The Thunder could not have picked a worse time to throw all of the momentum of a four game win streak out of the window. After getting dominated, yes dominated, by the Jazz in Utah, Oklahoma City has to return home to host the sizzling hot Miami Heat. This will be the second and final regular season meeting between these two in what has the potential to be a spectacular finish before the All-Star break.
Exposing the Flaws
It can be easy to overanalyze a single game, and Oklahoma City’s loss to Utah certainly does not wipe out the fact that the Thunder are one of the best teams in the game. But it does serve as a stark reminder that this team has a few glaring weaknesses that can on rare occasions be exploited. Oklahoma City shot with an effective field goal percentage of .596 and lost. By 15 points. A great team should never shoot that well and lose by that much.
In watching the game, Utah looked like a more fundamentally sound unit on Tuesday night, and the numbers bear that out. They destroyed Oklahoma City on the boards, with an eye-popping offensive rebounding percentage of 45.7 percent. They also forced the Thunder to commit 20 turnovers for a turnover percentage of 20.4 percent, one of the worst nights of the year for one of the worst turnover teams in the NBA.
That is the formula for beating Oklahoma City. Accept that the Thunder are going to shoot better than you (if they have an off night, it will be their own doing more than yours). Force turnovers and sloppy play. Expose their weakness on the glass and convert on second chance points. Do not let them beat you from the line.
It is a tough recipe to follow but one that the Jazz executed to perfection.
Not many teams will be able to repeat that formula for more than a couple games in a seven game series which is why the Thunder should have little to worry about until deep into the playoffs.
However, tonight they run into the one team that does not need to execute that formula to beat Oklahoma City, because they are the one team that can keep pace with the Thunder in shooting. The Heat are just as soft on the glass, but they have the best eFG percentage in the game at .546. It helps that LeBron James has not missed a shot in February.
With the 26th ranked strength of schedule, the Thunder have not had a signature win in a while. They caught the Clippers without Chris Paul and the Grizzlies in the post-trade throw-away game for their only two recent wins over good teams. Since January 1, Oklahoma City is 4-4 against teams currently bound for the playoffs.
Under those circumstances, Miami has reasserted itself as team to beat. But a win tonight could propel the Thunder back to the top spot. This game should be (and hopefully will be) a great one.