Thunder’s Slate of Mini-Series Begins with Houston
Date: Monday, Feb. 1, 2021
Tip-Off Time: 7 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
The Thunder returned to Chesapeake Energy Arena on Friday night following a prolonged five-game road trip to take on the Brooklyn Nets for the second time this season. In that game, the Thunder put up 125 points on 46.5 percent shooting from the field while cashing in 16-made 3-pointers. The Nets, however, led by the backcourt of Kyrie Irving and James Harden, never dropped below 57.0 percent shooting from the field and finished the night with 147 points.
For Coach Daigneault, the biggest lessons from Friday’s game came on the defensive end. Against high-caliber scorers and drivers like Brooklyn has, being sharp in defensive communication and help coverage becomes paramount. This was an area the Thunder focused on throughout the weekend and where they’ll look to apply against the Houston backcourt of John Wall and Victor Oladipo.
“The takeaways for us are getting back to the basics defensively,” said Daigneault. “You’ve got to kind of ignore some of the plays that are shot making plays are really difficult place to guard and just find the most controllable things that are reference points back to the things that we've talked about from day one and so that's what we tried to do [on Saturday and Sunday] and the guys have done a good job of that.”
The star of Friday’s matchup was rookie Théo Maledon who recorded a career-high 24 points while carving his name into history books with his lights out 3-point shooting. His perfect 6-of-6 from the 3-point line made him the only rookie in OKC history to make six 3-pointers without a miss while also tying the All-Time NBA Rookie record in that category.
While the Thunder has encountered the Rockets 26 times over the past five seasons (the most games for OKC against any opponent during that time frame), the Houston team entering Chesapeake Energy Arena on Monday and Wednesday will have a completely new look than years prior.
In the blockbuster trade that send James Harden to Brooklyn midway through January, the Rockets acquired guard Victor Oladipo to round out the backcourt alongside 11-year veteran John Wall, who the Rockets acquired during the offseason in exchange for Russell Westbrook.
Since joining the Rockets, Oladipo has scored 20 or more points in all but one game averaging 22.0 points per contest. In that same time frame, Wall has averaged 7.0 assists per night to go alongside 16.5 points.
Houston holds a 9-9 overall record but enters into Monday on a season-high five-game winning streak, including three straight on the road after its 126-112 win over New Orleans on Saturday. The Thunder, who has a solid track record in bounce-back games, will look to throw the first punch against the red-hot Rockets.
“They have great finishing guards, and they got bigs who can shoot ball as well so it's going to be a great test for us,” said Thunder forward Isaiah Roby. “I think we match up really well with them though. I think it's gonna be a great matchup for us.”
Anchoring the paint for the Rockets is 6-foot-10 center Christian Wood who has played a massive role in Houston’s current win streak. Over the last five games, the fifth-year player has averaged 24.5 points and 10.5 rebounds. For the season, Wood has taken a massive jump in scoring increasing his average by 10 points, the second highest increase the league.
The matchup between him and Al Horford will be one to keep an eye on as both big men have the versatility to stretch the floor and knock down shots from the perimeter.
Stat to Watch
STOCKS – This statistical combination of steals and blocks have been an area where the Rockets have found significant production throughout its five-game win stretch as they have averaged 14.6 per night. Overall, Houston sits at second in the league in blocks per contest with athletic forwards like Wood and DeMarcus Cousins leading the way.
Over the next six games, the Thunder will face just three opponents. Monday’s game against Houston kicks of a stream of mini-series where OKC will go up against the same opponent in consecutive matchups. After two games against Houston to start the week, OKC will host Minnesota in a back-to-back on Friday and Saturday before wrapping it up on the West Coast in a two-game stand against the Lakers.
OKC has only encountered one mini-series so far this season in which it faced the Clippers. For the Thunder, getting a second swing at a team provides an ultra-valuable opportunity to make tangible and specific steps forward based on the lessons learned from the previous match.
“I think the series setup bodes well for us and the goal of trying to learn, progress and improve every game,” said Coach Daigneault. “Those are good opportunities to step forward. We're playing the schedule they give us and we're gonna find the best version of ourselves through whatever circumstances we have here.”
Dressed for success— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 31, 2021
Here’s what we’re wearing in February. pic.twitter.com/nZe30K8LAe