Thunder coach Scott Brooks pinpointed three areas that he wants his team to focus on in this final stretch before beginning postseason play: weak side defensive help, good spacing and smart decisions on offense and taking care of the basketball.
“That's been a good trend of ours all season,” Brooks said. “A few years ago we led the league in turnovers. This year we're much better. But we still have some games that we kind of fall back into it.”
Before Friday's game, the Thunder had lowered its opponent points per game to a shade over 100 points. Its opponent field-goal percentage had fallen to 45.9 percent.
The Thunder ranked just 23rd in the league in assists at 20.4 per game but ranked 14th in turnovers at 13.9 per game.
HOT AT THE RIGHT TIME
Much has been made about the Thunder's 14-2 record in March, which marked the best record in franchise history for any month. But Brooks and the players are focused on keeping the momentum going into the last handful of regular season games and especially the postseason.
“We played good basketball the month of March, there's no question about that,” Brooks said. “Our record shows that. We're defending. We're moving the ball. We had some favorable scheduling. The home stand helped. And April gets tougher. But going into the playoffs, we definitely want to keep playing well. We're not where we want to be. This is not a complacent group of guys.”
PERKINS SHOWING PROGRESS AT THE LINE
After going 5-for-6 from the foul line Wednesday at Phoenix, center Kendrick Perkins might have stumbled upon the key to better free throw shooting.
“I probably just needed to get away from the crib for a minute and get on the road and try a new basket,” Perkins joked.
Maybe there's something to it.
Perkins went 3-for-15 during the Thunder's six-game home stand. His hot shooting at Phoenix bumped his free throw rate to 12 of 25 before Friday's game at Portland. Suns coach Alvin Gentry attempted to dig his team out of a 15-point hole with five minutes remaining by intentionally fouling Perkins and putting the career 60-percent foul shooter at the line. But Perkins made the Suns pay.
Perkins made his first attempt before missing his second. But his first make cleared a mental block and allowed him to calmly make his last four attempts.
“I just needed to see one go in since I've been struggling,” Perkins said. “Once I (saw) one go in, I kind of got a little rhythm.”
Perkins laughed off Gentry's strategy. Brooks welcomed it.
“I like that strategy because it gives us two free throws. We don't have to work for it,” Brooks said. “I believe guys are going to step up and make them …(Perkins) hasn't shot the ball well from the line, but he has good form and he's working on it.”
The Thunder's coaching staff has worn lapels on their suit jackets each time the team has faced the Blazers this season. The lapel, the No. 20, is in honor of former NBA player Maurice Lucas, who died last year after a long bout with bladder cancer.
“He was a great ambassador to not only the city of Portland but to the NBA,” Brooks said. “He's missed by many. We're just showing our respect.”