Start time - 7:00 p.m. (CT)
Broadcaster - Bally Sports Oklahoma
A week can make all of the difference in basketball. Last week, Oklahoma City looked hopeless on the basketball court. The team outside of Dort, Giddey and Shai were underperforming. One week on, those concerns seem to have abated for the time being.
The Thunder beating the Lakers was a hell of a lot of fun but the Spurs’ win spoke volumes about the character of this Thunder team. It was not a pretty win at all. Oklahoma City did not play well in the first half and would have been taken apart by a more talented opponent.
However, the Thunder were able to hang tough and then deliver haymakers in the third quarter. The previously lax defense was active and engaged. San Antonio rarely found a quality look and could not seem to buy a bucket. The lead established in the third stanza of the game was defended adeptly in the fourth quarter and Oklahoma City notched another win.
Mike Muscala will receive a lot of plaudits for his 20-point explosion off the bench but I feel that Darius Bazley is deserving of credit as well. I have criticised Bazley in the past so it is only right to praise him when he is playing at a high level.
Over the last three games, Bazley has impacted the game defensively. He was able to limit Paul George’s scoring output against the Clippers and put the Thunder in a solid position to win the game before making a few costly errors.
Darius followed up that performance with a good effort against Anthony Davis. Davis had a fantastic scoring night but it was never easy for the Chicago native. Bazley’s positioning and length did not allow Davis to feast in the low post. AD was forced to work from the mid-range a lot more. Davis did what great players do and finished off looks consistently over the course of the game but Bazley was constantly in his jersey.
Bazley’s offensive contributions have also improved. I do not want to speak too soon but it seems like Bazley has understood his role. Oklahoma City do not need him to break down a defense with his dribble or initiate the offense. All the Thunder require Bazley to do is to finish well at the rim and make the smart pass.
On his part, there has been an emphasis on taking quality shots and getting his teammates the ball in spots where they can hurt the defense. Bazley is responding well to the competition for places and I am curious to see if he can sustain this production for the long term.
The Thunder’s opponents in Louisiana are in a sorry state. The Pelicans have started the season really poorly due to Brandon Ingram being unavailable due to a right hip contusion and the Zion Williamson debacle.
Williamson and Ingram are the Pelicans’ lead offensive options. Ingram is a scoring forward who can manufacture a good shot for himself anywhere on the floor as a result of his lanky frame and sweet shooting stroke.
Zion does not have the range of his high-scoring counterpart but he’s a machine when it comes to creating high-quality looks inside. Zion’s size and soft touch means that he is very difficult to stop around the rim.
Both of them being absent plays right into the Thunder’s hands. Winning against New Orleans should be pretty simple given that the Pelicans are currently running offense through Devonte Graham and Nickel Alexander-Walker.