Get Back on D, Control the Middle – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC at PHX

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

Broadcast Information

  • Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. CT
  • Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
  • Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

PHOENIX – During a furiously-paced month of December when the Thunder went 12-5 and played 17 games in 31 days, the team was in action every other day, with two back-to-back sets.

Now, after a pair of days off on either side of an LA-LA back to back, the Thunder has had a chance to catch its breath, get some on court work in and prepare itself for a slightly more sparsely scheduled, but more road-heavy, January. Looking back at December, the Thunder is proud of the way it managed that many games in a short period.

“That’s a lot. I can feel it,” forward Carmelo Anthony smirked. “We can kind of exhale a little bit, get a couple days of practice, fine tune some things, get our bodies right and get our minds right, not have to worry about having back to backs and playing every other day. We know there’s going to be another stretch like that, but right now we just want to take advantage of this time.”

Thunder Talk: Carmelo

When teams have that many games it can result in little practice time, so it was a welcome chance on Saturday for this team to prepare for the Phoenix Suns, coming off a pair of wins in Los Angeles. Despite getting the victories, those performances weren’t perfect, so Head Coach Billy Donovan was able to get some work in with his team to help them prepare for the transition-oriented, up-tempo style that Phoenix will play.

With Tyson Chandler rumbling down the paint, shifty guard Tyler Ulis manipulating screens, and sharpshooting Devin Booker stalking behind the three-point line, the Suns have the ability to put up points. In order to handle the attacks, the kick aheads and the lobs, Thunder players will need to remember to “hammer” - to legally bump - rolling big men in the middle of the lane instead of immediately staying glued to their assignment on the perimeter.

“The ball scores so you have to know where the ball is at,” Donovan noted. “A lot of times the normal tendency is to run to your man. A lot of times when your man is on the other side of the floor and there is action going on on the strong side, you have to get into the paint and provide help.

“We’ve gotten hurt the past couple games against the Lakers and the Clippers in transition. We have to do a better job there,” Donovan added. “It starts with how quickly you can get back and get matched up.”

Thunder Talk: Coach

The same goes for the halfcourt, as the Thunder must do a good job of stopping dribble penetration with its helpside defensive coverages. Inevitably, perimeter defenders will get beaten off the dribble, but when the closest defender converges over, the Thunder wings on the weakside must be ready to prevent lobs to the rim, and then quickly scramble back out to the perimeter if there’s an over-the-top pass.

“When they pull over, they have to take care of the rim first,” Donovan explained. “If they take care of the rim, the problem is when the ball gets skipped back out, they have to quickly understand who is rotating and then the communication has to be at a really high level. If the communication isn’t there, you may take away the lob or the roll, but you’re going to give something up on the backside.”

Nick's Notebook

- Although he’s hinted at it over the past few weeks, Anthony divulged the way the Thunder arrived at this place offensively where it has been incredibly efficient, and is coming off an OKC-best 260 points combined in back-to-back regulation games. Anthony explained that after some tough losses in November, he, Russell Westbrook and Paul George approached Donovan to point them in the right direction. That act of selflessness, humility and teamwork turned the season around.

  • “We just had to sit down, talk, watch tons of film, communicate, sit down with coach and say ‘coach, we really need you to tell us what you need from us,’” Anthony explained. “We’ll accept that and make it work from there. It’ll be on us. It’ll be us holding each other accountable once we know exactly what you want us to do.”
  • “It’s just coming in the flow of the game. Right now we’re at a time where shots are starting to fall,” Anthony added. “We’re starting to feel comfortable and confident in taking those shots. Also it’s in the fact that we’ve accepted those roles now so we can just relax and just play basketball and just focus on that.”

- Rookie Terrance Ferguson will get the start again in place of an injured Andre Roberson, who remains out. Alex Abrines participated in portions of Saturday’s practice, and his status will be determined before tip-off. Donovan is going to stick with Ferguson as a starter for this contest, noting that even though he didn’t shoot the ball well to start the Clippers game, he didn’t lose sight of the other aspects of the game where he needed to perform.

  • “(Ferguson) kept guarding, he kept playing and he kept doing the things that you need him to do,” Donovan said. “He played well, even though he didn’t shoot the ball at the same rate he did against the Lakers.”

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