Tip-Off: 7 PM CST
Location: Chesapeake Energy Arena (Oklahoma City, OK)
Radio: The Sports Animal
Twitter: Follow @TheThunderGuys for live-tweets during the game
Player to Watch
C Marc Gasol is playing perhaps some of the best basketball of his career right now. For the season, Gasol is averaging 20.8 points on 47.2% shooting from the field, 41.7% from three, and 83.5% from the free throw line to go along with 6.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.5 blocks. While these numbers are solid, they pale in comparison to what he has been doing lately. The Grizzlies have won 5 of their last 7 contests, and in those games, Gasol has averaged 27.7 points on 55.6% shooting from the field, 53.8% from three, and 85.4% from the free throw line, as well as 6.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.9 blocks. Steven Adams needs to stay out of foul trouble and shut down Gasol; otherwise, Oklahoma City could struggle tonight at home.
Keys to the Game
- Put the Ball in the Hoop: While the concept of getting the basketball to go in the basket is a simple, it is not an area that the Thunder has been very good at over the last few games. The competition has been stiff lately, but during Oklahoma City’s current 3-game losing streak, the Thunder has shot 38% or worse from the field. The 3 losses rank in the Thunder’s 7 worst shooting nights of the season, and each loss has been by at least 14 points as Oklahoma City has eclipsed triple digits in scoring only once. The Thunder excels at scoring in the paint with 49.4 points down low per game (2nd in the NBA) as well as in transition with 17.4 fast break points per game (3rd in the NBA), but these stats are meaningless when shots will not fall. With the absence of Enes Kanter, one of the Thunder’s top scorers, other guys are going to have to step up and knock down shots.
- Stay in Control: So many of the Thunder’s issues lately have been areas that are controllable and thus fixable. For example, Oklahoma City shot a season-high 37 three-pointers against Chicago on Wednesday. The Thunder ranks 29th in the league in shooting from deep, just barely ahead of the Bulls, ironically enough, yet they continue to throw up shots that simply do not consistently go in. Oklahoma City desperately needs shooters to step up, but with the current roster, that does not appear to be happening. On top of poor shooting from deep, the Thunder needs to take care of the ball. Oklahoma City ranks 23rd in turnovers with 15.1 per game, and the Thunder has turned it over at least 16 times in 8 of the last 11 games. The Thunder needs to find more efficient ways to score, and in order to do that, they have to move the ball by making good passes that lead to high-percentage shots.
- Lock Down on Defense: Oklahoma City’s shooting woes lately have been a major issue, but because of the inability to get shots to fall, opposing teams have been able to expose the Thunder on the defensive end as well. Oklahoma City is by no means a defensive powerhouse as they have given up 105.7 points per game (19th in the NBA), but over the last 9 games in which the Thunder is 4-5, they have given up 111.1 points per game while opponents have shot 48.0% from the field and 37.1% from three. The Thunder have to dedicate themselves to playing defense as a team every single play down the court, which is something they have not been doing lately. Guys cannot afford to take plays off, and at this point in the season, it is time to see what this team is really made of, and if they still have the ability to make the playoffs, let alone make it past the first round.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.