Thursday night was quite the demoralizing loss for the Oklahoma City Thunder as the Miami Heat beat them on their home floor 110-100.
The Thunder had the same old problems that caused them to lose in the NBA Finals a season ago vs. the Heat. They fell behind early, couldn’t defend LeBron James or the spot-up shooters and couldn’t get any rhythm going on offense.
If these problems are something that cannot be fixed internally, the NBA trade deadline is coming up in less than a week.
What are the biggest issues for the Thunder when playing the Heat?
Matching up with LeBron and defending the spot-up shooters
Right now, the Thunder only have two players who can guard LeBron: Kevin Durant and Thabo Sefolosha. Neither does a spectacular job either. OKC could definitely try and find another body to throw on him.
They’d want someone versatile who can play the three and four positions. The Thunder need to be able to play more small lineups vs. the Heat because keeping up with all of the spot-up shooters is as big of a problem as any.
The Heat role players know they are going to get open looks all game long. If the Thunder can change this mindset by being able to match up better with them, it would go a long way.
The Thunder have consistently gotten out to very slow starts against the Heat over the past year. While the Thunder have one of the most efficient offenses in the NBA, it is mostly because of superior talent and the ability to overwhelm their opponents. They aren’t able to do that as much against the Heat and the predictability of their offense leaves them relying on third and fourth options more often or taking bad shots.
The starting unit of the Thunder is not their best offensive unit. They start those five for defensive purposes but against the Heat, they aren’t even able to be a force defensively because of the matchup problems.
The biggest problem is Kendrick Perkins. The Thunder essentially play four on five (or three on five if Thabo Sefolosha isn’t making shots) with their starters. This allows the Heat to double Durant on every catch and swarm Russell Westbrook.
Trading Perkins wouldn’t be easy and probably isn’t something the Thunder are planning to do but in this matchup with the Heat it would be very beneficial to try and find a different starting five.
Getting better shots
The Thunder are a team that generally knows what shots they are going to get every night. They’ve really improved in this area this year. A lot of the players have been together for awhile now and their chemistry has resulted in OKC having one of the bets offenses in the league.
The Heat take the Thunder out of their rhythm offensively. By doubling Durant and sometimes Westbrook, they force those two to try and become playmakers instead of scorers. They’ve gotten better at that this year but against the Heat have both failed to be effective getting their teammates involved.
This goes back to the weak starting five where Perkins and Sefolosha can essentially be ignored. If the Thunder could find some more offensive-minded players to surround Durant and Westbrook at the start of the game, it would go a very long way in keeping up with the Heat.
What trades are out there to fix these things?
The Thunder have not made any kind of impression that they are looking to make a trade at the deadline. The second loss to the Heat may change this mindset though.
The pieces the Thunder have most available to trade are Eric Maynor, Jeremy Lamb and draft picks. The other pieces the Thunder have that they should consider trading are Perkins, Sefolosha and Kevin Martin.
If the Thunder would consider trading those last three mentioned, then a player like Josh Smith could be acquired from the Atlanta Hawks.
Smith would perfectly fit in alongside Durant at forward and you could move Serge Ibaka to start at center. The Thunder could send draft picks, Lamb and Perkins/Martin to Atlanta to make this deal work.
The Hawks are looking to move Smith most likely because he wants a max contract after this season and Atlanta isn’t interested in giving him one.
The Thunder probably wouldn’t be able to give Smith max money either but a trade for Smith would immediately make the Thunder title favorites this year.
Paul Millsap is another player that would help the Thunder a lot. Starting him instead of Perkins would give OKC a lot more fire power on offense and they probably wouldn’t take much of a step back defensively either. Millsap is versatile enough to match up with the smaller Heat lineups better as well.
The Utah Jazz are looking for a backup point guard and the Thunder could send Maynor to them as part of this trade. The Thunder would probably have to include Perkins in a deal but could still make it worth Utah’s while by also including Lamb and draft picks.
J.J. Redick is another player that could help the Thunder tremendously. He’s not a great defender but his ability to spread the floor as a spot-up shooter would be very valuable for the Thunder. He would immediately help make the Thunder offense more effective against Miami.
The Thunder could close out games Westbrook-Redick-Martin-Durant-Ibaka. Offensively that lineup would be insane but it could be a big problem defensively.
There’s the idea of acquiring more athletic wing players to try and make the Thunder roster more versatile. We already went into depth about those kinds of players that may be out there who the Thunder could acquire.
Most likely scenario?
The Thunder probably aren’t going to make any big trade at the deadline. But after watching them against the Heat on Thursday night, it feels like they need to if they want to win it all this season.
By trading James Harden before the season, they gave themselves the ability to be more flexible in constructing their roster. It may already be time to take advantage of that by searching for a deal before Feb. 21.