Thunder Ready to Battle Hawks
On Monday, the Thunder took care of business at home against the San Antonio Spurs and the team faces a tough task on the second night of a road back-to-back tomorrow against the Minnesota Timberwolves. All of the team’s energy, however, is locked in on its task tonight, which is to battle the Atlanta Hawks. The 20-4 Thunder will come into Phillips Arena tonight against the 15-7 Hawks knowing full well that its attention must be fully on tonight’s test, and that started with this morning’s shoot-around.
“We know it’s a process,” forward Kevin Durant said. “Every single day is a process. We know that we’ve won 20 games, but that really doesn’t mean anything, especially right now. We just have to keep pressing every single day. We’re excited that we’re getting better and winning games, but can’t get too excited. We have to keep an even keel and I think that everyone on our team knows that.”
The Thunder’s process-based approach is one that is pervasive up and down Head Coach Scott Brooks’ roster, starting with core team leaders like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. That attitude has also been accepted with open arms by newcomers like Kevin Martin and Hasheem Thabeet. That duo has joined Nick Collison and Eric Maynor in the second unit, which has developed into an increasingly potent threat this season.
“They’re getting a good feel for one another,” Brooks said. “We have a couple of new additions with K-Mart, Hasheem and even Eric, who just came back from his injury. It’s been an adjustment but as the season is going along they’re getting more comfortable with one another.”
The second unit will have to be on point tonight, as will the starting five, considering the tough, imposing style that Atlanta tries to play each night. Al Horford and Josh Smith are high level players along the front line, and try to get into the paint, using their physicality to score. On the defensive end the Hawks are also tough, ranking third in the NBA in steals. The Thunder knows that the right mindset and intensity will be necessary tonight.
“Their bigs are very physical and they attack the offensive glass very well,” Brooks said. “That’s one of the main keys. We have to make them miss and make sure we block out. We can’t just expect the ball to come to us. We have to hit them, knock them off balance and get the rebound.”
Although the Thunder plays with great energy and effort every single night, this is also a chance for the team to repay the Hawks for beating the Thunder earlier this season at Chesapeake Energy Arena. In that game Durant admitted his team had trouble executing against the Hawks’ zone defense and that the Hawks were able to exploit a few areas when they had the ball in the first meeting. Durant and company has had time to grow and gel as a unit since that third game of the season, and hopes to flip the script tonight.
“Hopefully we’re a different team tonight,” Durant said. “We know it’s going to be a tough test, especially coming into their house. Hopefully we do a good job. It should be fun. I think we’ve grown up since that last meeting against these guys and hopefully we show it.”