- Tip-off: 9:30 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
DENVER – There’s no entitlement in this Thunder club. They knew the transition wasn’t going to be easy, and they’re working relentlessly on the fundamentals to make the process go as smoothly and quickly as possible.
All the while, it has games to play, including its third straight on the road tonight, completing a stretch of six-of-seven away from home. Against the Denver Nuggets, those fundamentals will be more important than ever. While the offense gets up to speed, the Thunder’s defense, it’s rebounding and ability to limit fouls will all be tested by an up-and-coming divisional foe.
It starts with Nikola Jokic for the Nuggets, who is a great passer at the center spot. He can put the ball on the floor, shoot threes, start the break and play with his back to the basket. The combination of ways he can hurt a defense is what makes him special.
“It’s not even necessarily the points, that’s obviously a big factor with him, but it’s the other things he does to connect the team,” Donovan noted. “Everything comes off of his feel for the game.”
The Thunder is coming off of a rough loss on the road to the Sacramento Kings where the defense was solid, but the shots didn’t fall and the offense stagnated. There’s a chip on the shoulders of the Thunder heading into this game, and no complacency. The team understands that things will get better in time, but that that only happens through the work it puts on the floor.
“It’s early in the season, no time for panicking, but at the same time that was a tough and a bad loss for us,” veteran guard Raymond Felton said. “We understand that. We’re upset about it. Hopefully we come out tonight and take it out on these guys.”
As for the offense, the Thunder is getting balanced production, but not always the types of shots that it truly desires. There are too many mid-range jumpers and not enough layups and kick-out threes. With continued focus on developing offensive concepts, the Thunder will get more cohesive. The assertiveness and ability to attack the paint is a point of emphasis, starting with Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony and filtering through the rest of the group.
“We have to do a better job of player movement so we don’t get stagnant and teams can’t load up on us,” George said. “When we get stagnant we put pressure on individuals. We’re too good of a team to allow ourselves to put pressure on us.”
The encouraging part of being around the Thunder right now is that there’s no panic and no fingers being pointed. Every player knows that they have a collective responsibility to get back on track. A win tonight in Denver would certainly usher that process along, but even if the ball doesn’t bounce right, it will look to whether it’s playing the right way. If the Thunder continues to play for each other and with each other, and stays vigilant on its gameplans, good things will come.
“Those are the moments where you have to come together as a team and as a unit. You can’t separate, you have to stick together,” Anthony said. “You have to fight through it together and embrace that moment where you can settle down, see what’s happening, take a step back and then start taking it one play at a time at that point.”
“The only way to get through adversity like that is just staying connected,” George said.
– Collectively as a group, the Thunder is trying to find more shots for second-year guard Alex Abrines in transition because of his prolific three-point shooting. Abrines runs the floor well and is doing a good job of getting himself open, and gets even more space to operate when he’s in with the second units. At times defensively there are challenging matchups for him, but the Thunder is confident in its second-ranked defense to have built-in help.
- “(Alex) did some good things in Sacramento coming off the bench,” Donovan said. “Because our defensive numbers have been good, generally you’re going to be in transition a lot more.”