Scouting Report: Oklahoma City Thunder
The Hawks limp into the Heartland for the second of a brief two-game road trip as they face the West-leading Oklahoma City Thunder, winners of seven straight games.
On paper it would appear the odds are most certainly against Atlanta. After all, they’re missing their two cornerstone pieces in Al Horford and Jeff Teague and also will be without rookie center Pero Antic. Combine that with the fact that Kevin Durant is putting up video game-like numbers in January, and it would appear as though the best team west of the Mississippi has a distinct advantage. But don’t count this Hawks group out. Despite the injuries, they’ve found ways to stay afloat thanks to unselfish basketball, hard work and timely shooting. They already own wins over the Pacers, Rockets and Heat since Horford’s injury and just won a road game by 25 points without Teague.
Oklahoma City, however, is a whole different challenge. The Thunder obviously go as Durant goes, and lately, he’s been lights out. He’s scored 30+ points in 10 straight games, helping OKC offset the loss of All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, who has been out with a knee injury. DeMarre Carroll will be tasked with trying to slow down the NBA’s MVP through the first half of the season, and it won’t be easy. There’s no easy way to defend Durant since he can score in so many ways. He’s up to 50 percent shooting from the field and 41 percent from three. As Carroll said when the Thunder were in Atlanta, trying to make shots difficult for him and making him work hard are his goals.
Reggie Jackson gets the start for the injured Westbrook, and he’s been playing very well. Shelvin Mack’s assignment will be to keep Jackson from slashing, which is what he likes to do. Once Jackson gets into the paint, he’s looking to score first and pass second, so getting the ball out of his hands is wise.
Serge Ibaka had a big game when these teams met in Atlanta last month, scoring 19 points on 7-14 shooting. Ibaka is best known for his defense, though his offense has improved thanks to a well-developed mid-range jump shot, and he’s now the third leading scorer for Oklahoma City. Gustavo Ayon is going to have to play physical with him and keep him away from the paint because he’s an athletic center.
The Hawks stole the game in somewhat improbable fashion in Oklahoma City last season. Doing it for a second straight year would be pretty sweet.
Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE/Getty Images