Date: Jan. 6, 2020Tip-Off Time: 6 p.m. CTTelevision: Fox Sports OklahomaRadio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
Thunder Status The last time the Thunder and 76ers met it was at the outset of the season as both teams tried to find themselves as newly-assembled units. Both teams have done that, putting themselves into playoff position although their records have gone different directions over the past couple of weeks.
The 76ers are on a four-game losing skid but have two days off before Monday night’s showdown. The Thunder, meanwhile, have won five-straight and nine out of its last ten games, including four-straight on the road.
“They work hard. It’s a group that continues to learn about each other,” said Head Coach Billy Donovan. “They’ve built good chemistry. They’ve built good relationships. They get along well. That will only get stronger and better as time goes on.”
Opponent Breakdown Size at every position is what the 76ers roster construction was built on, and five pillars across the floor what will be waiting for OKC in Philadelphia on Monday. Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid are all at least 6-foot-8, while the Sixers’ other starter – Edmond, OK native Josh Richardson – is 6-foot-5.
Embiid and Horford are more than a handful down low, as Embiid holds career averages and over 24 points and 11 rebounds per game, scoring on hook shots down by the block, lobs to the rim and jump shots. Horford has a similar inside-out style, with incredible touch.
While OKC’s Steven Adams and Danilo Gallinari will take first crack at being in the initial assignment in the five-man shell against Embiid and Horford, the Thunder will have to be aggressive and creative in its coverage of Philadelphia’s wings.
Harris is physically imposing at the small forward spot and Ben Simmons is a towering 6-foot-9 at the point guard spot but either Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at 6-foot-6, Terrance Ferguson at 6-foot-7 or even Chris Paul with his veteran savvy and penchant for making steals when guarding the post will be tasked with making things tough on those tall Sixers perimeter players.
“We’re together. We’re doing everything as a team. On the defensive end, we’re just competing, trying to get stops,” said point guard Dennis Schröder.
Stat to WatchRebounding. Back in Oklahoma City when these teams met in mid-November for a 127-119 Thunder overtime victory, OKC had to overcome a deficit on the glass as it gave up 13 offensive boards. Second chances, particularly on the road, are nearly impossible to overcome without some incredible shooting, a parade to the free throw line or some easy points off turnovers. Either way, the Thunder can’t bank on getting much handed to them. Particularly in the paint, OKC is going to have to work for every loose ball.
“You get caught because their guards are coming downhill so fast that your bigs have to take them and your guards are left blocking out their bigs,” Donovan explained.
Thunder Trend17-17-17 – The Thunder’s number 17, Schröder, has now scored at least 17 points in 17 consecutive games, the second longest streak in the past decade for a bench player. Schröder has been sensational as a super sub, providing the Thunder with relentless energy and a consistent scoring punch every time he steps on the floor.
“Dennis has given us a really good boost off the bench. He’s in a really good flow right now,” said Donovan. “We’re playing a little bit faster and those guys can get to the rim.”
Defensively he’s been a pest and offensively he’s had the most efficient and productive season of his career, averaging 18.5 points on 47.0 percent shooting including 35.6 percent from behind the arc and 82.6 percent at the free throw line. He’s also racked up 3.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game while picking up full court as a defender and harassing opposing ballhandlers throughout possessions.
“I just try to come out, play with energy, take my shots with confidence,” said Schröder. “That’s it.”