(Photo by Torrey Purvey)
By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY — The first part of the NBA season continues to be a roller coaster for the Oklahoma City Thunder. From winning six of their first seven games to dropping seven of their last 10, the revamped team has been anything but predictable.
Coming off Friday night’s overtime victory in Denver, the Thunder (9-8) completed a three-game road trip, their longest of the season so far. And they return home looking for answers for a variety of issues that seem to be hurting the team.
One of those is Oklahoma City’s inability to defend the 3-point line with any tenacity. In their last 10 games, they are allowing teams to shoot 42 percent from deep, which is the worst in the NBA during that span.
“That’s the next step that we have to take from a defensive perspective — the awareness, the understanding and the decision-making,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan told NBA.com. “We’re doing a much better job of being in the right spots, but once we’re in that spot and have to get out to the 3-point line, there have been times we’ve been slow getting there or we’ve lost our man on the back side with exchanges. There have been times where we’ve given too much help.”
On Nov. 20, the Thunder allowed the Indiana Pacers to shoot 11 of 22 from 3-point range. Two nights later, the Los Angeles Lakers also knocked down 11 from behind the arc. Even in a win over the Brooklyn Nets, the Thunder allowed them to hit 11 3-pointers.
Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, who has given up his share of uncontested 3-pointers, says it comes down to focus.
“It’s just being focused on when to help and when not to help,” Westbrook said, “having a real sense of urgency on that aspect to not give up so many threes.”
When Oklahoma City faced Detroit earlier in the month, 3-point shooting was not a problem. The Pistons won despite knocking down only 5-of-16.
In the Nov. 14 matchup, Detroit was also without the services of center Andre Drummond. When the Thunder and Pistons meet in Oklahoma City, Drummond will be in the lineup with his 14.9 points, 14 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.5 steals.
However, Detroit will not have guard Reggie Bullock after he suffered a meniscus tear in his left knee during Wednesday’s win over Miami.
“Reggie’s a pretty even-keel guy, so he’s fine outwardly,” coach Stan Van Gundy told Mlive.com. “But I know he’s frustrated, because he wasn’t ready to go at the beginning of the year and that cost him some time. And then he had worked his way back in the rotation. It’s just really unfortunate for him.”
The Pistons have already been missing guard Reggie Jackson with a fracture in his foot. The loss of Bullock weakens an already depleted Detroit backcourt.
The one piece of good news is that the Pistons expect to get Jackson back in early December. However, that doesn’t help them when Van Gundy looks down the Detroit bench to find a defender to put in front of Westbrook, who had another triple-double Friday.
But Van Gundy wants to see what type of mindset his Pistons can take on the road as they face a new round of adversity.
“That’s the kind of resilience we had a year ago. We haven’t necessarily had that all the time this year,” Van Gundy said. “It was really good to see. Now the challenge is to bring that same mindset and effort on the road. We’ve got four in a row on the road, all against good teams, all of them .500 or better. It’s going to be a really tough week — four games in seven days — it’s going to be difficult, so we’ve got to bring the same mindset and energy on the road.”