January 22, 2015

If Kevin Durant's importance to the Oklahoma City Thunder wasn't evident last year, he's provided a few more reminders since returning from his latest injury.

As Durant and the Thunder look to extend an outstanding run, the Atlanta Hawks continue their search for consistency when the teams meet Monday night.

Somewhat overshadowed by the Golden State Warriors' remarkable start and Stephen Curry's scoring exploits, Durant has more quietly compiled numbers comparable or exceeding to those from his 2013-14 MVP campaign. The star forward is shooting a torrid 47.1 percent from 3-point range and 52.4 overall in averaging 28.4 points through 11 games.

Durant has been particularly hot since coming back from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for six games, averaging 30.3 points on 58.5 percent shooting in three Thunder wins. He totaled 34 along with a season-high 13 rebounds as Oklahoma City (11-6) recorded its fourth consecutive victory with Friday's 103-87 decision over Detroit.

"I was feeding off the energy of the crowd and the teammates," he said. "In single coverage I feel like I can score on anybody. I was aggressive."

After going 27-28 in games Durant missed in 2014-15, the Thunder are 8-3 with him in the lineup this season.

Durant's performance and the Thunder's dominance on the glass offset an off night from Russell Westbrook, held to a season-low 14 points while committing 11 turnovers. Oklahoma City, which leads the NBA in rebounding margin (plus-7.7), owned a 58-38 advantage on the glass and held league rebounding leader Andre Drummond to seven.

The Thunder's prowess in that area could present problems for the Hawks' relatively small lineup. Atlanta (11-8) ranks near the bottom of the league with a minus-3.7 rebounding margin and is 5-7 when finishing with an even or negative differential.

Atlanta was outrebounded 49-43 by San Antonio on Saturday, though its 108-88 defeat to the formidable Spurs was more a result of poor shooting. The Hawks were 6 of 26 on 3-pointers while matching their lowest scoring output of the season, which came one night after they went 14 of 39 from beyond the arc in a 116-101 win at Memphis.

''There is really not much positive from us,'' center Al Horford said of Saturday's outcome. ''For us as a team, the best thing is to put this behind us.''

The Hawks did force 16 Spurs turnovers and are averaging 20.9 points per game off opponent's miscues, second-best in the NBA. Oklahoma City's 17.1 giveaways per game is among the league's worst marks.

Paul Millsap ranks among the league leaders with 37 steals and is averaging 19.5 points and 10.3 rebounds over his last four, though the forward was limited to a season-low eight points by San Antonio.

Millsap had 22 points and 10 rebounds in a 103-93 victory over the Thunder at Philips Arena on Jan. 23, Atlanta's lone win in the last five matchups. Westbrook amassed a 36-point, 14-assist, 10-rebound triple-double to lead Oklahoma City to a 123-115 home triumph on March 20.

The Thunder have won nine of 12 in Atlanta and haven't dropped consecutive road games to the Hawks since 1993-94 when the franchise was based in Seattle.

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