The Hawks have a comfortable 57-50 lead at the half and have received important offensive contributions from role players DeMarre Carroll and Dennis Schröder, but Kevin Durant is at it again with 18 first half points. Before the game, I talked to Kevin Yueng of SB Nation's Thunder blog, Welcome to Loud City. Here's what he had to say about the match-up:
Question (Daniel Christian): Kevin Durant is on one of the hottest streaks in recent memory. Conversely, the Hawks have received fantastic individual perimeter defense from DeMarre Carroll as of late. There's no way to shut him down, but how might a physical defender like Carroll disrupt Durant's incredible scoring barrage? Or, at this rate, is Durant just too far into the zone?
Answer (Kevin Yueng): I'm biased, of course, but I'm inclined to say Durant is too far gone for Carroll to stop him. Carroll has solid size and is aggressive with the hands, a type of defender Durant hasn't seen too often in the month. It'll be an interesting matchup, but for comparison's sake, Durant has spent his month beating guys like Andre Iguodala off the dribble and drilling post fadeaways over the considerable length of Tayshaun Prince. It's a tall order for Carroll to live up to, and while I wouldn't be too surprised if Carroll can get in Durant's head with handsy defense and throw him off just a bit (which still means about 35 points for January's KD), Durant will still attack the rim and get to the line even if he can't put together 50%+ from the field.
Q: How has the injury of Russell Westbrook opened doors for Reggie Jackson? What's your evaluation of his play so far this season and how do you see his role in the franchise developing when Russ comes back?
A: Jackson's done a great job of producing for this team with Westbrook out. The main thing about Jackson recently is that he's started to knock down the three-pointer, shooting 37.8% from three this month. Apart from that, he's really been the same old Reggie Jackson simply playing more minutes than before. Mind you, the old Reggie Jackson was probably one of the best back-up point guards in the league, a player capable of scoring at the rim, excelling in transition and defending, so his play remaining constant hasn't been a problem at all. As for his role in the future, Jackson should be around for at least another year or two. Then it gets cloudy as he'll present a bit of a James Harden situation for us, and my personal belief at this point is that he'll be traded like Harden was. It's not something that many people have worried about yet, however.
Q: The OKC front court should have their hands full with Paul Millsap, but the Hawks' own front court has been thinned by injuries. Despite Mike Scott's surge into the league as a strong rotational player, does the Thunder front line have enough offensive power to exploit some possible Atlanta defensive weaknesses in the paint?
A: The Thunder's front line isn't a very conventional one offensively, in that very little of their offense goes through big men in the post. Serge Ibaka mostly lives off spot-up midrange jumpers, offensive rebounds and defenders leaving him to help on Durant. Steven Adams might have a couple more baskets than usual, but it won't drastic one way or another. Just about everything goes through Durant, and when it's not Durant, it'll be pick-and-rolls for Reggie Jackson or some type of play to get Jeremy Lamb open on the perimeter. Atlanta bigs shouldn't have too much to worry about in defending the post, though they'll still have to contend with closing out on Ibaka's jumpers and offering strong help defense against Durant.
Q: The Thunder are favored, but if I were to tell you the injury-riddled Hawks (without Teague, Horford, and Antic) were to beat the Thunder by 10, what match-up would the Hawks have exploited over the Thunder? And, of course, what's your actual pick for the game?
A: If the Hawks win, I'm guessing it'd be on that outstanding three-point shooting. I love Antic and it's a shame he isn't playing (as well as the others, though they aren't quite the same three-point threats), but between Korver, Lou Williams and some of the other capable shooters on the Hawks, there's enough there to give the Thunder some issues. The Thunder have been inconsistent with their effort to recover to shooters (especially on the weak side) this season, so the Hawks might get their share of open looks to stay in it. I'm still taking the Thunder though, of course! The Hawks lost big to the Spurs but destroyed the Bucks (talk about extremes), and I'm figuring the Thunder belong closer to the Spurs on that scale. I'll guess we win by 8 tonight. Come at me, Peachtree Hoops.