NBA: Improved Thunder set to face unsteady Hawks


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The last time the Oklahoma City Thunder and Atlanta Hawks squared off, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey led the way in a Thunder win.

Heading into Wednesday’s second and final meeting between the teams, this time in Oklahoma City, Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey enter on a hot streak and could be poised to do more damage. The duo is a big reason why the Thunder have won seven of their last nine games.

Gilgeous-Alexander is coming off a 34-point effort in Sunday’s 101-99 win over the host Denver Nuggets that included the deciding bucket with 9.2 seconds remaining.

Gilgeous-Alexander is tied for third in the league with 99 clutch points – points scored in the game’s final five minutes with the scoring margin within five points.

“He’s got some poise in those situations,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “The game slows down for him, he’s got great confidence, and he’s always at his pace even in the most pressure situations.”

While most of Gilgeous-Alexander’s statistics haven’t varied much throughout the season, his turnovers have dropped during Oklahoma City’s recent hot streak.

In his first 34 games of the season, Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 3.3 turnovers per game. Over the last nine, he has averaged just 1.8.

Part of that can be attributed to Giddey’s emergence as another option to bring the ball up the floor.

As Giddey’s scoring numbers have started to trend upward, defenses have been forced to pay more attention.

“He’s continuing to play with a lot of force and physicality on offense and at his size, it’s to be reckoned with,” Daigneault said of the 6-foot-8 Giddey. “If teams start committing more to him, he’s obviously got the vision to spray it out on those plays.

“He’s obviously on a good track there.”

In Oklahoma City’s 121-114 road win over the Hawks on Dec. 5, Gilgeous-Alexander scored 35 points while Giddey scored 12 of his 17 in the fourth quarter.

The Thunder would equal last season’s win total with a victory Wednesday, and lift Oklahoma City to .500 for the first time since early November.

While the Thunder are trying to keep up their hot streak, the Hawks are trying to find their form again after dropping back-to-back games. The two-game skid followed a five-game winning streak.

Atlanta has a combined 34 turnovers in its last two games, much higher than the team average of 12.5 per game, which was fourth best in the NBA heading into Tuesday’s play.

“We’ve got to do a better job of putting a value on that basketball,” Atlanta coach Nate McMillan said. “Every possession, you’ve got to have a value to it.”

The Hawks had 18 turnovers – one off their season high – in the first game against Oklahoma City.

The Hawks were without a pair of regulars in Monday’s 111-100 loss to the Chicago Bulls. De’Andre Hunter sat out with acute asthma symptoms, while Onyeka Okongwu missed the game with left hamstring tightness.

Oklahoma City’s Ousmane Dieng, who hasn’t played since Dec. 5 against the Hawks, first after being sent to the G-League and then after fracturing in his right wrist, was available in Sunday’s win but did not play. Dieng played in a G-League game Saturday before being recalled by the Thunder.

–Field Level Media


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