Thunder Looks to Improve Defensive Rebounding in Jazz Rematch

On Saturday the Thunder returned from its road trip early in the morning after defeating the Utah Jazz and allowed its players to rest their bodies all day Saturday. On Sunday the team had an optional practice, which according to center Nazr Mohammed, was unsurprisingly attended by everyone. On Monday the Thunder got a full practice session in, and Tuesday morning supplemented that with a lively shoot around in preparation for an important stretch of games leading up to the All-Star break.

“Yesterday was really a good practice,” Head Coach Scott Brooks said. “It was nice to have one and really get after it and work on some things, some parts of our game that we need to work on. Today’s shoot around was fine, it wasn’t a long one, but now we’re going into another stretch of seven games in ten nights. (We’ll) just focus on each game, but I thought today’s shoot around was really good.”

While it seemed like the three days off between games would be a free weekend for the Thunder and its players, it’s clear that guys like Mohammed used the time to let their bodies recover in addition to ironing out some fine points of the game. Defensive rebounding, particularly boxing out with proper technique, is something the Thunder is continuing to work on, in addition to improved ball-handling. The self-awareness this team has in terms of what it needs to work on is partly influenced by the veteran leadership of Mohammed.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” Mohammed said. “We don’t feel as if we’ve peaked or anything like that. We know we still have a lot of things to learn, a lot of things to get better at. Without having practices you learn everything on the fly so you start to lose some things. At the same time, we’re winning without playing our best ball. We’re still improving and we’re just trying to stay healthy because that’s what it’s going to take to make a good run.”

With injuries to Eric Maynor and Thabo Sefolosha, who will miss tonight’s rematch against the Jazz and is listed as day-to-day, the Thunder has inserted Daequan Cook into the starting lineup. Cook has been praised by Brooks for not only what he’s known for, his outside shooting, but for his defense, rebounding and passing. While suffering two injuries to the backcourt could be devastating to some teams, Mohammed explained that the Thunder was already a rare squad in that it regularly played 10 guys every night. With Sefolosha missing the past two weeks, the Thunder has simply altered its lineups slightly while still giving its players time to rest and staying consistent in its rotations.

As for tonight’s game against the Jazz, the Thunder is looking to duplicate the effort it put forth in stopping Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, in addition to the work it did on the glass. The Thunder managed a plus-14 rebounding advantage in Salt Lake City last Friday, while also holding the Jazz to only six offensive rebounds, tied for the lowest total in that category for a Thunder opponent this season.

“You have two great guys that could have possibly been All-Stars,” Mohammed said of Jefferson and Millsap. “We know when we go out there we have to put our hard hats on and be ready to battle. If not, they can make shots, they’re going to bang. You definitely want to slow those two guys down first.”

While the Jazz will be playing its third game in a back-to-back-to-back stretch, the Thunder knows it can’t take anything for granted, particularly since the Thunder is coming off a nearly unheard-of three days off. Despite holding Millsap to 4-of-15 shooting on Friday and forcing the Jefferson and Millsap duo to take 33 shots to get their 30 combined points, Brooks knows that his team’s rebounding and defense must continue to improve, because the Jazz will be looking to repay the Thunder for the road win it took from Utah four days ago.

“We have to focus on rebounding,” Brooks said. “We’re a really good defensive team, and we can add to that if we’re all engaged and hitting people and rebounding together. Rebounding is always important… We really just focus on how we play and what we do. When we play with great energy and good execution, we give ourselves a chance to win.”

Want more Thunder news? Read Monday's story Thunder Utilized Days Off, Excited to be Home