Resilient Thunder Ready For Next Challenge
Date: Jan. 22, 2020
Tip-Off Time: 6 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
Focus shifts to Florida.— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 21, 2020
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Thunder StatusOKC is riding high coming into its matchup with the Orlando Magic, fresh off a 17-point comeback at Houston against the Rockets, which was the fourth-largest comeback of the season. Over the final 6:45 of that contest on MLK Day, the Thunder outscored Houston 27-7, shooting 8-of-10 from the field and knocking down 8-of-9 free throws while holding the Rockets to just 3-of-14 shooting and only two free throw attempts.
“It was fun to see how guys, we stayed together, stayed the course and fought back,” said Chris Paul. “That’s maybe our best win of the year.”
After starting the season 7-11 (.389) through October and November, the Thunder has gone 18-8 (.692) over the course of December and January, which marks the second biggest increase in win percentage in the NBA. The win gave the Thunder eight victories after trailing by 10-or-more as it heads to Orlando to face a Magic squad that has surrendered nine leads of 10-or-more points that resulted in losses.
“This team has been really resilient,” said Head Coach Billy Donovan.
“We just have so many competitors and guys that believe. It helps a little bit that we’ve done it so many times and we know what we’re capable of,” said Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Opponent BreakdownWhile the Thunder has gotten off to strong defensive starts in its last two games, holding its opponents to just 24.5 points on 42.9 percent shooting, including 21.1 percent from behind the arc, OKC is facing an Orlando team that is equally ferocious on the defensive end. They allow the fifth-fewest points in the paint in the NBA due to their size and physicality.
“Size is a big thing in the game today, but we like to counter-act with our speed,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “We know that we’re at our best when all guys are included in the good game and engaged. There’s no other better way to do that than to pass the ball and share it.”
With the length of players like Mo Bamba and Aaron Gordon along with the veteran savvy of Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier, the Magic rank first in points allowed, fourth in opponent free throw attempts and sixth in overall defensive rating.
On the other end of the floor, Orlando has struggled, scoring the second-fewest points per game in the league as it has dealt with injuries to point guard D.J. Augustin as well as forwards Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu. As a result, they do it collectively as a group, with seven players averaging double-figures in scoring, tied for the most in the league. The x-factor for Orlando is Terrance Ross, a three-point marksman who has made 309 three-pointers off the bench since 2018-19, the most in NBA.
Matchup FocusWith the Thunder’s personnel in flux due to injuries, the number one priority for the Thunder will be defending in the post – particularly against Vucevic and Gordon. Orlando’s team is full of size at all five positions, so OKC will need to be in help side position and be ready to provide assistance on the baseline in straight up coverage or a double team when fronting the post.
“Just try to be disruptive, try to make them as uncomfortable as possible, like you do with every team. Ultimately play to our identity which is fast and aggressive,” said Gilgeous-Alexander.
The Thunder can help its defense by getting its offense humming from the very start, forcing Orlando to go up against the shot clock on each possession. Starting games with hot scoring hasn’t been an issue for OKC lately, as Chris Paul is averaging 24.0 first half points over the past two games. He’s been backed up by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s back-to-back double-doubles, the first time in his career he’s achieved that feat. Also lighting up the scoring column has been Danilo Gallinari, who over the last six games has averaged 25.3 pts on 48.9 percent shooting, including an incredible 25-of-50 on three-pointers.
“I’m just trying to read the game, be aggressive and make the right play,” said Gallinari. “That’s my only focus every time, trying to make the right play.”
Stat to WatchThis game could be a meticulous affair in the halfcourt, but a game that zips by because of constant game flow. Orlando plays at the third slowest pace in the league, but both the Thunder and Magic rank in the top four in opposing free throw attempts. Defending without fouling is a critical team skill in the league, and the Thunder has been one of the best in the league at that, allowing just 18.5 free throws per game while racking up nearly 25 per game on the other side of the ball.
Thunder TrendAll last season, the moniker “Second Half Schröder” was the perfect descriptor of the Thunder’s seventh-year reserve point guard. He was a flash of lightning that erupted for scoring binges in the second halves of games, and over the last four contests OKC has seen a resurgence of that phenomenon. In first halves over the last quartet of games, Schröder has scored just 4.8 points on 31.6 percent shooting, but in second halves he’s notched 15.5 points on 58.5 percent shooting. Always invigorated by a challenge, Schröder has helped his team thrive when the game gets tight in the second half.
1-on-1: Deonte Burton