Thunder Perimeter Defenders Locked in For Nets

BROOKLYN – Shading the right direction and playing the right leverage, almost like an NFL cornerback, is how Thunder wingmen Kevin Durant and Thabo Sefolosha have to approach their assignment in pick-and-roll defense.

While the major focus on the pick-and-roll comes at the point of attack with the point guard and whichever big man comes up to defend the screener, the pressure is actually put on the other three players in the defense to disrupt the timing of where the drive or next pass might go to. Hedging into the lane just enough to prevent a drive or a rolling big man from receiving a pass, yet being in position to close out on a three-point shooter is the delicate compromise a wing defender must balance.

“We have to be in to stop the guy rolling to the basket,” Durant said. “We also have to get out to shooters. It’s not like we’re just worrying about our man. We’re worrying about the point guard, the big man and the guy in the corner shooting the three. We have to all be locked in and focused on every single play... This game is all about playing for each other and all guys moving as one, and we’ll be alright.”

Tonight against the Brooklyn Nets, the Thunder, who will be decked out in its alternate uniforms for just the second time this season, will need to be on its “A” game in the pick and roll. While Durant and Sefolosha need to impact the flow of the opposition, it is truly up to Russell Westbrook and either Kendrick Perkins or Serge Ibaka to interrupt the design of the pick-and-roll play that the Nets’ Deron Williams wants to run. Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks knows that his team needs to prevent Williams from getting around the screen or rejecting it and getting into the lane, where he can make plays for himself or others.

“If we can get the ball stopped high and not let them get into our paint, it gives us a better chance of getting a stop,” Brooks said. “We do have some rim protectors and guys that can help out if it does get low. We want to keep it out of the paint area as much as we can.”

Williams is an All-Star level player who Durant and Westbrook became very familiar with during their shared summer in London with Team USA, but he is aided in the backcourt by Gerald Wallace and the newly acquired Joe Johnson. That trio on the perimeter is a tough-minded, smash-mouth style group that wants to impose its will with its toughness. That’s something the Thunder will have to match.

“They’re physical, three big guys for their positions,” Durant said. “Wallace is big and strong, Joe Johnson is a big two guard and D-Will is a really strong point guard. Tough matchups all across the board, but we’re looking forward to a tough challenge.”

Fortunately for Brooks and company, the Thunder’s roster is filled with resilient guys who are up to the task of playing grind-it-out, hard-nosed basketball. With a full day off, a practice yesterday and shoot-around this morning, the Thunder has prepared itself for the types of things the Nets like to do on both sides of the ball. Over the past 48 hours, Brooks’ squad has particularly honed in on how it will defend on the perimeter.

“We know how good they are offensively one-on-one and with post ups,” Brooks said. “We have to make sure we cover that very well. I thought yesterday’s practice we worked on that with a lot of good success, but we’ll see how it works tonight.”

The Thunder is 5-2 on the road this season, but has a five-game home stand coming up after tonight. While the process-based organization and team place the same level of importance from game-to-game, the Thunder will certainly be locked in to play at a high level against a quality opponent like the Nets, who are 11-5. It is important for the Thunder to be solid both at and away from Chesapeake Energy Arena, which can be dictated by effort, passion and commitment to a good defensive start.

“We want to get out to a good start and play good basketball,” Brooks said. “We’re not going to make all of our shots but we want to play with energy, play with some toughness and play together.”