Control What’s in Front: Energy and Effort Needed at Home – OU Medicine Game Day Report: OKC vs. LAL

By Nick Gallo | Digital Content Reporter | mailbag@okcthunder.com


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There’s thousands of tiny moments within a basketball game that determine the final score. A shot rims out. A whistle blows unexpectedly. Someone cuts to the rim when a teammate thought they would flare to the corner. Everything is uncertain and records mean nothing once the ball is tipped, the competitive battle begins and players are put in situations that test their skill, preparation and focus.

That’s why, in Tuesday’s battle at Chesapeake Energy Arena against the Los Angeles Lakers, in the swirl of all of that in-game chaos, not to mention the macro-level situation as the team has dropped five of its past six home games, the Thunder is laser-locked on the hustle-centric parts of the game.

“Just energy and effort,” said Thunder forward Paul George. “That’s the only thing that’s controllable within a game that will put ourselves in a position to win.”

There are definitely some x’s and o’s considerations that will loom large in the game – namely paint protection and defensive rebounding – and the Thunder will have to execute throughout the 48 minutes on those details. With a few bright spots in between like wins over Toronto and Indiana, the Thunder is mostly still looking to create consistency in performance on both sides of the ball by playing to its identity of being a ball-hawking unit that uses its size and length to play into its quickness and athleticism advantage in the open floor.

“Defensively we’ve slipped in terms of energy and effort, being in the right spot, scrambling around,” George added. “Offensively as well, we’ve got to just play with that same speed, that same force that we were playing at to start the year. We were at a different pace, and it was very noticeable how we were playing to start the year.”

Despite the recent results, the Thunder knows that the key to coming back from adversity is to not allow negativity to creep into the locker room, which would only compound the problems the team currently faces. That’s why Thunder leaders have made it a point to remain upbeat and optimistic, always reinforcing to the group that the only way out of trouble is doing it together.

Thunder vs. Lakers Game Preview

“We just do a good job of being positive. We have fun working together. We have fun coming into this building,” said George. “That’s all the greatest foundation for us right now is staying through it, staying with it. Practice been over, we always have guys staying after getting shots, getting work. This group is, regardless of (the fact that) we’ve been dropping games or regardless of that, this group is as tight as we can get.”

“I’ve seen teams go through growing pains and that’s what we’re going through right now,” added veteran guard Raymond Felton, who provided a jolt of energy off the bench against Dallas. “It seems like when everybody is counting us out, that’s when we’re at our best anyway. I like it. I like the fact that we’re struggling right now. Nobody is talking is about us. Everybody thinks that we can’t do this, we can’t do that. I love it. That’s when we’re at our best. We’ll figure it out.”

As Head Coach Billy Donovan has noted on many occasions this season, no NBA team goes through a season adversity-free. While the Thunder racked up wins early in the year and pushed up the Western Conference standings, there were some on-court habits that it got away with, that are now being ironed out against stiffer competition in the final months of the season. It’s all necessary preparation for the postseason, which begins in mid-April. The Thunder has clinched a playoff berth for the 9th time in the last 10 seasons and must use these experiences like Tuesday’s against the Lakers as kindling for their postseason fires.

“It’s another level that we need to get to before we get to the playoffs and that we need to be at,” said Felton. “It’s a different atmosphere, it’s a different type of basketball and not everybody is fortunate enough to get to that point, to get to that level and experience that.”

1-on-1: Jerami Grant

SHOOTAROUND NOTES

- The Lakers have won four of its last five games coming into tonight and are a team that will bring energy into the battle with the Thunder. For leaders like Russell Westbrook, the focus is mostly internal – making sure that his team is ready to go from the opening tip with concentration and focus.

  • “Just gotta find a way to get a win. That’s it, honestly. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing at this point, this time of the year,” said Westbrook. “It’s just learning how to play well together.”

- Defensively for the Thunder tonight, getting back in transition and protecting the three-point line will be the two most critical duties, particularly against a funky Lakers squad that is playing three guards (Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Lance Stephenson) and two centers (JaVale McGee and Mo Wagner) in the starting lineup, then bringing a pair of three-point shooters off the bench in Alex Caruso and Reggie Bullock.

  • “First off, stop them in transition,” Thunder shooting guard Terrance Ferguson said. “They’re definitely a transition threat, especially (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope). He’s always looking to run the floor and get open threes.”
  • “We’re still out there giving the most effort we can give most of the time and we’re trying to play every possession on the defensive end and be physical end,” added Ferguson. “We’re just trying to stay focused, trying to get back to it, trying to rely on each other and have each other’s back.”

Watch: Practice Report

NEWS & NOTES

-       Something to look for over the final five games of the regular season is Donovan’s in-game adjustments and rotations. Against Dallas on Sunday, Donovan not only used Felton as a matchup solver and extra boost, but also brought Steven Adams out of the game a bit earlier than normal, then put him back in to end the first quarter and begin the second period. Giving George a top-level screening partner like Adams could be a good way to help the Thunder forward get back towards his MVP-like production from a few weeks ago.

  • “I was just trying something a little bit different just to try to create something different in the second unit, just to see what that could look like,” said Donovan.

-       On Monday, two-way player Jawun Evans had his first real practice with his Thunder teammates after sending the last week with the Oklahoma City Blue in the G League Playoffs. Evans, a point guard standout from Oklahoma State University, is thrilled to be back in Oklahoma and gushed about his experience with the Blue.

  • “It feels good to be back here. It’s like another home for me,” said Evans. “The guys have welcomed me tremendously. I’m just ready to just get to work.”
  • “That’s a good group of guys, man,” Evans said of the Blue. “They play for each other. They play hard. I think since I’ve been in the league, I haven’t’ seen anything like it, the way they just help each other up and just be there for each other. That’s a good group of guys, like a brotherhood. I’m glad I was able to be a part of that for those few days.”

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