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Keys to Beat Thunder, Hawks and Jazz

By Matt Rochinski, bobcats.com

December 26, 2013

KEY MATCHUP vs. THUNDER: Al Jefferson vs. Kevin Durant

Although they might not match up every time down the court, whichever big man has the better night between the Cats Al Jefferson and Thunder’s Kevin Durant could prove pivotal in this contest. Jefferson scored a season-high 26 points on Dec. 23 against Milwaukee, recording his 16th consecutive double-figure scoring game. Jefferson has recorded double-doubles in three of his last four games and eight of the last 13 games. During the 13-game stretch, he is averaging 17.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists, while shooting .455 from the field (101-for-222)… Kevin Durant is averaging an NBA-best 28.1 points this season. A year after becoming just the second player in NBA history (Larry Bird) to average 28+ points while shooting better than 50.0 percent from the field, 40.0 percent from three-point range and 90.0 percent from the free throw line, Durant has once again found a way to improve his game during the first two months of the 2013-14 season. Durant is currently averaging career-highs in rebounding (8.1) and assists (4.7). On five instances this season, Durant has scored 30+ points while registering 10+ rebounds (Durant accomplished the feat just four times during all of last season).

KEY MATCHUP vs. HAWKS: Ramon Sessions vs. Lou Williams

With the Cats having lost starting backcourt players Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (hand) and Jeffery Taylor (Achilles) to injury this month, Charlotte has needed its reserves to step up, and the play of Ramon Sessions has been critical to the Cats success. Head Coach Steve Clifford has had Sessions running alongside starters Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson in the fourth quarter, and you can fully expect to see Sessions’ minutes continue to increase. He’s seen his minutes increase to 22 through 12 games in December and is averaging 10.3 points, 2.8 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 0.8 steal this month… As important as Sessions is to the Cats off the bench, Lou Williams is a key reserve for the Hawks. Williams scored 27 points (career-high 6-for-13 three-pointers) in 29 minutes off the bench on Dec. 14 at New York. He is the first player in franchise history to come off the bench to score at least 27 points and make six treys in 29 minutes or less. He is averaging 9.9 points, 3.5 assists and 1.5 rebounds this season.

KEY MATCHUP vs. JAZZ: Kemba Walker vs. Trey Burke

Kemba Walker and rookie Trey Burke went toe-to-toe on Dec. 21 at Time Warner Cable Arena, as the two young point guards matched each other with 20 points apiece in the Jazz’s 88-85 victory. Walker is currently playing some of the best basketball of his young career after scoring 25 points on Dec. 23 against Milwaukee, recording his sixth-consecutive game with 20 points or more. The six-game streak is the longest of his career, tied for the third-longest in franchise history and tied for the fourth-longest current streak in the NBA. During the six- game stretch, Walker is averaging 26.0 points, while shooting .586 from the field (58-for-99), .500 from beyond the three-point line (14-for-28) and .813 from the free-throw line (26-for-32)… Burke is averaging 13.2 points, 4.9 assists and 3.5 assists in his rookie season and tallied 30 points, seven rebounds and eight assists in the Jazz’s 86-82 victory over Orlando on Dec. 18. The 21-year-old is the first NBA rookie to record at least 30 points, seven rebounds and eight assists since Blake Griffin had 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for the Clippers against Memphis on 4/13/11. His 30 points are the most by any rookie this season.

SCOUTING THE BOBCATS

The Bobcats came back from an 18-point deficit in Monday's win over Milwaukee, marking the third time in the last four games the team has come back from a deficit of 16 points or more to win. The Bobcats came back from 20-point deficit and after trailing by 18 points with under a minute remaining in the third quarter on Dec. 20 at Detroit, one game after overcoming a 16-point second-half deficit to beat Toronto in overtime on Dec. 18. The 20-point comeback tied the second largest in franchise history. With the Toronto and Detroit wins, the Bobcats became the first team to overcome deficits of at least 16 points in the second half to win in consecutive games since Utah did so in three straight games from Nov. 6-10, 2010…The Bobcats are giving up only 93.6 points per game, the third-lowest average in the NBA. Last season, the team allowed 102.7 points, 
ranking 29th in the league… The Bobcats have held their opponent under 100 points in 22 of their 29 games this season, which is tied for the second-most such games in the NBA… Nine of the Bobcats 14 victories this season have been decided by six points or fewer. The Bobcats have the most wins in the NBA in games decided by six points or less this season.

SCOUTING THE THUNDER

Russell Westbrook notched a triple-double with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists as Oklahoma City routed the Knicks 123-94 on Christmas Day at Madison Square Garden, leading OKC to its sixth-straight road win. The Thunder is now 3-1 in Christmas Day games… With a record of 23-5, the Thunder is off to its best start in the Oklahoma City era and the second best start to a season in the all-time history of the franchise (started the 1993-94 season 24-3)… After defeating the Chicago Bulls on Dec. 19, the Thunder improved to 13-0 at home this season, becoming the first team in the NBA to do so since the Cleveland Cavaliers accomplished the feat in 2008 (opened the season 23-0 at home)... Through 27 games this season, Oklahoma City’s bench is averaging 34.1 points per game. If the Thunder reserves were to maintain their current scoring clip, it would represent the highest scoring output for the Thunder reserves during the OKC era.

SCOUTING THE HAWKS

Al Horford and Paul Millsap are two-of-three players (DeMarcus Cousins) in the NBA this season averaging at least 16.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks, with Horford being the only player in the league with those numbers while shooting better than 50.0 percent from the field. Horford is putting up 18.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.5 blocks, 1.0 steals and .563 field goal percentage and Millsap is averaging 16.7 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.0 blocks… Atlanta ranks first in the NBA in assists at 25.7 per game and has dished out at least 20 helpers 26 times, including a league-leading six 30-assist nights (5-1 in those contests)… Kyle Korver’s streak of 97-consecutive games with at least one made three-pointer is the longest in NBA history. Korver surpassed Dana Barros’ old record of 89-straight games vs. Cleveland on Dec. 6… Atlanta ranks fourth in the NBA in field goal percentage at .470 and has three players ranked among the league’s best –Horford is eighth (.563), Korver 21st (.519) and Millsap 40th (.490).

SCOUTING THE JAZZ

In the month of December, the Jazz is ranked seventh in the NBA for three-point percentage, making 80-of-207 for 38.6% (entering 12/23)… In the month of December, the Jazz have shot 81.6% (177-217) from the charity stripe, ranking fourth in the NBA for free throw percentage during that period (entering 12/23)… In the past ten games, the Jazz bench has contributed the ninth most scoring points in the league with an average of 35.6 points per game and third in bench rebounding with 18.4 rebounds per game, entering 12/23… Coming off a career-high 31 point performance against the NBA’s two-time defending champion Miami Heat on 12/16/13, Alec Burks has scored in double figures in 12 of his past 14 games and currently ranks as the NBA’s fifth-highest bench scorer for the season… Through 30 games in 2013-14, Gordon Hayward is putting up 16.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists this season and could become just the second Jazz player ever to average 16-plus points, 5-plus rebounds and 5-plus assists in a season. The lone other Jazzmen to accomplish that feat: Hall of Famer Pete Maravich.

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