The Oklahoma City Thunder entered tonight’s game in Dallas carrying consecutive losses, so a win against the Mavericks felt necessary if only to help carry some momentum into a difficult schedule in the upcoming week. Oklahoma City started off the 1st quarter struggling defensively as the Mavericks shot 56.5% from the field and led the Thunder 28-27. Things got worse for Oklahoma City in the 2nd period as Dallas continued with its impressive shooting making 70% of their attempts to push their lead to double digits.
The Thunder came out of the locker room at halftime trailing 50-60 looking for a spark to cut into the deficit, but the defense continued to struggle. Even though Dallas shot a mere 39.4% from the floor for the period, the Mavericks pushed their lead to as many as 24 points to end the quarter with an 88-71 lead over the Thunder. Oklahoma City started the 4th quarter with a mild attempt at a comeback, but Dallas was not about to give up a big lead at home as the Thunder lost its 7th consecutive game on the road and 3rd consecutive game overall 89-104.
Thunder Defense is a Mess
For much of the season, Oklahoma City’s defense has been pretty consistent for the Thunder, but they have struggled mightily as of late. In all three of the Thunder’s consecutive losses, they allowed opponents to shoot at least 48.8% from the field and score at least 104 points.
Oklahoma City’s defensive issues lately are numerous, but first off, all three teams that the Thunder has lost to–Portland, Phoenix, and now Dallas–are teams that focus on their guards. Victor Oladipo has missed all three games due to back spasms, and his lockdown defensive capabilities have been clearly missed. He should be returning to the team soon, hopefully for Tuesday’s home matchup with Portland, so that will be an instant boost to the defensive side of the ball.
Another likely issue with the defense is team chemistry. Oklahoma City acquired Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott, and Norris Cole all within the last week and a half. All three played as many or more minutes tonight than the starters aside from Russell Westbrook, and while the lack of defensive effort cannot be blamed on them completely, the fact that they recently joined the team definitely has to have some sort of an impact.
While there are a number of contributing factors to Oklahoma City’s defensive woes, the results have been consistently awful. Something needs to change quickly, or the Thunder could find themselves fighting to simply make the playoffs.
Poor Shooting Means Offensive Failure
Oklahoma City’s shot selection at times this season has been questionable at best, but one stat has remained consistent all season long: the Thunder lose when they shoot worse than 40.5% from the field. For the 13th time this season, Oklahoma City shot below that mark, making the 13th loss when shooting so poorly.
The Thunder’s shooting misfortunes are heavily dependent upon the fact that the team relies on Russell Westbrook for so much offensive output. In the three consecutive losses, Westbrook has taken slightly over a third of the teams shots, but he has only made 37.7% of those attempts. To his credit, the rest of the team is shooting a poor 42.4% over the last three games.
When it comes down to it, Oklahoma City’s offensive struggles go beyond shooting. The Thunder’s defense has been awful and inconsistent, and in the process, the offense has struggled. So much of the Thunder offense flows out the team’s ability to force teams into tough shots and then turning those misses into quality offensive possessions. Unfortunately, when Oklahoma City gets down by any real deficit, they start to take ill-advised shots.
The Thunder needs to turn things around in every aspect of their game, and while it is disingenuous to lay the the blame completely on one player, a large portion of the responsibility is on Russell Westbrook. The fact of the matter is simple: this team goes as Westbrook goes. If Russ can get his shot selection sorted out and starting knocking down shots again, the team will likely experience success and follow his lead.
Finally Back at Home
Oklahoma City finally makes their way back home after a terribly unsuccessful road trip as they host the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday evening. The Thunder lost to the Trail Blazers just a few days ago in Portland after leading late in the 4th quarter, so Oklahoma City will be ready to avenge that loss and get back on the right track. The Trail Blazers lost in Oklahoma City a month ago in a game that was close from start to finish, so the Thunder need to be prepared for a tough matchup. Tip-off is set for 7 PM, and the game will be televised on FSOK. It will also be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.