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2013-2014 Game 46 Preview: Thunder Face Unquestionably Resiliant Hawks

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There's a lot more to the Hawks than mediocrity, as I will explain in this tale of triumph and tragedy.

KD on peach?
KD on peach?
William Bennett Berry
2013-2014 NBA Season
Won 1

Won 7
January 27th, 2014
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
7:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network South
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), WZGC 92.9 The Game
Injury Report: Russell Westbrook (Out), Al Horford (Out), Jeff Teague (Out), Pero Antic (Out), John Jenkins (Out)
Previous Matchups: Dec 11th (Thunder Lead Season Series 1-0)
Probable Starters
Shelvin Mack PG Reggie Jackson
Kyle Korver SG Thabo Sefolosha
DeMarre Carroll SF Kevin Durant
Paul Milsap PF Serge Ibaka
Gustavo Ayon C Kendrick Perkins
2013/14 Advanced Stats
97.1 (13th) Pace 98.2 (6th)
103.9 (T-14th) ORtg 107.2 (5th)
102.7 (T-12th) DRtg 98.8 (3rd)

Notice a team that's not up there? Atlanta is probably sitting at 9th in that table, with a record of 5-6 since January 1st. Compared to their overall record of 23-20, they don't seem very imposing. However, the circumstances that led them to see such a record are quite remarkable.

On December 26th, during a thrilling double-overtime win against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Al Horford suffered a torn pectoral muscle. He was the Hawks main offensive option, and their primary rock in terms of consistent production. Many expected the Hawks, who were barely treading water in the murky Eastern Conference, to immediately drop to lottery status. Teague, Milsap, and Korver are all good players in their own right, but no one thought that they could carry the team alone.

One month on, and the Hawks are still very much in the running for third place in the East. They've gone 7-7 since Horford's injury, and a couple of different players have stepped up to fill the offensive hole left by Horford. One of them is Mike Scott, an offensively minded power forward who was selected as a late second rounder two years ago. He's averaged 12.2 Points since Horford's injury, bringing an excellent and patient mid-to-close range game. Scott is primarily a scorer, but that's exactly what the Hawks needed.  Another player who's done well for himself is DeMarre Carroll. He's averaging a crazily efficient 11.1 points per game since Horford's injury, shooting 52.5% from the floor and 44.1% from three. What separates him is his good shot selection from outside, as well as his uncanny ability to hit really tough shots in traffic. He's especially deadly on the break, much like Thabo Sefolosha.

There's a third player that's really stepped up in Horford's absence as well, but he'll be out 2-4 weeks with a stress fracture in his ankle. The man I'm talking about is the Macedonian Pero Antic, the grizzled Euroleague veteran that finally tried his hand at the NBA this season. Antic struggled to get minutes with Horford, Milsap, Scott, and Brand in the rotation, but extended minutes saw his averages shoot up to 9 points and 4 boards. His average of 45.7% from the floor is underwhelming for a big man, but when you consider that he shoots 39.6% from three, it begins to make more sense.

With all three of those players playing finding their roles and the traditional faces of Teague, Milsap, and Korver doing their usual thing, the Hawks managed to be a really consistently good team. Wins against the Heat and Pacers prove their mettle, but they managed to fall victim to a lot of really hot teams. One example is a loss the recently recovered Grizzlies, with other games going to the Nets and Knicks, who are scorching in January (as you can see above).

Of course, a good thing can't seem to last too long for these Hawks. You heard about the Antic injury, which set them back going into Friday's game against the Spurs. While they were getting pounded in the midst of a dreadful first half, their primary scorer and shot creator, Jeff Teague, went down with an ankle sprain. It's unknown how long he'll be out, but his X-rays were negative, so he should be back this season. Regardless, without Teague, the Hawks are really having to reach deep into their roster. The rotations are impossible to know at this point, with the Hawks last two games consisting of getting pounded against San Antonio and beating up on the Bucks.  But in terms of what's expected, the Hawks will likely have the dependable Gustavo Ayon absorb the brunt of Antic's minutes and have the raw Dennis Schroeder take Teague's minutes. However, the starting point guard will be Shelvin Mack.

Anyway, let's get to the part that you care about. How competitive are the Hawks with all of their recent injuries? Well, the sure fire way to take them out of the game is to make them turn the ball over. Shelvin Mack's hands are a lot more reliable than Jeff Teague's, but Lou Williams and Dennis Schroeder are liable to do a good share of the ballhandling as well, and they're extremely turnover-prone. Also, they will manage to move the ball a lot, as their array of spot shooters, post scorers, and high field goal percentages will attest.

The real key to Atlanta's victory, in my opinion, belongs to Lou Williams. He hasn't really managed to contribute to the offense after returning from an early-season injury, but he did get more opportunities in the San Antonio and Milwaukee games. His game primarily focuses on the perimeter, which isn't good news for the Thunder's lax defense out there.

Harking back to last season's game, it's obvious that these Hawks will possess at least some sort of fight. Andre Roberson did a great job of closing out on Korver in that game, but Thabo Sefolosha will be in his place tonight. That's not normally a defensive alarm bell, but Thabo's primary defensive weakness is gambling too far on steals and leaving shooters open. Additionally, another player that the Thunder were key in shutting down last time was Al Horford, who obviously won't be playing tonight.

All in all, I think the Hawks have some significant advantages. They're going to rotate and swing the ball a lot, getting some open shots. They're also going to be able to pass the ball between their array of scoring forwards, who shouldn't have too much trouble being at least semi-productive against the Thunder. But at the end of the day, this Atlanta team is lacking too much in talent to win most matchups against the Thunder right now. Their only non-role player is Paul Milsap, and they're giving significant minutes to a few guys who might not be up to snuff when it comes to playoff-level rotations. So they'll be competitive in this game and might even lead in the second half, but it would take a seriously dazzling X-Factor or great teamwork to push them over the hump.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 101, Atlanta Hawks 93.

What do you think about tonight's game? Let us know in the poll and comments!