Thunder Wants to Keep Up Fast Starts
After a stretch of 17 games in the month of November, the Thunder is going into only its sixth game in the month of December tonight against the Sacramento Kings. With that extra practice time so far through the first half of the month, Head Coach Scott Brooks has been able to work with team leaders like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to keep the entire team sharp.
“We’re just trying to focus on the details of the game,” Durant said. “Just small things like that and going over our plays. We have a group of guys that have been together for so long, we know the game. Coach (Brooks) has been doing a great job of getting us some rest but also pushing us a little bit to get better.”
One area that the Thunder wants to improve upon over the last two games has actually been a strength for the team throughout the year. A good start tonight is the aim for the Thunder, who leads the league in fewest points allowed by opponents in the first quarter at 21.7 and ranks third in the NBA with 26.3 point scored per first quarter. That 4.6 point differential is the best first quarter differential in the league, and is a major reason why the Thunder has been able to jump out to an 18-4 record.
“We like to play aggressive,” Brooks said. “We don’t want to wait for the game to come to us. We want to attack the game from the opening tap… We always talk about being aggressive on defense and trying to score points off of our defense. When we do that, it seems to set the table very well for us throughout the last three quarters.”
The 7-14 Kings are averaging only 22.9 points per game in the first quarter on 43.6 percent shooting but have some key team members that pose a threat to the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena tonight. It all starts with DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings’ big man who is averaging 17.2 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, while also shooting 74.7 percent from the free throw line.
“He’s as talented and as skilled and as strong as gifted as any big in the league,” Brooks said. “He’s a good player, he just has to continue to develop his game and continue to play with a lot of poise and confidence. Sometimes that’s hard to do when you’re playing with a team that isn’t winning games, but I think he’s a really talented player that is only going to get better. He’s a young kid.”
Cousins’ athletic ability and skill level allows him to create scoring opportunities in the paint, on a jump shot or with a post-up, and for others because he is a good passer. In addition, the Kings have scorers in Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, Jason Thompson, Aaron Brooks and Isaiah Thomas who can all score in droves.
With Thornton coming off the bench, both the Thunder’s first and second units will need to be locked in. Durant said that because the Kings can get up and down the floor and that any one of their scorers can go off on a given night, the Thunder needs to be aware of everyone on the floor at all times.
“They have a team that can put some points on the board,” Brooks said. “They have a lot of talented players that can score. That’s the concern. We want to be able to stop them from scoring and also to be able to ignite our offense with our defense.”