Once an Achilles' heal for Oklahoma City's offense, zone defense now appear to be becoming less of a problem when opponents mix things up and throw the different look at the Thunder.
Several teams have tested the Thunder with stretches of zone defense over the past eight games, but the Thunder has largely responded well and shown an improved ability to score against zones. Thunder coach Scott Brooks credited his team's shooters, but he also his praised his players' decision-making and enhanced recognition to get into sets quickly, move the ball more and refrain from settling fro jumpers.
Against Portland on Sunday, the Thunder attacked the Blazers' periodic zone with crisp ball movement and spectacular shooting, going 11-for-18 from beyond the arc and piling up 24 assists.
“One of the things that we've talked about but haven't really been good at is really making extra passes when the clock has six seconds or less,” Brooks said. “I thought we had maybe three or four of them (Sunday). That's good growth for us, to continue to look for a good shot with a low clock.”
REGULAR MINUTES COMING SOON FOR SEFOLOSHA
Thabo Sefolosha is now three games into his return from a foot injury that cost him 23 consecutive games, and Brooks said he is close to giving his starting shooting guard his regular amount of playing time.
Brooks said he plans on keeping Sefolosha around 15 minutes for the next game or two before allowing him to log heavy minutes again.
Since returning, Sefolosha has averaged just 14 minutes and hasn't played more than 15 in any of his three appearances. In his first 17 games this season, Sefolosha averaged 21.5 minutes.
But Sefolosha has looked better in each game. He scored three points on 1-for-4 shooting in his return against Denver last Thursday, had five points on 2-for-4 shooting last Friday against San Antonio and capped his week with a very encouraging 11-point effort on 4-for-5 shooting, going 3-for-3 from downtown, with five rebounds and two assists Sunday against the Blazers.
“It's good that he's back with us,” Brooks said. “He just gives us a good energy, a good vibe. He has the toughness to stop most players on any given night at multiple positions. And he's been making the 3-point shot all season before he got hurt. We have confidence in his shot. He steps up and he has to take that shot and he believes in it.”
WESTBROOK CUTTING DOWN TURNOVERS
Russell Westbrook has been taking much better care of the basketball lately.
After averaging 4.2 turnovers in 34 games before All-Star Weekend, the Thunder's point guard is now averaging just 2.7 turnovers in 11 games since the break.
Westbrook has been even better in March, averaging just 2.3 turnovers in 10 games this month. Against the Blazers on Sunday, Westbrook played 35 minutes and didn't turn it over a single time, something he had not done all season. The last time Westbrook finished with zero turnovers was Dec. 25, 2010 against Denver, a streak of 95 regular season games.
THUNDER TERRIFIC AT BOUNCING BACK
Following Sunday's win over the Blazers, the Thunder moved to 10-1 in games after a loss. The only two-game losing streak of the year came back on Jan. 2 and Jan. 3 against Dallas and Portland, the sixth and seventh games of the season.
Asked the key to the team's success after losses, Westbrook said “just being more focused, especially when we're at home we know after a loss we got to come back and be ready to play.”
The Thunder will face Utah at 8 p.m. on Tuesday night at EnergySolutions Arena. It will be a brief one-game trip. The Thunder will return to Oklahoma City immediately after facing the Jazz and begin a three-game home stand on Wednesday.