- Tip-off: 6:00 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
Feet were shoulder width apart, weight centered on the toes, knees bent and arms out, ready to fire off in any direction to stay in front of the ball. On Monday in Salt Lake City it was Thunder defense as fans have come to know it, and what propelled the team towards the top of the heap on that side of the ball earlier in the season.
Over the last few weeks it hasn’t always been there for the Thunder defensively, though the team still ranks in the top 5 in the NBA in defensive efficiency. The key for the Thunder was positioning, focus, discipline to the fine details and a commitment to staying between the ball and the basket.
“Our stance was a little bit better on the ball. We didn’t get up on the side of their hips. I didn’t think we gave a lot of straight-line drives,” Donovan began.
“When those guys straight-line drive, it’s hard to bring help,” Donovan continued. “But if you can make them change direction a little bit and a guy does make a great dribble move and make a great play offensively it gives the back side help a little bit more time to come over and at least challenge or present some resistance at the rim.”
The Thunder will need to bring all of that to the table again as it returns home to face a Brooklyn Nets team that has been absolutely surging since the last time these squads met. In fact, when the Thunder beat the Nets on Paul George’s buzzer-beating three-pointer in Brooklyn, it dropped the Nets to just 8-18 on the season. Since then, Brooklyn is 28-15, the fourth-best record in the NBA.
Over the last four games, Brooklyn is holding its opponents to 95.5 points per game on just 35.1 percent shooting, including a 27.9 percent mark from the three-point line. On the offensive end, Brooklyn is led by point guard D’Angelo Russell, who is averaging career-highs in points (20.3), assists (6.8), field goal percentage (43.2 percent), three-point percentage (36.3 percent) and free throw percentage (80.5 percent). For the Thunder, the matchup will come down to trying to be efficient on offense and stifling on defense, getting back to those roots laid out earlier in the year.
“Being aggressive on defense, not letting anybody get by us, protecting the three, rebounding, just playing as a unit defensively,” veteran guard Raymond Felton said. “The offense is going to speak for itself. We’ve got too many guys that can score on this team. If our defense is on that level, we’re hard to beat.”
With the playoffs just around the corner, and only 15 games left in the regular season, the Thunder is vying not just for playoff positioning but to re-establishing standards on the defensive end that can be sustained through the postseason. While the Thunder hasn’t clinched a spot yet, it does control its own destiny, sitting at 41-26 and in the fourth spot in the Western Conference, 4.5 games out of first place but also just 3.5 games ahead of eighth place in the extremely tight seeding battle.
In order to get where it wants to long term, the Thunder will have to put the work in each night defensively, particularly against Brooklyn in the first of 10 home games here on the stretch run.
“The biggest thing with our defense is the consistency part. That’s what every team in the NBA is fighting for is consistency,” said Donovan. “There’s so many games. To come back mentally, physically, emotionally to be able to defend at a high level, is really challenging. That’s what it takes to build those kind of habits. Our guys made significant progress.”
NEWS & NOTES
- Markieff Morris and Terrance Ferguson were unable to finish the game against the Jazz on Monday night. Their statuses are still uncertain and will be game time decisions heading into the game against the Nets.