Taking ‘Hit First’ Mentality to Houston
Date: January 20, 2020
Tip-Off Time: 4 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
Thunder StatusFollowing three straight games at home, the Thunder head out for a two-game road trip beginning in Houston. During the homestand, the Thunder went 2-1 finishing the stint with a much-needed win against Portland on Saturday.
In that game, the Thunder set the tone from the jump behind 12 points in the first quarter from Chris Paul who tied his career high with 30 points. In its previous three home games, the Thunder allowed 41, 38 and 40 points in the first quarters coupled with a slow offensive start resulting in a losing battle to overcome large deficits. With that in mind, the Thunder adopted a ‘hit first’ mentality which it used on Saturday to start the game.
“We’ve got to come out with a mentality, ‘hit first’, so that’s what we did [Saturday],” said Thunder guard Dennis Schröder. “Starting group did a great job and everybody who came off the bench was ready…everybody was just engaged and played with an edge.”
Opponent BreakdownOnly 11 days separate this meeting with the Thunder’s last meeting with the Rockets. The electric contest on January 9 resulted in a rousing 113-92 victory for the Thunder behind a stifling defensive effort to hold the highest scoring offense in the league to a season-low 92 points. It was the first time the Thunder wore its 2020 City Edition uniforms created in partnership with Nike and the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum to recognize and honor all those affected by the OKC bombing nearly 25 years ago. The night also marked Russell Westbrook’s return to OKC since joining the Rockets over the summer.
The league’s leading scorer in James Harden was held to a mere 17 points on 5 of 17 from the field. Westbrook put up 34 points in his first game back in Chesapeake Energy Arena, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Rockets afloat in the midst of OKC operating at a higher level in nearly every statistical category.
The Rockets’ bread and butter is high-speed attacks to the rim coupled with a mixture of crafty finishes and dishes out to open shooters. Look for the Thunder to shrink the floor with high hands and help defense in order to deter any open driving lanes.
Matchup FocusKeep an eye on the battle in the paint between Thunder bigs and Rockets centers. There are only thirteen players in the league to average a double-double and two of them will be in the paint on Saturday. Last time the two teams met, Steven Adams dominated in the lane with 17 points off 6-8 from the field. However, Rockets center Clint Capela brings in 14 points and 14 rebounds per game. Both bigs play a different role within their respective offenses, but defensively it will be a test for each to limit the other.
Stat to WatchFree Throws. The Thunder is second in the league in opponents’ free throw attempts per game only allowing 18.5. This feat will be tested on Monday as the Rockets sit at the top of the league in free throw attempts per game with 26.7. Led by James Harden who put up 22 free throw attempts in the Thunder’s meeting with Houston back in October, OKC will look to put an extra emphasis on clean defense especially when guarding Harden.
Thunder TrendSaturday’s game marked the Thunder’s fourth consecutive game with over 25 assists and the sixth straight game with over 20. This is the result of the Thunder’s offensive style which feeds off of rapid ball movement and player movement around bigs stationed at the high post to facilitate. Ball reversals lead to high-quality looks which means the shots generally fall at a higher clip than if the ball stays put on one side of the floor.
“I think the guys are trying to play unselfishly. They’re trying to make the game easy for one another, they’re trying to utilize each other,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan before the game on Saturday. “Like any team, when the ball sticks or it doesn’t more or it gets stuck on one side, you’re not going to be as efficient or as effective as you would be if the ball was moving from side to side. I don’t think we’re any different. I think when that’s happening, that’s generally when we’re at our best.”