- Tip-off: 4:00 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
CHARLOTTE – It’s hard for NBA veterans to remember everything from an NBA season, but one thing that stays with players the most is a bad home loss. The Thunder still remember its 116-103 loss to the Charlotte Hornets just over a month ago – it was the jumping off point for a stretch where the team won 8-of-9 games and jumped up to five games over .500.
After dropping three straight games, including two on the road, the Thunder has a chance to use a game against the Hornets as a launch points for another run. Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club swung back through Oklahoma City following Wednesday’s loss in Minnesota against the Timberwolves, giving the team a day of rest and a high-intensity practice to prepare for Charlotte. This time, the Thunder is determined to be the aggressor from the get-go.
“The No. 1 thing is they beat us (in Oklahoma City). They outworked us here on our homecourt,” forward Carmelo Anthony recalled. “They were the more physical team, they were the more alert team when they came here and beat us. That’s the No. 1 thing that’s in the back of our mind, knowing that they came here and beat us. We kinda want to go back and return the favor a little bit, but kinda get back to winning on the road again, knowing what it takes, understanding what it takes to win on the road. Hopefully, it can start in Charlotte.”
Thunder Talk: Carmelo Anthony
Anthony’s final point is a good one – the Thunder is just 8-13 on the road so far this season, one game past the mid-way point of the schedule with 42 games under the belt. With a 14-7 record at home, the Thunder has one of the largest home-road discrepancies in the Western Conference, and is looking to get right on the road against a Hornets team that is extremely talented, but currently sits five games out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
With Kemba Walker attacking the lane, Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams spotting up behind the arc and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist causing havoc defensively along the perimeter, the Hornets have all the makings of a strong and well-balanced starting five. That’s without even mentioning Dwight Howard, who did a number on the Thunder back in Oklahoma City, with 23 points on 9-for-13 shooting. Remarkably, of Howard’s 224 total field goals in 2017-18, 205 have come within eight feet of the basket. That means getting him off of his spot on post ups and containing him on his rolls to the rim will be vital.
“(Howard) has played really, really well. His rolls to the basket and what he’s doing around the rim, they’re a team that plays exceptionally hard,” Donovan said. “We certainly got hurt from the three-point line the last time we played them. It’ll be a great test for us going on the road and playing against them.”
Thunder Talk: Coach Donovan
Early in the season, there was a lot of work to be done by Thunder players to get acclimated and comfortable with one another, and that’s what led to the inconsistency in performance. The team seems to be past those issues, but has fallen into a bit of a valley in terms of performance. Playing without Andre Roberson hurts, for sure, but every NBA team is prone to a stretch in the dog days of January where the mental and physical stamina wanes for a handful of games.
The Thunder is resolute, however, in its aim to play its brand of basketball more often than not, with the ultimate goal to be able to produce offensively like it did in the back half of December while still defending the way it did to start the season. The only way to do that is through self-assessment, and that’s what the Thunder is undertaking as it moves on to game number 43 against Charlotte.
“We’re a very good defensive team when we’re doing everything the right way. I think when we’re communicating, when we’re talking, when we’re scrambling, playing hard, we’re a very tough team to play against,” Anthony explained. “Offensively, we’re the same way. When things are in flow, things are clicking, we’re a tough team to defend out there. We’ve just got to get a little more consistent with being that team and I think that’s something you’ll see in the second half.”
“The good teams I’ve been on, you always have to kind of sit back at that mark and say ‘where are we at as a team? Where do we need to be at? Are we at the level we need to be at and where we want to go?’” Anthony continued. “Now is the opportunity for us to start turning it up a little bit more, tightening up, understanding that we’re 42 games into the season. This time between here and All-Star break is a time we can really take advantage of.”
Thunder Minute: Jan. 12
– Andre Roberson did not go through the contact portions of practice on Friday, but was able to do some work on the court like run and shoot. According to Donovan, he will not play on Saturday against the Hornets.
– The number one objective for the Thunder is extrapolating the mental stamina that was built to bring 48 minutes of energy and concentration into multiple games in a row. During the month of December when the Thunder made a charge, it showed an ability to do that, but has hit a lull with losses in 5-of-7 games. Practice is vital during those dips in the season, but there’s also a mental component to bringing it night after night.
- “Any time you have an opportunity to practice and tighten up some things and go through some rhythm things it actually helps,” Anthony said.
- “The next step is can we string games together of high-level basketball?” Donovan asked. “We talk about it a lot.”
Watch: Game Preview