Oklahoma City heads to Sacramento after winning two road games on the bounce and will be looking to add a third victory to the win column. Oklahoma has made defence a focal point of the team’s scheming as the Thunder have been locked in defensively and have stifled the opposing team, neither Portland or Utah could top one hundred points against the Thunder in their home arenas. This is the first time that the Thunder will play Sacramento this season and the Thunder will make another trip to Northern California in the new decade. Sacramento comes into this game after a stunning victory against Houston the other night, the Kings went blow for blow with the Rockets before eventually prevailing behind a Bjelica game-winner. The tie starts at 10:00 (EST) and the game will happen at the Golden 1 Centre.
Three Points to Note for the Thunder:
- Away Form - The Thunder started the season 0-6 when playing away from home but over the last five games, the Thunder have gone 4-1 on the season. Oklahoma City broke the hoodoo associated with the road games and have since done really well in games in hostile environments. Oklahoma got two quality wins in Portland and Utah as both teams were expected to make deep play-off runs and be in the championship conversation. Moreover, OKC played Utah on the second night of a back to back at the Delta Centre, this was a schedule loss for the Thunder. It is the type of game when a fan would expect the Thunder to drop given that the Thunder would be tired from their efforts in Portland the night before. Oklahoma City confounded the expectation and won the game comfortably, the final score does not reflect OKC’s control of the game. The Thunder built a solid lead in the third quarter and the Jazz could not reduce the deficit. The impressive aspect of this victory was that the Thunder had a good level of energy and played with intensity on defence which made Donovan Mitchell inefficient and stifled Bodganovic. The defensive consistency for forty eight minutes has been common in the road improvement for the Thunder and this will be a trend that the coaching staff will want to carry forward.
- Steven Adams’ Defence - Steven Adams is a key reason why the defence has been really good over the last two games. Adams’ interior defence has locked down the paint and made it much harder for players to get a bucket in the lane. Adams’ rim protection is different to a player like Rudy Gobert who tries to swat every shot out of the sky, Adams uses footwork to close down shooting angles and force guards into mistakes. He is not actively looking for blocks but occasionally he has a block party. Against, Utah he had four blocks which were symptomatic of his effort on defence. The decision by the Thunder staff to limit Adams’ minutes has also been beneficial. In recent games, Steven has moved laterally faster and now looks comfortable challenging guards in space instead of being totally static. There have been more than few occasions where Adams has switched onto a guard and he has dealt with the mismatch with aplomb. His play against smaller players has been incredibly calm in terms of forcing guards away from driving, Adams does not move much but his presence makes an impact. Adams’ ability to work on the perimeter is necessary against a team like Sacramento who run a lot of their offence through the perimeter.
- Dennis Schroder - Dennis has played really well over the last ten games and has seemingly found a role in which he is comfortable. The Thunder have three point guards who can handle the ball means that Schroder does not need to worry about creating offence for the whole second unit, he can focus on finding his own shot consistently. Dennis is pre-disposed to taking shots for himself instead of distributing the ball which means that the role of a score-first player off the bench is perfect for him, he does not have to think about moving the ball to his team-mates. Schroder’s scoring improvement has coincided with the Thunder’s growing need for bench production. Oklahoma City need Dennis to consistently provide on offence as there are no other consistent scorers on the bench unit. Nader and Noel can score in bursts but they do not provide the steady double-digit scoring on a nightly basis that Schroder can. It took time for Dennis to settle into this role but over the last ten games, he has found a rich vein of form. Schroder is averaging 20.9 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game on fairly efficient scoring. Over this ten game stretch, Dennis is averaging a career high in field goal percentage (50.3%), a career high in three-point percentage (38.9%) and a career high in free throw percentage (88.9%). Dennis needs to continue doing this and not worry about running the offence, it has obviously been a positive for him.
- De’Aaron Fox Injury - De’Aaron Fox is currently injured with a Grade-3 ankle sprain and will not be available for the Thunder game. Fox suffered this injury a few weeks ago and is still focusing on his rehabilitation process. De’Aaron is supposed to be re-evaluated in a week’s time and the Kings need Fox back quickly. Fox is the best play-maker and scorer on the team and he is needed if the Kings want to make a push for the play-offs.
- Nemanja Bjelica’s Game-Winner - Nemanja Bjelica is not a well-known NBA player, I seriously doubt that a casual fan knows who Nemanja is. Bjelica had a wonderful moment the other night against the Rockets where he scored a ridiculous game-winner. Bjelica caught the inbounds pass thirty five feet from the basket and launched a shot with just one second on the clock. The ball hung in the air for so long before it dropped cleanly through the net. The Kings stole the game away from the Rockets who were stunned by the loss.
The Thunder’s next home-stand will be a chance for OKC to pad their record. Oklahoma City will play three games against lottery teams who are actively trying to lose. The Chicago Bulls have been poor to start the season and they are really suffering with being a young, inexperienced team that is short of veterans outside of Thaddeus Young. Memphis are a team going through a rebuilding process and should be easy pickings for Oklahoma City. I would expect the Thunder to win these three games and make a push towards the play-offs. The key test for the Thunder will be to see if they can take care of business when they are supposed to.