Gametime: 7:00 p.m. EST
The Thunder, like the Bobcats and many teams, are in the midst of adjusting to recent roster changes. Though they did just sign Caron Butler from the waiver wire, their major change has been the return of Russell Westbrook after his most recent knee injury. Westbrook has had a good bit of rust to shake off, which has hurt Oklahoma City to a fair degree. They dropped four games in a row (including one to the Cavaliers at home, yeesh) before taking down the Grizzlies on Friday.
What more can anyone say about Kevin Durant these days? The man can deconstruct a basketball court and pretty much any player on it, and make any move at ease. With unfair size, mobility and ballhandling to go with his incredible shooting, Durant is a threat to score at will. He's improved as a passer, as necessitated by Westbrook's absence, which is even scarier to think about. Your best bet is to make Durant uncomfortable with physicality, but that's easier said than done considering his nimble footwork and ability to draw fouls. Godspeed.
Westbrook and Ibaka are not to be forgotten, either. Television's normal 60 frames per second seems ill fit to capture Westbrook's absurd footspeed. Armed with a dangerous dribble and vicious mindset to reach the rim, Westbrook can part defenses as they scramble to rotate. Ibaka comes into the offense as safety valve stretch four with a jump shot that can fall from beyond the arc. Defensively, Oklahoma City's three best players are a terror in creating turnovers or culling possessions thanks to their active hands, lateral quickness, defensive awareness and shotblocking skills.
The rest of the team has an interesting combination of youth and veteran skill. Reggie Jackson is a speedy guard who likes to work off the dribble. Steven Adams has done well in his limited role, with some arguing that his rebounding and defense should earn him a starting role over Kendrick Perkins. Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones III have also added some youth and offensive spark off the bench.
On the flip side, Oklahoma City's veteran presence is manifested in minor controversy in Kendrick Perkins at starting center and Derek Fisher coming off the bench. The mark against Perkins is that his only contribution comes on defense, which is not quite at the level it once was. But Brooks has stuck with Perkins, do or die. Fisher's role isn't as much controversial as it is mystifying, I think. For a 39-year-old to contribute like he does on a contender, it speaks volumes about Fisher's shooting prowess and determination to stay in the league. It's crazy to think a player so limited at this stage is still duking it out at his age every night given his defensive limitations, but there he is.
The Bobcats will need to get a complete and disciplined defensive performance inside and out to get a tough win on the road. Oklahoma City doesn't have any great post presence but they'll need to stymie the Thunder's attempts to get to the rack. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist will need to be able to hold his own without fouling excessively because if Charlotte has to turn to Anthony Tolliver to defend Kevin Durant, well, then you might want to turn in early.
As a quick addendum, I'd like to address something briefly. After Raymond Felton's recent gun arrest, Grantland had a retrospective on the major players of the 2005 UNC Tar Heels team that won the NCAA title and their subsequent downfalls. It's a good look back at a fun squad and eccentric group of guys, but one quick part did catch my eye:
Sean May went 13th to the Bobcats in the NBA draft, joining Raymond Felton (who went fifth) in Charlotte. This is also when everyone's jokes about Michael Jordan drafting Carolina players became way too real.
That might be worth a chuckle were it true. But the simple fact is this: Felton and May were drafted in June of 2005, nearly a full calendar year before Jordan had signed on as a part owner of the Bobcats and as their President of Basketball Operations.
Michael Jordan and the Bobcats are easy targets, names tied together in legally-binding partnership and ownership that have come to be near-synonyms with incompetence for the general sports consuming public. This one is easily proven false, but it's just as easily added to narratives of ineptitude that erroneously tie Jordan and the team together further back than what is true.
That's it. It's a minor qualm, I know. The Bobcats certainly aren't absolved of their draft mistakes, nor is Jordan absolved of his history of basketball management errors.
The Bobcats and the fans are the butt of a plethora of jokes already with all the ammunition that follies of the Bobcats' history provides, and I'm sure more will come to bear as years pass. I'm not trying to put an end to ridiculing the Bobcats, because their past definitely deserves derision (which you can say with any team), but I could really do without ones that people are too lazy to at least fact check.
Now let's get back to that killer Grantland Michael Jordan Bobcats comedy from Bill Simmons
Is there a chance MJ swung this deal between the 11th hole and 12th hole after two Bloody Marys, had bad cell reception and mistakenly thought he was getting Gary Payton?