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The Thunder’s Potential First-Round Foe

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: April 12, 2013 at 5:55 pm •  Published: January 25, 2011
Could the Thunder and Hornets be on a collision course toward a first-round playoff series?
Could the Thunder and Hornets be on a collision course toward a first-round playoff series?

Something special could be brewing between the Thunder and the Hornets.

In three regular season games, we’ve seen fierce and feisty battles, tempers flaring and tightly-contested contests. All three games have been decided by six points or less. Hornets forward David West added fuel to the fire Monday night with a game-winning jumper with 0.5 tenths of a second remaining.

It makes you wonder what’s next for these two teams? The answer might just be a physical playoff series. It’s not something that many considered a possibility at the start of the season. But with the Hornets exceeding expectations, it’s becoming more and more likely that we could see a first-round matchup between Oklahoma City’s old NBA team and its new permanent version.

So, how good could a first-round playoff series between the Thunder and Hornets be? We weigh in in today’s question of the day.

I don’t see any duds in potential first-round series for the Thunder. And the Hornets would be a great first-round opponent for two reasons: 1. The Hornet connection to OKC; and 2. The Hornets are easily the best matchup for the Thunder. The Spurs and the Lakers you know about. For whatever reason, the Thunder struggles with Dallas. That leaves Utah and New Orleans. The Thunder has played the Hornets better than it has played the Jazz. OKC is 2-1, with that David West shot Monday night being the Hornets’ only success. I guess Denver could still get hot and work itself into the top six of the Western Conference, which would bring it into play for the Thunder, but I still say New Orleans is the best-case scenario for OKC in the playoffs.

This wouldn’t be the lovefest everyone might assume. Seeing Chris Paul once or twice a season is a lot different than seeing him night after night in a seven-game series. The guy will tear your heart out and stomp on it. Ditto for David West. Facing Emeka Okafor in the paint is nerve-wracking. The NBA now owns the Hornets and would love this matchup. It could provide a big image boost to OKC for what it did before with the Hornets and what it is doing now with the Thunder. It would be the NBA’s team vs. the city that’s been the league’s PR darling since relocating from Seattle.

Good? This matchup has the potential to be great as a first-round playoff series. There is no shortage of animosity between these two teams. They get after each other, and it starts with the point guards. Both Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul have a feistiness about them. One will do something, and you can almost see in the other one’s eye that he’s going to do something right back to try and match the other guy. And let’s be honest — as much as Oklahoma City loved CP3, the guy is a total pest to opponents. He figures out little ways to get an advantage, and if he’s not wearing your team’s jersey, he is a total antagonist. The Thunder-Hornets matchup is a simmering rivalry. Last night’s game and David West’s buzzer-beater only turned up the heat. Pit these two against each other in the playoffs? The rivalry goes to full boil.

A Hornets-Thunders playoff series would be one scrappy Spurs family reunion. Hornets GM Dell Demps came from the same San Antonio hot house that produced Sam Presti. You can bet this talk that the Hornets are now playing defense like the Thunder played it last year motivates Presti and Co. Short of kidnapping Ron Adams, it might just be the thing to reignite some defensive passion in Oklahoma City. You’d think a playoff series against Oklahoma City, the city that tried to steal the Hornets, would stir some passion in New Orleans, which could use something to fill those empty blue and purple-cushioned seats in the lower bowl. A few years ago Jenni Carlson wrote a terrific page 1 story in The Oklahoman headlined “61 reasons to love Chris Paul.” Pit the Thunder against Paul in a two-week series and OKC will realize just how thin the line between love and hate really is. Jenni calls him a “pest.” Others aren’t so gracious when describing his on-court persona.


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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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