The Oklahoma City Thunder managed to snare a much needed road win against the Memphis Grizzlies in their last game — bouncing back from a tough loss to the Brooklyn Nets in Mexico City — and will hope to continue their surge toward .500 for the first time since mid-November, as they face off against the Charlotte Hornets who are riding a three game losing streak.
Back at home, the Thunder will be buoyed by their latest stretch of games, where they have managed to go 4-1 and rally from some hefty deficits to take the points in some close encounters. A win tonight would boost their confidence as they stare down the barrel of a three game road trip — where away games have been far from fruitful.
Charlotte will likely be missing a range of personnel — Jeremy Lamb and Frank Kaminsky are both in doubt, as is Nicholas Batum who has been battling an elbow injury for the most part of the season. Head Coach Steve Clifford will also be absent with health concerns. The Thunder might regain the services of Paul George who has watched the past two games from the sidelines, but they also may lose key defender Andre Roberson who tweaked an ankle late in the game against the Grizzlies.
Alex Abrines has started in place of George, finally out of the Donovan doghouse, and he has put up some quality numbers including a splendid shooting performance against Memphis. Whether or not he stays in the starting lineup against the Hornets will largely be determined by George and Roberson’s availability. Donovan hasn’t been shy in trialling a range of different structures this season so we will continue to guess as to the starting unit.
Russell Westbrook will have his hands full against Kemba Walker — but it will be a fun matchup to watch with two of the games most explosive and exciting point guards. Russ struggled from the field of late, but will try to turn it around against the Hornets who have been hemorrhaging baskets recently. Carmelo Anthony is also shooting a career low percentage as he tries to adapt to the different team and game style — but he could certainly light it up tonight and get that confidence back on track.
The key to this game is effort and intensity. It’s easy to look at the Hornets as an “easy win” but nothing has come easily for OKC in their first season with a new look squad. Charlotte haven’t done a whole lot of winning over the past two weeks, but OKC have had a tendency to play teams into form – something they shouldn’t be proud of.
If OKC can come out of the gate and give maximum effort on both sides of the ball, they can take control of the game early, which is key. The Thunder have lost major leads in the past, but have also showed a resilience of being able to fight back. They won’t want to leave it up to a big fourth quarter effort tonight though. OKC have looked markedly better when including Steven Adams into the offence, and he will go head to head with a rejuvenated Dwight Howard in what will be an intriguing battle.
Tonight is certainly a winnable game and a key game not only to push the Thunder back to .500 but also to give them some confidence and stability as they look to a week on the road after this one.
Prediction – Thunder by 12.
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