Thunder Preparing for Familiar Hornets
Each season has a flow to it, with a run of home games then a tough road stretch. There are often series of games against high-caliber opponents and stints against teams who are trying to find their rhythm. All 29 opponents the Thunder will face this season, however, are professionals who have the ability to beat any team on any given night. For Head Coach Scott Brooks and his Thunder squad, the key is to approach each contest with the same level of intensity.
“It’s always a challenge when you play any team in this league,” Brooks said. “Any team can beat you on any given night. You have to prepare and you have to treat every game the same. That’s what we do, no matter who we play, no matter what record they have, we do it.”
Sometimes the challenges come in different shapes and forms, not necessarily from an All-Star caliber player or physical defensive challenge, but because of other factors that impact the game. For example, the Thunder’s matchup against the New Orleans Hornets will be the third such game between the two sides in 26 days. The familiarity between the teams, the inherent competitive nature of the NBA and the fact that the Thunder has won the previous two tilts means it will be a hotly contested game at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Wednesday.
“Playing them three times in three or four weeks is not common during the regular season,” Brooks said. “We still have to go out and play well to win tomorrow. They’ve played much better the last few games and we know what an NBA team, and NBA players can do if you don’t prepare and treat every team equally as well.”
It’s never easy to beat the same team three times in a row, which made the Thunder on high alert today at practice at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center. The leadership up and down the Thunder roster, starting with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, has provided the team with a foundation of seriousness and pride when it comes to preparing for opponents. As a result, the Thunder will try to take advantage of what it has already put on tape against the Hornets, and learn from the past two contests.
“It helps,” Westbrook said. “We’ve played them numerous times, we know what they run and we know how they like to play. It helps, but it’s definitely going to be tough.”
The Thunder also has a chance to compare how the Hornets play with and without rookie forward Anthony Davis, whom they selected with the number one overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Brooks’ squad beat the Hornets 110-95 with Davis on the floor on Nov. 16 and 100-79 on Dec. 1 without him on the court, both times in New Orleans Arena. It is unsure whether Davis will play on Wednesday, as it likely depends on how he fares tonight against the Washington Wizards.
“They’re a better team with him (Davis), he’s one of the best players on their team,” Brooks said. “He’s a star in the making. He can do so many things on both ends of the floor.”
Whether he plays or not, the 5-14 Hornets will be a dangerous foe on Wednesday night because of the pride every professional athlete in the NBA brings to the floor each night. In addition, the Hornets rank in the top-six in the NBA in both three-point and free throw shooting percentage. It will be up to the Thunder, starting with Westbrook’s defensive intensity, to match the Hornets’ energy level from the opening tip.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” Westbrook said. “If you beat a team twice, they’re going to come back the third time ready to play. We have to come ready to play.”