The 1-3 Oklahoma City Thunder will travel to Orlando to play the 4-1 Magic with a 6 p.m. tipoff on Fox Sports Oklahoma.
Here are five notes heading into tonight’s matchup:
New Year, New Thunder?
OKC’s New Year’s Eve loss marked their largest margin of defeat this season at 33 points. That was their first loss of the season where the game was decided early on in the fourth quarter.
This year for this squad, with such a young and inexperienced team, significant losses were expected this year, how the team responds to them will be a test of their character.
Saturday’s night game against a Magic team that has already defeated them this past Tuesday will be an excellent first exam on how the team bounces back from such an embarrassing loss.
Can Dort stay out of foul trouble?
Lu Dort has been fantastic thus far on both sides of the ball. In four games,
Dort is averaging 16 points per game on 47.8% shooting from three. That number will regress, but even with that inevitable regression, Dort has shown enough in four games to indicate that this offensive jump is the real deal and not just a fluke.
Dort looks more comfortable with the ball in his hand and has added some craftiness to his drives, no longer just imposing his large statue and bulldozing his way to the rim. Dort has also looked much more confident in taking threes.
Dort’s biggest weakness has been his inability to avoid fouls. Dort is averaging three fouls a game this season, which is a high amount.
Dort is becoming too valuable for a player to get in foul trouble and limit his time. The fouling comes with his aggressive style to play defense, but there needs to be a balance found where Dort can remain aggressive and avoid picking up unnecessary fouls.
Protecting the paint
In their last matchup, the Magic scored 72 of their 118 points in the paint. Nikola Vucevic scored 28 points, and Dwayne Bacon scored 18 points, with most of them coming in the paint.
But this time around, the Thunder will have Al Horford starting instead of Isaiah Roby, who was picked on by the Magic for all of his offensive greatness.
The Thunder’s lack of an actual big has been a deficiency, and this will continue to be exposed against All-Star bigs like Vucevic.
But even with that deficiency, Horford should provide more resistance against Vucevic than Roby provided this past Tuesday.
Can Darius Bazley get out of his shooting slump?
Bazley has been in a bit of a shooting slump. He’s shot a combined 5-of-20 from the field and 0-for-7 from three. This is nothing to be too concerned about, yet Bazley’s shooting mechanics have been fine; he is merely missing shots.
On shots where the closest defender is over four feet away, Bazley is shooting 5-of-18 from the field this season.
This is not good efficiency, but it makes me confident that Bazley’s poor shooting has more to do with being unlucky than it is with him having legitimate concerns.
How will the Thunder handle fans?
The Thunder’s game in the Amway Center will be the first time the team has played in front of fans since March 8 in the TD Garden.
Since then, the Thunder have played their games in front of empty arenas where the crowds included just NBA personnel, media members, and family/friends.
The Magic are currently allowing 4,000 fans (21.2% capacity rate) in their games. Orlando is one of seven teams to let limited fans watch games in-person.
It will be fascinating to see how the team adjusts to playing in front of real fans for the first time in nearly 10 months, especially if it is close in the fourth quarter.