The Big Picture: The Bobcats will receive a much-needed break after tonight's home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder; they won't play again until after Christmas, on December 27. With almost a week to recuperate from a week and a half of embarrassing losses, here's hoping the return of Gerald Wallace and some tweaks to the formula bring the Cats back to respectability.
The Thunder are quietly doing their thing (see what I did there?), and are well on their way to a middle seed in the Western Conference playoffs. Kevin Durant's emergence as a Carmelo-level force puts them in position to contend for a championship as long as he's on the roster, but unless Russell Westbrook takes yet another step forward and the rest of the supporting cast remains reasonably strong, they're not likely to get that far. While Westbrook is excellent -- good enough to compete for minutes as the USA national team point guard -- I would be shocked if he maintained his level of play so far this season, somehow scoring 23 points per 36 minutes while shooting only 27% from three.
I've been re-reading Bill Simmons's Book of Basketball* and in the Jason Kidd essay, there's a point that reminds me of Westbrook: Essentially, modern guards who shoot as poorly as Westbrook tend not to remain elite; it's pretty tough to bring enough to the table to make up for that level of shooting. Kidd's an exception. Westbrook might be, too. Among the great point guards of the past three decades, Westbrook's 42% career FG% ranks below just about everyone except Kidd. Just for present-day comparison, Derrick Rose has shot 48% for his career, and Rajon Rondo has shot 49%. In other words, maybe Westbrook's first two seasons were a little tough because he was getting his legs under him and what he's doing now is more representative. But if he's playing way over his head right now, then I don't think we can count him as a championship-level sidekick to Durant.
*Yes, the casual misogyny is especially apparent upon re-reading.
Musical Interlude: B.O.B. -- "Don't Let Me Fall"
Key to Victory: Durant will clearly be the best player on the floor tonight, and, depending on how you feel about Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Jeff Green, Nazr Mohammed, and Boris Diaw, you might think the Thunder have an edge at four of the five positions (Thabo Sefolosha vs. Stephen Jackson). So, what do the Cats have to work with?
Interestingly, the Thunder's DRtg isn't especially good, but that's probably because they're very poor defending threes. At the rim, they're middle-of-the-pack, but from other close-in shot locations, they're excellent. How well the Cats penetrate the lane and score from close-in against this stout defense will determine if we have a chance at all.
Detail That May Interest .08% of You: Michael Jordan is expected to announce this afternoon that the Jordan Brand Classic is moving to Charlotte. Getting to see many of the best high school players in the country all performing on one court would be very cool.