Thunder Defense Facing Ultimate Challenge Tonight
By Randy Renner
Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook spoke to reporters after this morning's shootaround and so did shooting guard/defensive specialist Andre Roberson.
KD didn't have much to say, especially about the upcoming schedule or even about the Warriors tonight. When asked about the defense Durant said the Thunder just need to "play together." Clearly more needs to happen than that but he didn't want to get into specifics.
Westbrook said about the same thing but Russ usually isn't particularly talkative during these shootaround chats.
By far the guy who was the most revealing was Roberson who said he will start the game guarding Klay Thompson but will also switch onto Steph Curry and is expecting to guard positions 1 through 4 at various times during the game.
It would appear tonight’s visit from the high flying Golden State Warriors comes at about the worst time it could for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
OKC’s defense, which has been great in flashes, has mostly been disappointing and right now has mostly disappeared.
But maybe the Thunder need this challenge from the Warriors, who have the best offense in the NBA, to wake them up. The first time these teams played the Thunder had an opportunity to win the game, rallying back from a big second half deficit, only to ultimately lose 116-108.
But it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Warriors have lost only five times all season, while the Thunder have lost three times in just the last week and two of those games came at home.
It’s hard to ignore the Thunder’s defensive decline lately, with a defensive rating of 110.1 over the last 14 games, fourth worst in the NBA.
The Thunder gave up 60-plus points in each half of their 123-119 loss to the Pelicans in New Orleans on Thursday night, that’s hard to ignore too.
And while great games from Steph Curry always seem to help propel the Warriors to wins, the same can’t be said for the Thunder duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Golden State is 37-4 when Curry scores at least 25 points but OKC is just 9-9 when KD and Russ each score at least 25.
After winning 14 of 16 games from January 12th through February 11th, the Thunder have dropped three of their last four, including those consecutive home games to Indiana and Cleveland last weekend.
Westbrook poured in 44 points to lead all scorers in that Thursday game in New Orleans and Durant added 32, but Oklahoma City still lost after allowing the Pelicans to shoot 52.2 percent.
"They did whatever they wanted and we didn't show any resistance," Durant said. "They got confidence. ... We didn't help (defensively) as much as we should have and that caused us to be in scramble mode."
The Thunder have been scrambling on defense lately, at times appearing lost and at times appearing disinterested. Neither is a good look.
Things will only get tougher defensively as the Thunder have to follow up tonight’s matchup with the Warriors (115.3 points per game) with games at Sacramento (107.1), the Clippers (105.0) and the Warriors again next week.
Is it too late for the Thunder to find themselves defensively? Perhaps they already have and the truth is they’re just not very good. The last few games have provided some clues, these next few should provide some definitive answers.
Tipoff is set for 7:30 tonight and the game will be televised exclusively on ABC. As usual we’ll have full coverage here on the website with updates from today’s shootaround and from the arena beginning at about 4:30 with early warmups. Check out our Twitter feed page for live updates and we’ll have a video postgame report with interviews from the lockerrom late tonight.