Tip-Off: 2 PM CDT
Location: Chesapeake Energy Arena (Oklahoma City, OK)
Radio: The Sports Animal
Twitter: Follow @TheThunderGuys for live-tweets during the game
Player to Watch
G Kemba Walker is a young veteran for the Hornets, meaning that while he is only in his 6th NBA season, he is the clear experienced leader in Charlotte. Walker is averaging 23.0 points while shooting 44.4% from the field, 40.0% from three, and 84.9% from the free throw line to go along with 5.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.0 steals per game. In the first matchup between the Hornets and the Thunder, Walker scored 20 points while shooting a poor 38.5% from the field, but he helped Charlotte to a victory by dishing out 9 assists. Keeping Kemba in check will be essential to a Thunder victory, but ironically enough, when Walker scores at least 33 points, the Hornets are 0-6. Either way, the Thunder defense needs to continue to play with the intensity that it has as of late and keep Walker from getting hot.
Keys to the Game
- Get to the Line: The Hornets are a decent defensive team, but one thing they excel at is not fouling, which in turn keeps their opponents off the the free throw line. Charlotte fouls opponents a league-low 16.8 times a game, which means their opponents only shoot 18.6 free throws a game, also the lowest in the league. Oklahoma City is one of the best in the NBA at getting to the charity stripe, thanks to Russell Westbrook, so the Thunder needs to play physical on offense and force the Hornets to foul.
- Control the Tempo: Oklahoma City has ranked near the top of the NBA all season long in fast break offense and defense, and they will have a good chance to expose Charlotte, a team that is not that great in transition on either side of the ball. The Thunder is 3rd in the NBA in fast break points per game with 17.0, and they only allow 11.1 fast break points per game, which is 5th. The Hornets, on the other hand, only score 9.3 fast break points per game, which is 28th, and they allow 13.1 fast break points per game, which is 14th. If Westbrook and Co. can get out and run at a high-tempo, they should be able to find success in transition.
- Continue to Defend: Despite struggling to stop the high-power Rockets offense last Sunday, the Thunder has defended really well of late, holding 4 out of their last 5 opponents to under 100 points. The Charlotte Hornets have a decent offense, scoring 105.4 points per game (15th in the NBA), but they are a pretty bad shooting team, making only 44.2% of their shots from the field (27th in the NBA). The Thunder needs to defend with intensity from start to finish and force the Hornets into taking bad shots. Charlotte does a really good job of taking care of the ball, turning it over a league-low 11.8 times per game, but if Oklahoma City is able to create some chaos, the Thunder can more easily get out in transition and turn defense into offense.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.