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Hawks vs. Thunder: Pregame Primer

Hawks vs. Thunder: Pregame Primer



Hawks (14-9, 6-5 road) vs. Thunder (13-8, 9-3 home)

TV: FS Oklahoma
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 7:00 PM CST

Offensive Rating: Thunder – 110.1 (2nd), Hawks – 105.6 (9th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 103.1 (11th), Hawks – 103.4 (14th)

“Cause I’m Slim Shady, yes I’m the real Shady. All the other Slim Shadys are just imitating. So won’t the real Slim Shady, please stand up, please stand up, please stand up.”

Will the real Oklahoma City Thunder, please stand up, please stand up, please stand up. Twenty one games in and we still don’t have a grasp as to who the Thunder really are. Are they the offensive blitzkrieg that made its presence known on Tuesday in Memphis? Or are they the fourth quarter struggling team that has taken the court in the past two weeks? Who exactly are the Thunder?

In reality, I don’t even think the players themselves know who they are yet. I do, however, think the coaching staff is starting to figure some things out. This league is an ever evolving organism, and what we see now isn’t necessarily what worked 5 years ago. It’s a league where post players rarely dominate and open 21 footers are abhorred. Billy Donovan ran a “similar” system to what the Thunder are running while at Florida.

But he never had players like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to carry his offense. And he never had to plan a defensive scheme against someone like Steph Curry or James Harden. The adjustment/learning period is still happening, not just for the players, but also for the coaches. But if the Memphis game was any indication, maybe all the parties involved are finally starting to figure it out.

This is the second and final meeting of the season between the Thunder and Hawks. The Hawks won the first meeting in Atlanta 106-100. The Hawks mostly controlled the game until the 4th quarter, when Russell Westbrook decided to score 15 in the fourth quarter to make it a much closer game. The Hawks eventually held on to win as the Thunder made a couple costly mistakes at the end of the game that ensured the Hawks’ victory.

The Opponent

The Hawks come into this game with a 14-9 record, having won their last two games. They won a back and forth affair against the Dallas Mavericks last night. The Hawks seem to be a little worse on defense this season than they were last season, but the return of Tiago Splitter should help that moving forward. One thing I’ve noticed about the Hawks is that their depth is nearly non-existant, so their top 7 players are all having to play over 25 minutes a game. That may be a factor later in the season and come playoff time.

Their core of Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, and Kyle Korver are all performing as expected. Thabo Sefolosha is starting to regain his NBA legs and is once again one of the better perimeter defenders in the league. Kent Bazemore has had some impressive outings this season. It’s hard to believe the Thunder had first crack at him when he went undrafted in 2012, as he played on their summer league team that year. Dennis Schröder will likely be starting for another NBA team come this time next season. His situation with the Hawks has Reggie Jackson written all over it.

3 Big Things

1.Attack the Paint

If the 4th quarter in the last meeting showed Westbrook anything, it’s that this team can be attacked on the drive. Westbrook forced his way into the paint constantly in that fourth quarter to mostly positive results. Al Horford, Paul Millsap, and Mike Muscala are not shot-blockers and Tiago Splitter is being brought back slowly from a hip injury. Attacking the rim was something Durant hardly did in the first Atlanta game. He was 4-6 on shots in the paint, and 4-11 on shots outside the paint. Get in closer KD.

2. Defensive Switching

The Hawks do a good job of finding a mismatch, whether its Teague on a big, Horford and Millsap on someone smaller, or Korver and Bazemore coming off a screen on the perimeter. The Thunder may have to use a big small-ball lineup that can switch onto everything the Hawks try to get with their constant movement. Ibaka-Durant-Roberson-Waiters-Westbrook may be on tap a lot tonight.

3. Dion Waiters

Waiter was terri-bad in the Thunder’s last meeting with the Hawks. He was 0-7 from the field, and scored only 1 point. But he contributed in other ways. He had 6 boards, 3 assists, 2 steals, and was key to the run that brought the Thunder back in the second quarter of that game. If only he scored a little bit more, the outcome of the game may have been different.

Slump-Buster (Opposing player most likely to break out against the Thunder)

Mike Muscala – Mobile, perimeter-oriented big men trouble the Thunder. I could see Moose going to double digits tonight.