Start time - 7:00 p.m. (CT)
Broadcaster - Bally Sports Oklahoma
It has been three days since the last time Oklahoma City played a game of basketball. Over the course of a gruelling 82 game schedule, that sort of break is quite rare. It is the perfect opportunity for the coaching staff to hold practice and work on developing players.
For the Thunder, these sort of windows are invaluable. Coach Mark Daigneault has a young, hungry roster at his disposal; every single player will be vying for regular rotation minutes. This mini break will have provided Coach Daigneault with the chance to evaluate his players and work out how his nightly rotation will shake out in the back nine of the season.
Theo Maledon could figure to be a beneficiary of the break. Maledon has spent the majority of the season in the G League leading the Blue. He has put together a really nice run of form lately and has made a serious case for being on the main roster going forward.
Last season, we saw a lot of wildness in Theo’s play. There were the usual rookie errors but he was also too careless with the ball at times. He has used the minutes provided to him in the G League to cut down on turnovers and play with more maturity.
The common criticism of Maledon was that he could be too creative, too willing to take on high-risk low-reward passes. His playmaking has become a lot more balanced and polished, certainly over the last ten games. Maledon is still finding these weird, quirky angles but has learned to rein himself in and play with control.
The break will have allowed Coach Daigneault to work on one of the Thunder’s greatest weaknesses, the team’s slow starts. OKC’s offense early in the game is oddly stagnant; there is a focus on shifting the ball around but little focus on actually creating good shots.
The stagnant, slow play often means that the Thunder are in deficit after the first quarter and have to spend the rest of the game battling their way back into the contest. It is not a sustainable way of being competitive for all 48 minutes.
The first quarter of tonight's game will be a good chance to see if the Thunder’s coaching staff have been able to address this weakness. I want to see the Thunder play with decisiveness from the first minute, too often Oklahoma City only seems to wake up in the second half.
The Thunder’s opponents are a team going through tumultuous times. The Indiana Pacers have long been a bastion of consistency in the NBA. The Pacers are known for being competitive all the time; the ownership have eschewed any attempt to tank for the best part of 30 years. It is a distinctly old school way of running the team but Herb Simon is one of the longest tenured owners in the league.
Simon comes from the generation of owners that David Stern blooded in the 1980s. At that point in time, NBA owners were local businessman who ran their teams with profit in mind. Simon has stuck firmly to that approach even as the environment around him has completely changed.
The likes of Joe Lacob, Joseph Tsai and Steve Ballmer have purchased an NBA team with the sole aim of winning at all costs. The luxury tax means nothing to them; the team’s success is the only thing that matters.
However, it seems like Simon’s approach has changed in the last few months. We have heard reports that all of the Pacers’ core is on the table and available for the right price. Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner and Caris LeVert have all been heavily discussed around the league in the run up to the deadline.
Indiana’s ownership now seems to be willing to stomach short-term pain if it means long-term success. It is a smart move but it has created a degree of uncertainty around the team. That sort of uncertainty is not conducive to a team winning games on a nightly basis.
On Thursday night, we saw Indiana score 126 points and lose by 32 points to an incandescent Hornets’ side. It is an almost unfathomable loss and symptomatic of Indiana’s form since the turn of the year. Indiana have only won three games in 2022 and look to be in a weakened state.
As games go, it is very winnable for the Thunder. I would quite like to see OKC start the game with energy and lead after the first quarter. A good, solid competitive performance is necessary if we want these players to develop in a meaningful context.