Back in OKC for Some Home Cookin’ – OU Medicine Game Day Report: OKC vs. CHA
- Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
The fans streaming into Chesapeake Energy Arena and filing into their seats well before tip-off will be a welcome sight for the Thunder tonight as it kicks off a rare home-home back-to-back set against the Charlotte Hornets. Coming off of a challenging three-game road trip to Phoenix, Sacramento and Golden State, where the Thunder went 2-1, Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club is looking forward to coming back to Oklahoma City for four straight games and keeping its winning trend alive.
With victories in 11 of its past 13 games, the 11-6 Thunder has flipped the script on an 0-4 start and is tied for third in the Western Conference standings, though obviously it is still early and jumbled up. 14 of the 15 teams in the West are within 5.5 games of one another. The Thunder’s November streak was really supercharged by another back-to-back, starting in Charlotte then on to Washington, D.C. just three weeks ago.
The Thunder gutted out a huge come-from-behind victory in Charlotte, and part of that came from going small and playing an up-tempo, high-paced style. Against a Hornets team that doesn’t really play any traditional big men, but rather highly skilled, shooting forwards in the frontcourt, the Thunder must be ready to execute that type of game plan again. That was the recipe for success in the team’s 123-95 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday, and after a 4:30am Thanksgiving arrival and brief day off, Donovan’s club must be ready to run again tonight.
1-on-1: Dennis Schröder
“We were really just trying to play faster,” said Donovan. “We took shots in transition and on the break and we got to the rim a little bit too. When you get stops, it enables you to do that.”
It won’t just be high-octane offense required from the Thunder. To even get those type of possessions and the resulting easy looks, it will require stop after stop defensively. Against Kemba Walker, who is averaging 30 points per game and has scored 60 and 43 points in games over the past week, that’ll be quite the challenge. Charlotte as a team is shooting 36.7 percent from three and 80.9 percent from the free throw line, so as much as the Thunder can avoid giving up those shots, the better.
“There’s certainly some things you have to live with,” Donovan noted. “The two things you don’t want to live with is the free throw line by fouling them and then obviously giving them threes.”
A huge part of the Thunder’s identity has been to turn its opponents over and generate fast break points off of those miscues. This season the Thunder leads the league by forcing 18.2 giveaways per game, using a league-leading 11.0 steals per game to score 22.1 points off turnovers, including 15.9 fast break points per game. All of that may be difficult tonight considering Charlotte turns it over just 12.9 times per game, 2nd fewest in the league.
That’s just part of an NBA regular season schedule, however. Being familiar with how to scheme against every type of opponent and understanding the personnel on each team is paramount to in-game success. The Thunder has done a nice job of that lately, even with the rotation being in flux with players gone for personal reasons and out with injury.
“The readiness these guys have done of keeping themselves focused and mentally prepared, I give them a lot of credit,” said Donovan.
OU Medicine Game Day Preview
- Hamidou Diallo (ankle sprain) and Terrance Ferguson (ankle sprain) are all listed as out on the Thunder’s game notes for tonight’s game against the Hornets. Alex Abrines (viral illness) is listed as questionable, That leaves more available minutes on the wing for players like Tim Luwawu-Cabarrot, Deonte Burton and Abdel Nader.
- Even with Tony Parker out tonight, the Hornets plan to start guard Deonte Graham alongside Walker and Jeremy Lamb in the backcourt tonight, giving this high-speed battle and extra bit of a boost. Given the way the Hornets play with three guards on the floor at nearly all times, the possibility opens up for Dennis Schröder to play more alongside Russell Westbrook and for Raymond Felton to get time on the floor as well.
- “We’re going to see how it’s going to work out. Regardless, I’m ready. Raymond is ready as well,” said Schröder. “We want to get another one tonight.”
News & Notes
- With the roster in such flux, it’s been extremely valuable for the Thunder to have as much depth as it does, particularly along the wing. With four shooting guards injured, including Andre Roberson, Luwawu-Cabarrot will likely continue to get more minutes, as he did in all three games of the west coast road trip. The 23-year old Frenchman has averaged 10.3 points on 48 percent shooting, including 36.3 percent from three-point range during that stretch.
- “I give Tim a lot of credit. He’s stepped up,” said Donovan. “You want to keep guys ready and engaged and sometimes that can be really hard when you’re a young player and you don’t understand the length of an NBA season and 82 games.”