Being without the NBA scoring leader would seem to significantly decrease the chances of the Oklahoma City Thunder pulling off a tough road win. Then again, they’ve done fine this season when Kevin Durant(notes) hasn’t been available.
The star forward is unlikely to play when the Thunder visit the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night.
Oklahoma City (37-22) had no problem winning Wednesday after losing Durant, who scored 21 points before spraining his ankle in the third quarter of a 113-89 victory over Indiana. He said that it was just a tweak and hoped to play Friday, but the Thunder announced Thursday that he was doubtful after being held out of practice.
“With Kevin, he has the toughness, he loves to play, so when he’s ready, he’s going to step on the court and play at the level that we all are accustomed to seeing,” coach Scott Brooks said.
Durant, averaging a league-high 28.4 points and 7.1 rebounds, said he hasn’t experienced the swelling he had when he sprained the same ankle and had to miss two games in November. Oklahoma City won both of those games, and it is 3-1 this season with Durant out of the lineup - all four contests coming on the road.
Russell Westbrook(notes) has been the main reason the Thunder have been able to overcome Durant’s absence in those games, as he recorded 34- and 31-point performances in two of the victories that Durant sat out. Westbrook scored 21 against the Pacers.
Atlanta (37-24) certainly won’t miss facing Durant. He’s averaged 30.8 points in his last four meetings with the Hawks, the last three of which were Thunder victories. He scored 33 in a 103-94 win over Atlanta on Dec. 31.
Oklahoma City may not be the only team that’s short-handed Friday. Atlanta forward Josh Smith(notes) is day-to-day with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee, an injury that kept him out of an 83-80 win over Chicago on Wednesday.
Like the Thunder, the Hawks had someone step up in a top player’s absence. Forward Al Horford(notes) scored a career high-tying 31 points to help rally Atlanta from a 19-point deficit against the Bulls, and his dunk with 29 seconds left gave the Hawks their first lead.
Horford shot 9 of 12 in the second half after being held to nine points before the break. He scored 13 points in the third quarter and had 16 rebounds for the second straight game.
“He was a beast tonight,” coach Larry Drew said. “He did it on both ends.
“In the huddles he was cheering the guys and telling them to keep playing. He was phenomenal.”
Horford was also part of a defensive effort that allowed the Hawks to hold their third opponent in four games to fewer than 85 points.
Atlanta plays nine of its next 10 at home, where it’s won 15 of 19. The Hawks, however, have gone 1-6 in their last seven home games against Oklahoma City.