Transition Defense Huge vs. Denver
Regardless of which combination of players is on the floor, the Thunder has enough on its roster to play hard-nosed, competitive basketball on every single possession.
Tonight against the Denver Nuggets, the Thunder will hope to continue its current form, play inspired basketball and put a full four quarters together on both the offensive and defensive end. It is up to Head Coach Scott Brooks’ squad to bring energy, effort and intensity to Chesapeake Energy Arena tonight in the team’s only home game in the midst of three-game and six-game road trips to the west coast.
“You want to get our guys to play at a high level as long as they can for the entire 48 minutes,” Brooks said. “We understand that there are going to be some peaks and valleys, but for the most part, our guys play at a pretty good level energy-wise, defensively and offensively.”
The Nuggets come into the game as one of the hottest teams in the league as a 24-16 club that is on a six-game winning streak after Tuesday night’s victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in Denver. The Nuggets rank fifth in the NBA with 102.7 points per game and in field goal percentage at 46.5 percent, but also first in the NBA in second chance points at 17.1 per game. The Thunder’s defense, which ranks second in the league in field goal percentage defense, will have to be tied on a string to slow down Denver’s attack.
“One of the things they do well is they score the basketball,” Brooks said. “They get up and down the court. Transition defense is going to be at a premium tonight. They have really good players. They’re loaded. They have a deep team. They have a really good backup behind each position.”
Denver also ranks second in fast break points with 18.2 per game and first in points in the paint by nearly ten over the next team at 56.3 per game, playing at the fourth highest pace in the league with 96.8 possessions per 48 minutes. As a result, the Thunder will need to be wary of guards like Ty Lawson and Andre Miller, in addition to stopping rim runs by big men like Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee. Team leaders like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Nick Collison will help set the Thunder’s mindset to stopping the ball in the fast break and getting back to protect the paint.
“They’re a very, very good transition offensive team,” Durant said. “They get steals, they get rebounds and they get out and go. We have to get back… They have quick guards, they play small and can shoot the three. They do a lot of things well on the offensive end.”
Durant described that the Thunder normally sends two or three players to the offensive glass after each shot, but against the Nuggets it’s not possible. Instead, Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha and Durant have to rotate back to mid-court and stop the dribble while the Thunder’s big men have to stick to the Nuggets big men who are running up the court. On the season transition defense has been a strength for the Thunder considering the team ranks second in the league by only allowing 11.7 fast break points per game.
“We have to get back and stop the basketball,” Brooks said. “We have to get back and stop the paint points and we have to get back to stop (them) at the three-point line… They’re playing as well as anybody.”
Fortunately for the Thunder, General Manager Sam Presti has built an organization that can play the up-tempo style, in addition to many other types of basketball. With versatile players and others who have a diversity of strengths, the Thunder can roll out lineups to contend with different threats from opponents. Brooks and the Thunder have lineup flexibility, and as a result, feel confident with any five-man combination on the floor.
“It’s personnel,” Durant said. “We can play small. We can speed it up and we can also play grind out basketball because we have some pretty good bigs. It’s good to have so many different types of players on this team. Coach is doing the best job of trying to put the best lineup out on the floor.”