Bounce Back to a 48-Minute Competitive Level
Date: Nov. 15, 2019
Tip-Off Time: 7 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
Thunder StatusComing off a stretch of four games in six nights, including a home-home back to back and a pair of one-game road trips (San Antonio, Indiana), the Thunder had Wednesday and Thursday to get re-energized before Friday’s duel. With some rest under its belt and a chance to look critically at a poor performance in both energy and execution against the Pacers, the Thunder is ready to take on its third-straight Eastern Conference foe. The Thunder is not happy with the past couple of losses but is determined that with more attention to detail they can get back on track.
“We’re in the wrong profession if you’re not optimistic. And anybody who’s OK with losing, they’re probably a loser,” point guard Chris Paul stated. “So, I think we understand we’re all professionals and we can play better. So luckily in this league we get another opportunity tomorrow.”
An internal drive and optimism.— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) November 14, 2019
// today's practice report pic.twitter.com/cGoa8LA4cQ
Opponent BreakdownThe Sixers come in as one of the most physically imposing, disruptive defenses in the league. In fact, Philadelphia is averaging 9.7 steals per game as a team, including at least one steal per game by seven different players.
"We've got to take care of the basketball, for one, and we've got to be able to run offensively with good pace and spacing,” said Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan. “This will be another great test playing against another talented, long, athletic team."
After going against a disruptive defense in Indiana, the Thunder will have to bounce back by playing with some force and physicality of its own. Getting into position early, sprinting through cuts and screening actions and playing confidently through contact.
“We’ve got to move the ball, we’ve got to play with pace, find open guys and pick up the tempo,” said Paul.
Matchup FocusFor the 76ers at the point guard spot is Ben Simmons, an anomaly at 6-foot-10, 230 pounds and yet still a lead guard. Fortunately, the Thunder has a point guard with similar stature in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is 6-foot-6, 181 pounds. Both young guards have been productive so far this season, with Simmons averaging 13.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game while shooting 55.0 percent from the field – without any three-point attempts – but just 53.6 percent from the free throw line.
Gilgeous-Alexander has nearly doubled his production from last season in terms of points (20.1) and rebounds (5.8).
“(Gilgeous-Alexander) is going to continue to grow,” Paul said of his fellow guard. “We talk a lot, and it doesn’t seem like much going from playing 20, 20-something minutes a game, to playing 35, 36, but that’s an adjustment. He’s doing great with it and will continue.”
Where the Thunder is challenging its second-year guard though is on the defensive end, and no better time to test that side of the ball than against Simmons, Philadelphia’s third-year star.
“The one thing we’ve got to get him to, and he’s more than capable of doing it because he has great length and size and he’s really smart and bright, is he’s gotta be a two-way player,” said Donovan.
Stat to WatchThe battle in the paint will be crucial in this game, with the Sixers duo of Al Horford and Joel Embiid scrapping with the Thunder’s Steven Adams and Danilo Gallinari. The Sixers average 52.4 points in the paint per game, fifth-best in the NBA, while also racking up 47.5 rebounds per game, which is sixth-best.
The Thunder’s defense to this point has been solid, but it has slipped some compared to Donovan’s liking since the opening week and a half of the season. Getting back to sitting down in a half-court shell, staying disciplined and finishing out possessions with strong rebounds will be critical against a Sixers club that doesn’t have anyone under 6-foot-5 in the starting lineup.
“We've got to fight for space, for areas of the floor, and not everything is going to be given to you very easily,” Donovan noted. “You can kind of come down and throw the ball here, throw the ball there, cut here and there, and a lot of times there's going to be resistance in those things. You've got to be able to have the force to kind of work through those situations."
Thunder TrendSince 2008, the Thunder is 19-2 against the 76ers, its best record against any opponent since the team arrived in Oklahoma City. Both squads have changed drastically over the course of the past decade-plus, but the Thunder has almost always had Philadelphia’s number. That includes a few dramatic victories, including a triple-overtime win in December of 2017 and a buzzer-beating win in January of 2019.