Ready for the Rematch
Date: Nov. 22, 2019
Tip-Off Time: 7 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
1-on-1: Danilo Gallinari
Thunder StatusThe Thunder has lost nine games this season, more than they’d hoped for despite some difficult competition to start the year, but in all but one game Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club has been extremely competitive. In fact, six of the losses have come by five points or fewer, the most in the NBA.
The good news as the Thunder takes on the Los Angeles Lakers in a home rematch of Tuesday’s loss out at Staples Center is that Chesapeake Energy Arena has been much kinder than the road. The Thunder is 5-3 in Oklahoma City this year, scoring 110.1 points per game on 47.5 percent shooting and 37.1 percent marksmanship from behind the arc.
Opponent BreakdownThe Lakers have size and length at every position, with LeBron James effectively serving as the team’s point guard regardless of who he guards on the other end. That’s what allowed Los Angeles to be so disruptive in the first quarter Tuesday against the Thunder, when it forced OKC into nine turnovers.
“They really killed us in transition. We had too many turnovers,” said Thunder point guard Chris Paul. “And we know that’s their strength. Hopefully here at home, we play a lot better.”
In the second half, the issue for the Thunder was the glass, leading to 14 offensive rebounds allowed in the game to Los Angeles. The Lakers’ length and size in the form of Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee – in addition to James – produced a bunch of second chances, including a backbreaker that resulted in a three by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
“We got hurt a couple of times on the long rebounds, we’ve got to get back in there and try to clean those up,” Donovan said. “We’re going to have to get in there and rebound collectively as a group.”
Matchup FocusOne player who will be relied upon heavily inside the paint against the Lakers’ immense front line is Nerlens Noel, who had a season-high-tying 15 points on Tuesday to start the home-and-home. For the season he’s leading the Thunder with 22 dunks and 5.9 points in the paint per game. In fact, over 75 percent of Noel’s buckets come from the lane.
In the Lakers game Noel also showed off his defensive prowess. He broke up a lob at the rim and instinctively sniffed out a backdoor cut to make a steal in crucial basket-saving moves. For the season, Noel ranks in the top 10 per 36 minutes in steals and blocks and ranks third in the NBA with 5.34 steals-plus-blocks (“stocks”) per-36 minutes.
“Nerlens been giving us a lot of energy on both ends of the court,” Paul said. “His defensive ability, the way he can time and block shots, and then just offensively he makes the right plays and makes sure we’re playing energized.”
“He’ll let you go in for a layup and think that you’ve got it. And then he knows he can get there in a heartbeat,” said Paul.
Stat to WatchThe free throw line will be a battleground in the rematch, as the Thunder went 22-of-25 last game compared to just 12-of-19 for the Lakers. For the season, Thunder opponents have attempted just 20.4 free throws per game, one of the lowest numbers for any NBA team this year. The Thunder meanwhile have been led by Danilo Gallinari at the stripe, where he’s getting almost 6 free throw attempts per game. His size, skill level and ball-handling ability creates a mismatch that can cause opponents to foul.
“He knows how to play,” Paul said of Gallinari. “I think a lot of times people think it’s all about being fast and athleticism and stuff. But it’s being crafty and knowing how to use your body. Guys also know how deadly he is to shoot.”
Thunder TrendPaul has three-or-more steals in 6 of his last nine games and is averaging 2.0 steals per game, tied for 4th in the NBA. This is just a continuation of a career-long trend for the feisty point guard, who has 2,150 steals in his career, the most among active players and just 13 shy of Hakeem Olajuwon for 8th on the NBA’s all-time steals list.
“He’s really bright and smart. He studies the game. He studies personnel,” Donovan said. “Guys get into certain situations and he probably realizes, whether its on the ball or off the ball, where he can make an impact with his hands and his IQ.”
Thunder NewsHamidou Diallo (knee) participated fully in practice on Thursday but his status will be determined before Friday night’s game.
Andre Roberson did not participate in practice on Thursday.
Chris Paul on the play of Nerlens Noel and Danilo Gallinari