Start time: 9:00 PM (CT)
Broadcasters: Fox Sports Oklahoma and NBA League Pass
The Thunder come into this game on the back of a close loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers again built an early lead and again, Oklahoma City spent the entire game chasing down Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Despite the loss, the Thunder played well and for the first time in a while, the defense looked engaged and aggressive.
The Blazers beat the New York Knicks last night and they are currently dealing with quite a few injuries. CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins will all miss significant time due to injury. Those injuries did not affect Portland yesterday, Dame put the team on his back and carried the team over the line.
Three Points to Note for the Thunder:
Over the last five or six games, Darius Bazley has been in a funk. His shot has not looked right and his decision-making has been a little off. Bazley is best when he is moving quickly and playing within the flow of the offense. Bazley has struggled to find that rhythm recently and you could see him start to over-think the game.
There were too many times when Bazley would slow the game down and over-dribble the ball instead of relying on his handle to get by defenders. Bazley’s thirst for buckets also affected his ability to make shots; Bazley missed good layup opportunities in his desperation to get a score.
The funk was evident in the first quarter of the game against the Clippers but Bazley grew as the game went on. His drives to the rim were sharper and more instinctive, he did not hesitate when a good match-up presented itself.
Darius had a good game against LA and he has the chance to have a big game tonight against the Portland Trailblazers. The Blazers’ interior defense is porous without Nurkic and Collins. Portland are relying upon Enes Kanter, Carmelo Anthony and Robert Covington to provide resistance inside. None of these players are great interior defenders and there will be good looks at the rim for Bazley.
Bazley’s role has changed hugely this season. He often takes a difficult match-up defensively for the Thunder and Bazley is needed as a leader on that end of the floor for the Thunder. He does not have Steven Adams or Chris Paul calling out plays and organising the defense; that is now his responsibility. A good game against Portland can be the first step in establishing some momentum for Bazley.
Hamidou Diallo had another good game against the Clippers last night, Diallo had 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting from the field. Diallo’s true shooting percentage has shot up this season to 57.4%. Last season, Diallo’s TS was 49.1%. This improvement can be linked to Diallo playing with more discipline on offense.
Hamidou Diallo is taking more looks inside and he is not settling for bad 3-point shots or contested mid-range jumpers. The focus for Hamidou has been looks within 3ft. Diallo is maximising his explosive athleticism by attacking the rim. The shift in approach raises Diallo’s ceiling from being a fringe rotation player to a microwave scorer off the bench.
Diallo does need to address certain areas of his game if he wants to improve his scoring further. Hamidou’s usage of his athletic burst could be controlled slightly better and I would love to see Hamidou develop a floater. Diallo having a floater changes how a defense guards him; a big would have to step out to contest the floater instead of just sitting back anticipating the dunk.
In the game against the Clippers, you could see the growing chemistry between Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Isaiah Roby in the two-man game. In the first quarter alone, there were a fair few occasions where SGA got Roby the ball in a spot where Isaiah could finish easily.
Gilgeous-Alexander has been very good at slipping passes into Roby and Roby usually makes the right decision when he is rolling to the rim. The pick and roll can be used to strain the Blazers’ defense and force Enes Kanter to make hard decisions.
The Blazers are a different schematically this season; in the past, Terry Stotts would always drop Enes Kanter in the pick and roll. Now, Portland often brings the big up to the perimeter to hedge the action and buy time for the guard to recover onto their assignment.
The tactical adjustment means that Enes Kanter is playing a role that he is not entirely comfortable with. Kanter is prone to over-hedging and he lacks the speed to stay in front of guards. This a weakness that the Thunder can exploit.
Box and One
The injury to CJ McCollum means that the Blazers’ starting five is light on playmaking. Portland have one elite shot creator on the floor and Damian Lillard is relied on to carry a heavy load. In last game, Portland started a lineup with Dame, three lengthy forwards and Kanter. That lineup has no other playmaker outside of Damian Lillard.
Oklahoma City have to force Dame to pass the ball and they have to get the ball out of Lillard’s hands. The Knicks had a degree of success with blitz coverages on Lillard yesterday but Portland were able to withstand that disruption. The answer for guarding Dame lies in the coverages that have faced Stephen Curry in the last eighteen months.
In the 2019 NBA Finals, the Toronto Raptors ran a Box and One coverage on Stephen Curry when Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant were out of the game. The coverage worked really well, the Warriors’ offense could not find a bucket and the Raptors were able to build a healthy lead.
The coverage allowed the Raptors to have two defenders facing Curry at all times; Steph was not able to find the room that he needs to get rolling offensively. Other teams have experimented with this coverage and I think it would work well against the Blazers. Taking Dame out of the game will stunt the Blazers’ offense.
The Box and One coverage is a hybrid between zone and man to man coverage. Four players create a zone that walls off the painted area while one player chases their assignment. Luguentz Dort has to be the chaser in tonight's game, he has to pressure Lillard wherever he goes on the court.
Lillard is a brilliant scorer and it is difficult to slow him down but the box and one feels like the best way to guard him. He will face two defenders on every possession and the hounding pressure applied by Dort will not allow him to get any respite. Eventually, Dame will be tired or he will make bad decisions.
The Blazers ran a lot of zone against the Knicks. Coach Stotts has adjusted his scheming to include a lot of zone in order to compensate for the injuries that the Blazers are dealing with right now.
The ball movement tonight has to be incisive; lethargic sideways passing will not create the gaps in the defense that the Thunder need to bust the zone. Zones are broken by shooting or inside scoring. OKC are not great from downtown so the Thunder have to move the ball quickly to create looks in the painted area.
News came out yesterday that Adidas are releasing a shoe that commemorates Dame dropping 50 on the Thunder and ending the series. I can’t wait to see shoes for all of playoff series that Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant won in OKC.