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Inside The Thunder

Three Adjustments That Help the Thunder Finally Beat the Houston Rockets

By Dustin McLaughlin,


The Oklahoma City Thunder will need to make a few adjustments to finally overcome the Houston Rockets in their third regular season meeting.

After a grueling and disappointing six-point loss to the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night, the Oklahoma City Thunder will have a chance at redemption in front of their home crowd Saturday night.

It will be the third time the two teams have played each other this season with the Rockets currently up 2-0 on the Thunder.

The most recent loss was largely a result of incredibly poor shooting, experimental lineups, and trying to transition rookie forward Ousmane Dieng back into the rotation.

Here are three adjustments the Thunder can make to ensure a win tonight:

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Listen, getting different looks at guys has its value and merits, but for a team striving to make the Playoffs, the right move is probably going to be sticking with what you know and what works, especially against a beatable team such as the Rockets.

But Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault opted to start Joe in place of a more experienced starter, such as Kenrich Williams. He also gave rookie big man Jaylin Williams another start at center.

That’s a bit too experimental for a team trying to add to the win column.

Joe has proven to be an impactful guard for the Thunder this season. The 6-foot-5 sniper has consistently checked in off the bench to knock down timely 3-pointers and lift the team’s offensive ceiling. Oklahoma City should stick with that.

And Williams’ veteran experience allows him to fulfill multiple roles, whether as a wing or a small-ball center, where he can utilize his hustle, ball-movement, and perimeter shooting to set the tone early on both sides of the floor against a younger, more inexperienced Rockets squad.

Adjustment: Start Kenrich Williams; bring Isaiah Joe off the bench.

Crash Wreck the glass.

Thunder opponents’ corral 12.4 offensive rebounds per game. That’s the highest mark in the league this season. The Rockets almost doubled that, grabbing 24 of them on Wednesday – far too many. While the Thunder matched with 24 of their own, it’s better to limit the opposition’s second-chance opportunities.

Rockets’ rookie Tari Eason grabbed 12 offensive rebounds by himself in just 19 minutes and sophomore post-phenom Alperen Sengun found five, too. Combined, they accounted for 70.8% of their team’s effort on the offensive glass.

The Thunder also lost the defensive rebounding battle, 41 to 28, but that can be chalked up to poor shooting as they missed a whopping 65 shots compared to Houston’s 53.

However Daigneault can get it done, the Thunder are going to need to address their rebounding woes whether that looks like a different starting center, giving better rebounders more playing time, or writing “box out” in massive letters on a whiteboard in the locker room.

Adjustment : Start and play Jaylin Williams 20-plus minutes; give Darius Bazley 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle in some Mike Muscala.

Get back to the basics!

In their last two matches against the Rockets, the Thunder have attempted 44 and 43 triples while making just 10 and 12 of them, respectively, leaving a bunch of points on the table. It’s an odd issue for a team leading the league in drives per game and one that should be an easy fix.

While Houston does give up the most amount of 3-point attempts to opposing teams on a per 100 possessions-basis, that doesn’t mean every team should necessarily take them. The last thing the Thunder should want is to miss a bunch of shots on the perimeter while Sengun, a slow-footed sophomore center, is in charge of gatekeeping access to the rim.

In fact, it’s the opposite.

With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey sharing ball-handling duties, the Thunder should look to abuse the interior of an inexperienced defense, draw fouls, and find opportune situations for kick-outs to the perimeter.

Daigneault might want to think about employing ankle-breaker extraordinaire, Tre Mann, once again after he posted 18 points in just 17 minutes in the Thunder’s last match with the Rockets. The 6-foot-5 guard has had an up-and-down season shooting the ball, but has all the talent and skill to run circles around even Houston’s best defenders, getting paint touches at will.

Adjustment: Take less 3-pointers and drive more.

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