OKC vs. HOU Game Preview – Being a Defensive Team Together

The onus of responsibility for the Thunder never falls on just one player, regardless of the situation.

Whether throughout the course of a game or in times of success or adversity, the Thunder’s team-based mentality lends itself to relying on the full unit, the organizational strength and the continuity of the core to be the guide.

Tonight against the Houston Rockets in Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Thunder will play its second game after Russell Westbrook underwent knee surgery that will keep him out of game action through the All-Star Break. As Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club continues to work through how it will not only play without Westbrook but get better in his stead, team leaders like Kevin Durant are ensuring that the team’s mentality is in the right place.

“You can’t be afraid to say you need your teammate,” Durant stated.

“We have to just do it collectively,” Durant said. “We’re not afraid to say that I need Reggie Jackson, I need Serge Ibaka, and I need Kendrick Perkins. I’m not afraid to say that. I need to lean on those guys just like we need to lean on each other, all of us. That’s what the team is about. Through adversity we just have to trust in each other.”

Over the next couple of months there will be opportunities for individual development of core players who may see more playing time or slightly different roles, but more importantly, it will be a chance for the Thunder to continue to improve. On offense the Thunder wants to be better at trusting one another with the pass and movement more consistently. Durant and company also believe they can cut down on opponents’ transition opportunities, elevating the team’s already elite defense to another level. Trust and cohesion within the defense is what makes every defense effective, and it’s something the Thunder wants to have with every unit on every possession.

“You can tell a great defensive team if they make the right rotations on the back side,” Durant explained. “All the great defensive teams, they need everybody to make the thing work.”

The other trait that elite defensive teams share is a mentality to be great. The Thunder is filled with players who don’t just want to fill the stat sheet, but rather be a part of a collective whole that is effective on both ends of the floor. That desire to be a piece within the grand scheme of a stifling, highly effective defense is what separates the Thunder and other high-level teams, helping it have success even with lineup changes or through adversity.

“You have to want to be able to be a good defensive player and a good team,” Brooks said. “You have to want it. We have guys who have a high level of want. We like being under the radar the last year years. We feel like we’re a team that doesn’t give up a lot of easy points. We’re very stingy on the defensive end.”

In the Notes:

- The Thunder went 2-1 against the Rockets last year in the regular season, and overall is 8-10 against Houston.

- The Thunder is 16-3 this season when its bench outscores its opponent’s bench.

- The Thunder’s current starting lineup of Reggie Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant is 3-1 this season.

Broadcast Info:

6:00 p.m. CT. TV – Fox Sports Oklahoma, Radio – 98.1 FM The Sports Animal, Thunder Radio Network