OKLAHOMA CITY — For the first time since beating Milwaukee on Halloween, Oklahoma City is over .500.
The Thunder will carry a 16-15 record into a Friday night matchup against Atlanta, a team that’s far below that mark at 7-24 – good for the worst record in the NBA.
It will mark the Hawks’ only trip to Oklahoma City this season.
A big reason for Oklahoma City’s resurgence is its reigning-MVP point guard. Russell Westbrook shot 59.3 percent from the floor in his three previous games, a mark he hasn’t met since Oct. 22-27.
In the blowout win against the Jazz, Westbrook poured in 27 points.
“That’s the most important part, you have to have fun and embrace this game,” Westbrook told reporters after the win. “You don’t take it for granted. You go out and compete and you have fun at the same time.”
With wins against Denver and the Jazz, the Thunder are on a two-game win streak and have won four of their last five.
Meanwhile, the Hawks are getting outscored by 5.3 points per game, the fourth-largest per game deficit in the NBA.
Though Atlanta dropped Wednesday night’s game to the Pacers, the team managed to squeak past the Heat earlier in the week for its second win in the month of December.
“There was just a few basic, fundamental plays, a couple in transition, a couple offensive boards,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the Atlanta Journal Constitution after the 105-95 loss to the Pacers. “You have to commit to doing that for 48 minutes. You have to commit to getting back in transition defense. You have to commit to being good on the defensive boards, getting hits.
“Make an unselfish play. You may not get the rebound but a teammate will get it. We are standing there watching Thaddeus Young tip the ball back in. (They were) getting transition plays. Those kind of plays just set the tone for us not being able to maintain that level of play, that attention to detail, that focus that it takes for 48 minutes.”
The Hawks might enter Friday night’s game a little short-handed with starting point guard Dennis Schroder listed as questionable with an unspecified injury to his left ankle.
While Schroder’s status is up in the air, the Hawks figure to get a boost from rookie John Collins, who was recently ranked as the fifth-best rookie by ESPN. Against the Pacers, Collins scored 18 points off the bench. He’s averaging 11.4 points per game in 23 minutes on the court.
Atlanta is also getting good production from beyond the arc out of second-year player Taurean Prince. Prince is knocking down 32.4 percent of his long-range shots.
After missing two games, center Steven Adams played against the Jazz on Wednesday. Adams is expected to be available against the Hawks. Though guard Paul George has been experiencing tightness in his right forearm that’s affected his shooting, his playing status isn’t expected to be impacted.
George told reporters that he’s been regularly icing it after games.
“It’s been a little wacky for me to start this year out,” he told The Oklahoman. “I’ve been trying to work through that. Once everything gets completely smoothed out, I’ll be back knocking down the mid-range. I’ll be back comfortable in that mid-range area.”