Thunder “D” Prepared for Wizards

Highlight reel plays are just fine, but on defense the Thunder is just as excited to force a missed shot or a 24-second violation.

As Head Coach Scott Brooks’ Thunder squad enters tonight’s matchup against the Washington Wizards, it comes in on a streak of three straight games in which it held its opponents to 90-or-fewer points. In addition, the Thunder team that ranks second in the NBA in field goal percentage defense has held the Memphis Grizzlies, Orlando Magic and Portland Trail Blazers to just 39.2 percent shooting over the past three games. Making opponents miss and run their offensive deep into the shot clock are two ways in which the Thunder feels successful on the defensive end.

“We focus on that every day and every game,” Brooks said. “Our game plan is to make sure we make them miss shots… We take pride in that. There are going to be some days where we really lock in and keep them at a low number, and there are going to be some days where we miss shots. I think our defense has been pretty good all year.”

The Thunder takes pride in keeping their assignments in front of them on the defensive end and helping one another in help-side rotations. In addition, however, the Thunder is highly capable of making impact plays on the defensive end that can immediately turn into offense.

In fact, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s crew is tied with the Denver Nuggets for the highest steals-plus-blocks average in the league at 15.9 per game. By sticking to its defensive principles, the Thunder swats 7.5 shots and nabs 8.4 steals per game, leading to opportunities in transition.

“It’s just our defensive shell, that’s what we’re more worried about,” Durant said. “We know if we do that, it’ll generate some steals and blocks. We just try to be in a stance every time down, close the paint up, then peel out to the three-point line. Serge (Ibaka) does a great job of protecting the rim. Russ gets his hands on a lot of basketballs, and that’s how we get steals.”

It’s an essential part of the Thunder’s game to turn defense into offense, as it ranks fourth in the NBA in points off turnovers at 18.6 per game, while also registering a fourth-best 16.8 fast break points per contest. Those metrics are important each and every night, but with the Wizards coming into town led by former number one overall draft pick John Wall, the Thunder will have to be on its toes. He’s a dynamic scorer and playmaker, and the Wizards are 21-16 with him in the lineup.

“He’s that type of player,” Brooks said. “He can change the game by his energy, by his ability to get into the paint and to the basket. And he’s a good defender. They have some good pieces.”

Not only has Wall helped the Wizards to team success, but he’s coming off perhaps the best game of his career, a 47-point effort against the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday. More than anything, it will be up to the Thunder to play its standard brand of basketball – tough on defense and unselfish on offense – to put itself in a position to win tonight. Being tied on a string defensively, then using those stops to get out into the open floor will be a recipe for success.

“Hopefully we come out there and get it done,” Durant said. “We know John Wall, coming off a career game, he’s going to try to do the same tonight. We’re looking forward to a challenge…Hopefully we get a win.”