Attacking Philadelphia’s Size as OKC Heads Back East
Date: Monday, April 26, 2021
Tip-Off Time: 6 p.m. CT
Television: Bally Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
After returning from an east coast road trip for just one game inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Thunder shipped back out to the northeast for a brief back-to-back starting in Philadelphia against one of the top teams in the entire NBA, the 76ers.
While the Thunder has dropped 13-straight, including a game that got away on Friday against the Washington Wizards, there’s a lot of positivity in the locker room about strides that are being made. There’s also a sense of motivation in using each challenge, like the one presented by Philadelphia, as a way to keep sharpening their games and the team’s collective ability to execute.
“We’re a young team, inexperienced, missing some players, but we know we’re trying to build something great,” said rookie Aleksej Pokuševski. “We’re working for that every day, step by step. We’re getting better. The wins are going to come. I’m sure about that.”
Though 76ers center and NBA MVP candidate Joel Embiid did not play on Saturday against the Milwaukee Bucks, he remains day-to-day and will be a major focal point for any team preparing for Philadelphia. Even if he doesn’t play, Philadelphia has size, physicality and toughness across its starting and second units. That will test the Thunder’s ability to match that level of force without fouling. On the other end of the floor, the Thunder will have to try to run clean offense against a squad that ranks first in the NBA in steals and blocks combined.
“(Philadelphia) is big at every position,” said Thunder Head Coach Mark Daigneault. “(Against Washington) our help defense was reactive. When you go against guys like Westbrook and Beal you don’t want to over-commit to those guys too much. With Philly’s size you have to be proactive with your help. We certainly have some stuff we can clean up.”
Regardless of whether it’s Embiid, Mike Scott, Dwight Howard or Anthony Tolliver lining up across from the Thunder at the center spot, Daigneault will have a variety of options to choose from at the five spot. Recently Moses Brown has started at center, with Tony Bradley and Isaiah Roby filling in at the center spot off the bench.
It’s difficult for teams because I know myself when I guard fives for three games straight and then the next three games I guard fours, there’s instincts guarding a five where I have to be more in the paint versus more on the perimeter.
“It gives a different dynamic out there for us,” said Roby. “Obviously Moses, he’s a beast down there. Teams have to commit one to two guys just to box him out on the boards. Then when I get in there, I can do some more speed rolling, some more popping, driving a closeout.
“You get the opportunity to catch guys off guard by switching it up that much,” he added.
Stat to Watch
Thunder rookie Théo Maledon knocked down four three-pointers on Friday against Washington, giving him 89 total for the season. That puts him in the top 10 among NBA rookies this season and third all-time for a Thunder rookie. Maledon has been reliable on catch-and-shoot threes, particularly from the corner, but is also making strides as a three-point shooter off the dribble.
When Wizards guards went under screening actions on Friday, Maledon sprinted to a spot a few feet away along the arc, got square and knocked down a pair of early three-pointers. If Maledon makes six more threes this season, he’ll eclipse the Thunder rookie record of 94.
“Multiple times they went under and that gave me some space to pull up off the dribble,” said Maledon. “I took advantage of it and it’s something I have to keep adding in my arsenal for the future.”
In the five games he’s played since returning from injury, Thunder second-year guard Lu Dort has been even more aggressive in attacking off the bounce and finding his way to the rim. Dort has double his number of drives per game up to 16.2, racking up an average of 26 points per game on 48.4 percent shooting and 6.6 free throw attempts per game. Look for Dort to continue trying to play aggressively against Philadelphia and putting pressure on its physical perimeter and interior defenders.
“I just have to play the right way and when I get open looks take the shot and play confident,” said Dort. “That’s just the way I play.”