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SACRAMENTO – A plane got busted, a shot banked in against them from halfcourt at the buzzer and on Monday, the lights went out at practice. But regardless of the adversity, either the normal on-court kind or the wacky variety the Thunder has experienced lately, the team just keeps trucking along. Tonight the Thunder are hoping to have less drama involved tonight as it faces the Sacramento Kings during the middle game of this road trip.
Both on and off the court the Thunder has been working to build up the cohesion on the floor. The record is just 4-5 right now, but in some ways, they are seeing the fruits of that labor, with the third-best point differential in the NBA thus far. Team leaders Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony have been working tirelessly together to ensure that the team is headed on the right track. It’s only a matter of time before everything starts to click.
“The chemistry has been great with those guys,” Head Coach Billy Donovan reviewed. “The biggest thing for me with the chemistry is the communication, and those guys are in constant dialog. They’re constantly talking.”
“We’re figuring out just how we’ve gotta play and the identity we’ve gotta play to and then becoming more consistent in that identity.” Donovan continued. “We’ve had some moments we’ve looked really good and then we’ve had some moments where it’s not so good. And I think we’re just striving for that consistency.”
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So far this season the Thunder’s defense has been what has made them competitive every single night, and Donovan’s club will have to bring it again tonight against a Kings backcourt featuring rookie De’Aaron Fox and sharpshooting Buddy Hield, who is formerly of the University of Oklahoma. Containing the ball on offense, and keeping Fox out of the middle, will be extremely important tonight.
“One of the big emphases we’ve placed on is really trying to become an elite defensive team. And they’ve done a good job so far to this point in time,” Donovan noted. “The identity is clear how we want to play at the defensive end of the floor. It’s, can we do it and sustain it for a long period of time?”
On the other end of the floor, stretching Sacramento’s defense and forcing their bigs like Skal Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein to be out of position can open up lobs to Steven Adams or driving lanes to the basket. Between the trio of Westbrook, George and Anthony, the Thunder has plenty of offensive firepower to generate baskets in isolation and when shooting over the top of opponents. But for the Thunder to get to its maximum level of efficiency and effectiveness, it needs to play coherently, with an emphasis on creating advantage situations that puts defenses in a bind.
“Offensively getting those guys comfortable with one another and making sure that we have the stamina on offense to generate good looks and good plays,” Donovan said. “There are some very talented offensive players that can go and do it one-on-one, and I get that, but we have to have balance also with the ball movement, player movement, those things.”
“Regardless of how talented you are, you still have to do those things to put yourself in a position to win,” Donovan concluded.
Watch: Coach Donovan
– Part of the Thunder’s strategy on defense against certain opponents is to switch on the perimeter in pick-and-roll actions, forcing teams to get out of their desired offensive set and try to make a play one-on-one. This can force teams to be stagnant in their offense. Sometimes it works really well, and throws off the rhythm of the opposition, but NBA players are really talented, and sometimes they can thwart that style of defending. It’s an interesting case study in defensive choices, and something to watch tonight against Sacramento.
- “You’re always gonna switch to eliminate putting two on the ball and creating closeouts and scrambles,” Donovan explained. “And then also, it helps in terms of taking teams out of their offense, because so much of offense is predicated on getting two on the ball.”
- “Sometimes guys are slipping out,” Donovan explained of offense’s counter-strategies to combat switching. “Sometimes if you wait too long for the switch, you get two on the ball and the other guy is going back, so the timing of that and the communication of that is really important and that’s something you’ve got to work on because of the randomness of people slipping out of those screens.”