Awareness Must Be High on the Road – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC at LAL
- Tip-off: 9:30 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
LOS ANGELES – All season long the Thunder’s defense has been fairly steady, with only a few blips on the radar. In its last few games to end a long stretch of 7-of-8 at Chesapeake Energy Arena, however, Head Coach Billy Donovan’s team showed signs of slippage on that end of the floor. As it embarks on a six-day west coast road swing to Los Angeles and Phoenix, the Thunder needs to regain that defensive vigor.
“We’ll have to defend a lot better than we had against Dallas. It starts with the Lakers,” Donovan said of the road trip. “We’ll worry about that one, but hopefully we can play really, really well on all sides. We’ve made some good progress offensively and we’ve gotten better. There’s been more of a rhythm and a flow. But we can’t have slippage on the defense, because that’s an area we’ve been really, really strong all year.”
“We just have to have the mindset to focus on ourselves and get better. That’s what it comes down to,” forward Paul George added. “We have a grudge. We have something to be hungry about.”
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 3, 2018
As Donovan noted, the first challenge for the Thunder is the Los Angeles Lakers, who the team will focus on first before even thinking about the LA Clippers or the Phoenix Suns to follow. Although Kyle Kuzma is coming off an injury and Lonzo Ball will not play, Los Angeles is the type of up-tempo, care-free team that has given the Thunder some issues on the road this season.
Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle will be the key scorers for the Lakers, and keeping those players from getting high percentage looks around the rim will be important to set a tone early.
“When we have breakdowns, there’s a lack of communication (and) our coverages aren’t good, it can make for a long night,” Donovan explained. “I think we’ve got to continue to work to get to a point where there’s a heightened level of awareness on every possession, and not be, ‘OK, we’ll get this next one. We’ll get the next one.’”
It’s pure human nature to have a higher level of concentration and focus when an elite opponent comes calling, but it takes a special level of discipline to operate at that high level regardless of the opposition. Against the Lakers, the Thunder has to get to that mental and emotional level in order to make sure every defensive play is executed as well as possible.
“It’s mental. It’s definitely corrections through practice. It’s a little bit of everything,” George listed. “Us having a better sharpness, a better focus coming into games, and then us just working and building habits in practice.”
“Our effort’s there. Our intention is there. The unselfishness is there,” Donovan added. “But the execution’s got to be a lot better and a lot higher level.”
- After practice on Tuesday Donovan announced that guard Andre Roberson will be out for this entire three-game road trip as he deals with the patellar tendonitis in his left knee. With a back-to-back and a long road trip, the Thunder’s doctors decided that resting Roberson during this three-game swing was the best course of action. Roberson’s absence will make the Thunder’s defensive job tougher, but it’ll be a great challenge and chance for the team to learn how to play without him.
- “From a coaching perspective, (Roberson) is as good as anybody I’ve ever been around and ever seen,” Donovan praised. “There’s a lot of great defenders in this league. I think he’s certainly right up there with the best of them, if not the best.”
- The fifth man in the starting lineup in Roberson’s place may change from night to night based on matchups and what Donovan feels will be best from a strategic standpoint. Either way it goes at the beginning of the game, guard Alex Abrines will likely be an x-factor for the Thunder at the shooting guard position. While he’s still looking to get going on offense, Abrines will need to be able to deliver within the Thunder’s team defensive concepts, and the other four men on the floor will need to be there for him in help position.
- “Part of our defense is a team defense. He’s got to have help,” Donovan noted. “There’s got to be somebody there and he’s got to do his part as well.”
- “It’s just positioning,” Abrines noted. “Usually you use two or sometimes three coaches so we put in different positions and just do the movements if the guy attacks baseline or he attacks from the middle or there’s a pick and roll on the side. We kind of re-create the plays from the game that happen a lot and try to learn from them.”
Update:Rookie guard Terrance Ferguson will make his first career start in place of Roberson.
1-on-1: Terrance Ferguson
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 1, 2018