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During the grind of the regular season, it’s quite convenient when the latest previous opponent can teach some lessons that apply to the upcoming foe. It makes for some prep work that is already top of mind, and recently drilled.
As the Thunder prepares for the Washington Wizards, it will certainly need to key in on the personnel – the All-Star backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal, along with the frontcourt scoring that Otto Porter Jr. and Marcus Morris provide. That’ll be much different from a skill standpoint than what the Thunder saw with the Nets.
But the way the Wizards, and former Thunder coach Scott Brooks, utilizes Marcin Gortat as the rolling big man in the middle, is familiar because of the way Brooklyn exploited the paint on Tuesday night. In order for the Thunder to prevent easy kick-out three-pointers, it’ll have to do a good job of preventing dribble drives and scrambling in help situations, like it did in the fourth quarter against Brooklyn.
“We can carry that over to the Wizards game because Gortat slips out sometimes, too,” Thunder center Steven Adams explained. “That’s a good little test for us for the guards to get into coverage but also to square back up onto the ball when there’s no screen.”
“You’ve got to have communication on the back side when the ball gets skipped,” Head Coach Billy Donovan noted. “And then the other part of it is where you’re trying to direct the ball once you do close out, because if the ball gets to certain areas of the floor, now all of a sudden, it’s opened up that many more rotations. It’s a little bit easier if you can kinda keep the ball to one side where if it does get driven, you’ve got some built in help and your rotations are a little bit easier.”
A surefire way that the Thunder can help calm the Wizards downhill attack is by putting Washington on its heels. As was fully displayed on Tuesday night, the Thunder’s resilience to put the ball on the deck and attack the rim was rewarded over the course of the 48 minutes. Despite shooting just 40 percent in the paint through the first three quarters, the Thunder scored some crucial baskets in the lane late, including Westbrook’s game-winning layup with 3.3 seconds to go. On the day that he was named to his seventh All-Star game, Westbrook showed why he’s so deserving of such accolades.
“The way you wear a team down, in my opinion, is by what you’re doing on offense,” Donovan said. “The more the ball’s being driven, the more it’s being passed, the more they’re having to scramble and close out, the more it’s gonna open up things by working a team defensively where you can break them down a little bit easier.”
“[Westbrook is] in the lane all the time. He’s as good as there is as anybody as getting to the deep paint and getting to the front of the rim,” Donovan added. “As the game wears on, that constant pressure at the basket can become fatiguing.”
A unique way that the Thunder created points in the fourth quarter via Westbrook drives came late in the game, when Adams decided to screen his own man instead of his point guard’s defender. That forced the Nets defender on the strong side to provide the help on the drive, and leave Patrick Patterson wide open in the left corner. It was a slick little wrinkle, and it’s something Westbrook and Adams can create on the fly due to their mutual understanding on the floor.
“(Adams) does a really good job of reading how things are being guarded, so there are times where he will screen his own man and there will be times he will screen whosever on the ball,” Donovan recalled. “He did a good job in that situation setting a screen, freeing Patrick to get a shot because he was on the baseline.”
“He does a very good job communicating with me of what he’s seeing out there, of what maybe some possibilities or some options, wrinkles of things we can do from what he’s seeing from his vantage point,” Donovan added. “He is always paying attention to those things.”
1-on-1: Raymond Felton
-Update: Thunder forward Patrick Patterson has a sore right wrist. MRI's came back negative after he hurt it midway through the game against the Nets, but Patterson is questionable for tonight and is a game time decision.
- Not only is Adams a selfless, smart player when it comes to his screen setting, but also his rebounding. On offense, he crashes the glass with tenacity, often bearing the brunt of being pushed, shoved and pulled down by multiple defenders on his way to second chance opportunities. In fact, Adams is averaging more offensive rebounds than defensive boards this season. But there’s a purpose behind it. On defense, Adams focuses solely on boxing out his own man, typically the opposing team’s center and best rebounder. While he certainly tries to grab the rebound himself, the space he clears is more valuable, because it allows Thunder playmakers like Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to scoop the ball up and start out into transition.
- “I just know what my role is and what’s required of me. I’m just trying to help out in a different aspect outside of the play,” Adams said. “As long as the team gets the rebound – our team – it doesn’t matter who gets it. All my mindset is is to try to box out whoever coming and may pose as a threat to getting an offensive rebound.”
- George is one of the Thunder’s offensive whizzes who is swooping in to pick up those loose rebounds. He’s averaging 5.6 of them per game this season, to go with 3.0 assists. He’s also shooting 42.2 percent from three-point range, a career-best, leading the league with 2.1 steals per game and scoring 20.9 points per contest. The only players in NBA history to average 20-plus points, 2-plus steals and shoot 40-plus percent from the three-point line in a season are George this year, Stephen Curry, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Hersey Hawkins. As a result, Thunder players and coaches stepped to the forefront to air their distaste for the fact that George was not selected as an All-Star.
- “Unbelievable,” Westbrook said, shaking his head. “I think it’s just outrageous in my opinion.”
- “He’s arguably the best two-way player in the league — if not one of them. No question,” Donovan said. “He does it on both ends of the floor. He’s up there as one of the league leaders on the defensive end of the floor. Offensively, he’s been really efficient.”
- Coming into this season, however, every Thunder player including Westbrook, George and Anthony knew that individual honors might get left behind in pursuit of something greater – a deep postseason run and a chance at an NBA Championship. That’s why after Tuesday’s game, George wasn’t upset or frustrated and why Anthony took the time to explain why he’s totally fine not being named an All-Star after eight straight years of being in the game. Perhaps more than anyone on the roster, Anthony has submitted any personal goals for what is best for the team, and that’s something he’s fully embraced.
- “Coming here, I knew it would be a sacrifice. It was a full sacrifice for me. It wasn’t a half sacrifice,” Anthony said, poignantly. “This is actually part of that sacrifice. No hard feelings for me. I get to enjoy that week with my family, so I’m actually looking forward to that.”
- “(It) speaks to the competitor in him, speaks to him wanting to win, speaks to his unselfishness,” Donovan said. “More importantly, (it) speaks to the leadership of really trying to help Paul and Russell in a lot of ways, that he’s trying to play in a way that’s gonna also facilitate what they do really well.”
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