Post and Perimeter Defense the Focus Tonight versus Lakers
In preparation for tonight’s primetime matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Staples Center, the Thunder held its shoot-around in possibly the most opposite of locations- a high school gymnasium in Santa Monica, CA.
It was quite a site for the mass of reporters that filled the tiny indoor basketball court once shoot-around commenced, but it was clear that it was an ideal environment for the Thunder to focus and get down to business in preparation for tonight’s game. According to Head Coach Scott Brooks, the Thunder’s largest focus coming in is in the post. During the last meeting the Thunder forwards and centers held Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol mostly in check, and that will be the goal again tonight.
“They’re going to have to be big,” Brooks said. “Our bigs are going to have to play with some toughness tonight because Bynum and Gasol are pretty good down low. They’re one of the best tandems in scoring down in the paint.”
One player who has expert knowledge of what Bynum and Gasol are capable of is Thunder point guard Derek Fisher, the long-time Laker who was acquired just over a week ago to be the team’s backup point guard. While Brooks said that the Thunder’s assistant coaches have spoken with Fisher and gotten some extra insight, it will be up to players like Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka to handle things on the court. In fact, Perkins spoke earlier this week about the development he’s seen in Ibaka’s offensive game, which will be essential in combating the Lakers’ bigs.
“I think he’s just finding the open spots and he’s attacking the offensive glass,” Perkins said. “Like I always tell him, most of the nights he is the most athletic big. He runs the fastest, jumps the highest and all of that. He’s been attacking the offensive glass and he’s been going up strong and that’s where most of his points have been coming from.”
While Ibaka is taking care of business in the post, the Thunder guards will be called upon to defend the perimeter, including new Lakers point guard Ramon Sessions and perennial All-Star Kobe Bryant. The addition of Fisher has been nice for the Thunder, who had been using the triumvirate of Russell Westbrook, Reggie Jackson and Royal Ivey to play and defend the point guard position, sprinkling in James Harden for good measure. Now with Fisher in the fold, Brooks has yet another, different option that he can go with based on the matchup.
“I think it’s good because that position is so dynamic,” Brooks said. “So many players are so explosive themselves and getting into the paint for their teammates. We like to have different looks and guys have different strengths on the defensive end.”
In fact, those differing strengths can not only help the Thunder when guarding opposing players, but are also a benefit in practice to keep players like Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Daequan Cook, Kevin Durant and Harden sharp when they handle the ball.
“We have some really good defenders that can guard the ball that do a very good job,” Brooks continued. “There are a lot of times that we can switch it up to get that guy a different look. It’s not that the guy can’t guard. It’s just that you give the good players a daily dose of the same thing, they figure it out. That’s what makes them really good. They figure it out, so we kind of try to change it to stay ahead of the curve.”