Boxing Out the Key vs. Hornets Tonight

One might think that after out-rebounding its opponents, 106-84, over the past two games, the Thunder would be content with its effort on the glass.

Heading into tonight’s matchup against the physical, post-centric New Orleans Hornets, however, the Thunder couldn’t be more focused on trying to rebound the ball better. On the season, the Thunder is averaging only 0.4 more rebounds per game than its opponent.

“I’ve seen improvement, we’ve talked about it,” Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks said. “We’re seeing it, but we still have to keep working on it and talking about it and doing it. The most important thing about rebounding is putting a body on your opponent. We have to do a better job with that.”

Boxing out is a fundamental, but very important, skill that players learn at a young age. For NBA players who spent years in high school and college being the most athletic person on the court, it is also one that can slip away. Center Kendrick Perkins, who currently averages 5.8 rebounds per game, is one of the cogs in the post-player rotation that Brooks loves to use. Between Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison, Nazr Mohammed and Perkins, the quartet averages nearly 20 rebounds per game, and the eighth-year veteran knows that number can jump higher.

“We just have to keep getting better,” Perkins said. “I think sometimes we were relying on our length and we're just thinking we could out-jump people and stuff like that. Now we’re starting to hit guys and are going back to our fundamentals of boxing out. So I think that’s been key.”

Collison, who participated in shoot-around on Wednesday morning and will play tonight according to Brooks, will be one of the four men charged with defending a potent New Orleans frontcourt. Perkins said that 75 percent of the Hornets offense comes from post-ups, and agreed with his head coach that bigs like Chris Kaman, Emeka Okafor and Carl Landry all have the ability to beat teams with their jump shots and on pick-and-rolls.

“Kaman, Okafor and Landry are three guys that can score down low in the post,” Brooks said. “We have to do a great job of one-on-one coverage. … We have to stop their inside game, we have to continue to move the ball, move them and get those big guys away from the basket and put them in pick-and-rolls.”

Coming into tonight’s game, the Thunder ranks eighth in rebounds per game, but New Orleans ranks fifth, including fourth in offensive rebounding. Perkins admitted that while the Thunder ranks first in the NBA in opponent’s field goal percentage (41.2 percent), it would very much like to decrease the number of offensive rebounds allowed each game. Obviously more missed opponent shots results in more potential offensive rebounds for opponents, but the Thunder wants to continue to defend shooters as well as it has in addition to crashing the glass harder to set up good outlet passes and get into the secondary break.

“I think when you play great defense it always contributes to a good offense,” Perkins said. “We’re able to get easy fast-break points, get out in transition. The biggest thing is that we’ve been playing pretty good defense all year, it’s just our defensive rebounding has been slacking, starting with me. But I think we’ve put an emphasis on rebounding and hitting guys and finishing the play. … When we do that, we’ll be able to get out and run and get easy baskets.”

With Perkins and Ibaka anchoring the front line, it has been taken as a challenge by the duo to set the defensive tone night-in and night-out. As with every aspect of the Thunder’s attitude on and off the floor, however, the responsibility is on the team as a whole to play gritty, physical and smart defense as a collective unit.

“I think every guy has to take it upon themselves that they’re not going to get scored on and we just have to help each other,” Perkins said. “We have to help the helper, so we have to be tied on the string (together). Every night a certain guy on the team has a tough matchup, so as long as we keep playing team defense and helping each other out, we’re talented enough and have enough athleticism to cover for each other.”