Start time - 7:00 p.m. (CT)
Broadcaster - Bally Sports Oklahoma
The Thunder’s game against the Brooklyn Nets did not go well. Oklahoma City were beaten comprehensively by a Nets’ side that are fighting for position in the Eastern Conference. While the Thunder were able to keep James Harden quiet, Kevin Durant had a virtuoso performance as he led Brooklyn to victory.
I do not if Durant will ever be truly accepted by Thunder fans but his talents must be respected. He was exceptional last night and deserves to be regarded as one of the best scorers of the modern era.
The Thunder’s four game win streak came to an unceremonious end and the task does not get any easier tonight. The Miami Heat are another team with legitimate championship aspirations. The team coached by Erik Spolestra play excellent team basketball and hard-nosed defense.
The Heat are second in the league in net rating behind only the Golden State Warriors. They are still considered to be dark horses but I would not be surprised to see Miami make it to another Final. They are veteran campaigners who are managed by one of the best coaches of his generation.
Erik Spolestra rarely gets the plaudits that someone like Steve Kerr or Doc Rivers does but he is an excellent basketball coach who gets the most out of his roster at all times. Oklahoma City were always likely to lose a game, what matters is the Thunder’s response.
The Thunder’s defense will need to have one mind across all five players when the Heat’s offensive potency is considered. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will need to use his anticipation and effortless, striding pace to keep Duncan Robinson in his sights. Robinson is in a shooting slump at the moment but he is the sort of player who can heat up quickly.
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is the Thunder’s anchor on defense and he will need to squeeze the floor space as much as possible. JRE cannot step up too highly and leave open lobs on the table for Bam but he cannot afford to sit too deep and allow easy dribble penetration for Lowry or Herro.
Jeremiah’s positioning over the last few games has been really sound. He steps up to the top of key and removes the possibility of north-south passing. He may have to sit a step or two deeper to guard against Bam’s vertical threat.
The Thunder’s focus on offense should be on targeting individuals like Herro or Robinson in 1v1 situations. Herro and Robinson are competent enough to be adequate team defenders but I would like to see the Thunder put them on an island and force them to guard. The high pick and roll involving Shai and Jeremiah should be adjusted to a pick and pop.
Oklahoma City would be wise to use JRE’s shooting threat to drag Adebayo out of the paint and create space inside for Shai to attack. Remove that backline security for Herro or Robinson and their defensive approach will change. Shai will still have to navigate past PJ Tucker but the possession is more manageable.
Giddey also needs to be more aggressive for my liking. Josh has shot poorly over the last four games and has settled into being a facilitator on offense. I am happy for him to focus on passing the ball but he still needs to threaten the defense with his own shot. Giddey is settling for 3-pointers and that simply will not get it done.
Josh is an able scorer from the mid-range due to his soft, delicate touch on runners and floaters. I would like to see him attack this space a lot more and take more of these shots. Giddey forcing the defense to respect his shooting will pry open the passing windows he needs to maximise his ability.
Tonight’s game will be tough for the Thunder but they must come out with a purpose. Shai, Giddey, Dort and Bazley will all need to rise to the challenge.