Game Analysis

The Oklahoma City Thunder have been one of the NBA’s most surprising teams, and will try to continue their climb in the Western Conference standings at home against one of the NBA’s worst teams, the Atlanta Hawks, on Friday. The Thunder, who traded stars Russell Westbrook and Paul George in the offseason undoubtedly with an eye toward the future, have instead climbed to seventh place in the West and won 15 of their last 20 games. The Thunder are led by Chris Paul, who after being hampered by injuries the past two seasons, has started all 45 games for Oklahoma City and is putting together a retro season. Paul is shooting 48 percent (including 38 percent from three), scoring 17 points per game and dishing out 6.4 assists per game. That assist total is much lower than Paul’s career average, but he’s also sharing responsibilities and serving as an elder statesman for two other point guards having good seasons -- Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (19.8 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists per game) and Dennis Schroeder (18.6 points and 3.8 assists per game). The Thunder are also getting a scoring boost from another veteran, Danilo Gallinari, who is scoring 19 points per game and making 41 percent of his three-pointers. Steven Adams continues to anchor the middle for the Thunder, and minus Westbrook’s rebound-chasing ways, the center is averaging a career-high 9.7 rebounds per game. He’s also scoring 11.3 points per game and serves as a solid defensive presence and rim protector. Against the Hawks, the trio of Thunder guards will be tasked with slowing down second-year guard Trae Young, who is the lone bright spot for the Hawks. Young is averaging 29.2 points and nearly 9 assists per game. John Collins averages 18 points per game, but the Hawks don’t get much reliable offense from other sources. They recently re-acquired Jeff Teague to give Young some relief in the backcourt, but Teague is only averaging 6 points per game in three games back with the Hawks. Oklahoma City trails sixth place Houston by two games, and is just 3.5 spots out of a homecourt advantage playoff spot in the West. Friday’s game is the first meeting of the season between the Hawks and Thunder. Atlanta is 21-24 against the spread and Oklahoma City is 30-15.

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