New Orleans coach Monty Williams is enamored with the Thunder and heaped praise prior to Wednesday's contest.
"They have experience," Williams said after his team's shoot-around. "They have young guys who aren't young. They're talented. They just come at you in waves. There's no drop-off when they bring their bench guys in. They have the best scorer in the league (Durant), the best sixth man in the league (James Harden) and maybe one of the most improved point guards (Westbrook). They have a deadly combination with championship experience in Perkins, hungry guys like (Serge) Ibaka. (Nick) Collison is probably one of the most underrated bigs in the league. You could probably sit here and talk about their team all day."
Williams is a defensive-minded coach, which explains why New Orleans ranks third in rebound differential (plus-6.1), fifth in scoring defense (91.4) and 11th in opponent shooting percentage (.435).
The Hornets would play even more aggressive defensively if the rules allowed.
"With the rules now, it's hard to take guys out," Williams said when asked if it's possible to take players like Durant and Westbrook out of the OKC offense. "Back in the day, you could muscle up a guy, grab him a little bit more, frustrate him with your hands. You touch a guy now it's a flagrant foul, so you have to be as physical as you can within the rules."
In mid-sentence, Williams' mind wandered back to his scouting report against the Thunder.
"I'm more concerned with Daequan Cook coming off the bench and hitting a couple of 3s; (Thabo) Sefolosha, disrespect him and he knocks down shots; Collison (and his) timely offensive rebounds. They've got a young point guard (rookie Reggie Jackson), I had no idea he was that good until I watched him three games ago."
Yup, more from Williams: "It's tough when you play against a guy like Durant because his range is out to 30 feet. Sometimes he makes shots that you have to say, 'Oh well.' That's tough for your defense. He and Harden tend to deflate your defense with their shot-making ability."
OKC will hold a full practice at 11 a.m. Friday in preparation for Saturday's 7 p.m. game inside Chesapeake Energy Arena against New York, which had won four straight entering Thursday's game at Memphis.
Then a three-game Thunder road trip arrives with a 7 p.m. contest Monday at Boston on Martin Luther King Day and at Washington on Wednesday. On Saturday, the Thunder will play its final game at New Jersey because next season the Nets move into the $1 billion Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which is part of a $4.9 billion sports arena, business and residential complex.
Williams said former Putnam City High School standout Xavier Henry, who was traded from Memphis to New Orleans in a three-team deal earlier this month, is roughly a week away from returning to the lineup while recovering from torn ligaments in his ankle.
Henry is participating in shootarounds and practices. "To put a guy out there that has not gone through camp, you are asking for another injury," Williams said.