Time for a Test: New Look Cavs Come to OKC – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC vs. CLE

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

Broadcast Information

  • Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. CT
  • Television:Fox Sports Oklahoma
  • Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

A few weeks ago, the Thunder hung 148 points on the Cleveland Cavaliers up in northeast Ohio in a dominant road win. Just days after the NBA’s trade deadline, it’ll be a drastically different Cavaliers team that travels into Oklahoma City to square off with the Thunder.

No more on the roster are Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Jae Crowder, Iman Shumpert and Channing Frye. In their place, a new starter at point guard in George Hill, and three skilled young veterans off the bench in Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. Surrounding LeBron James with that kind of verve and energy proved to be a major positive in the Cavaliers’ first game together as newly assembled, a 121-99 road win in Boston.

With just one game to scout this fresh Cleveland club, Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan and his staff are hard at work determining the best course of action for the 48 minutes.

“They played obviously a great game against Boston,” Donovan said. “So, a lot to get prepared for from the standpoint of, obviously, their team has changed so drastically personnel-wise from the last time we played them.”

Thunder Talk: Coach Donovan

The focal point defensively for the Thunder, and particularly for forward Paul George, will be corralling James. The future Hall-of-Famer is one of the most dynamic, physical and frustrating to guard in the NBA thanks to an outrageous combination of size, skill and intelligence. With some new options along the perimeter at his disposal, plus J.R. Smith And Kyle Korver stretching the floor behind the arc, James will be a difficult matchup to deal with.

“When he’s got guys that can shoot, you’re on an island, because it’s hard to help. He passes it so well,” George explained. “He’s still going downhill. He’s still using his strength. He’s still explosive when he needs to be.”

The Thunder can help its defense out by playing the type of offense that produced 74 first half points against the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night. It won’t always knock down 16 three-pointers in games like it did against Memphis, but if the Thunder runs offense with similar pace, flow, spacing and timing, it can attempt to replicate the type of shots it got. Against the Grizzlies the Thunder attempted 40 free throws, 37 three-pointers and 31 shots in the paint, leaving very few non-paint two-point jumpers in the repertoire. As a result, the Thunder was extremely efficient.

“(We) just kept moving the ball,” said guard Alex Abrines, who started and scored 16 points on four made threes. “Attacking the deep paint is always important, and once you put a foot on the paint, the defense is gonna converge and you’re gonna find open 3s.”

“The biggest thing was trying to keep the ball ahead of the defense,” Donovan noted. “Paul did a great job in pick and roll finding Steven in the middle of the floor. Steven made some really good plays, whether it was passes or finishes.”

Thunder Talk: Alex Abrines

Nick's Notebook

- On Monday the Thunder held a very light practice, with mostly non-contact work. Westbrook and Anthony participated fully in practice as they both are recovering from ankle sprains, although their availability versus the Cavaliers is still uncertain at this time. Check back for updates here on Tuesday afternoon.

- In other injury news, guard Andre Roberson has been around the practice facility and at Chesapeake Energy Arena lately, doing what he can to help the squad while also going through his rehab exercises. According to Donovan, Roberson can’t bend his knee yet so some team activities are difficult to attend, but he’s been able to lend his eyes and knowledge in terms of film, scouting and personnel.

- With Westbrook and Anthony’s status still a bit up in the air, plus the continued rotation at the shooting guard position in the absence of Roberson, it’ll will be intriguing to see who Donovan starts against the Cavaliers. The Thunder’s sideline mastermind explained on Monday that he and the rest of the coaches look not just at who is playing best and make them the starters. It’s a more complex decision, factoring in matchups, rotation patterns and player combinations, and could possibly change from night to night.

  • “It may not necessarily be who is starting, but maybe who is coming off the bench,” Donovan expounded. “How does our second unit match up against their second unit? How does our first unit match up? What are some different things that we can do? Where do we maybe have some advantages and some rotations that we can utilize? It’s really more about our team."

Thunder Minute: Feb. 12

- Donovan used Jerami Grant as an example when discussing his starting lineup. The Thunder has been intent on getting Grant more opportunities within the game, even if he’s not in the starting lineup. Grant is such a versatile tool for Donovan, and has a unique skill set at the small forward-power forward-center triumvirate of positions that the Thunder can utilize him in various ways. One way in particular he’s been effective of late is as the Thunder’s backup center. On Sunday he drew 7 fouls on the Grizzlies in a three-minute span, including 6 while posting up and then attacking the rim off the dribble. Coaches and teammates alike have attributed Grant’s ability to put the ball on the floor and draw contact at the rim to enhanced balance and better core strength.

  • “That’s a big part of it,” Donovan said of Grant’s balance, “because he’s able to power the ball up to the basket a lot better. His balance when he’s getting to the rim, he’s not where he’s playing off one leg. He’s playing off more strength and power and a better base.”
  • “It has to be a particular type of training, like anti-rotational stuff, also balance training,” center Steven Adams noted. “Reps will help them, but you just have to be strong core-wise because there’s a difference between you taking a step and then taking a hit up top. If your core’s not strong enough, that’s where the unbalance is, a disconnect there. If you’re strong enough there you can take the hit and still continue on your path.”

Thunder Talk: Steven Adams


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