Pick and Roll Defense Crucial Against Cavs

When it’s played correctly, there will be five guys in constant motion, flashing into the passing lanes, sliding over in help-side position and disrupting movement off of screens.

Pick-and-roll defense is a major focal point for the Thunder each and every day in practice, as well as in games. On Saturday at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ squad went to work again on defending the pick-and-roll, not just with the two guys guarding the ball-handler and screener, but all five players on the court.

“It doesn’t work if you only have four guys doing it,” Brooks said. “Any type of defense that we run or any team runs, you need all five guys to really be engaged and be able to communicate it and be aware of what is going on on the court… We have to have all of our guys engaged in order to have success.”

As the team transitions from its Thursday-Friday back-to-back set against Eastern Conference foes in the Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons, it has another Eastern Conference matchup right around the corner. The Thunder hosts the Cleveland Cavaliers at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Sunday night, and leading the Cavaliers are their two young guards, Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters.

“Their guards are really good,” Brooks said. “I was telling our guys, they’re good, they’re 20 years old and they’re doing things that most 20 year olds are not able to do. They read the game, they see the game at a very good pace. Their pick-and-roll game is some of the best in basketball.”

Irving is menacing with the ball in his hands a screener coming towards him, and even as a second-year player his ball-handling is the envy of the NBA. His three-point stroke (42.9 percent this year), along with Waiters’ 53.3 percent shooting from three-point land this season also makes the duo a potent combination. Flanking Irving and Waiters’ combined 40.0 points and 9.0 assists per game is the Cavaliers big man in the middle, Anderson Varejao. In order to slow down the Cavaliers’ game plan, Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said that keeping Varejao in check will be key.

“He’s just non-stop energy,” Perkins said. “I think we just have to control him, just maintain him. I think we have to put a body on him, bump him up early a little bit. We just have to make it a grind game. They’re going to come in and play hard. They’re well-coached. They come out and compete.”

For a Thunder team that is shooting 47.5 percent from the field, good for fourth-best in the NBA, it is interesting just how much of a focus the team puts on the defensive end. In fact, on a nightly basis the Thunder looks more towards the 41.3 percent shooting its opponents are shooting so far this year, third best in the league.

“You don’t have to have a great offensive game to win in this league,” Brooks said. “You have to have that defensive effort and you have to make them miss shots. That always gives you a chance to win in the fourth quarter.”

Alternate Uniforms

The Thunder unveiled its new alternate uniforms for the first time in Friday night’s victory over the Detroit Pistons, and even by tip off there were plenty of the new uniforms spotted in the crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Not only did Thunder fans like the look of the jerseys that the Thunder will wear 11 more times this season, but the players did too.

“I love it,” guard Thabo Sefolosha said. “A few people are already rocking the new jersey and I thought that was pretty cool… Coming into I think everybody thought they were pretty cool.”

Sefolosha’s teammate, Kendrick Perkins, felt the same way.

“I love them,” Perkins said. “I love the way they feel. I thought it was a good look.”

The next time Thunder fans will be able to see their players wearing the alternate jerseys at home will be on New Year’s Eve against the Phoenix Suns. Fans can order their jerseys now at nbathundershop.com. Check out more information here: http://www.nba.com/thunder/news/alternate_uniform_121108