By Anthony Slater – Aslater@opubco.com - @anthonyVslater
The Thunder play Atlanta tonight in Oklahoma City, tipping off at 6 p.m. Here’s a quick primer:
Three OKC things to watch
1. Kendrick Perkins’ production - The Thunder big man went out late in Friday’s game, limping to the locker room with a sprained ankle. But Scott Brooks said it wasn’t as bad as initially thought and Perkins should play against Atlanta. But that doesn’t guarantee he’ll play well. Even before the ankle injury, Perkins was struggling to start the year. In two games (and 49 minutes played), he’s scored only two points and grabbed only nine rebounds. That limited production, shielded some by Nick Collison’s great play, doesn’t match his bulky contract.
2. KD unmatched - With Atlanta star Josh Smith out, the Hawks choices for Kevin Durant’s primary defender went from underwhelming to nonexistent. Smith’s athleticism could have at least bothered Durant at times. But now? Kyle Korver, Anthony Tolliver and Ivan Johnson will likely share the assignment. Talk about a nightmare mismatch for Atlanta. Durant, who’s yet to score more than 23 in a game this year, may go for 40+ with ease tonight.
3. Ibaka’s jumper - He’s 5-18 shooting in the first two games, with a majority of those misses coming from a suddenly broken jump shot. It looked smooth and improved in the preseason, but has been off since early in the San Antonio game. And Ibaka seems to be pressing with each miss, showing visible frustration as balls ricochet off the rim or surprise and relief on the few that have gone through. For OKC to be at its best, he’s got to get back to his. Starting tonight.
Three Atlanta players to keep an eye on
1. Al Horford (center) - Because of nagging injuries, Horford was held to 11 games last season. And in the process, many casual NBA fans forgot the talented center’s true on-court impact. He’s a 6-foot-10 bulky big man who averaged 15.3 points and 9.4 rebounds in his last full season — an All-Star campaign in 2010-11 — providing the Hawks with an inside presence that’s become rare across the league.
2. Jeff Teague (point guard) - He plays similar to Portland’s Damian Lillard, OKC’s last opponent, showing deep range and an occasional ability to get to the rim. He’s gonna get his shots. He’s gonna get his points. He’s gonna get his assists. But against Oklahoma City, more than likely, he’s gonna get torched on the other end by Russell Westbrook.
3. Kyle Korver (small forward) - The Hawks’ replacement for Joe Johnson can shoot like the former Atlanta star, but that’s about it. Starting at small forward in the opener, Korver had no points, missing both of his threes in only 15 minutes of action. But if he gets hot, watch out. Atlanta signed him to a 3-year-$15 million contract for those occasional games where he rains in a batch of threes.