- Tip-off: 6:30 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
ATLANTA – The injuries and losses have piled up this season for tonight’s Thunder foe, the Atlanta Hawks, but this clash is of the utmost importance to Head Coach Billy Donovan and his crew. Playoff implications are on the line for Oklahoma City’s postseason dreams, and the Thunder must be prepared to perform at a high level for all four quarters.
While the Hawks are in rebuilding mode and some of their contributors are sidelined, it appears that shifty, speedy point guard Dennis Schroeder will be back in action. As a result, the Thunder will have to be vigilant on the defensive end, utilizing the same five-man principles that it has deployed on this current three-game win streak.
“We just can’t look at this as an easy one,” forward Paul George stated. “We have to go out there and accept the challenge. Atlanta is a team that plays hard.”
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 13, 2018
“They are going to play a fast tempo,” George continued. “We have to go out there and perform and play to our ability and continue the win streak going.”
With the win against Sacramento on the front end of these back-to-back games, Oklahoma City is now at 40-29, its highest mark above .500 this season. Aside from a commitment to effort on the defensive end, the Thunder offense has made strides. One noticeable area that will be important tonight on the road is how Russell Westbrook and George find Carmelo Anthony as a trailing 3-point shooter on the break. Center Steven Adams typically searches out for Anthony’s defender in those situations and sets a hardy back screen, generating a passing lane and shooting window to facilitate the catch-and-shoot jumper.
“It’s something we talk about. We see it when we watch film. We see how defenders are guarding that,” Anthony revealed. “A lot of times, it’s all eyes on Russ as he’s pushing the ball or PG is pushing the ball and my man is in a situation where he has to make a decision whether to help or whether to stay out there with me.”
If shots from the perimeter aren’t falling like they did last night against the Kings, the Thunder must be willing to attack the rim and draw contact. Even if the whistle doesn’t blow, putting pressure on the rim can be damaging enough to an opposing defense that it throws the opposition’s game plan off kilter. Layups, dunks, free throws and kick outs should all be available as options once the defense is broken down.
“That’s all going to come, my job is just to continue to keep going, continue to stay in attack mode,” George said.
In both those driving forays into the paint and the defensive connectivity necessary to win games, there’s one element that runs as an undercurrent: physicality. Last night against Sacramento the Thunder made plays when it counted to, including some incredibly tough rebounds in traffic by Russell Westbrook. The Thunder point guard and NBA assist leader racked up 10 rebounds as a part of his 99th career triple double. Westbrook will have a chance for number 100 tonight in Atlanta, so stay tuned.
“I take a lot of pride on both sides of the ball,” Westbrook said. “Honestly, I feel like when I step on the floor I have to be the best defender, the best offensive player. To do that you have to be locked in, and that’s what I try to do every night.”
– Terrance Ferguson and Steven Adams were both back from injury on Monday against the Kings, but Adams’ status is uncertain after having to leave midway through for the second game in a row. This time the injury is a hip contusion.
– New starting shooting guard Corey Brewer continues to be a solid pickup by Thunder General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti. Brewer has now scored in double figures in four consecutive games, while shooting 50 percent or better in his last three contests. On defense Brewer has been active while using his size and length, and in five total contests has racked up six steals.
- “There is an aggressiveness to him that I certainly don’t want to take away from him because it makes him who he is,” Donovan said of Brewer. “He is doing a really good job picking his spots when to shoot, when to drive and I think when to pass. He understands the offensive players on our team, but he is still able to manufacture and create points for us on some runouts, some drives, a couple threes and obviously the free point line.”
- “(Brewer is) getting his hands on basketballs,” Westbrook added. “Obviously, being savvy and knowing the game is a huge part. He’s doing a great job.”
– Jerami Grant is now 11th in the NBA this season in charges drawn at 14, while playing 1407 minutes this season. Six of the players ahead of him on the list have played more minutes this season. Grant’s footspeed in his role as a center and ability to defend multiple positions on the floor allows him to beat the ballhandler to the spot and get into legal guarding position before the contact. On the other end of the floor, Grant has continued to play well in March, averaging 9.4 points per game on 61.5 percent shooting, including a 36.4 percent mark from three-point range.
- “(Jerami) is really good at seeing plays develop and then timing them to be there early to trap the box,” center Steven Adams said. “That’s like 90 percent of it.”
- “He’s been doing a great job all year long,” Westbrook said of Grant. “Playing aggressive, being at the basket and using his size and length and finishing well, as well.”