Well-Rested and Ready for Cleveland
Date: February 5, 2020
Tip-Off Time: 7 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
Thunder StatusAfter surviving the gauntlet of 17 games in 31 days, the Thunder enjoyed two days off to rest and recover before turning the page to February and the stretch of four home games ahead. The next two days were dedicated to practice. Live drills and five-on-five filled the first day while details and theory filled the next. The Thunder utilized the time to improve and focus on the fundamental principles of offensive and defensive systems which is a luxury it wasn’t afforded in January.
“I thought it was two days where we were able to get some good solid work in especially coming off of two days where we really didn’t have much,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “It’s a time for us where we can just keep trying to build and improve, that’s the biggest thing right now. Every day has got to be about getting better and trying to improve a little bit each day.”
Opponent BreakdownTristan Thompson and Kevin Love hold down the front line for the young Cavaliers roster. Both average a double-double with Love leading the pair in scoring with 17 points and 10 rebounds a game and Thompson adding 11 points and another 10 rebounds. In the backcourt, the Thunder will have to defend against the quick pace of Cedi Osman and Collin Sexton on the perimeter and rookie standout, Darius Garland at the point.
“They get rebounds and run,” said Thunder guard Dennis Schröder. “Playing with pace, shooting a lot of threes with Kevin Love. We’ve gotta be on point in pick and roll coverage, getting back to the shooters.”
The Thunder’s big focus will be to contain the Cavs on the glass and limit transition opportunities. With Thompson and Love at the rim, the Cavs have the ability to rebound and advance the ball quickly down the floor. The Thunder allow the fewest fast break points in the league in part by taking care of the ball, but also by taking quality shots to limit quick transition opportunities on rebounds.
Matchup FocusBoth Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Collin Sexton both lead their teams in scoring this season averaging 19.4 and 19.8 points per game respectively. Although they play different roles in their offenses with Gilgeous-Alexander also adding consistent rebounding to his repertoire (6.2 per game), the battle between the second-year standouts will be one to keep an eye on.
The Thunder coaching staff have challenged Gilgeous-Alexander throughout the year to continue to expand his game outside of scoring. With his size and athleticism, he has the ability to impact the game in various ways where other guards can’t. Whether its rebounding or setting up his teammates to score, Coach Donovan believes he can make a difference in virtually any scenario on the floor.
“There’s really not anything statistically that he can’t impact inside the game,” said Donovan. “He’s got a good mind for the game and he’s got a really, really good makeup in terms of competitiveness.”
Stat to WatchRebounds. With the strong backcourt of Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love who wrangle in a combined 20 rebounds per game, production on the glass will be key on Wednesday. The Thunder, however, have trended upward recently in the defensive rebounding department sending in all five players to help in the action. Guards and forwards alike have had a hand in cleaning the glass which has helped push the tempo in transition. When a guard grabs the board, instead of looking for an outlet pass, the break has already begun.
“We’ve done a better job defensive rebounding,” said Donovan. “When we can do that, that really allows us to play a lot faster because we can get out in transition especially if we have three guards out there and a guy like Shai [Gilgeous-Alexander] rebounding at a high level, it allows us to get out in the floor even quicker.”
Thunder TrendThe Thunder’s January schedule was the busiest of the season and yet the squad thrived under the circumstances. Players stepped up in the midst of lineup changes and helped the Thunder remain productive even without key role players. Finishing the month 12-5 overall with a 9-1 record on the road, the Thunder will now look to continue this wave of momentum into February and its stretch of four home games.
“We’re a great group of guys and we know what we want from one through 15, we want to keep being better as we have from game one regardless of where we stand in the standings, we know we want to continue to make the progress we have so when we get to that point in April it’s nothing new to us,” said Thunder center Nerlens Noel.