The great thing about showdown games in the NBA is what they teach us. For instance, the Thunder’s 101-94 loss to the Lakers on Monday night at the Staples Center.
The Thunder’s chief problem this season has been defense. But the Thunder played decent defense Monday night. The Lakers shot 50 percent, but some of those were easy baskets by 7-footer Andrew Bynum, which the Thunder can’t do much about, and some tough shots by Kobe Bryant, which no one can do anything about.
So I had no problem with the Thunder defense. The offense was a different matter.
The Thunder fast break was superb; if we get another OKC-LA playoff series, we know what to expect. Russell Westbrook going full speed ahead, pushing, pushing, pushing.
But when the Thunder had to set up in a halfcourt offense, it struggled. TNT commentators spoke of it multiple times, and it was true. The Thunder stagnates when it has to set up.
Here are three suggestions to improve OKC’s halfcourt offense:
1. Post up Jeff Green. Green really is OKC’s only low-post threat, and while Green’s no Jabbar, he can score from the block. It’s tough to do against the Lakers, when Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom is guarding him, but still, putting Green on the low block would enable the Thunder to work some inside/outside rotations. Put Green on the low post more often.
2. Don’t resort to clearouts. Don’t resort to one-on-one play. Kevin Durant is his least effective when he goes one-on-one. No Boomer besides Westbrook is a great creator. Run offense. Motion. Pass the ball. Get Durant coming off screens. Get the defense moving, allowing cracks for James Harden and Green to drive, allowing open wing shots for Serge Ibaka and Nenad Krstic.
3. Play Eric Maynor and Westbrook together for a few minutes. Maynor basically backs up Westbrook, usually for a decent-length stretch per half. Monday night, Westbrook went the entire second half. But against Orlando last week, coach Scotty Brooks played them together, and it was an effective combination. In almost a 10 minutes of the third quarter and fourth quarter, the backcourt of Maynor and Westbrook helped the Thunder expand an 80-75 lead over the Magic to 110-102 by the time Maynor exited. Westbrook playing off the ball gives defenses a different look and adds an accomplished ballhandler and shooter to the lineup. You don’t want to play Westbrook away from the point too long, but against the right team and for limited stretches, it can be very effective.