Tough Road Trip Starts in Portland
Date: Dec. 8, 2019
Tip-Off Time: 8 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
Thunder StatusOn the heels of "The Heave”, the Thunder heads back out to the West Coast for the third time in the last three weeks for a four-game trip featuring three Northwest Division foes. After the win at home over the Minnesota Timberwolves that included not just the buzzer-beater to send it to overtime but also a fantastic final five minutes, the Thunder will have to re-set its emotions but also its focus on the fundamentals.
“We have a tough road trip. We have a tough back-to-back coming up with Portland and Utah. We’ll be on the road for a week playing against all really good teams. We’ll have to regroup from this,” said Head Coach Billy Donovan.
Opponent BreakdownThe Blazers won emphatically 136-119 over the Thunder just a week and a half ago out at the Moda Center. Portland got off to an incredibly hot start in that one, making its first 10 shots from the field, racking up a 40-17 lead in the first 9 minutes of the action. The Thunder will have to do a much better job dealing with CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard at the outset, in addition to Blazers starters like Hassan Whiteside and Carmelo Anthony.
Matchup FocusWhile Lillard and McCollum rank fourth in the NBA amongst scoring duos with 48.8 point per game, the Thunder does it more democratically with four players (Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and Dennis Schröder) averaging 15 points per game. Donovan’s club is also coming off of a game in which five players (Paul, Gilgeous-Alexander, Steven Adams, Gallinari and Schröder) all scored 20 points. It was the first time since 2004 that any NBA team has had five players surpass the 20-point mark in the same game.
“I think it speaks more to their unselfishness as a group,” Donovan said. “We’ve got really good guys that try to play the right way, try to play together, and they try to move the ball.”
“That’s the thing about our team. It’s not just one guy, and it’s fun seeing guys to get off like that,” said Paul. “That’s what’s fun about this team and why we do have the ability to be a lot better than what other people think.”
Stat to WatchThe Thunder has the fourth-highest free throw differential in the league this season, averaging 4.5 more free throw attempts per game than it is allowing to opponents. On Friday against Minnesota, OKC was plus-20 in that department, spearheaded by Gilgeous-Alexander, who went a career-best 12-for-12 from the free throw line. The second-year guard has always had a penchant for getting to the basket, but drawing fouls and making teams pay at the stripe is a crucial next step in his game.
“I’ve just been more aggressive. I’m trying to put emphasis on that,” said Gilgeous Alexander. “The greatest scorers in the league get to the line at will and a lot, so that’s something I’m trying to bring to the game.”
Thunder TrendFor the season the Thunder has been in the top five in the NBA in shooting percentage on mid-range jump shots. Seen as an inefficiency around the league, some teams have abandoned the mid-range jumper. But an open shot from 8-to-22 feet can often be better than a contested one from behind the line. On Friday the Thunder made Minnesota pay for giving up those shots, going 18-of-31 on two-point jumpers outside of eight feet. Against the Blazers that shot may be open against a drop coverage by some retreating big men but denied in other actions. The Thunder will need to be ready to step in and take those shots with confidence if they’re available.
“We believe in that shot just got to shoot it with confidence,” said Schröder.
Thunder NewsBoth third-year center Justin Patton and second-year forward Deonte Burton have been assigned to the Oklahoma City Blue for this road trip. With Hamidou Diallo still out with an elbow injury, that means that there may be more time for two-way players Devon Hall and Lu Dort. Both played against Minnesota, but the latter came up huge with a pair of ferocious defensive plays versus the Timberwolves, when he forced a jump ball and then later made a steal with just seconds remaining in regulation.
“I was ready. I’ve been working hard for moments just like this,” said Dort. “When I heard my name called, I was ready to go.”
“He’s done really well with the Blue,” Donovan said of Dort’s averages of 21.9 points and 6.5 rebounds so far this season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. “I’ve always really liked him… I think he has an opportunity to be an elite defender.”