The Thunder (40-29) climbed to fourth place in the conference with Monday night’s 106-101 victory over the Sacramento Kings. Russell Westbrook had 17 points, 11 assists and ten rebounds for his NBA-best 20th triple-double of the season and combined with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to make 11 of 19 from 3-point range.
Oklahoma City made 16 3-pointers overall as they won their third straight game and their sixth in the last eight games overall. Even with the recent surge, during which they have averaged 110.4 points, the Thunder are just two games ahead of the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference.
Atlanta (20-47) are tied with Orlando for last in the Eastern Conference and have dropped three in a row following a 129-122 loss to Chicago on Sunday. Taurean Prince scored a career-high 38 points, hitting seven of 13 from 3-point range as the Hawks hit a season-high 19 3-pointers overall and registered their second-most points on the season.
The Hawks have lost ten of their last 13 games, giving up 100 or more points in 12 of them while giving up 111.8 points per game. Opponents have shot 38.4 percent from beyond the arc and 46.9 percent overall
Three keys to the game
Thunder take what the defensive gives - Oklahoma City's 16 3-pointers were one off their season high as they improved to 17-2 when shooting 40 percent or better from beyond the arc. While Westbrook, George and Anthony were a combined 21 for 51 overall, when they moved the ball on the perimeter against Sacramento's packed-in defense, good things happened.
Prince becoming the Hawks' king on the court - The second-year forward is tied for second on the Hawks with 12.9 points per game, but it is becoming clear they are building their future around him. Prince has been given the green light to shoot from the perimeter and he has responded by going 30 of 63 (47.6 percent) from beyond the arc in eight games since the All-Star break and averaging 17.5 points in that span.
Thunder's schedule about to get tough - This contest is the last one Oklahoma City will have against a team not in playoff contention until their season finale against Memphis on April 11. Included in that 11-game gauntlet are dates at Toronto, Boston and Houston, both games against Miami and a home game versus Golden State.
Matchup to watch
SF Paul George vs SF Taurean Prince - Prince's on-the-job training to be the go-to player for the Hawks adds another chapter against George, who has yet to shoot 50 percent from the field in any of his ten games since the All-Star break but has averaged 17.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists in that span.
George, though, has posted a net-plus 6.0 in that span as the Thunder are yielding 102.0 points per 100 possessions, nearly double his season mark of plus-3.7. Despite his increased scoring average, Prince is a net minus-8.4 in his eight games since the All-Star break, with the Hawks giving up 108.2 points per 100 possessions when he's on the court.
So while offense is good, defense is sometimes better.
Oklahoma City Thunder projected starting lineup
PG - Russell Westbrook | SG - Corey Brewer | C- Steven Adams | SF - Paul George | PF - Carmelo Anthony
Atlanta Hawks projected starting lineup
PG - Isaiah Taylor | SG - Kent Bazemore | C - Dewayne Dedmon | SF - Taurean Prince | PF - John Collins
Westbrook finished three rebounds shy of a triple-double in the first meeting between the teams, a 120-117 victory December 22, totaling 30 points, 15 assists and seven rebounds while hitting 12 of 17 shots. He has two triple-doubles and seven double-doubles in his last nine games against the Hawks, averaging 29.6 points, 10.9 assists and 8.8 rebounds in that span.
Overall, Westbrook has three triple-doubles in 17 lifetime games versus Atlanta, averaging 23.5 points, 9.2 assists and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 34.3 percent from beyond the arc and 42.8 percent overall.
Anthony hit seven 3-pointers in the first meeting, finishing with 24 points. He has averaged 26.2 points and 7.2 rebounds in 34 career games versus Atlanta, connecting on 37.8 percent from deep. He has topped 30 points in three of his last five matchups, including a 45-point effort in a quadruple overtime game last season with the New York Knicks.
Prince did not face the Thunder his rookie season and was bottled up in the December meeting, finishing with eight points and three assists while shooting three of 11 from the field.
Hawks point guard Dennis Schroder sat out the first game with a sore ankle but was solid in both games against the Thunder last season, totaling 48 points and 16 assists. He has averaged 14.9 points and 4.3 assists in seven lifetime meetings with the Thunder.
While no betting line has been officially established, in part because Schroder is listed as probable with an elbow injury, the Thunder have been shown in places as 9.5-point favorites for this contest. While Oklahoma City are 11-3 against the spread in their last 14 trips to Atlanta, they have struggled against the spread of late.
They are 1-4 against the number in their last five road games and 2-6 in their last eight versus the spread when playing Southeast Division teams. Oklahoma City are also 3-10 against the spread in their last 13 road games when playing opponents with a losing home record.
While Atlanta have failed to cover in their last four games, they have covered in six of their last seven versus Northwest Division teams and 8-2 against the spread in their last ten contests against Western Conference rivals.
The task is a simple one for the Thunder: win and stay in the top half of the Western Conference for at least one more game, or lose ahead of a brutal stretch and become a bigger part of the chaos that separates fifth through tenth.
Whether Atlanta use the same strategy Sacramento did of packing the paint is yet to be determined, the Hawks will have size in the paint in their first five between the seven-foot Dewayne Dedmon and six-foot-ten forward John Collins. That may result in the same volume of 3-point attempts by the Thunder, who have gone 39 for 97 from beyond the arc during their winning streak.
The Hawks are playing out the string, living and learning with Prince becoming their go-to player. They are taking plenty of lumps, but there were some silver linings in the loss to Chicago as Atlanta shot over 50 percent for the first time in 13 games. Isaiah Taylor, who started in place of Schroder, had eight assists as the Hawks totaled 32 overall.
Oklahoma City are 6-6 playing on the back end of consecutive nights, but they should make it 7-6 here, gearing up for their killer stretch of schedule with a 115-105 victory.
The game will be televised locally on Fox Sports Oklahoma and Fox Sports Southeast -Atlanta. Tip-off time is 7:30 pm EDT.
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