Thunder Correcting While Capitalizing on Strengths

A mature NBA team can look at its mistakes and make corrections, while also capitalizing on its strengths.

For the 21-6 Thunder squad, the process starts each day in practice and shoot-around with film sessions. Head Coach Scott Brooks’ squad studies the tape to understand which things they are doing well, along with what needs work. From defensive rotations, execution of offensive sets or communication on the pick-and-roll, the Thunder always has plenty to look for in hopes of getting better. The emphasis on improving every day is spearheaded by team leaders like Kevin Durant and gives the Thunder confidence heading into tonight’s tilt against the Dallas Mavericks.

“We had a great film session yesterday,” Durant said. “That made everything better, just coming in here and getting better… Just attention to detail, small stuff like not switching when we don’t have to switch, small rotations, 50-50 basketballs, stuff like that we have to get.”

The defensive end of the floor is where the Thunder invests most of its time and energy each day in practice. While prodigious offensive talents like Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Martin and Serge Ibaka find ways to effectively score the ball on offense, it is far more important that they are cohesive on the defensive end. That starts with knowing where every teammate is supposed to be on the floor and staying between the opponent and the rim.

“Being solid is really what makes us a good team,” Brooks said. “We don’t need to take risks and gamble because we have a solid group of guys behind us on defense. Defense is always about being solid. There are moments when the spectacular can happen with our group because of our athleticism, but for the most part in this league you win by being solid.”

Staying in front of the man with the ball is key to disrupting the timing of an opponent’s offensive set, but the other four players on the court must have proper positioning on their men as well. The final and most critical part of each defensive possession comes after the shot has already gone up. A textbook box-out, plus hustling to follow the trajectory of the ball, can prevent the opponent from getting an offensive rebound, in addition to sparking the Thunder’s own offense.

“We want to be able to out-rebound our opponent,” Brooks said. “It’s a goal for all teams in this league. If you rebound you give yourself a chance to score in transition. We’re a good transition team, but it’s always about defending, contesting and then rebounding.”

Those film sessions that the Thunder incorporates each day help show the players how they might better defend opponents, how to more effectively communicate with a teammate on a switch and improving the fundamentals of rebounding. As a result, the preparation for each game involves a healthy dose of self-analysis, mixed with scouting the oppositions’ strengths and weaknesses. That formula is the same heading into tonight’s game against Dallas.

“It’s still a combination of both, but it (the focus) is always more on us,” Brooks said. “It doesn’t really change much, we’re focused on what we do and just continue to get better within our structure. We have to also cover what Dallas does. They still can pass the ball, they can still make shots.”

Dallas does come into the game ranked in the top ten in field goal percentage, free throw percentage and total points. There are, however, a few areas the Thunder might hope to exploit tonight, starting with that ever-important work on the glass. Brooks’ squad comes into the game ranked seventh in defensive rebounding and 14th overall in rebounding, while the Mavericks are 27th in offensive rebounding and 23rd overall on the glass. Regardless, Durant and his teammates know that the Rick Carlisle and Dirk Nowitzki-led Mavericks are a potent team that can impact the game on multiple levels.

“They have so many lineups they can mix and match with and they’re playing small as well,” Durant said. “It’s going to be tough. Rick Carlisle is an unbelievable coach and puts all those guys in great positions. We have to be focused and ready for a tough one.”