For the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder rank 5th in all the NBA for defensive rating. Prior to the All-Star break, Oklahoma City had a defensive rating of 105.2, good for third in the Association. Since the All Star break, though, the Thunder defense has struggled. Spending some time without MVP candidate Paul George, the team defense has registered a mediocre 110.9 defensive rating, which is below league average (17th). Effort, discipline, (possibly the addition of Markieff Morris?) and issues guarding the three point line are all to blame.
Paul George says the issues have nothing to do with personnel, and no lineup changes are needed.
Paul George on if lineup changes are needed to fix the Thunder’s defensive issues: “It’s nothing to do with personnel.” pic.twitter.com/0YGFSO0GLH
— Erik Horne (@ErikkHorne) March 6, 2019
The defensive struggles date back to the beginning of January (before January, OKC ranked in the top 5 for defensive rating in October, November and December).
In January, the Thunder’s stellar three-point shooting masked a poor defensive month. The Thunder shot an average of 30 three-point shots per night at a 40% clip, good for second best in the NBA. However, as we all know, the NBA is a make-or-miss league. When you are missing shots, you are going to struggle. Oklahoma City has lost five of their last six games. In those games, the team has collectively shot 68% from the free throw line on 28 attempts per game and 30.6% from three on 36 attempts per game. Paul George has been absent for three of the games, when the Thunder went 1-2, barely squeaking out a win against Memphis. During the All-Star break, Thunder fans were hopeful for the two-seed, but this skid has brought the Thunder all the way down to tied for 4th with the Rockets and the Trail Blazers, all sporting a record of 39-25. If this trend continues, the Thunder could easily drop to the 6th seed or worse. With 18 games left, and the second toughest remaining schedule in the NBA, the Thunder need to go 11-7 to reach the threshold of 50-wins, which most Thunder fans thought was guaranteed earlier in the season.
Predictions for next 5 and beyond:
@ POR March 7 W
@ LAC March 8 W
@ UTA March 11 W
@ IND March 13 L
Vs. BKN March 14 W
I believe the Thunder will come out and look like a different team on this road trip. Their defensive issues can be fixed with effort. Tonight will be Paul George’s second game back from injury, instilling comfort into the Thunder offense and defense. The switch will flip starting tonight in Portland when the Thunder take on the Trail Blazers, who the Thunder are 3-0 against this season. The game is scheduled to tip off on TNT at 9:30 p.m. Central time.
Once it is playoff time, the Thunder will be the four-seed for the second year in a row, playing against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round. Houston seems to be rolling, and their remaining schedule is very weak, which will elevate them to the three-seed.
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