At worst, the latest cause for concern for the Oklahoma City Thunder evokes memories of Pau Gasol, his purple No. 16 Lakers jersey swooping in to steal the ball and the series-clinching victory in Game 6 of last season's playoffs.
At best, the trend can be written off as only somewhat troubling since the Thunder is 4-1 over its past five games and 17-8 overall.
Either way you slice it, Oklahoma City's defensive rebounding issues can't go ignored. Opposing teams are toying with the Thunder on the offensive glass.
The Thunder is allowing the seventh most offensive rebounds in the league at 11.8 per game. Utah, which allows 12.7, and the L.A. Lakers, who give up a league-worst 13.3 offensive rebounds, are the only teams above .500 that are worse than the Thunder.
â€œWe talk about it all the time. It's one of the things that winning teams do,â€ said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
Entering Wednesday night's game against Houston, however, the Thunder has allowed 15.2 offensive rebounds per game in its past five outings.
Anderson Varejao had as many offensive rebounds (nine) as the entire Thunder team Sunday night to help Cleveland pull down 16 for the game. David West grabbed six of New Orleans' 11 last Friday. Minnesota's Kevin Love had eight â€” five more than the Thunder â€” of the Timberwolves' 15. Eight of the 10 players who played for Chicago last Monday had at least one offensive rebound to help the Bulls grab 16. And three Golden State players had at least four last Sunday, when the Warriors finished with 18.
â€œWe just have to have more of a sense of urgency on that end and know that teams are going to start to come to the offensive glass now that we've given up a lot these last couple of games,â€ said Thunder forward Kevin Durant. â€œWe got to be disciplined and be ready to play from the beginning.â€
Bigger and better opponents and bad bounces explain some of the Thunder's problems. But OKC also has gotten out-hustled at times, evidenced by its early struggles rebounding opponents' missed free throws, and has suffered through lapses in its defensive principles.
â€œThe rebounding is the end result of the whole possession,â€ said forward Nick Collison. â€œSo if we can avoid a lot of breakdowns, it's easier because we can stick to our own man and box out when we know where they are. Whereas if two or three guys are having to help on a certain possession, it breaks down box outs.â€
In their 99-98 win over the Thunder on Nov. 28, the Rockets corralled 16 offensive rebounds. Houston, like Chicago last Monday, also benefited from having eight out of 10 players who played grab at least one offensive rebound. The Rockets have two players, forwards Luis Scola and Chuck Hayes, who average two or more offensive rebounds.
â€œThey're a great offensive rebounding team,â€ Durant said. â€œThey hurt us last game. But I think as wing players, we've got to do a better job of helping our bigs out. They're fighting to keep them off the glass. That's when we've got to come in and swoop them rebounds up.â€
Gasol's pivotal putback last spring demonstrated the importance of preventing offensive rebounds. The Thunder grabbed 11.7 offensive rebounds last season, ranking in the top 10. But this season, OKC has pulled down just 10.4 offensive rebounds, which through 23 games had helped opponents attempt more shots and outscore the Thunder.
â€œWe don't have that dominant rebounder. But we don't need that because everybody rebounds,â€ Brooks said. â€œWhen we're really engaged in what we do, I feel that we're always going to get the rebound.â€