The Pick: Hawks 106-95
You want to see why analysts were making such a big deal about the Tyson Chandler injury? Tune in. The Knicks have been unable to defend the paint this month (in four games this month they gave up 34 points to Kevin Love, allowed the Charlotte Bobcats to attempt 72 free throws during a home and home series, and saw marksman Danny Green grab 10 rebounds) and that’s the top priority when playing an interior based Hawks team. Paul Millsap and Al Horford are the main reason why Atlanta ranks in the top 20 percent of the league in scoring, as they are averaging over 35 percent of the team’s points while shooting 53.6 percent from the field. Should the Knicks try to sag off the Hawk guards in an effort to double down on the big men, Kyle Korver and Cartier Martin lead a group of sharpshooters that have Atlanta in the top ten in 3PM and top half of the league in three-point percentage.
On the other end of the floor, it is hard to imagine the Knicks putting together four solid quarters of basketball. The Hawks aren’t a defensive juggernaut, but the Knicks are the fourth worst three-point shooting team in the NBA (minimum 20 attempts per game), connecting on a mere 32.4 percent of their triples. The Hawks have proven to be the much more efficient team, holding a 0.14 point advantage in points per shot. That may not sound like much, but if both teams attempt 80 shots, that’s an 11 point win for the home team.
Fun Fact: Jeff Teague has a double double in four straight games while the Knicks have one points/assists double double all season long.
The Pick: Thunder 109-106
These are two of the best teams in the league, and with both being reasonably healthy I’ll take the points and the best scorer in the league in what figures to be a high scoring affair. Having watched Kevin Durant play this season, it is obvious that he is as capable as ever at getting a high percentage shot off whenever he wants, but he has improved his passing, something that makes him nearly impossible to defend. Russell Westbrook appears to be fully healthy and I like his chances to play Chris Paul even in this game much more than I like whoever the Clippers decide to stick on Durant (my guess would be Matt Barnes) to do the same. This game will likely be close the entire way and the Thunder hold two significant advantages if this one comes down to the wire. They rank second in the league in rebounding (the Clippers rank 17th) and their best players also happen to be their best free throw shooters. Oklahoma City’s starting five score an average of 20 points from the free throw line on 81.3 percent shooting while the Clippers starters score a shade over 16 points per game on 71.7 percent shooting. Who tends to get fouled at the end of the game? The player who grabs the rebound. The Thunder’s top two rebounders are shooting 87.8 percent from the stripe while the Clippers’ top glass cleaners are making only half of their attempts.
Fun Fact: The Clippers haven’t had the highest scoring player in four straight games, allowing an average of 28 points to their opponent’s top scorer and 104 points to the team. The Thunder have won nine of the last ten regular season games in which Durant scored at least 28 points and they cracked triple digits as a team (including six straight on the road).