Oklahoma City will be at home for a one game home-stand before heading out on a two game road trip. The tie starts at 8:00 (EST), this game precedes a two game road trip where there are winnable away games in Portland and San Francisco. The Thunder lost against the Lakers in Los Angeles but the team now has the opportunity to use the energy of the Chesapeake Energy Arena to win a game against a contending team in the league. This is the first game in a stretch of the schedule where the Thunder will play away from home six times, Oklahoma City need to maximise their home crowd advantage in order to match the Thunder’s poor away form.
Three Points to Note for the Thunder:
- Defensive Rebounding: Oklahoma City Thunder fought hard against the Lakers the other night but there were a few glaring defensive issues which need to be addressed. The Lakers had fourteen offensive rebounds which largely came off long rebounds from missed three point attempts. These fourteen offensive rebounds is costly as it gives the other team extra possessions where they can put the game away. Defensive rebounding is especially important against a team like the Lakers who have three, athletic bigs who can feast in second chance opportunities. The Thunder’s issue with defensive rebounding lies with the Thunder’s wings. Shai Gilgeous Alexander and Terrance Ferguson both need to make more of effort on this end of the floor so that the Lakers do not get free possessions. This issue will be addressed with the return of Hamidou Diallo whose energy and style of play means that he chases every single rebound, on defence or offence. Diallo and Adams cannot do all of the defensive rebounding and it is up to the whole team to gang rebound the ball.
- Chris Paul’s two-way impact: Chris Paul did not seem to have an outstanding game when you look at the boxscore. Paul had just four points on the night and shot just 1-7 from the floor but his play-making and defence was outstanding. Paul’s passing created good looks for the Thunder when it felt like the offence was stagnating, this was crucial when the Lakers’ length was enveloping every look at the rim. His style of play is not for everybody but the way that Paul manipulates the floor is impressive. He moves the players on the floor like chess pieces to create the open looks, it is a level of game intelligence which very few players have. Paul’s ability to play the lanes on defence was also hugely important. He consistently stole the ball away from the Lakers which created transition opportunities for the Thunder. The impressive aspect of Paul’s ability to steal the ball is that he does not over-play his hand on defence, he does not find himself out of position when he reaches for the ball. It means his on-ball positioning does not suffer and he can still stay with his man.
- Finishing at the Rim - The Thunder struggled at the rim against the Lakers due to LA’s ability to have a rim protector on the floor at all times. Both Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee are flawed players but they are talented rim protectors due to their length and use of angles. Howard in particular is very clever in his ability to change the angle of the approach of the guard. This happened a few times against the Thunder the other night where Shai had to change his cut to the rim so that he could get the layup off. Howard’s athleticism meant that he got his hands on the ball consistently and inside scoring became non-existent for Oklahoma City. The adjustment for the Thunder is obvious, the floater needs to be used against the Lakers with greater frequency. The floater means that the Thunder do not need to go all the way to the rim and defenders are drawn away from the rim. Howard, McGee and Davis had to step away from the rim in order to contest floaters effectively. It neutralises the Lakers’ advantage on that end of the floor because Howard and McGee are not brilliant when it comes to defending in space. Chris Paul did a similar sort of thing to Rudy Gobert in the play-offs for the Rockets, his usage of the floater took away Gobert’s defensive ability.
- LeBron is the first player in the league to notch a triple-double against every single NBA team. His overall impact for a long period of time has been deeply impressive and he does not seem to be slowing down at the age of thirty five, if anything his passing has improved. James has adapted well to the facilitator role and is averaging a career high in assists.
- Anthony Davis is a complete package when it comes to big men. This may not seem like an outstanding revelation but I had not seen many of Davis’ games previously. AD’s ability to shoot the ball, pass at a high level and operate as a defensive unit is so hard to guard. There is very few players in the league who has the speed, size and length who can effectively cover Davis. It was a huge issue for Gallinari on Tuesday as Davis’ size allowed him to shoot over the top.
Steven Adams is playing on a minutes restriction according to Billy Donovan. Donovan stated that the Thunder are ‘mindful’ of Adams’ minutes and are trying to keep Adams from playing too many minutes. Adams played twenty six against the Lakers and twenty four against the Clippers. This is likely a decision taken to nurse Adams’ re-occurring injuries. Adams has struggled with knee contusions this season and he has four years of fatigue from an incredibly physical style of play. It seems like the coaching staff have taken this decision to relieve the stress on Adams’ body, repeated knee injuries could lead to serious repercussions down the line.