Where They At: Oklahoma City Thunder
We’re in a ho-hum stretch of the season, with the Thunder picking up ho-hum wins until some tougher opponents materialize down the road. Their five-game winning streak is currently the second-hottest streak in the league, behind only the Impossible San Antonio Spurs in both win tallies and team efficiency.
The Thunder have only lost five times since November, and their win over the Denver Nuggets last night looks like another "bad win" on paper (110-104) but I think it was of the quality victory variety. Denver can be a tough place to play, the Nuggets are giving everyone a run for their money these days (they even beat the Golden State Warriors), and the Thunder had a +15 overall outside of their starting unit. We know that starting unit is the most stable, dominant thing about this team, and the bench rotation one of the shakiest. If the Thunder aren’t immediately doomed by a poor run from their starters, that’s a good sign.
There is some sad news, though. #RIP Anthony Morrow, Thunder rotation player. I never trusted that Billy Donavan trusted Morrow more than he liked what Kyle Singler theoretically brought to the team, and decent play from the latter has done the sharp-shooter in (along with, to be fair, continued terrible defense from Morrow). Two DNP-CDs in a row, and no heavy minutes for Morrow in a long while, outside of the spot start when Durant sits. I do like the lineup versatility Singler can add when he’s playing not-terrible—Donavan has went big some with Singler at the 2, and small a bit more frequently with him at the 4 or 3 (with Kevin Durant fulfilling his destiny at the 4 alongside him). I still think it would be ideal to scheme their way into defense using their most potent players, but if Donavan can’t get it to work with those players, it’s understandable to lean more on the defensive ability of guys like Singler.
Where They At: Charlotte Hornets
The last time the Thunder played the Hornets, Charlotte was banged up but decent, still within reach of the top few seeds in the Eastern Conference. But they’ve lost 9 of 11, including that game, tumbling down to 12th in the Eastern standings. They are a little bit healthier now, but not whole, with Al Jefferson and Jeremy Lamb (questionable to return tonight) out. They just beat the Utah Jazz in a double-overtime MLK, Jr. holiday afternoon game, with Kemba Walker putting up 52 points, about the only thing they’ve had to write home about since December.
The Thunder are on a home back-to-back, and the Hornets have a day of rest on them. But those double-overtime minutes negate a little of that benefit, and the Hornets have played just as horribly on defense when they have a day of rest, especially during their current slide (their D rating is 115.8 in such contests over their last 11 games). You knew the simple truth without needing much analysis, though; the Thunder are better, and should beat the Hornets, handily, again.
Prediction: Thunder 121, Hornets 108
|2015-16 NBA Season Game 44|
|January 20th, 2015|
|Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City|
|7:00 PM Central Standard Time|
|TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma, Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass|
|Injury Report: Al Jefferson (Out), Jeremy Lamb (Questionable)|
|This Season's Matchups: Jan. 2 (W 109-90)|
|Kemba Walker||PG||Russell Westbrook|
|Nicolas Batum||SG||Andre Roberson|
|P.J. Hairston||SF||Kevin Durant|
|Marvin Williams||PF||Serge Ibaka|
|Cody Zeller||C||Steven Adams|