Pick-and-Roll Defense Important Tonight

Intensity, heart and determination are staples of Thunder basketball, and so is attention to detail.

On Wednesday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club will be supremely locked in on the small things on the defensive end. Using this morning’s shoot-around, the Thunder dedicated itself to fundamentals on the defensive side of the ball, and making sure all five men on the floor were focused on their assignments in certain defensive coverages.

“We still have things to work on and things to improve on and we did that today,” Brooks said. “We worked on some of our defensive coverages that are important to us. Tonight’s game, the way they play, they’re a very good team. They have an inside guy that can roll hard and score around the basket. They have point guard play, they have wing shooters and they have defenders.”

With the Timberwolves bringing four guards into town that can make impact plays, plus a big man that rolls hard to the basket on seemingly every play, it will be up to team leaders like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to get the unit to play cohesively. With Luke Ridnour, Alexy Schved, JJ Barea and Ricky Rubio handling the ball out front and Nikola Pekovic crashing hard towards the rim, the Thunder must be tied on a string and committed to their jobs on the defensive end.

“We have to stop the ball in pick-and-roll,” Durant said. “Tonight I have to be better at being there early and hitting Pekovic and making him feel some bodies before he can catch and shoot a wide open layup. It’s a trickle-down effect. It starts with me and it ends with good pick and roll coverage on the point guards and also the point guard getting over the screen as well. But it has to start with me as the safety in the back.”

Pekovic seems to be coming into his own as a player, and the burly Montenegrin center who checks in at 6-foot-11 and 290 pounds uses his massive frame to body people up. His quickness and ability to get his shot up swiftly are also factors that mean all five Thunder defenders must be aware of his location on the floor. Durant and Thabo Sefolosha must be quick to dive into the lane to help Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka as they recover from the initial pick.

“We have to have a defensive mindset from the start,” Brooks said. “We have to be physical on the ball and we have to make sure we have our weak-side guys in because the big guy (Pekovic) rolls hard and he’s strong and he’s quick around the basket. He gets his shot off.”

If the Thunder is able to control the pick-and-roll and make defensive stops, its next job is to corral the defensive rebound. Brooks’ squad turns those defensive boards into outlet passes that result in fast break opportunities. The Thunder’s entire philosophy is based off of turning solid defense into quick, efficient offense, and as a result, boxing out and grabbing every defensive rebound possible will be essential tonight.

“It’s always a point of emphasis going into every game with our team because we’re such a great transition team and scoring team in transition with all of our early offense,” Brooks said. “We have to make sure we rebound the ball first. Tonight’s game, like every other game, it’s going to be critical that we defend, contest and rebound.”

Overall, the Thunder just wants to put its best all-around effort onto the floor at Chesapeake Energy Arena tonight. After this game the Thunder will play nine of its next ten games on the road, a difficult stretch for any squad. As a result, honing in on its principles on defense, getting out into transition and executing in the half court are all keys to getting a win and feeling good as the team hits the road.

“This team is playing very well,” Durant said. “We have to be prepared. I think we will. We always are good off of losses, knowing what we have to do. We always do a great job of looking ourselves in the mirror and figuring out what we did wrong. We just have to be better in all aspects of the game tonight – moving the basketball, playing together, pick and roll defense and pick and roll offense. We just have to be better.”