There and Back Again – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC at SAC

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

Broadcast Information

  • Tip-off: 9:00 p.m. CT
  • Television:Fox Sports Oklahoma
  • Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

SACRAMENTO – As it has been for years, the NBA’s All-Star Weekend isn’t particularly close to the halfway point in the season, but it’s almost shocking how few games remain in the Thunder’s 2017-18 season. Just 23 contests stand between the Thunder and a potential playoff berth, and each one of them will matter dramatically, starting with its first one against the Sacramento Kings.

Despite having to skate through icy conditions back in Oklahoma City to catch a very delayed flight to northern California, the Thunder has a steely focus heading into its matchup with the rebuilding Kings.

“This is a very important game,” forward Carmelo Anthony said. “If we want to be great – if we consider ourselves being a great team, becoming great – we have to go in there with a high level of focus, high level of energy.”

“Whatever happened early on in this season, before the break, it is what it is,” Anthony continued, referencing the Thunder’s 33-26 record thus far. “We can take that information, we can build on that.”

The All-Star Break wasn’t just a chance for Thunder players (besides Russell Westbrook and Paul George who participated in the weekend in Los Angeles) to get a well-deserved breather. It was also an opportunity for the Thunder coaching and front office staff to evaluate the first 59 games of the season, particularly the latest stretch without the services of Andre Roberson, to determine any opportunities for growth moving forward.

Head Coach Billy Donovan said he looked at the offense to try to add wrinkles in the halfcourt, baseline out of bounds and side out of bounds plays, explaining that having counters and trying to be creative is a crucial part of his job. Making some tweaks coming down this final stretch, starting tonight against a Kings club that is starting youngsters Bogdan Bogdanovic and Josh Jackson, will be intriguing to watch.

“You want to get off on a good foot and you want to play well,” Donovan said. “There’s a sense of urgency to play well.”

More than anything, the Thunder simply has to muster up the mental, physical and emotional resolve to execute its gameplan over the course of 48 minutes game after game after game. The team has done it in spurts, and ripped off an 8-game win streak before Roberson’s injury, but needs to elevate its level of play starting in Sacramento, and keep it there for the remainder of the season. That doesn’t always mean it will be victorious every single night, or anywhere close to perfect, but the Thunder aims to leave no doubt that it has left everything on the line, and been committed to playing the right way.

“We’re a tough, hard-nosed team. We like to play at a high level, play with a lot of pace. We’re a very physical team,” Anthony said as more of a mission statement than a description.

“We’ve been a team that has obviously had some incredibly high moments and we’ve had some moments that have not been so high or haven’t played well,” Donovan added. “I’m encouraged because we have done it. It’s not like I have not seen our team do it before. We just have to do it on a more regular, consistent basis.”

Nick's Notebook

- After suffering a hip contusion in the Thunder’s win over the Memphis Grizzlies last week, Alex Abrines is back to 100 percent and participated in the team’s workouts on Tuesday night and practice on Wednesday morning before the team’s flight to Sacramento. Besides Andre Roberson, there are no known injuries for the Thunder at present.

- Paul George ranks fourth in the NBA in three-pointers attempted so far this season, taking 7.7 attempts from behind the arc per game. Considering the fact that he’s shooting over 43 percent from deep this year, that’s been a very positive thing for the Thunder. Billy Donovan explained that Russell Westbrook has done a really good job of generating threes for George, that George hunts threes from behind the arc and is strong at shooting them off the dribble and behind screens. More than anything, George has the height and length profile to shoot over defenders and get his shot off with ease.

“Because of his length and size and the way he gets shots off, he’s at an advantage,” Donovan noted. “For him to be able to get those numbers of threes, that’s important for us offensively. It’s a combination of a lot of things that makes that happen.
“He’s found his groove,” Anthony said. “He’s found his place in this offense. We’re doing a great job of finding him and helping him become a little bit more comfortable.”
- The NBA has unveiled a new statistic in its list of “Hustle Stats”. This one is box outs, and Thunder center Steven Adams currently ranks first in the NBA in that category, by quite a large margin. With over 100 more box outs than the next closest player, Adams is clearly making an impact for his team in terms of rebounding. Though he may not be snagging every board, he’s helping to ensure that his team gets to as many as possible.

“I’m encouraged because I think Steven has worked really hard this year to be a force up front,” Donovan said. “I think that speaks to his unselfishness in terms of wanting to win and trying to keep his guy from getting offensive rebounds.”
“I think all those statistics that really impact winning, and you can go crazy looking at all of them, but there are certain statistics that maybe don’t show up in a normal stat sheet that are, really important,” Donovan continued.
- For the first time since 2009, Anthony was not a part of the NBA’s All-Star Weekend, but the Thunder forward didn’t mind it. He had the chance to get away, shut off his phone, find a place with no televisions and enjoy time spent with his family. He said he loved to have that time to re-energize, but as he was making his way back to Oklahoma City, realized just how much he was looking forward to the camaraderie of his teammates and the Thunder staff.

“I feel rejuvenated,” Anthony said. “Happy to be back of course. I thought the break was pretty useful for myself, just kind of get an opportunity to take it all in, decompress.”

Break’s over.

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