Thunder-Hornets Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated November 16, 2012
With James Harden gone, the Oklahoma City Thunder are relying on their two remaining stars more than ever. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have each logged more than 42 minutes in back-to-back games heading into Friday night's road date with the New Orleans Hornets. The Oklahoma City All-Stars had to play big minutes in a come-from-behind win Monday at Detroit, but couldn't lead the Thunder (6-3) to another double-digit comeback in a 107-97 loss to Memphis on Wednesday night. Durant eclipsed the 30-point mark for the first time this season with 34 in 44 minutes against the Grizzlies. Westbrook added 17 and 13 assists in 42 1/2 minutes for his fourth double-double. Kevin Martin, who has filled Harden's old role, had a season-low seven points on just four shots. Overall, Durant and Westbrook are playing slightly more minutes than they did last season. Durant is near the top of the league at 39.4 minutes per game, while Westbrook is averaging a career-high 36.8. "Every game is important for us," coach Scott Brooks said. "That's how we always view our games. We have 82 big games a year. We have to give everything we have each game and not worry about saving anything for the next game." Nevertheless, Brooks' two stars might not need to carry as much of the load against a New Orleans team the Thunder have dominated in recent years. Oklahoma City has won eight of the last nine meetings with the Hornets (3-3), including three of the last four in New Orleans. The Thunder took all three from the Hornets in 2011-12 by an average of 9.3 points. While they're third in the NBA in points allowed (90.5 per game), the Hornets face a tough test against the only team in the league with two players in the top 10 in scoring. One of the keys for New Orleans, which is letting opponents get to the free-throw line at a lower rate than everyone but Minnesota (18.0 per game), will be keeping the Thunder off the stripe. Oklahoma City has three players (Durant, Westbrook, Martin) in the top eight in attempts, and it's shooting a league-best 84.3 percent from the line. "We're going to have to be on our game with the activity and discipline," coach Monty Williams said. Greivis Vasquez could make things tough on the Thunder if he's able to build on Wednesday's big performance. He finished with a career-high 24 points and nine assists in New Orleans' 100-96 loss at Houston. Vasquez, who ranks second in the Western Conference with 8.8 assists per game, is expected to play despite leaving Wednesday's game briefly in the third quarter with a sprained right ankle. "He's coming around," Williams said. "He certainly offensively did a good job scoring and finding guys. I just love his toughness." Ryan Anderson has also found his groove, scoring 45 points on 19 of 35 shooting with seven 3-pointers in his last two games. While the Thunder are the league's fourth-best team from beyond the arc (39.6 percent), New Orleans is fourth-worst (29.8). Top overall pick Anthony Davis has eight blocks in two games since returning from a two-game absence due to a concussion. He'll have his hands full against Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka, who leads the NBA with 3.7 blocks per game - 0.9 more than Davis.
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