OKC vs. UTA Preview – Pushing Forward on All Fronts

Passing and defenders are two major identifiers of a team playing together, and the Thunder is doing both at a high level.

As the team transitions from analyzing its 94-81 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Friday night, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club held practice on Saturday to prepare for its special 2:00 p.m. tip off against the Utah Jazz at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday. In order to stay sharp, the Thunder worked hard on Saturday to hone its pick-and-roll coverages, its defensive communication and timing on the offensive end.

“We came into today really locked in on the defensive concepts we have to continue to improve on moving forward, not only for Utah, but for other games,” Brooks said. “We just focused on us today. We were really dialed in on staying in front of the basketball and helping each other out on pick-and-roll coverages.”

Coming off of a 26-assist performance on Friday night when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook each racked up six assists and Jeremy Lamb added five assists, the Thunder continued to work on finding teammates in prime positions to score. After the win against the Kings, Brooks said that this recent stretch may be the best his Thunder squad has ever passed the ball. Thanks to individual skill development, continuity on the roster and chemistry built on the court over years of practice, the Thunder has developed its ability to hit players on time and on target.

“It’s the body of work for a lot of years,” Brooks said. “We’ve been together for a while now. We understand how to play at a higher level. There are two reasons – one that the guys put a lot of work into it and two they’ve had a lot of experiences. It’s all coming together. We’re not satisfied and we never will be.”

As the Thunder squares off against the Jazz Sunday night, it will have to play with that same flow on the offensive end, aided by getting stops on the defensive end. The key to slowing the Jazz’ attack down will be keeping the Jazz’s perimeter players like Gordon Hayward out of the paint and out of a comfort zone, in addition to locking down in post defense. Against the Kings, Steven Adams and Hasheem Thabeet limited DeMarcus Cousins to just 2-for-8 shooting, and will have to use similar tactics to keep the Jazz’s Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors in check as well.

“We have to make sure that we really lock into him because he can have that type of game,” Brooks said. “Their bigs, Kanter and Favors have done a good job of improving over the past couple of years. They go to them and play the power game.”

“We have to do the same thing tomorrow night – don’t give those guys deep low post position and then when the do catch it, stay between the man and the basket and make sure they shoot with a hand in their face,” Brooks explained.

In the Notes:

- The Thunder is 2-1 against the Kings this season, and overall is 17-3 against Sacramento in the regular season.

- The Thunder is 11-4 in Sunday games so far this season and 9-4 in the month of March

- The Thunder is 27-2 when it records more assists than its opponents in a game this season

Broadcast Info:

2:00 p.m. CT. TV – Fox Sports Oklahoma; Radio – 98.1 FM The Sports Animal, Thunder Radio Network