GAME PREVIEW


Paris Lawson



OKC’s Action-Packed Weekend Begins with the Pacers

Date: Saturday, May 1, 2021

Tip-Off Time: 7 p.m. CT

Television: Bally Sports Oklahoma

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


Thunder Status

After an densely-packed month of April, the Thunder now opens up the final month of the season with a weekend back-to-back beginning with a rematch against the Pacers.

The Thunder dropped its final game of the month on Thursday against the Pelicans. Despite surges of offense from Darius Bazley, who scored 10 first quarter points and Lu Dort, who capped off the night with 11 in the fourth, the Thunder were outpaced by New Orleans who ignited multiple, costly runs to take control of the game.

Thursday’s game marked just 10 games left in the season and Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault utilized the opportunity to take a look at some of the newest faces on the roster such as 10-day contract signee Charlie Brown Jr., rookie two-way Josh Hall and the newest addition of Gabriel Deck.

Deck logged 15 minutes of playing time in his NBA debut on Thursday, matching up against Zion Williamson and posting two points. Beyond the stats, it was a dream come true for the 26-year-old Argentinian as he stepped over the line and into game action for the very first time.

“To be honest, it felt amazing,” said Deck. “I'm really, really honored and grateful for the opportunity to put on this uniform and thankful for the franchise and looking forward to getting on the court.”

The Thunder took advantage of a rare practice day on Friday to help acclimate Deck and Brown Jr. into the fold to prepare for the full weekend of basketball ahead of them.

“It's good with the condensed schedule to get in here as a group anyways it's just kind of a lighter mental day than a game day where it's a little bit more intense and structured,” said Daigneault. “It was good for Gabby and also Charlie and some of these guys that have not played as much with our team just to get them on the same page answer some questions in a more low key environment.”

Opponent Breakdown

Just 10 days will have passed since the Thunder last tipped off against the Pacers in Indianapolis. With a depleted frontline, Indiana’s short-handed lineup uncharacteristically leaned on its outside shooting to build its lead over the Thunder. Meanwhile, OKC dominated in paint production to the tune of an historic 76 points in the paint but fell short in the final moments.

Since then, the Pacers have gone 2-2 including a 130-113 loss to Brooklyn on Thursday where injuries impacted what was already a thinned Pacers’ lineup. Indiana’s leading scorer, Malcolm Brogdon, scored just one point before exiting the game with a hamstring injury. This left guard Caris LeVert to take over the primary scoring load for Indy.

LeVert, who averages 19.3 points per night, recorded 36 points and five made 3-pointers in the loss to Brooklyn while logging his third consecutive game shooting 50 percent or better from the field.

Indiana’s defense took a hit during the month of April as the group allowed the third most points per game on average (120.9) while sending opponents to the free throw line more than any team in the league. The disadvantage in size showed up in the rebounding numbers as the Pacers averaged the second-lowest rebounding differential at minus-7.7.

Matchup Focus

In the last meeting between these two teams, Darius Bazley drew the defensive assignment of the Pacers’ second-leading scorer in LeVert. The Indiana guard has shouldered a much heavier load offensively as the Pacers battle through injuries to its roster. Since April 3, LeVert is averaging 22.5 points (3.5 above his season average) while shooting 48 percent from the field.

Bazley is coming off of career-high scoring month of his own after averaging 18.5 points per game during April. Defensively, the 6-foot-9 forward has consistently picked up a wide variety of challenging, high-powered assignments each night from quick point guards such as Russell Westbrook to the bruising forces of Zion Williamson.

“It just gives you a lot of versatility and a lot of options if he can do those things and it's been pretty impressive,” said Daigneault. “It's one of the goals that we have for the rest of the season with him is just continue to take a look at the range of players that he can guard.”

Stat to Watch

Points in the Paint – Despite a starting five that didn’t feature a single player over 6-foot-9, Indiana registered 54 points in the paint against the Nets on Thursday which marked the teams’ 42nd game with 50 or more paint points this season ­– good for third most in the league. A combination of fast break points, second chances and drives to the rim led to the 54-point performance. After logging an historic 76 points in the paint in its last run in with the Pacers, keep an eye out for the battle in the paint production between these two teams on Saturday.

Thunder Trend

After his 16-point performance to close out the month of April, Thunder rookie Théo Maledon has now logged his fifth consecutive month of improved scoring. Maledon averaged 11.3 points during the month of March and transcended that effort with 13.1 points per game in April.

The 19-year-old rookie continues to increase his aggressiveness on the offensive end which includes increased trips to the foul line. After logging just 32 attempts from the free throw line prior to the All-Star Break, Maledon has now shot 81 free throw since.

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