The last time these two teams met was back on MLK day in Atlanta with the Thunder escaping with a 94-91 victory. The Hawks will be looking for revenge tonight as they try bounce back and keep pace with the upper echelon teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Thunder are an exciting young team. I am not sure anyone expected them to be competing for a playoff birth in the rugged Western Conference this soon. Coach Scott Brooks has done an excellent job of getting this young team to defend. They are really similar to the Hawks in that they offer a lot of versatile athletic players that are long and excellent athletes. This is one of the few teams in the league that can make the Hawks look old or slow.
The key for the Hawks tonight will be establishing a defensive presence along with working for high percentage shots. In the first meeting Jamal Crawford didn’t shoot the ball well and I thought Joe Johnson took it upon himself to try and save the Hawks and actually forced up some bad shots at crunch time. This team is too good defensively for that game plan. The Hawks need to establish Horford inside against Nenad Krstic and crash the boards as always.
Kevin Durant is always a tough cover but it will be important to make him work and settle for long contested jump shots. Last game he was able to penetrate the Hawks defense at will and ended up shooting 14 of 15 from the free throw line. I look for multiple people to guard Durant throughout the game but Marvin Williams will probably be there most of the night.
Lately teams have attacked Mike Bibby relentlessly on the defensive end and it has seemed to seriously effect his offense. Look for Russell Westbrook to attack Bibby or for the Thunder to use screen and rolls to try and get Bibby matched up against a bigger opponent like Durant or Jeff Green. It was in the last match up that Bibby had a decent scoring night (12 pts 5-10 shooting) that Scott Brooks went immediately into Thabo Sefolosha in the post against Bibby to start the second half. Woodson had to counter by getting Bibby out of the game. The Thunder will try and exploit this match up again tonight.
This game kicks off another 4 game week for the Hawks with upcoming home games against the Clippers and the Bulls followed by a road game in Washington. A road win in Oklahoma City to start the week would be a great momentum builder for the week ahead.