OKC at PHX Preview – Getting Back on D

PHOENIX – Every opponent in the NBA presents a different challenge. Against the Phoenix Suns, it’s all about transition defense.

The Thunder can often make teams pay by crashing the offensive glass, but tonight, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team will have to be wary of the league’s leading transition offense, helmed by point guard Goran Dragic. Getting all five men back after a missed shot or a make on offense will be critical for the Thunder, not just to prevent attacks at the rim, but also to prevent the Suns from fanning out along the perimeter to find open three-point shots.

“We’re definitely putting a premium on getting back in transition,” Brooks said. “They’re the league leader in fast break points. They have a really good point guard who pushes and attacks not only for himself, but others.”

“Transition defense is going to be a big key,” forward Kevin Durant said. “They play well together. They have shooters all around the court. We have to be on point every possession, control the basketball and rely on individual defense.”

Many teams in the NBA that are fast break oriented try to get early shots at the rim, but the Thunder will be challenged tonight by a Suns squad that pushes the tempo to try to get the defense disoriented. Dragic will attack all the way to the rim, not looking for a shot but merely trying to probe the defense in a way that opens a passing lane to a perimeter shooter. For the Thunder, it will be essential tonight to communicate in transition defense, ensuring that every Suns player is accounted for before the Suns get the ball up court.

“We have to make sure that if we don’t have an opportunity to get an offensive rebound, we have to sprint back and match up quickly,” Brooks said. “When we sprint back, we have to match up to their three-point shooters.”

If the Thunder can slow the Suns down on defense, it will open up its ability to attack with pace on the other end behind the attacking nature of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Reggie Jackson. Westbrook is coming off perhaps his best game of the season, a 13-point, 14-assist, 10-rebound triple-double in just 20 minutes, the second fastest triple-double in NBA history. The way Westbrook distributes the ball and creates for himself opens up the offense for everyone, helping the Thunder rack up the assists and get all five guys on the floor involved.

“On offense, move the ball like we’ve been doing and try to find a good shot,” Durant said.

In the Notes:

- The Thunder is 1-0 against the Suns this season, and overall is 13-6 against Phoenix in the regular season.

- The Thunder is 35-10 this season after a win so far this season.

- The Thunder is 4-1 this season when it converts 30-or-more free throws.

Broadcast Info:

8:00 p.m. CT. TV – Fox Sports Oklahoma; Radio – 98.1 FM The Sports Animal, Thunder Radio Network