Tonight’s match-up will be the last game of the Thunder’s short away trip to Los Angeles, and the game against the Clippers was a similar story to a lot of the Thunder’s losses this season. OKC played hard against the Clips before eventually losing by one possession in the last seconds of the game. The game will start at 10:30 p.m. (ET) and will be the first time that the Thunder plays the Lakers this season.
Oklahoma City and LA will play each other again on November 22 when the Lakers travel to OKC. The Lakers started the season with an 11-2 record, and have looked solid earlier in the season. Lakers head coach Frank Vogel has constructed an efficient team defense and has relied on the talents of LeBron James and Anthony Davis to carry the offense.
Three Points to Note for the Thunder:
- Late-Game Execution: The Thunder did not shoot the ball well against the Clippers, but OKC managed to keep the game close with active defensive play. The Thunder held Paul George and Co. to just 90 points. This type of playing would usually be enough to win a game of basketball, but the Thunder fails to execute in late-game situations. In the final play of the game, Danilo Gallinari pulled up to take a long, contested mid-range jumper, which is not the most efficient shot to consider when it matters. The Thunder had seven seconds to get to the hole and get a shot at the rim. Still, coaching by Billy Donovan in this situation could have been better because Oklahoma City could have used a lot more motion on that final play to provide multiple options. What OKC could have used was a ball screen to free Gallinari up to take an open jumper, then used SGA as a cutter from the weak side with Gallinari dishing the ball to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for the inside finish. I would also question the choice of Gallinari as the guy who gets the ball in clutch situations. Gallinari is usually an efficient scorer, but against the Clippers, he had a rough night (3-of-13) from the field. It might have been smarter for Chris Paul to get the final shot as he had a solid night against the Clippers.
- Defending LeBron: LeBron James has been outstanding to start the season. His shooting and play-making have been to his usual level, but it has been his surprising energy. James had a summer off for the first time in 14 years, and that additional rest has paid dividends. While James has looked explosive in his explosive first step, his stamina has also improved, James is playing engaged defense for the first time since playing with the Miami Heat. The Thunder has a habit of playing close games, and the game against the Lakers will probably have the same outcome. The question for the Thunder coaching staff is who defends LeBron in the closing moments of the game. OKC realizes this has become a pertinent question for them as the Clips managed to get a good look at George last night as there was not enough size on the floor to defend a 6’8” wing effectively. The three-guard lineup has been incredibly useful in net rating, but it is a problem when the Thunder play against teams who have long arms. It makes sense to have Terrance Ferguson on the floor in the closing minutes of a game as Ferguson is a lengthy, versatile defender who can feasibly guard the other team’s best player.
- Dennis’ Decision-Making: Dennis Schroeder often plays on the outer limits of his game, and it often feels that he is trying to push the boundaries of his ability on every single possession. I say this because Schroeder has been red hot when shooting from the court when it seems like he cannot miss from the field. It can also mean Schroeder has cold streaks that are not helpful against contending teams. Dennis went 6-of-17 against the Clippers, and Schroeder forced shots during the game. There were a few times where he would dribble the ball for eight to 10 seconds before driving straight at the rim and chucking up a layup. The issue with Schroeder’s streaky shooting is that defenses know how Dennis plays and leaves other players wide open. Dennis could punish the case sagging off Thunder players, but his pass timing is a little off when he drives to the rim. Schroeder has to work on putting the ball in spots where his team-mates can succeed.
- Bron-Dependency: The Lakers have played incredibly well to start the season, but there has been a dependency on LeBron, which is not sustainable. James has shouldered a lot of the offensive load instead of the amount being shared more equally with Anthony Davis. When James is off the floor and Davis is the sole star, these units have a net rating of -9.8. One thing to follow during the game is how the units without LeBron operate, expect Rondo and Davis to revive their two-person game from New Orleans, but Rondo has first to shake off injury rust.
- Dwight Howard Resurgence: Dwight Howard’s homecoming back to LA did feel like the last chance for a fading star. Howard is a former Defensive Player of the Year, but he’s bounced around from four teams within three years. Howard has gone from being dominant to being almost out of the league. The Lakers signing Dwight was the final opportunity for Howard to prove that all of his talk about being a changed man is true. So far, Howard has played within his role. He locks in on defense and hustles when he is on the floor.
The game against the Lakers will involve two teams that play stingy defense. The Lakers’ defense has been impressive in nullifying opponents’ and letting their stars to build leads effectively. The Thunder’s guard has kept them in games where the team should be hugely over-matched. It is more than likely the game will be pretty low-scoring and a game where defense is the product on show.
You can catch tonight’s game on Fox Sports Oklahoma and on The Sports Animal (97.1 FM in Tulsa; 98.1 FM in OKC).
Who do you think will win tonight?
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