The last time the Thunder took the floor, it was against the toughest defense in the league. At home Sunday night with the Indiana Pacers in town, the Thunder had no trouble beating them 118-94. That home test came after a three-game road trip and tonight the Thunder hit the road again.
We all know that the Pacers and Heat are atop the Eastern standings, but the team right behind them is the Atlanta Hawks, who are 11-10 on the season making them just the third team in the conference with a record above .500.
The Thunder don’t care about Atlanta’s record or how weak the Eastern Conference is. It’s just all about taking care of business, something the Thunder have been very good at doing this season.
OKC was definitely up for the Pacers game, ready to make a statement with the big win. It may be tougher to get up for a Hawks squad that doesn’t jump out at you on paper.
The Hawks are led by Al Horford, who is averaging 17.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game this season. Then they’ve got Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague both averaging above 16 per, and Kyle Korver, who is currently on a record-setting three-point field goal streak, averaging 12.3 per game.
The Thunder have the bigs to deal with Horford and Millsap, although both have had success against the Thunder in the past. Teague seems to be what really makes this Hawks team go. He is a relentless attacker and among the league leaders in drives to the basket. If the Thunder gamble too much, Teague will be able to make them pay with plays in the paint.
Where Horford and Millsap may be tough on the offensive end, defense is another story. The matchups feel strongly in favor for the Thunder in this one. DeMarre Carroll will likely be checking Kevin Durant from the beginning, but there is little depth behind him to try and contain KD. Teague isn’t known for his defense either and if Russell Westbrook is able to take advantage, the Hawks will be in for a long night.
Thabo Sefolosha will miss the game with a knee injury, so the Thunder will feature a different starting lineup tonight. The last time Thabo was out, Andre Roberson started in his place. Roberson was just called up from the D-League yesterday.
I don’t expect this game to necessarily be a cake walk. It’s always tough to win on the road in the NBA, no matter where you are playing. While the Hawks aren’t the toughest matchup, they are still a solid team capable of hurting the Thunder in a few ways.
The keys for the Thunder will be Westbrook shooting well along with the second unit, which has been strong of late. I like the Thunder to handle the Hawks tonight. It just feels like not just anyone can beat this Thunder team the way they are playing lately, and the Hawks don’t fall under the category of a team who can beat them.
The game will tip at 6:30 p.m. CST.