Warming Up for the Postseason with the Heat
Date: August 12, 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 StatusThe Thunder completed its one and only back-to-back on Monday in a 128-101 loss to Phoenix where the squad was without five of its usual rotation players. Danilo Gallinari (ankle maintenance), Steven Adams (knee contusion), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (calf contusion), Nerlens Noel (ankle sprain) and Dennis Schröder (away from team) all sat out of the Thunder’s matchup against the Suns which gave players like Mike Muscala, Abdel Nader and Darius Bazley valuable time as starters.
After jumping out to a strong 37-23 lead after the first quarter, the Thunder’s offense stalled in the second as Phoenix began to apply more defensive pressure. The Suns offense began to catch fire with the help of 13 second-quarter points by Cameron Johnson to erase the Thunder’s lead and go into the half with a one-point advantage.
The Suns pulled away in the second quarter and out of reach of the Thunder behind a 16-point performance by Devin Booker who would end the game with 35 points. For Coach Donovan’s squad, Monday’s matchup served as precious in-game learning experiences for Thunder reserves who don’t often see extended minutes. It was something that Thunder guard Chris Paul took seriously as the 13-year veteran and 10-time All-Star on the roster. In nearly every timeout, Paul could be seen coaching up the younger players or pointing something out on the floor to his teammates in the game.
“There's nothing like confidence and there's nothing like real game minutes,” said Thunder guard Chris Paul after the game. “You practice but nothing can simulate the game so it's always good to get those real minutes in games.”
The Thunder hold the fifth seed in the Western Conference standings with two games remaining in its eight-game schedule.
Opponent BreakdownThe Heat currently sits in the fourth seed of the Eastern Conference after its first six games of its abbreviated regular season. In its most recent game, Miami took down Indiana 114-92. Jimmy Butler and Derrick Jones Jr. led the Heat with 19 and 18 points respectively.
One of Miami’s key strengths on offense is its balanced scoring as one of only three teams in the league with seven players averaging at least 10 points. At the head of the snake, Butler leads all Miami scorers with 20.2 points per game while guard Goran Dragić and center Bam Adebayo chip in 16 apiece.
The Heat lead the league in 3-point shooting percentage at 38.1 percent with players at nearly every position who can knock it down from deep. In its last game against the Pacers, Miami guard Duncan Robinson and forward Jae Crowder both sank four 3-pointers on the night. Robinson alone leads the league in percentage of field goal attempts from behind the arc as 88.2 percent of his shots attempts come from the 3.
Matchup FocusMiami’s offense is rife with forwards and big men who can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. The Heat’s 6-foot-9 center and Most Improved Player contender, Bam Adebayo has the scoring versatility to both post-up on the block and put the ball on the deck to get to the basket. Adebayo is one of only 11 players to average a double-double this season with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
It will take a total team effort by the Thunder to provide the necessary help to Adebayo in the paint while also guarding against Miami’s sharp shooters on the perimeter. Be on the lookout for sharp rotations and execution on the defensive end for the Thunder to maintain every facet of Miami’s offensive production.
Stat to WatchFree Throw Attempts. During the Orlando restart, the Heat have notched the third best free throw percentage among those inside the bubble by shooting 83.1 percent. Winning the battle at the free throw line will take on even more importance as the Thunder look to limit Miami’s widespread offensive production.
Throughout the season, it has been the Thunder’s calling card to make more free throws than its opponent attempts. In all three of its losses so far in Orlando, one common theme among them is OKC’s opponent making and attempting more free throws than the Thunder.
Thunder TrendThe Thunder’s rookie forward Darius Bazley has recorded two consecutive games of 20 or more points putting him in pretty exclusive company alongside Russell Westbrook and James Harden as the only Thunder rookies to accomplish the feat. On Monday against Phoenix, Bazley recorded 22 points and 10 rebounds, becoming the first Thunder rookie to do so since Domantas Sabonis in January of 2017.
“He's so talented. For him being a rookie, there’s a lot being thrown at him,” said Paul. “To see his growth from when he first, you know started out the season has been really, really impressive.”