Tipoff: 8:00PM EST
Joe Johnson – 17.2 ppg, 5.6 apg
Al Horford – 16.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg
Marvin Williams – DTD
Al Horford – DTD
Jamal Crawford – DTD
Russell Westbrook – DTD
Tonight’s game is against a future playoff team. Let’s start there.
I believe that when you go into a game, any game, a healthy dose of fear helps put you in the right mindset. (I always approached basketball games this way; unfortunately for me, I had no idea how to manage that fear and ended up missing layups and air-balling free throws). The biggest mistake I see teams make, from any sport, is when they don’t even consider that their opponent can beat them. What inevitably happens then is a lot of wasted possessions, missed free throws, sloppy passes, and wondering why they’re down eight with 2 minutes to go. The Hawks are a playoff team, and have been for four years in a row.
In a way, the Hawks are a good team for the Thunder to model, and in another way, they are a poor team to model. They are good in that they have had solid if unspectacular regular seasons, and in the last two years have lost in the semi-finals. They have a near identical record as the Thunder, have a signature win against the Magic, and look to be on pace for another 50 win season and a 5th seed. If the Thunder can parlay their team growth into consistency like the Hawks have, then that’s a very good thing.
The Hawks are a bad model to follow in that they have essentially capped themselves from a performance standpoint. If you look at the team’s salary structure, there isn’t a lot of wiggle room past Joe Johnson, Al Horford, and Josh Smith. And the problem of course is, those players are nice but not transcendent. The way they are now, they are never going to get beyond the mid-rounds.
This in between stage that the Thunder are in now? Where everyone is young and likable and hard working and feeling good about turning the franchise around? That is tremendous. And it would be most beneficial if it ended as quickly as possible. There’s another level out there, and it is the level that believes it is born to pound on people literally and figuratively in the playoffs. White Mamba is currently the chairman.
Tonight we’ll see both teams run, we’ll see athleticism, and we’ll see a grand display on New Year’s Eve. The difference will be, once again, the Thunder’s breadth of talent, and the Hawks’ lack of it. So it is, so it shall be done.