The Thunder defeated the Timberwolves 127-111 Friday in Oklahoma City, a positive sign after losing 3 straight. However, they continued a sub-par defensive trend that head coach Scott Brooks claims they’re not content with.
"It’s a combination of everybody," Brooks said after the Thunder’s victory over Minnesota. "We have to have all five guys and we have to figure out how to get back to doing that."
It started before the All-Star Break in Utah and the Thunder hasn’t cleaned it up since. They’ve surrendered at least 109 points in their last four contests, including a season-high 122 points on Feb. 20 against the Rockets, who went 15-33 from 3-point range.
OKC gave up 59 points to the Timberwolves bench (off of 24-38 shooting) and four bench players finished in double-digits. OKC also gave up 48.2% shooting to the fifth-worst shooting team in the NBA, and at one point in the 2nd quarter the Wolves were shooting a blistering 60% from the floor. Minnesota scored 50 points in the paint without injured All-Star Kevin Love or a productive Nikola Pekovic (5 points on 1-4 shooting), and OKC only managed to force 10 turnovers.
Giving up 110 to the Miami Heat is one thing, but 109 to Utah, 122 to Houston and 111 to Minnesota is certainly not something Brooks and the Thunder want to see with just 27 games left.
"We have to continue watching film," Kevin Martin said. "We know we have 27 games to figure it out. We just have to keep taking steps in those kind of situations and just get better."
How does the Thunder get better in time for the playoffs? Run different schemes? Go with different rotations? Or do they just need to step it up with the players they have on the floor?
"We want to run our schemes, but it always comes down to desire, effort and determination," Brooks said. "That’s every team and every player in this league and right now we have to figure out how to get more of those things.
"It’s not a panic situation, we just have to get better. We still have to be a defensive team. Our guys know that we have to get much better."
Although the Thunder is the NBA’s highest scoring team at 106.3 points per game, they are ranked around the middle of the pack (16) in opponents’ points per game at 97.7. They also rank eighth in defensive efficiency giving up 100 points per 100 possessions. It has been a recent defensive decline; earlier in the season the Thunder were one of the top defensive teams in the league with a victory margin that led the league.
Compare the Thunder’s 2013 stats to Miami’s last year.
The Heat gave up just 92.5 points per game during the 2011-2012 regular season and just 97.1 points per 100 possessions. They also forced 16.8 turnovers per game. The Thunder is forcing 15.2 per game this season.
Are the Thunder’s recent defensive problems something that can be fixed or is this a trend Oklahoma City will have to deal with even into the playoffs? If they don't significantly improve, is Miami's example too lofty a target?
According to Brooks, things aren’t as bad as they seem to be.
"There’s no question that what we have is not broken," Brooks said. "It’s just not working at the moment."