GAME PREVIEW


Nick Gallo



Efficiency the Key as OKC Returns Home

Date: Monday, Feb. 22, 2021

Tip-Off Time: 8 p.m. CT

Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma

Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network


Thunder Status

The Thunder saved its best performance for the final tilt of its three-game road trip, racking up 117 points on 79 shot attempts on Sunday in a 16-point blowout win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was a well-deserved victory for the Thunder to shake off a 3-game slide, particularly after the level of competitiveness on defense shown in Friday’s loss at Milwaukee. On Sunday in Cleveland the Thunder’s offense kicked back into gear, as all nine players scored, including six in double figures for the 11th time in 30 games. With 54.4 percent shooting overall and 13 made three-pointers, the Thunder’s balanced attack struck from all over the floor. Now the Thunder will have to try to replicate that type of efficiency back home at Chesapeake Energy Arena against the defending Eastern Conference Champions, the Miami Heat. “Transition offense is a big weapon that we have, with the guards that we have that are so aggressive getting downhill and putting pressure on the rim,” said center Mike Muscala. “Then you're getting free throws, which is a lot of efficiency. You're getting layups and dunks and then you're getting three-point shots, and those are what you want.”

Opponent Breakdown

The Heat had a rockier start than anticipated, with most of the early season struggles resulting from injuries and health and safety protocols. In fact, the Heat have used 16 different starting lineups this year, the 4th most in the NBA and turn the ball over on a league-worst 15 percent of possessions, two identifiable signs of a lack of continuity, not a lack of talent. With team leader Jimmy Butler back in the fold, the Heat are rising up the standings, now sitting at 13-17, just two games out of the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference. Butler in particular has been surging, averaging 20.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 9.8 assists with three triple-doubles over his last four games. Butler racked up 18 points and 6 assists in the first meeting between these teams in Miami back in January, so the Thunder will have to apply some lessons they used in two matchups against Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo last week. Butler, like the Bucks’ two-time reigning MVP, is another hard-charging, physical wing, and will require the Thunder to build a wall of defenders in the lane. “We’ve got to keep it going, carry the good things and apply them to the next game,” said guard Théo Maledon.

Matchup Focus

While the Thunder’s overall performance against Cleveland was solid, one area the coaching staff will likely highlight for improvement is defense around the rim and particularly on the glass. On Sunday the Thunder allowed 26 points on 11-for-11 shooting and 17 rebounds to Cleveland’s Jarrett Allen, a burly yet high-flying 22-year-old center. While the two players are certainly different, Miami center Bam Adebayo possesses some of Allen’s qualities in terms of fluidity on offense, vertical spacing and tenacious rebounding. Adebayo poured in 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting and 8 rebounds in the early January matchup between OKC and Miami. This matchup for the Thunder continues a stretch of five games in seven days for OKC, which includes two back-to-back sets. As this flurry helps push the Thunder towards the halfway point of the season, Mark Daigneault and the coaching staff will continue to encourage the type of consistent effort and energy they’ve seen from the team all season. “If there's one thing that they've proven it's their ability to grind it out and to really rise up to that bar regardless of circumstances. It's become a rallying cry for us,” said Daigneault. “We've got a group of people in that locker room that certainly are singing that song.”

Stat to Watch

Hamidou Diallo’s Free Throw Attempts — In the Thunder’s win over the Cavaliers, Gilgeous-Alexander and Hamidou Diallo combined to attempt 21 of the team’s 24 free throws. Gilgeous Alexander already came into the game knocking on the door of the NBA’s top 10 in free throw attempts, but Diallo is sneakily rising up the leaderboard as well. In fact, with his 9 attempts on Sunday, double his season average, Diallo is now up to 4.4 free throw attempts per game, more than All-Star players like Kyrie Irving and Paul George in about 10 fewer minutes per game. Per-36 minutes, Diallo’s free throw attempts hover just above the likes of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. “You’ve just got to have body control,” said Diallo. “We just try to go in and take advantage of the smaller players and try to make sure that we're just ready to get hit every time we go in the lane because that's what's happening most nights.”

Thunder Trend

he Thunder has gotten some mileage out of posting up its guards, particularly taller ones like Gilgeous-Alexander, Diallo and Kenrich Williams, and creating offense from there. With big men who serve as three-point threats in Muscala and Al Horford stalking the corners and top of the key, the Thunder’s inverted offense is productive for multiple reasons:

–Guards’ post ups draw the same type of attention as a drive into the paint
–Fouls are more common when the ball is brought into the paint
–Opposing bigs who are defending on the perimeter are often not proficient at digging down, helping or denying passing lanes like a guard would
–The inside-out passing that is created from those post ups mimic the types of shooting drills that players have used to improve for their entire careers

“When you have that ball down inside there it forces the defense to turn their head more and to be down there helping and kind of pulling in the backside a little bit,” said Muscala, who is in the top 10 in three-pointers made off the bench this season thanks to that inside-out offense. “I think you get a lot of good action from that. It's similar to a guy being able to put pressure on the rim by driving so to have that weapon and having guys that can do that makes it a lot easier on offense.”

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OKC THUNDER2 hours 42 min ago

few more reps before the road trip. https://t.co/RyyBTopmHL

OKC THUNDER6 hours 41 sec ago

A View From the Blue Will Dawkins, VP of Basketball Operations, joins the pod to discuss @okcblue and the young ta… https://t.co/nPVE4m15cg

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