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August 12: Oklahoma City Thunder vs Miami Heat - Preview & Game Thread

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Oklahoma City face off against the Heat

Miami Heat v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

The Thunder did not play well against the Phoenix Suns in their last game. There were too many turnovers and missing players for the Thunder to have any chance at winning the game. Oklahoma City look to rebound from this loss against the Miami Heat.

The fixture will start at 8:00 PM (ET) and fans will be able to watch the game on Fox Sports Oklahoma and NBA League Pass. Miami won the last game played between the two sides. Oklahoma City and Miami faced off during a brutal January stretch for the Thunder.

The Heat come into this game off the back of a blowout victory against the Indiana Pacers. It was an impressive victory as Miami added another win to their tally. Jimmy Butler led the way as he locked up TJ Warren and scored 19 points on efficient shooting.

In the last game, the Thunder were missing key players. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, Nerlens Noel and Steven Adams all sat out the Phoenix. It has not been formally confirmed by the Thunder coaching staff but I expect all of these players to return from injury against Miami.

Three Points to Note for the Thunder:

Defend the 3-Point Line:

Miami are one of the best teams in the league from downtown. Coach Erik Spolestra has built an offense that is highly efficient from behind the arc. Miami lead the league in 3-point efficiency. Miami also rank in the top ten of 3-point attempts per game. The Heat can be a devastating team from downtown.

Oklahoma City have to be wary of the Heat’s proficiency from outside. During the course of the season, the Heat have displayed an ability to go on 3-point barrages which have changed the momentum of the game.

Every player on the Heat can knock shots from deep but it is Duncan Robinson who is the team’s most efficient marksman. Robinson does not fear difficult shots. Duncan Robinson will take contested threes and he makes a decent portion of these looks. Robinson shoots 44.5% from downtown.

Robinson’s movement commands respect from the defense. Defenses follow Robinson all over the court; the threat of his metronomic deep scoring is feared by the defense. Erik Spolestra has wisely leveraged Robinson’s efficiency to create space inside the arc for Jimmy Butler to create off the drive.

The Thunder have to play physically on Robinson. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Luguentz Dot need to body Robinson when the Miami player is moving without the ball. The only way to stop a great off-ball threat is to tire them out. It is easier to contest a player who is fatigued than it is to chase a shooter who is fresh.

Diallo’s Shot Selection:

Hamidou Diallo received a lot of playmaking opportunities against the Phoenix Suns due to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s absence. Diallo had the ball in his hands a lot as he ran the second unit. The results were mixed. Diallo did get good looks for himself at the bucket but there were rough edges in his game.

Diallo turned the ball over six times which gave Phoenix too many easy scoring opportunities for my liking. I also thought that Diallo’s shot selection was pretty poor. He pulled up for the long two a lot; Diallo is most efficient when he is attacking the rim with pace and purpose.

Billy Donovan needs to work on ironing out these weaknesses in Diallo’s game. At this moment in time, Hamidou Diallo is not an efficient jump shooter and therefore there is little point in him taking these shots. It makes more sense to deploy Diallo in spaces around the rim; Diallo needs to be used in areas where he can make a positive impact on the game.

I think that Hamidou Diallo would excel as a cutter in the Thunder’s offense. Diallo’s speed and athleticism is hard for a collapsed defense to react to. He has the physical tools to be really good in a role where he moves without the ball.

Diallo also flashed the ability to play as a roll man in the pick and roll before the league stopped. Billy Donovan put Diallo in this role out of necessity; Darius Bazley was unavailable due to injury. However, Hamidou did well in this role. His leaping ability allowed him to finish strong and beat the defensive contest.

The Bubble has meant that the Thunder have thrown out weird lineups at times. Darius Bazley effectively played point guard and center for portions of the game against the Suns. In the last two games, Oklahoma City have always had a big who can shoot the ball on the floor.

The players on the floor meant that Coach Donovan made a small alteration to the team’s system. Oklahoma City played a version of 4-in, 1-out with Diallo sitting in the dunker’s spot. This is an area of the floor where Hamidou’s ability to snag offensive rebounds and score inside is maximised.

I liked the look of Diallo in the dunker’s spot and this something that the Thunder can work into their sets going forward. The main focus for the Thunder coaching staff is to get Diallo in areas near the rim where he can impact the game.

Turnovers:

The Thunder have struggled when it comes to controlling possession of the ball in the Bubble. The Thunder have had a few games where the ball has been turned over at an excessive rate. The Phoenix game was no different; Oklahoma City committed 19 turnovers.

This is not a hallmark of the Thunder’s usual offense and it has to be corrected. Turnovers give the opposing team an opportunity to put a beating on the Thunder. It is free points that will quickly add up against good teams.

Oklahoma City have to make a point of taking care of the ball. Turnovers can be a good thing; I would rather Chris Paul attempt the defense-splitting pass instead of playing things safe with a sideways pass. However, the Thunder have committed a lot of unforced turnovers recently.

Unforced errors such as sloppy passing have to be cut out of the Thunder’s offense going forward. It is a bad habit and it is a habit that the Thunder must break. It is likely that the Thunder will play the Rockets in the first round. Transition points from unforced errors are Westbrook’s bread and butter.

Miami Minutes:

Jimmy Butler:

Jimmy Butler is the Heat’s best player. He is a wing who presents a lot of issues for the Thunder. Butler is a big wing who is a five-star threat at the Small Forward spot. He is primary playmaker who can score from all three levels while playing excellent defense. Butler is one of the most versatile players in the league.

Butler is the player who makes the Heat’s offense tick. He is the player that the Thunder have to slow down to have a chance at winning this game. The Thunder do not have a player who can match up with Butler physically. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is too slender to stop Butler when he drives to the rim.

I think that Billy Donovan has to stick Lu Dort on Jimmy Butler. Dort has previously done well on big wings. Lu frustrated LeBron James when the Thunder played the Lakers. Dort’s combination of physicality and relentless energy will draw Butler into an inefficient night from the field. We have seen the same trend occur when Dort has defended other star players.

Bench Unit:

The Heat have one of the best bench units in the league. It is an experienced group of players who know their roles. The Thunder cannot afford to lose intensity when the bench units come into the game. The Heat have reserves who can win games by themselves.

Random Side-Note:

Dennis Schroder is back in the bubble. Schroder will be available to play in the first round of the playoffs. It is excellent news for the Thunder. Dennis is one of the players who has drove the Thunder to victory time and time again this season.