The jet-setting Oklahoma City Thunder battle a slightly downturned Charlotte Hornets iteration Wednesday night from The Spectrum Center.
Both Oklahoma City and Charlotte suffered road setbacks in their previous outings. Monday, the Thunder dropped a rugged 98-94 contest in Milwaukee. Meanwhile, Charlotte experienced a 118-111 defeat to the Chicago Bulls.
During tonight’s well-matched interconference skirmish, each squad will look to reestablish positive traction.
For OKC, the season’s initial meeting with Charlotte will also represent the first of back-to-back contests. Entering Wednesday’s foray, the Thunder sports an even 8-8 away record, while the Hornets are 11-7 at home.
Last season, Oklahoma City swept Charlotte 2-0. However, in those duels, fringe All-Star Kemba Walker averaged 26.5 ppg, while shooting 46.5% from the field.
This season, Walker leads the Hornet’s #13-ranked offense with excellent averages of 23 ppg, 5.4 apg, and 4.2 reb. Further, Walker’s overall shooting line of 46.9/42/82.5% is indeed an impressive mark.
As Charlotte is capable offensively, the team’s bread and butter under Head Coach Steve Clifford is defense and rebounding.
Although the Hornets’ 19-16 record is established upon well-balanced two-way utility, statistical data supports a stronger trend toward defensive execution. Two of the main reasons for the Hornets’ success in this department are Nicholas Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
While Kidd-Gilchrist is a hard hat contributor (8.4 reb per 36 mins), Batum is among the league’s premiere all-around performers. Overall, Batum averages 14.9 ppg, 7.6 rebs, and 5.9 apg while helping spearhead the league’s #9 lowest OPP FG defense.
The Hornets rank second league-wide in defensive rebounding (36.1)
Offensively, Charlotte leads the NBA in fewest turnovers per game (12) and places seventh in total assists (23.6). The Hornets will often attempt the three-pointer (26.9 3PA), yet at 9.5 3PM rank among the league’s middle-tier in connects.
For Oklahoma City to be successful opposite their well-schooled counterpart, point of attack pick-and-roll defense is vital. Kemba Walker should be routinely harassed on the switch, and the Thunder bench must provide positive contributions. Also, a steady dose of ‘fourth quarter’ Russell Westbrook is imperative in what appears on paper as a grind-it-out type matchup.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Following a four-game winning streak, Oklahoma City has now lost two-of-three. Opposite Milwaukee, Russell Westbrook’s shot floundered throughout an ill-fated second half. The NBA’s scoring leader (30.9) misfired on 3-of-17 post intermission attempts vs. the Bucks.
Once ahead by as many as 15 points at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, the Thunder ended up on the wrong end of a 29-16 third-quarter blitzing. OKC’s perimeter defense collapsed during a nightmarish penultimate frame.
In total, the Thunder’s offense sputtered to the tune of 38 second-half points.
On a positive note, vs. Milwaukee even a sub-par (instead of horrid) Westbrook performance to conclude matters likely would’ve resulted in a Thunder win. While Charlotte is a bit better than the Bucks, they are still easily within OKC’s realm of defeatable opponents.
The Southeast Division leading Hornets have split their last four outings. Charlotte limited its prior two victims to an anemic 91.5 ppg. However, amid the Hornets’ recent losing streak, emboldened foes have averaged 119.5 ppg against the usually stalwart Charlotte defense.
Chicago utilized a scorching fourth-quarter to overcome a late deficit and send the Hornets to a second-consecutive defeat. Not even Walker’s nine point, final-period display could deflect the Bulls’ 12-of-24, 36-point night-capping onslaught.
Entering Wednesday’s competitive proceedings, interior standout Cody Zeller (concussion) will be unavailable. For Charlotte, this poses a major setback, as Zeller’s on-court presence greatly enhances his team’s efficiency ratings. The Hornets’ OFFRTG is +10 with Zeller in tow. More importantly, the team’s DEFRTG is +5.1 when Zeller plays.
With Zeller sidelined, the Thunder’s reliable two-man game between Westbrook and Adams should find a much easier launching pad.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS/INJURY REPORTS
The Charlotte Hornets will be without Cody Zeller (Concussion) and Marco Belinelli is listed (ankle) as questionable. The Oklahoma City Thunder has no injuries to report.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
- Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
- Shooting Guard: Victor Oladipo
- Small Forward: Andre Roberson
- Power Forward: Domantas Sabonis
- Center: Steven Adams
- Point Guard: Kemba Walker
- Shooting Guard: Nicolas Batum
- Small Forward: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
- Power Forward: Marvin Williams
- Center: Roy Hibbert
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER +2.5
The Vegas oddsmakers, as well as our partners at numberFire list the Charlotte Hornets as moderate favorites ahead of this east vs. west tilt. Per usual, the team sporting home-court advantage enjoys the slight oddmaker’s advantage when all other factors are considered equal.
In this contest, the key matchup is Russell Westbrook vs. Kemba Walker. If the Thunder can manage to stint Walker’s output, and at minimum receive an on-par Westbrook performance, then an OKC victory is far more attainable than the preliminary numbers suggest.