GAME PREVIEW

Nick Gallo

By Nick Gallo | Broadcast Reporter & Digital Editor | mailbag@okcthunder.com



Get Offense in Motion to End Road Trip

Date: Dec. 14, 2019
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

After sweeping a tough Northwest Division back to back on Sunday and Monday, the Thunder lost a heart-breaker at the buzzer to the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday to complete a stretch of four games in six nights. OKC will again be going up against a division foe, this time the Denver Nuggets, who Head Coach Billy Donovan will be game-planning against for the first time this season.


Opponent Breakdown

Denver, who had one of the most prolific offenses in the league last season, has turned the tables and had a much better defense than offense so far this season. In fact, in part due to being able slow teams down to a crawling pace, the Nuggets are allowing just 101.6 points per game, the fewest in the league. Opponents are really struggling at the 3-point line, shooting just 30.8 percent from behind the arc, which is also first in the NBA.

It’ll be up to the Thunder to keep its offense flowing quickly into the half court and maintain constant motion, combined with physicality for 48 minutes.

“We gotta still be able to play with some pace,” Donovan said. “We just gotta get the ball moving, for one, and utilizing our five man, which we have. Steven has done a really nice job passing. We have to get into more of those situations. When the ball sticks and we get bogged down it becomes a little bit more challenging.”

“Coach has made it a point to have different looks on how we need to keep the ball moving, keep playing downhill, getting in the paint and creating for other guys,” Nerlens Noel said. “We’ve continued to progress all season with the ball movement and how the offense is run so we feel confident.”


Matchup Focus

The Thunder will have to deal with 3-point shooters at all five positions in the starting lineup, then former OKC forward Jerami Grant and offensive rebounding threat Mason Plumlee in the Nuggets second unit. The player through whom everything runs for Denver though is Nikola Jokic, the 7-foot center who leads the team in rebounds (10.0) and assists (6.3) and recently has had a surge in the scoring column.

“With Jokic and his ability to pass the ball and stretch the floor, maybe he hasn’t shot the ball as well has he did a year ago, but he’s always a 3-point threat,” said Donovan.

Over his last four games, Jokic is scoring an average of 22.3 points on 53.6 percent shooting. He’s a weapon in both the high and low post and is willing to stretch all the way out behind the arc, launching shots with an impossible to block release point. Jokic is the focal point, but the entire Denver team is dangerous on offense.

“They’ve got a really, really athletic, good moving and cutting team,” Donovan said. “They’re unselfish and move and pass the basketball. It’s early. I think with the year they had offensively last year, I think it’s always a challenge the next year. It’s just normal. As they see different things, they’ll get better and will improve. They obviously have great ability on offense.”


Stat to Watch

One of the Thunder centers tasked with guarding Jokic has been on a hot streak of his own, and that man is Noel. The reserve big man has shot 50 percent or better from the field in 12 straight games, the longest active streak in the NBA. During that dozen game timespan, Noel has averaged 8.4 points on 66.1 percent shooting along with 6.0 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.4 blocks per game.


Thunder Trend

Noel’s disruptive impact defensively has been part of an overall trend by the Thunder on that end of the floor during this road trip. During the three previous stops in Portland, Utah and Sacramento, the Thunder held its foes to an average of just 93.3 points per game on a devastatingly low 40.1 percent from the field and 28.4 percent from the free throw line. Getting a fourth straight such performance would go a long way to getting a win.

“We just have to play together,” Noel said. “We have to close out on their shooters, slow down Jokic. That’s how their offense moves.”

Most importantly, the Thunder has defended without fouling, sending its opposition to the free throw line just 13.3 times per game. Yet somehow the Thunder has managed to be physical enough without crossing the lane to bog down its opposition’s offense and force them to play one on one. The Blazers, Jazz and Kings racked up an average of just 15.7 assists over these previous three games.


Thunder News

Terrance Ferguson and Hamidou Diallo remain out for the Thunder on the wing. On Thursday, the team announced it waived two-way guard Devon Hall and signed OKC Blue forward Kevin Hervey to a two-way contract.

Keep the Offense Humming

Twitter

OKC THUNDER1 hour 20 min ago

Gameday in OKC. Tonight | 7 p.m. CT | @FOXSportsOK 🎟️ | https://t.co/V3HqCcf7cM https://t.co/9IgrZA2v0H

OKC THUNDER2 hours 36 min ago

Outside @ChesapeakeArena this morning. https://t.co/YuAbyFtPgl

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