Where They At: Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder are coming off their most impressive win of the season, a 37-point rout of the once-tough Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis appears to have lost its grinding soul, but the way in which the Thunder beat their old foe was still noteworthy. The team has opened up on offense, dominating through unselfish, efficient play, with Kevin Durant (32 points on 11-14 shooting) and Russell Westbrook (13 points, 16 assists) setting that tone. Their small ball lineups were on fire, and their typical weak areas of turnovers (12) and defense (the Grizzlies shot just 40.7%) were strong.
Otherworldly play from Durant and Westbrook is sustainable, but it remains to be seen if the rest of the show was an aberration. Will the bench unit keep improving? Will Billy Donovan lean on more small ball? Can the Thunder play at such a high level against really good teams? On the road? I doubt they made a leap like that overnight, but one long winning streak could convince us that the team is growing into its potential.
Where They At: Atlanta Hawks
After opening the season 7-1, the Hawks have been playing sub-.500 ball, with one of their few quality wins in recent weeks coming against the Thunder in Atlanta. They’ve played about as well on defense as they did in last year’s breakout season, but their offensive prowess has taken a hit.
The drop-off could be due to a trickle effect of losing the efficient production of DeMarre Carroll, or to the ill-fitting combo of Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder that they’ve tried and failed to make work, or the league wising up to their Spurs East motion scheme, or some of all of that. Kyle Korver is a good proxy for the difference between last year’s Hawks and this year’s. He’s taking and making about the same amount of shots, but fewer of them have been three-pointers. He’s still one of the league’s best shooters, but he’s shooting "just" 42.9% from deep, down from 49.2% last season.
Since replacing Kent Bazemore with Thabo Sefolosha, the Hawks' starting lineup has gone from bad to very good. The Thunder were the first team the Hawks beat after that lineup change, in fact. The Hawks had no offensive issues then, with Al Horford, Paul Millsap, and game-icer Jeff Teague tearing through the Thunder’s defense.
Even with poor defensive performances from guys like Steven Adams and Andre Roberson, and no-shows all throughout the roster, the Thunder still had a chance to eke out a win in that game. The lineup that got them back in the game in a hurry was---ding, ding ding---a small ball group with Anthony Morrow at the 3. While Donovan has been a tad stubborn about using lineups he wants to work instead of lineups that do work, I expect him to run with that smaller group earlier and more often, especially as it sets fire to the earth like it did against the Grizzlies.
Prediction: Thunder 119, Hawks 110
|2015-16 NBA Season Game 22|
|December 10th, 2015|
|Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City|
|7:00 PM Central Standard Time|
|TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma, Fox Sports Southwest, NBA League Pass|
|Injury Report: Tiago Splitter (Probable)|
|This Season's Matchups: Dec. 1 (L 106-100)|
|Russell Westbrook||PG||Jeff Teague|
|Andre Roberson||SG||Kyle Korver|
|Kevin Durant||SF||Thabo Sefolosha|
|Serge Ibaka||PF||Paul Millsap|
|Steven Adams||C||Al Horford|