Start time: 9:00 PM CT
Broadcasters: Fox Sports Oklahoma and NBA League Pass
The Thunder did not well play well in the second half of Wednesday’s night game against the Denver Nuggets. The Thunder’s lack of size meant that the Nuggets were able to continually get offensive rebounds and more chances to score. Oklahoma City lost the possession battle and the game became a blowout.
Things do not get any easier for the Thunder as they face the Clippers on Friday night. The Clips have been revitalised under the coaching of Tyronn Lue and look to be a force in the Western Conference. OKC are going to need to play to a good level to beat the Clippers.
Three Points to Note for the Thunder:
Luguentz Dort was one of the only bright spots in the Nuggets game. Dort scored twenty points and his offense was well-rounded. Lu continued to be effective from deep but he did not just settle for casting up deep shots. He made the right play more often than not and it seems that Dort’s feel for the game has improved.
When the Nuggets started to close out harder on Dort, Lu adjusted his attack and bullied his way inside for looks at the rim. There was even a nice pull-up from mid-range that caught the defense off guard.
The Los Angeles Clippers boast one of the best wing tandems in the league. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are lengthy two-way wings who can do everything on the court. I expect Luguentz Dort to be guarding both players during this game. It is a huge challenge for Dort; George and Leonard can both fill it up on offense.
Kawhi Leonard is a tough cover for the defense due to his proficiency from the mid-range area. Leonard does not finish inside all that much, he is only taking 16% of his shots from within 3ft of the rim. Kawhi uses his size and his tight, economical dribble to find his way to his spots.
Leonard favours a right mid-range pull-up around the elbow as he can use his frame to create separation and generate a good look for himself. Dort has to be willing to use his body to absorb the contact and stay in Leonard’s jersey. The key to slowing Kawhi in the mid-range is preventing Leonard from getting the space he needs.
Paul George uses his long strides and lateral quickness to slip around screens into quality looks from 3-point land. George is an excellent shooter from outside, 50.5% for the season and he is automatic when he gets a good look. Coach Tyronn Lue has leveraged George’s threat from deep into legitimate playmaking opportunities for Paul.
George has always been a solid, secondary ball-handler but he seems to have taken a leap under Coach Lue. He has become a lead playmaker for the Clippers and his shooting is a key part of his jump in shot creation. George is great at pulling up on long bombs from downtown and this means he draws a lot of attention from the defense. He has improved at making reads and getting his teammates the ball in good spots.
Good positioning is key when it comes to guarding Paul George. Dort has to be cognisant of off-ball screens and he cannot allow George to get that brief moment of separation that he desires. He has to go over the screen every time he guards PG.
Positioning will also be important in making life difficult for Paul George when George is the lead ball-handler on the floor. George prefers to take jumpers rather than finish inside but he is still very efficient at the rim. Dort cannot get drawn into an overly aggressive form of defense, he has to maintain good spacing.
Isaiah Roby came to the Thunder in the Justin Patton trade last season and I have to say I did not expect anything out of Isaiah. I thought he would be a fringe rotation player who could fill in when needed. Roby has surpassed expectations and he has looked like a real player when he has been on the court.
Roby has got the start whenever Al Horford has missed a game and Isaiah has made an impression during his starts. He sets hard, physical screens relentlessly and his work as a screener usually gets the ball-handler separation. This hard-nosed edge also applies to his defense; Roby is willing to put his body on the line to make plays defensively.
His willingness to play hard disguises the quality in his game. Roby does not have elite athleticism and rarely dunks the ball but he is a good passer when rolling to the rim.
On the short roll, Roby is capable of distributing the ball and finding his team-mates in spots where they have a good look. His passing is basic but his basics are fairly refined for such a young player. In the game against Denver, Isaiah Roby had three assists. In the last three games, he has ten assists.
I do not see Isaiah as a full-time center going forward; he is too under-sized to play that position all the time but he could easily be a 4 who can play as a small-ball 5. Roby has enough quality in his game to be a rotation player for the Thunder.
In the last four games, the Thunder’s defense has slipped; the Thunder’s defensive rating is just 117.0. This sort of defense is a far cry from the energised, slick effort that we saw during the first seven or eight games of the season. Oklahoma City are making mistakes on perimeter rotations and it is costing the Thunder hugely.
During the course of the last two games, Oklahoma City have struggled against teams that move the ball around the court quickly. Denver sliced the Thunder apart with quick, incisive ball movement and the Nuggets kept making the extra pass. That extra pass is what hurt the Thunder; Oklahoma City were always a step slow on closing out on the shooter.
Maledon and SGA both struggled with knowing where they should be and when they should rotate over. There were times when the focus needed to play excellent defense was off for the Thunder.
Coach Mark needs to take time to get this aspect of the Thunder’s play right. Oklahoma City are not good enough on offense to make up for poor nights on defense. The Thunder have been most effective this season when the defense has been suffocating.
The Return of MVPG
In his last season in Oklahoma City, Paul George had an MVP-calibre season. George was exceptional from downtown and he was a prolific scorer next to Russell Westbrook. George has rediscovered that edge and is playing some of the best basketball of his career. The Kawhi-PG partnership has been very good this season.
Clippers’ Hot Shooting
LA are shooting 44.1% from outside as a team. Serge Ibaka is the worst shooter on the team at 33% which is slightly below league average. Everybody else on the team has been lighting it up from deep. The Clippers’ shooting can create a lot of issues for the Thunder on defense.
LA can run five-out lineups with Ibaka at the five and Beverley at the point guard. That lineup will drag the Thunder’s big men out into the space where they are less comfortable. Mike Muscala does not really have the foot speed to stay in front of a faster player on the perimeter. It will be important for players to fight over screens and stay with their assignments, switching may prove to be costly.
Thunder fans, what do we think of the new City Edition Jerseys? pic.twitter.com/aCHFw0bmAt— Travis J Davidson (@TravisSkol) November 16, 2020
When I first saw this jersey, I was not a fan. It seemed to look too busy and it felt a little bit NASCAR with the contrasting colours and diagonal stripe. However, this jersey has grown on me quite a lot and I thought it looked good the other night. It is a loud combination of colours and patterns but somehow it works for the Thunder.