- Tip-off: 8:30 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
There’s 11 games to play for the Thunder, with seven at home at Chesapeake Energy Arena, until what will hopefully be a postseason run that lasts deep into the spring. While it’s certainly coming down the final stretch of the season, there’s still plenty of time for the Thunder to break out of this current three-game losing streak and get back to its brand of basketball heading into the playoffs.
In order to get started back on track, however, the Thunder will have to do it against one of the very best teams in the NBA. On Wednesday and Friday Head Coach Billy Donovan’s squad has a home-and-home with the Toronto Raptors, who have 50 wins already and sit in the second seed in the Western Conference. Instead of wasting time by worrying or being concerned with a tough stretch coming out of the All-Star Break, the Thunder stays focused on what it must do to get through to the other side of it.
“I don’t know what worrying does in terms of what we have to do. We have a job to do and we have to get better,” Donovan said plainly. “I just don’t think you go through a season adversity-free. I don’t think you go through life adversity-free. If you look at any good team this year, they’ve probably had their moments where there’s been some significant struggles at some point in time. This happens to be our time where we’re going through this.”
“If you’re fortunate enough to get to the playoffs, every possession is adversity, every game is adversity, so we’ve got to find a way to work through this and pull together,” Donovan continued. “The guys, their attitudes have been good, their togetherness has been good. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. We’ve got to figure it out on our own.”
“(We’re) staying professional about it,” echoed center Steven Adams. “Obviously it’s frustrating, but we’ve just got to go through this thing of cleaning little things up and moving forward.”
The Raptors are in the Eastern Conference, so despite this being mid-March, it’s the first time the Thunder has faced Toronto this year, including their new center in Marc Gasol. With Kawhi Leonard serving as a dominant two-way force on the perimeter, Pascal Siakam providing energy and a versatile skill set with size and a whole host of players chipping in as three-point shooters, the Raptors will provide a significant challenge to a Thunder squad that is looking to get right on both ends of the floor.
“They’re an extremely versatile team with a lot of interchangeable parts. Gasol has been a great addition for them and a great pickup for them,” Donovan noted. “Their second unit, the way they’re going to play in terms of their speed, their quickness, their length, their athleticism, they’re really good defensively and then offensively they’ve got a lot of really good offensive players.”
All season long, Donovan has outlined the principles that the Thunder must lean on every night – it’s formula so to speak. It involves getting more field goal attempts than the opposition by winning the turnover and rebounding battle, and also limiting teams’ efficiency by getting back in transition, defending the three-point line and not fouling. One by one, challenges pop up that the Thunder must knock down over the 48 minute game, and the team has to take them head on with focus and discipline for all four quarters to come away with a much-needed win on Wednesday.
“We’ve got to do a great job taking care of the ball, we’ve got to defensive rebound, we’ve got to get back in transition because our halfcourt defense has been good, and we’ve got to keep teams off the free throw line,” Donovan listed as the core areas where his squad must execute every night.
“These games we’re playing everything matters. Every block out matters, every time you have a chance to run back in transition matters. Everything matters.”
- While the Thunder hasn’t squared off against the Raptors yet, the team may just have an ace in the hole. With forward Markieff Morris coming over from the Eastern Conference to join the Thunder in February, he brought a little intel into the Raptors and what the team expects to see from the opposition tonight. The Thunder and Raptors are ranked 4th and 7th respectively in defensive rating, meaning it will be a defensive test of wills to determine who wins tonight.
- “A large dose of Kawhi Leonard,” said Morris. “They have a deep team. Their bench is really good and they do a good job of pushing the pace and playing team defense.”
- “If we play our game, we can take advantage of anything against any team in the league,” Morris continued. “We have to get back in transition, that’s the most important thing.”
- Forward Jerami Grant is coming off a career-high 27-point effort on Monday against the Miami Heat, where he carved up a zone defense by attacking it from the middle. While he might not have those same offensive opportunities tonight, Grant will have some tough assignments with Leonard, Siakam and other Toronto wings.
- “(Grant) is just getting better,” Westbrook said. “He’s understanding the game a lot better, he’s picking his spot, knowing where he’s going to get his shots at, working on his body, his mind.”
- The Thunder has racked up the fourth-most fouls per game this season, while also drawing the third-most fouls in the NBA. Physicality is a hallmark of Thunder games, and it’s also an investment in the way this team will need to play in the postseason. While the Thunder wants to limit some of the silly and cheap fouls away from the ball and late in the shot clock, players like Morris want the team to maintain it’s hard-nosed identity.
- “For me personally, some of the fouls we’re getting called on we’re just playing aggressive. That aggressive nature is going to be needed in the playoffs,” Morris said. “Quite honestly I don’t think we should change how aggressive we are, even if we are getting foul calls now. The same calls they call in the regular season, they don’t call in the playoffs at all.”
Video Preview vs. Raptors</strong
NEWS & NOTES
- Center Nerlens Noel went through some light work at practice on Tuesday. His status for Wednesday night’s game will be a game-day decision.
- Before every game, the Thunder goes through a shootaround that includes a walk-through of the opposition’s most utilized plays. At half-speed, the team is of course in position to thwart those actions, but the key is creating the repetition and mental connection to get the job done when the competitive juices are going and the game is moving at a lightning-quick pace.
- “There’s nothing complicated about it. But again, once you bring in the speed of the actual game and of how fast they’re running the sets, that’s the difficult part. So that’s where the indecision comes in,” said Adams. “You just have to go instinctively. Improving that just comes with drills, just getting into that muscle memory, reading your own teammate, and just going immediately like that.”
- The big event on Wednesday night will be the retirement of former Thunder forward Nick Collison’s number. The #4 will hang in the rafters as a reminder of the commitment, toughness, and sacrifice that Collison provided the organization for every year the team has been in Oklahoma City. Not only was Collison an extremely talented player, he also helped set the standards for Thunder basketball on and off the court.
- “First class person. Total class,” Donovan said of Collison. “A guy that was beyond his years in wisdom. Selfless, about the team, understands that there are things that he has to do and can do to help impact a team and winning. A great leader and mentor to younger players. Was great for me, coming in as a guy that never coached in the NBA. That being my first year, the time he spent with me and the time we spent together, all those things I thought were just terrific.”
- “(Collison) is just one of those dudes that everyone can talk to,” Adams added. “He always says, not necessarily the nicest thing, which is not what you want, it’s more of the right thing. And so that’s what gets everyone to go forward, that’s how you grow up.”
- “It’s obviously a big night for the organization but not just that, for him, his entire family, his accomplishments, the things he’s been able to do while being with one organization the entire time. It’s definitely a special night. I’m just happy I can be a part of it,” said Westbrook.
- “I always talk to him. I can always pick his brain and talk to him about different things,” Westbrook continued. “As for the organization and other guys getting the opportunity to know Nick and his leadership, the way he’s able to be humble and intact at all times and understanding life, not just basketball, but understanding life. How to be a father, how to be a basketball player, how to be a business man. There’s just different things I’ve been able to talk to him about on a personal level.”
Practice Report: March 19</strong