Thunder Try To Keep It Rolling In Atlanta
By Randy Renner
After stumble-bumbling around at times earlier this month the Oklahoma City Thunder seem intent on finishing with a flurry in November.
The team will try to win its fifth straight game tonight in Atlanta against former teammate Thabo Sefolosha and the Hawks.
The Thunder struggled with turnovers in the first half of their latest win, Friday night against Detroit, but came out more focused and determined in the second 24 minutes allowing them to play lockdown defense and dominate the boards.
The Thunder may finally be putting everything together but head coach Billy Donovan pointed out to reporters on Sunday, consistency can be a fleeting thing.
"I'm always a little bit reluctant to say you ever have anything 'figured out' it's just the strive and the drive to continually get better and improve that I'm looking for," he said. "Hopefully as a team we're better today than we were yesterday."
The Thunder are definitely better now that superstar Kevin Durant is back from his hamstring strain. The Thunder have won all three games he's been back in the lineup and Durant has been on fire averaging 30.3 points on 58.5 percent shooting in those three Thunder wins.
He totaled 34 along with a season-high 13 rebounds in that 103-87 decision over Detroit.
"I was feeding off the energy of the crowd and my teammates," he said. "In single coverage I feel like I can score on anybody. I was aggressive."
After going 27-28 in games Durant missed in 2014-15, the Thunder are 8-3 with him in the lineup this season.
His performance and the Thunder's 58-38 rebounding edge over what had been the best rebounding team in the NBA helped offset an off night from superstar point guard Russell Westbrook. Westbrook scored 14 points but turned the ball over 11 times.
The Thunder now lead the NBA in rebounding margin (plus 7.7 per game) and the Thunder's prowess in that area could present problems for the Hawks' relatively small lineup. Atlanta (11-8) ranks near the bottom of the league with a minus-3.7 rebounding margin and is 5-7 when finishing with an even or negative differential.
Atlanta was outrebounded 49-43 by San Antonio on Saturday, though its 108-88 defeat to the formidable Spurs was more a result of poor shooting. The Hawks were just 6-for-26 on 3-pointers while matching their lowest scoring output of the season, which came one night after they went 14-for-39 from beyond the arc in a 116-101 win at Memphis.
"There is really not much positive from us," center Al Horford said of Saturday's outcome. "For us as a team, the best thing is to put this behind us."
The Hawks did force 16 Spurs turnovers and are averaging 20.9 points per game off opponent's miscues, second-best in the NBA. Oklahoma City's 17.1 giveaways per game is among the league's worst marks.
The Thunder have been working more and more on small lineups and Donovan said that will be something he may try tonight against the Hawks.
"I think it'll be interesting to see the way the game goes. I like the fact that we have some flexibility with Kevin that he can play the 4 (power forward)," he told reporters. "You know in the Pelicans game we didn't downsize (when they went small) we just kept our normal big lineup in but the last couple games we've gone a little smaller more often and it's helped us."
Atlanta starts 6-10 Al Horford at center and 6-8 Paul Milsap at power forward with former Thunder shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha at small forward.
OKC could be more likely to use Serge Ibaka primarily at center to guard Horford rather then Steven Adams though the big Kiwi will certainly see some playing time.
The game has a bit of a later start for typical east coast games (8pm local) so you can see it tonight at 7 Oklahoma time on Fox Sports Oklahoma.