Perhaps the first toss-up of the season. Yeah, the Atlanta Hawks were a playoff team last year, but they were still the 8th seeded team in the Eastern bracket with a sub-.500 record. That being said, they still almost knocked off a team in the first round that would turn out to be the eventual champs and still finished leaps and bounds better than the the then-Sonics, who were one of the worst teams in the league. All things considered, though the Hawks are stocked with fantasy hoops front-runners like Joe Johnson and Josh Smith, we should be in for a slug-fest tonight in Bricktown.
Backstory: The Thunder found themselves in a seemingly insurmountable hole last-time against Utah only to close valiantly to make the game seem respectable. If they want to beat the 4-0 Hawks tonight, they're going to have to avoid a sluggish start against a Hawks team who, at times, can be offensively explosive. Also, when, if ever, will shooting on this team improve? They're shooting 41.1% from the field (not something to be proud of), 38.3% from downtown (not too bad, but keep in mind only 5 Thunder players have even attempted a 3, and KD is 1/6 this season), and 72.3% from the free throw line (definitely should be improved upon, and somehow in some paradoxical conundrum, our starting Center, Petro, has yet to even attempt a FT. That's not a good sign)
Earl Watson vs. Mike Bibby
Mike Bibby isn't what he was a few years ago, but Earl's game hasn't been anywhere near even productive, underachieving in nearly every statistical category and the worst shooting stats for a player with any decent amount of minutes.
Kevin Durant vs. Joe Johnson
Sorry Thunder fans, but Joe is simply having a better season thus far. 25 PPG and shooting 42.1% from beyond the arch, that's pretty impressive.
Jeff Green vs. Maurice Evans
Normally, this would be a Smith/Green match-up, in which I'd easily go with Smith. Evans is a decent player in his own right, but he certainly doesn't bring anything to the table that Jeff Green doesn't already. On top of that, Jeff Green has been the second most reliable scorer on the Thunder thus far.
Nick Collison vs. Marvin Williams
Marvin Williams has always been a model for inconsistent play in the NBA. Not that Collison is a rock, but you never know what Marvin you're going to see, even though the past couple of games he has looked good.
Johan Petro vs. Al Horford
Horford was much better at grabbing boards and scoring last season, but still he's only a couple of each away from averaging a double-double.
Battle of the Benches
The excellent play of Desmond Mason and Joe Smith needs to carry-over to tonight if the Thunder want a chance at beating a play-off team.
Coaching and Intangibles
Though it's always hard to get very pumped when the Hawks come to town, the Ford Center is almost always rockin'. It's a stark contrast to the crowd the Hawks are accustomed to, as their city is wrapped up in Georgia 'Dawg football and the resurgent Atlanta Falcons.
Player to Watch: How 'bout Zorgon's boy Joe Smith? His offensive game has picked up recently and, surprisingly enough, is leading the team in FG%. He should provide a spark off the bench against a Hawks team that isn't very deep down low.
God of Thunder's Pick: Hawks lose the glue of their team, Smith, so Thunder pull off some OKC magic: Thunder 90 Hawks 88