- Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
Gradually, the Thunder has started to show that mental stamina that Head Coach Billy Donovan has been looking for more and more. Especially since returning to Oklahoma City after a stretch of 12 out of 15 days on the road, the Thunder has been able to extend runs, play to its style and break games open. Tonight it’ll have another chance to keep making forward progress against the Chicago Bulls.
The fuel to those big bursts has been the defense, and the Thunder has had one of the best units all season long. Where the team has played better over the past two games is in turning those stops into scores by getting all the way to the rim for layups, our by drawing fouls while in the shooting motion.
“Just one stop after another, it becomes contagious,” forward Paul George said of the energy. “Once guy gets a stop, one guy makes a big play, the crowd feeds off of it, the energy starts to get there and you want to capitalize off play after play. You see when Russ is riled up and he’s coming down with full throttle.”
“One guy makes a play and we all get going,” George shrugged.
The Thunder is going to need to play with that same level of relentless energy tonight against the Bulls, who likely haven’t forgotten the 101-69 thumping that Oklahoma City delivered in Chicago in late October. From Donovan’s standpoint, that game means practically nothing, other than that his team will have to compete just as hard as it did last time in order to get a win. Young, aggressive guard Kris Dunn will be starting at point guard for Chicago, and Bobby Portis is back in the mix after he missed the first game against the Thunder.
“What happened in the game is not going to mean much in terms of going into this game,” Donovan explained. “Schematically, how they guarded us and how we guarded them, adjustments, changes, it helps there. But we’re going to have to come out and play with energy.”
“We can expect that they’re going to come in here and play hard. That was one thing that stood out about their team the first time,” Donovan noted. “We worked really hard in that game. We’re going to have to work really hard in this game as well.”
Even without Steven Adams and Carmelo Anthony last game against the Dallas Mavericks, the Thunder exploded for a 39-point third quarter. In Friday’s game against the LA Clippers, it scored 27 points in about a five-minute span in the first quarter. There are these glimpses of the greatness that lies in this team. As Russell Westbrook, Anthony, George and the rest of the group continues to gel, the team believes it’ll keep heading in the right direction.
“Every possession is not going to be perfect but we’re getting better. We had some really good moments last game and some moments against the Clippers,” Donovan said. “We just have to keep working on that and building that up. Everybody’s intentions and hearts are in the right place in terms of trying to play the right way and move the ball.”
“Taking open shots is always going to lead to higher percentage shooting, but also when you have players who can create and generate offense for themselves and others, you want to have a mix of that too,” added Donovan.
– Donovan doesn’t expect Adams to play against the Bulls because he did not participate in practice on Tuesday. He’s still recovering from a leg contusion sustained in Denver. Anthony was able to do a little bit of moving on Tuesday while dealing with his lower back issue, so the Thunder are more optimistic about his chances than Adams’, but will know more on Wednesday morning.
– On Monday the Thunder had the day off, but Donovan came into the practice facility to do some yoga. Who did he find there but rookie Dakari Johnson, most certainly not resting on his past two performances, both starts in place of Adams. Despite performing admirably against DeAndre Jordan and Dirk Nowitzki, Johnson eschewed a day off to instead work on his body and his mind in the INTEGRIS Thunder Development Center.
- “More than anything else, it has a lot to do with who he is as a person,” Donovan said of Johnson’s growth. “Because the resources here are endless in terms of how serious you want to get about any area of your life. The guys who really take full advantage of it are the ones who ultimately improve and get better.”
– George his coming off of 42-point and 37-point scoring performances at home, and while those numbers can’t be expected every single night, there’s been a noticeable uptick in his aggressiveness. He’s attacking pick-and-rolls, splitting defenders when he reads that the opposing big man is moving slowly and is getting downhill to draw fouls and score at the bucket.
- “He’s figuring out where to take his shots where there are good areas of the floor for him to do that. He’s getting more comfortable,” Donovan said. “There’s so much more as a player than that. He’s trying to play the right way.”