching the Cole Adriches and Robert Sacres and Randy Foyes of the world torch his reserves might have broken him). He’s also kept Durant at the four for longer stretches, alternating between Anthony Morrow and Kyle Singler on the wing in some fourth quarters instead of Dion Waiters. KD at 39 MPG over the last three games is somewhat alarming, but I think Donavan will find more success with these new lineups than he has with the old ones, and he’ll likely distribute minutes better once he exhales and sees the rest his roster isn’t quite as bad as it was performing to open the season.

Where They At: Charlotte Hornets

Despite an early surge that had Charlotte up to the Eastern Conference’s second seed for a time, the Hornets have come down to earth a bit and sit at just fourth in their division with a 17-15 record (the Southeast Division is really good). They’ve played better than a 17-15 team, ranking eighth in the league in team net rating. They’re banged up, though, with Al Jefferson out another month-plus, and Jeremy Lin and Spencer Hawes could miss tonight’s game as well. (Of course, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is already out for the year.) They’ve dropped five of seven.

Time to go there: You know who the Thunder could use right now? Jeremy Lamb. Since being given to Charlotte for basically nothing, the 23-year-old shooting guard has had a career year for the Hornets. After three years of uncertainty and inconsistent playing time (and, to be fair, inconsistent performance) at Oklahoma City, Lamb has improved substantially as a scorer, rebounder, and defender. Those incremental gains in his game all look very normal for a fourth year player; the biggest change has simply been playing time. Somehow, in the Thunder’s injury-ravaged 2014-15 season, Lamb still only saw 13.5 minutes per game. He’s at 21.9 with the Hornets, making the most of his time with 11.1 points and 4.5 boards a contest. ANYWAYS.

The Matchup

The Thunder are still lacking in quality road wins, but they catch a break in facing the Hornets as they’re limping. Lamb’s intensity was never through the roof, so I would imagine he won’t be angling for a blood-soaked nightmare of a revenge, but if Jeremy Lin sits, expect to see a lot of smooth, sleepy Lamb goodness that the Thunder slept on. One other thing to watch: the Hornets take and make the third-most threes in the league, and the Thunder give up the eighth fewest attempts. If the Thunder cracks on the perimeter from the last few games continue, the Hornets could steal this one.

Prediction: Thunder 108 Hornets 99

2015-16 NBA Season Game #34
(Won 3)

(Lost 2)
January 2nd, 2015
Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, NC
6 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma, Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass
Injury Report: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Out), Al Jefferson (Out), Jeremy Lin (Questionable), Spencer Hawes (Questionable)
This Season's Matchups: N/A
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Kemba Walker
Andre Roberson SG P.J. Hairston
Kevin Durant SF Nicolas Batum
Serge Ibaka PF Marvin Williams
Steven Adams C Cody Zeller