Time to Grind: Thunder Ready to Wrangle Rockets – OU Medicine Game Day Report: OKC vs. HOU

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


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Not all victories are built the same, but since they all count for one in the standings the Thunder will take its ugly, gut-it-out road victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers and keep on moving. It might have been a two-hour flight back to Oklahoma City, but the Thunder isn’t moving too far on the calendar before it has a chance to extend its win streak from 6 to 7, in what surely will be quite a different test than Wednesday in Cleveland.

The Thunder already has put itself in rare territory, becoming just the second team in NBA history to win six straight games after losing four in a row, but knows it must continue to ratchet up the performance level to stay competitive in the Western Conference.

“It’s always good to be able to win on the road but I still think there’s a lot of things we gotta do better,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said plainly.  

The Thunder hosts the Houston Rockets at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Thursday, in a showdown of two of the Western Conference’s best over the past few years The plethora of offensive options that the Rockets boast create a bind for opposing defenses. It’s one the Thunder will have to navigate on short rest, which is even more challenging since Houston hasn’t played since Monday.

“There’s a lot to get prepared for,” said Donovan. “They’re really good at getting fouled, they’re really good at scoring in the deep paint and they’re really good at shooting threes. Those are the most efficient shots in the game and that’s where most of their shots are coming from.”

“We’re going to have to do multiple things, from getting out to shooters to containing the drive,” explained Thunder forward Paul George.

Behind the playmaking of James Harden and Chris Paul, the Rockets have been the epitome of the modern analytics-driven NBA. They play behind the arc, with 47.1 percent of the team’s field goal attempts coming from behind the arc, including 9.2 corner three-point attempts per game which is third-most in the NBA.

Although it is early, Houston hasn’t accumulated its typical share of free throw attempts, ranking 21st in the NBA, and also has scored fewer than 40 points in the paint in 4 of its last six games, a departure from its average of 50 points in the paint over the first three games of the season. Still, the Rockets will look to score at the highest efficiency spots on the floor, and it will be up to the Thunder to be consistently early and accurate with its coverages and defensive communication.

“Houston plays with pretty much four perimeter guys and one big man,” noted George. “We’re going to have to scramble, we’re going to have to do multiple actions within a defensive possession.”

On the other end of the floor, the Thunder noted after the win in Cleveland that the tempo and downhill attacking style that has been the hallmark of the team’s wins this season wasn’t quite there. In order to get high percentage shots at the rim, the Thunder will need to generate offense off of the turnovers it forces and defensive rebounds it corrals. In the halfcourt, continuing to move the ball and bodies, ensuring the ball hits the paint and finds the open man will be crucial against a Rockets defense that is limiting opponents’ three-point attempts and offensive rebounds.

“Houston is a great team. We gotta be prepared,” said Schröder. “it’s a quick turnaround. We gotta be ready from the first minute of the game to the last minute of the game.”

News & Notes

-        Russell Westbrook is listed as out in the Thunder's official game notes as he nurses his sprained left ankle, but besides the still rehabbing Andre Roberson the Thunder should otherwise be healthy against Houston. The Rockets have had availability issues of their own, as Paul missed two games early in the year and Harden recently missed three games. With the guard duo back together, the Rockets have won three-straight games, and Eric Gordon is listed as questionable for tonight’s contest, which would give Houston yet another sharpshooter from distance.

  • “It looks like they’re playing really, really well right now as they’ve gotten all their guys back,” said Donovan.  

-        As a team, the Thunder is shooting just 44.6 percent from the field and 29.6 percent from the three-point line this season, but in each game Donovan is putting his players in position to get clean looks. The players are executing and hunting the type of shots that make teams efficient. For example, Alex Abrines, a career 38 percent three-point shooter, got 10 attempts from behind the arc on Wednesday in Cleveland. He made 3, but the Thunder expects that if the team keeps getting the Spaniard that many good shots and continues playing with offensive rhythm, the shots will start dropping again.

  • “To get (Abrines) 10 threes and a lot of them out of the corner, you’re going to live with that,” said Donovan. “That happens. He’s not going to be perfect all the time. He’s not going to shoot 50 percent all the time. He made a big one to stop a run, late in the shot clock, which was huge.”

- The Rockets will also bring a friendly face back to Oklahoma City with them. Carmelo Anthony, who spent last season with the Thunder, was the consummate professional and a favorite in the locker room. Though it didn’t work out long term with the Thunder, Anthony took out an advertisement in The Oklahoman to thank Thunder fans for their support. He’s also one more star the Thunder has to account for in the game plan tonight, as he’s scored 17, 28 and 24 points in three of his last five games.