Team Defense and Rebounding Big Tonight for Thunder

The Thunder may be on a streak of six straight games of scoring 100 points or more, but its identity always starts on the defensive end.

Coming off of a record-setting defensive showing when it held the Charlotte Bobcats to 24 first half points and 29.1 percent shooting throughout the night, the Thunder is allowing a meager 94.9 points per game and boasts an 8.0 point differential for the season, best in the NBA. By holding opponents to a third-best 42.8 percent shooting from the field, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club has practiced what it preaches thus far in 2012-13 and hopes to continue that tonight against the Houston Rockets.

“We are a defensive team, we have to focus on that end of the floor,” Brooks said. “Obviously we can still score and we want to do that at a high level. We’ve done them both for the most part all year. We don’t want to stop doing that… We played pretty good defensive basketball last game, we want to continue that going into tonight.”

Against the Bobcats the Thunder were aggressive yet disciplined on their defensive closeouts, their pick-and-roll coverages and help-side rotations. All of those factors forced Charlotte into shooting contested two-point jump shots, the most efficient shots in the game. An added bonus is that the Thunder is blocking 7.0 shots per game while also making 7.1 steals per contest, taking away full possessions for opponents. Veteran forward Nick Collison said that he’d like to see more of that same defensive intensity tonight.

“We tried to make them (Charlotte) shoot jump shots, and I think it’s the same thing (against Houston),” Collison said. “We’re going to try to keep Houston out of the paint. That’s when they’re at their best when they attack the basket and dish off to other guys.”

The Rockets come into the game with a 7-7 record and are averaging 102.4 points per game with the help of 22.1 assists per contest compared to the Thunder’s 22.7 per outing. While the Rockets don’t average quite as many points or shoot as high of a percentage from the floor, the team has used a balanced attack where seven players average 8.0 or more points per game.

“They spread you out pretty good and they move the ball,” Brooks said. “They pass the ball well. They have multiple passers and playmakers and drivers and shooters. They score, they’re one of the league leaders in offense… They all have abilities to score and make plays for each other.”

Another area where the rockets have been particularly effective has been on the boards, where they haul in 45.9 rebounds per game, tied for third best in the NBA. An average 12.6 offensive rebounds per night is a contributing factor, and it starts with center Omer Asik who is pulling in 12.4 rebounds per game himself, including 3.9 on the offensive end. Thunder bigs like Collison, Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Hasheem Thabeet will have to be wary of the Rockets post man at all times.

“He’s really good, he’s one of the best in the league,” Collison said. “He’s really big and he plays hard. So I think we try to always locate him and get to him first when the shot goes up. Another part of it is going to be how we defend ball screens. Bigs are going to have to give a lot of support on (Jeremy) Lin and James (Harden), so he’s going to be free some. So sometimes it’s going to have to be other guys having to locate him and keep him off the boards.”

The Thunder is currently 11th in the league in rebounding, but ranks fourth in defensive rebounding, meaning it is forcing opponents to miss and then grabbing those missed shots afterwards. Since the Thunder shoots a blistering 47.9 percent from the floor on offense there aren’t as many opportunities for offensive rebounds, so Brooks wants his team to continue refining their box-out techniques and ensuring that opponents like Houston don’t get second chance opportunities.

“In the history of the league, if you rebound you’re better off,” Brooks said. “We’ve always had a good record when we out-rebound our opponent. This year there are no complaints on the defensive rebounding. We’re much improved and guys are really locking in to that part of the defense. I give them credit, they really focus in on finishing that possession with a rebound.”