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Preview: Can the Hornets avoid a trap game against the rebuilding Thunder?

Charlotte couldn’t ask for a better scenario to pick up another big win.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

What: Charlotte Hornets (33-35) at Oklahoma City Thunder (20-47)

When: 8:00 PM ET

Where: Paycom Center; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

How to watch: Bally Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass

If the Hornets can’t win this one, then heaven help us all.

The young, rebuilding, and injury-ravaged Thunder are one of the league’s worst teams. Their 20-47 record is second to last in the Western Conference. The Hornets and the Thunder faced off back in January and Charlotte cruised to a 121-98 home win. In that victory the Hornets got 20-plus performances from PJ Washington (20), Miles Bridges (22), and Terry Rozier (24) in a balanced effort.

The Thunder are playing in the second game of a back-to-back tonight while the Hornets haven’t played since Friday. Charlotte is an eight-point favorite in this one. All signs point to a Hornets victory.

Oklahoma City Thunder overview

Oh, bless their hearts. I have a ton of respect for OKC’s general manager Sam Presti and I think he has assembled a promising group of young talent and boatload of future first round picks. But this season was always intended to be a rebuild year in Oklahoma City, and then a rash of injuries happened to make a challenging season nearly impossible.

Outstanding point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has missed 15 games this year but is now back healthy. Josh Giddey, a 19-year-old rookie with incredible court vision, had blossomed into a nightly triple-double threat before a late February injury that is still keeping him sidelined. Luguentz Dort, a third-year wing averaging 17.2 points per game, has not played since February 12th and is out for the year following shoulder surgery.

Gilgeous-Alexander is something of a one-man show for the Thunder at this point. The fourth-year point guard is averaging near All-Star level numbers of 23.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 5.8 assists, though he’s also shooting a career-low 44% from the field and 29% from the 3-point line. The starting five is a bit fluid but is often rounded out by guard Aaron Wiggins (7.6 PPG), undrafted rookie small forward Lindy Waters III (5.2 PPG), wing Darius Bazley (9.7 PPG, 6.5 RPG), and power forward Isaiah Roby (8.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG).

OKC’s bench consists of a host of relatively unknown players like guard Theo Maledon, guard Vit Krejci, forward Aleksej Pokusevski, and center Olivier Sarr. Yes, these are actual NBA players.

This isn’t exactly the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.

How the Hornets can win

While I normally give a key or two that can propel the Hornets to a victory in this space, today I’m going to frame this up differently. Charlotte should win this game handily, just like they did earlier in the season. There are no excuses. They can’t let this become a trap game by overlooking a clearly inferior opponent.

So instead of “how the Hornets can win”, let’s discuss “how the Hornets could lose.”

First, they can play the frustratingly inconsistent style of basketball that has plagued them since late January when the wheels started falling off. They can lose this game if they are good on offense, but equally bad on defense. Or the reverse can happen where Charlotte plays good defense but the offense gets sloppy with turnovers and they fail to protect the defensive glass. They just can’t let this happen tonight.

This is a game the Hornets should win, and need to win. These types of contests loom large at the end of the season when play-in (or playoff) seeding is determined and postseason fates hang in the balance.

Poll

What’s your prediction for tonight's game?

This poll is closed

  • 52%
    Hornets win easy
    (32 votes)
  • 40%
    Hornets win a close one
    (25 votes)
  • 4%
    Thunder win a close one
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    Thunder win wasy
    (1 vote)
61 votes total Vote Now

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