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Thunder vs. Hawks: Pregame Primer

Thunder vs. Hawks: Pregame Primer



Thunder (11-6, 3-3 road) vs. Hawks (11-8, 6-3 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 – 110.3 (2nd), Hawks – 105.9 (7th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 103.7 (15th), Hawks – 103.9 (16th)

Apparently, we’re good again, right? Rewind back to November 15th, when the Thunder played the Boston Celtics at home. The Thunder went through a four game stretch where they lost three games to the Celtics, Grizzlies, and Knicks by collapsing offensively in the fourth quarter. Their lone win during that span was a mediocre 7-point victory against the Anthony Davis-less D-League squad known as the New Orleans Pelicans. Was it time to panic? No. Was it something to be a little concerned about? Yes.

With Kevin Durant nursing a strained hamstring, the Thunder were looking a lot like the team that missed out on the playoffs a season ago. Russell Westbrook was Russell Westbrooking, but no one else on the team was really stepping up. The bench was a disaster and some were even starting to question whether Billy Donovan could handle coaching in the NBA.

Fast forward to the game against the Dallas Mavericks on November 22nd. The scene was once again set-up for the team to implode in the fourth quarter. After three quarters, the Thunder were up by 2 with the 2nd team out on the floor. Instead of folding, though, the team battled back and forth with the Mavericks until they eventually outlasted the Mavs in the end. Instead of it just being the Westbrook show, eight different Thunder players scored in that fourth quarter. Durant returned for the next game and the team has been rolling ever since.

This is the first meeting of the season between the Thunder and the Atlanta Hawks. The teams split the season series last year with each team winning on its home floor. In the first meeting, in Atlanta, the Thunder faced an Atlanta team that came into that game having won 14 games in a row. The Thunder battled for most of the game, but eventually lost their grip of the game in the second half and went on to lose 103-93. The second meeting of the season came during Westbrook’s reign of terror on the NBA in February and March of last season. Westbrook  triple-doubled the Hawks to the tune of 36 points (17 in the fourth quarter), 10 rebounds, and 14 assists.

The Opponent

The Atlanta Hawks come into this game with a 11-8 record, having lost 6 of their last 9 games. Their struggles, of late, have come on the offensive end where they have failed to score over 100 points in each of the losses during that stretch. The Hawks play a balanced style where 7 of their players average at least 7.7 points per game, with no one averaging more than 18 points a game. Their foundation is very Spurs-ian in nature, as their coach (Mike Budenholzer) and previous GM (Danny Ferry) both came from the San Antonio organization.

Their defense is switch-oriented with mobile bigs and long wings being able to cover multiple positions. The team is led by the core of Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap, and Al Horford. The acquisition of Tiago Splitter in the offseason helped move Horford to his natural position of PF and Millsap to SF. The return of Thabo Sefolosha from a broken leg has helped the Hawk’s perimeter defense. Kent Bazemore has proven to be a valuable offensive player from the wing position. Outside of Dennis Schröder, the bench unit for the Hawks leaves a lot to be desired. The acquisition of Tim Hardaway Jr has not panned out, while Mike Scott and Justin Holiday have been inconsistent contributors.

3 Big Things

1. Points in the Paint

While the Hawks do a good job of switching on the perimeter, they struggle with defending the paint. Al Horford has never been a good paint defender and Tiago Splitter is questionable with a hip injury that has kept him out the last 4 games. If the Thunder can consistently get into the teeth of the defense, they should outscore the Hawks in the paint by a wide margin.

2. Perimeter Defense

Other than Splitter, the rest of the Hawks’ regular rotation players can all consistently hit 3’s, with Schröder being the lowest one at 30%. Offensively, the Hawks model themselves after the Spurs with lots of ball movement and floor spacing. The main difference is that the Hawks have more shooters while the Spurs have more players that get into the paint (Parker, Ginobili, Leonard). The Hawks are 6th in the league in 3-pointers made per game (9.4) and can make them in bunches if the right players get going.

3. Game after Bad Russ

Russell Westbrook usually does a pretty good job of putting bad games in the rear view mirror and coming out focused for the next game. On Friday, he played probably his worst game of the season, scoring only 14 points on 5-14 shooting, while committing 11 turnovers and fouling out with 4 minutes left to play. Look for Westbrook to have an efficient game with a low number of turnovers.


Just some poster highlight from the past few days. These are my readers.