Where They At: Thunder
Kevin Durant's season is most likely over. The first game after hearing that kind of news sometimes reveals a deflating effect on a team, or sometimes the team will rally for an impressive effort. Sans Durant, the latest iteration of the Thunder has been an offensive powerhouse without the ability to keep teams at bay on the other end of the court. They're gutting out close games in the hundreds, and still winning enough to stay just ahead of the Pelicans in the standings. The overall Thunder identity for the 2014/15 season remains: the team that just can't catch a break. The Durant news comes on the heels of learning that Serge Ibaka is gone until at least the playoffs (if OKC gets there). Enes Kanter is out now, nursing an ankle sprain. Turns out, OKC has been battling tough scheduling breaks all year as well.
Offense ain't a thing: Anthony Morrow is on fire, Steven Adams is contributing, Russell Westbrook is Russell Westbrooking, and role players are giving enough every night (excluding Dion Waiters). On defense, no one on the perimeter is keeping guys in front of them, with the exception of Andre Roberson, who is fouling at a high rate and still an offensive liability. Adams is the only big capable of shoring up paint, and opposing teams are doing a good job of luring him away so the lane is clear.
Where They At: Hawks
The Hawks are such amaze. Very basketball. Coach Mike Budenholzer is looking very much like a Popovich prodigy, and the everyone-complements-everyone-else roster has been a beautiful thing to watch all year. Atlanta has the 1 seed locked down in the Eastern Conference, and have only Finals home court advantage at stake for the rest of the season (Golden State is two games up on Atlanta in the loss column).
The Hawks have an impressive 106.1/100.1 offensive/defensive rating for the season, but they have dropped off a bit in two games without Kyle Korver (he'll be out again tonight, still recovering from a broken nose). They also are about twice as effective at home (108/99.8) than on the road (104.3/100.5), if you're looking for cracks in the armor.
If the Thunder could pull off this upset, they could be up two on New Orleans by their next contest. The Pelicans have to face Golden State on a back-to-back after a demoralizing loss tonight, with tweaks to Anthony Davis and Omer Asik in play. Opportunity knocks, but will the Thunder have enough spirit and healthy bodies to seize it?
It's hard to imagine the path to victory, outside of Russ somehow mustering his alien energy and superpowers for another takeover. I slotted Mitch McGary in as a a guess for Scott Brooks' starting power forward, just because he's gotten the call more recently. But the thought of McGary chasing around Paul Millsap and company is kind of frightening; I wouldn't be shocked if Brooks gave Nick Collison his third start of the season. Regardless, the Thunder have their hands full, and a sub par game from Atlanta is probably better to hope for than a magically rejuvenated Thunder defensive effort. The absence of Kanter might make for a more balanced game, since he's such a charge and a drain on offense and defense, respectively, but the most likely scenario is pretty straightforward: Atlanta rolls, OKC can't keep up.
Prediction: Atlana 121 Oklahoma City 97
|2014-15 NBA Season Game 69|
|March 20th, 2015|
|Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK|
|7 PM Central Standard Time|
|TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma, SportSouth|
|Injury Report: Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kyle Korver, Mike Scott, Thabo Sefolosha (Out), Enes Kanter (Questionable)|
|This Season's Matchups: Jan. 23 (L 93-103)|
|Jeff Teague||PG||Russell Westbrook|
|Kent Bazemore||SG||Andre Roberson|
|DeMarre Carroll||SF||Dion Waiters|
|Paul Millsap||PF||Mitch McGary|
|Al Horford||C||Steven Adams|