Showdown In Hotlanta

By Randy Renner

Georgia's capital city has long been called "Hotlanta" because of hot nightlife and probably because of the summertime weather too.

Now days though folks are starting to call the place Hawklanta because of what the city's NBA team has been doing.

The Atlanta Hawks have won 14 straight games, a win tonight will tie the franchise record and they've also won 28 of their last 30 games. That's more than merely hot, that's sizzling.

The Thunder are on a pretty good roll themselves right now, winners of four straight (the last three on the road) and they're 19-8 since starting the season 3-12.

They've had a couple of great offensive games (Golden State and Orlando) and a couple of gut-it-out, gritty defensive games (Miami and Washington) where the team had to rally late to win.

The Hawks have 35 wins already this season and need just three more to tie last season's total. They're doing all of this without a superstar.

Guys like DeMarre Carroll, the former Missouri star and Kyle Korver, the NBA's most deadly 3-point sharpshooter have been leading the charge. The Thunder will also get to see old buddy Thabo Sefolosha who's averaging 5.2 points and 4.5 rebounds a game and is still a stout defender. Thabo's biggest problem from last season (a downturn in 3-point shooting) has continued this season. He's hitting just 28.8 percent of his threes.

But the most credit probably goes to second-year coach Mike Budenholzer, the former lead-assistant for Gregg Popovich in San Antonio.

"I'm not a historian. I know they've had a lot of great teams here, a lot of great players," Budenholzer said after Atlanta's 110-91 win over Indiana on Wednesday. "Coaches, we tend to look more forward and be in the moment. This group has continued to play with a little bit of an edge. If we can continue to work each day, that's what we're mostly concerned about."

Atlanta improved to 30-1 when leading by at least 10 points, which it has done in every game during the winning streak. It led Wednesday from start to finish, something it has done six times after accomplishing the feat four times over the previous two seasons combined.

The Thunder are finally turning back into the team everyone thought they would be before a slew of injuries wrecked the start of the season. With most everyone healthy now (rookie Mitch McGary is still out) and those five days between games last week off for extra practice time, the Thunder seem poised to make a run.

Their offense has been getting better and better with ball movement and the defense is much closer to locking down opponents for longer stretches.

“We’ve been focusing on getting better with all of our guys back,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “Those are the things that we’ve been good at in the past and we’ve just got to continue to improve in those areas.”

The Thunder will have to be extra sharp tonight to clip the Hawks' wings, but if they can go in and grab a win in "Hawklanta" it would go a long way toward proving ABC analyst Mark Jackson's opinion that, despite their 22-20 record, the Thunder are now, "the most dangerous team," in the Western Conference.