Feb 20, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook (0) congratulates Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) after a made shot against the Miami Heat during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

How much should the OKC Thunder be concerned following Miami Heat loss?

I could come up with just one positive to take away from the Thunder’s 103-81 home loss to the Miami Heat Thursday night. I thought Perry Jones once again looked like a viable option for the Thunder when it comes to defending LeBron James. Russell Westbrook was explosive at times, which is of course good to see. Despite the Thunder playing one of their worst overall games of the season, they are so talented that there was still potential for a comeback until just a few minutes were left in the game.

Other than that, we saw what looked like the 2012 NBA Finals. LeBron, who has been playing at the highest level he has all season the three games leading up to Thursday night, was super confident, hitting his jump shot, anticipating every move by Kevin Durant and doing everything else that he does so well.

The Thunder offense became stagnant against Miami’s blitzing defense. The Thunder turned the ball over 20 times, many of which were live-ball turnovers leading to fast break points for Miami. The Thunder couldn’t bail themselves out like the first time when they played the Heat with hot shooting. They went just 2-for-20 from three. Durant was human, Serge Ibaka was off, Jeremy Lamb went 0-for-6 from three and Westbrook didn’t hit a jumper all night. Far too often OKC went to post up/isolate Durant on the baselines. Miami always knew it was coming, did a great job defending the entry passes and Durant rarely scored in those spots, nor was he able to find open shooters when doubles came.

There was a lot working against the Thunder tonight to be fair. This was their first game in exactly one week. That’s a long time off and Miami had just played two nights ago at Dallas, a win in which LeBron went for 42. Westbrook was back for the first time since Christmas. He was rusty with his handle, had a few bad turnovers and wasn’t shooting as well as he normally can. So it wasn’t a perfect situation for OKC but there are still legitimate reasons to worry after this loss. You can worry because Miami is one of two teams in the Eastern Conference that the Thunder would see in the NBA Finals. And the Thunder just do not play well in this matchup.

The Thunder run a lot of basic things on offense. There are some clever wrinkles to some of these sets and they do play to the strengths of their two stars, but what the Thunder do offensively is very predictable. When you’re predictable against a team like Miami, that is a bad combination. Miami and San Antonio are probably the two savviest and smartest teams in the league. So the Heat are essentially prepared for every move the Thunder makes in the halfcourt. The Thunder can overcome this by making tough shots (something they are capable of), getting offensive rebounds (they didn’t do that last night) and having Westbrook and Durant create offense out of nothing (not a lot of that last night either).

A big reason why the Thunder won the first time they played Miami was that they did not have to rely on their halfcourt offense too much. They made 16 three-pointers and got plenty of fast break chances from Miami’s 20-plus turnovers. Last night, the Thunder didn’t shoot well and turned the ball over more than Miami, so there was no advantage there either.

The Thunder can make up for their deficiencies in their halfcourt offense with great defense, too. OKC is third in the NBA in defensive efficiency this season, but you wouldn’t have guessed that if you only watched them last night. The breakdowns defensively stemmed from mental lapses to poor fundamentals. It was pretty embarrassing really. There were instances of not blocking out, biting on pump fakes (which is a result of being out of position and being lazy) and ball watching and losing one’s man. This was the most uncharacteristic aspect of the Thunder last night and an area that we can expect would be less of a problem on a night-to-night basis and especially in a playoff series.

In terms of the rotation, Kendrick Perkins does not belong on the floor against Miami. This is common knowledge and if you don’t see this, you need to be checked into a mental institute. He played the first five minutes of the game and OKC was outscored by 10 in that time. He was minus-13 in five minutes vs. Miami back on Jan. 29. If he hadn’t played in the 2012 Finals, you can easily make the case that the Thunder would have swept the Heat. This is a regular season game and I get Brooks not wanting to change up the starting lineup. I do think he would be willing to bench Perkins in a series so overall, this is not a big reason to be worried.

The Thunder were playing catch-up right from the tip so it’s hard to gauge a lot of what happened the rest of the game. Jones did a good job against LeBron again. Derek Fisher didn’t make any shots and therefore ended up being pretty useless. Reggie Jackson will start to get more comfortable again with the second unit and he will be a force to be reckoned with whenever he comes in the game. Nick Collison needs to play more in this matchup. He’s the smartest big OKC has defensively and the defense is so much more solid when he’s out there. Again, less Perkins can help achieve this.

You can’t expect the Thunder to overhaul what they’re doing just because of this one matchup. Against the rest of the league, OKC is absolutely fine with what they typically do. If they’re healthy, they really should finish with the best record in the league and get to the NBA Finals.

The emphasis to learn from this game will undoubtedly be on the defensive end for Brooks and his staff. That’s a good thing. The Thunder can overcome where they are lacking simply with a better defensive effort. That alone might put them in a position to win last night in a game where LeBron was unconscious for the most part.

There’s not a huge feeling of panic necessary for OKC right now. Westbrook’s return will only make this team better. They’ll finish out the season strong and be the top seed in the playoffs. You can’t ask for much more from a team.

Miami proves that the Thunder still have a lot to learn, which really is scary. The Thunder’s ceiling is still not being met. We know this team is full of some of the hardest working players in the league and the closer they get to that ceiling, the closer they’ll get to a championship, which very well may be coming their way this season.

Tags: Oklahoma City Thunder

  • “A Reasonable Person”

    I totally disagree with your assessment. Miami’s defensive strategy last night was very obvious and exposed the Thunder’s achilles heel. Thunder’s half court offense is too one dimensional, too predictable and too dependent on jump shots and three’s. There is no offense from the post or the box. Miami out rebounded the Thunder, limited the fast break opportunities, made it a half court game, doubled Durant, pressured the jump shooters and Thunder shooters went cold under the pressure. In a seven game play-off series, that’s how other teams will play the Thunder and beat them. Miami coaches watched film of last game against Thunder and made adjustments for this game. Thunder coaches made no adjustments. But then, Scott Brooks, in my opinion is not very good with strategy and the mental aspects of the game; he relies on his team physically out performing the other team. For example, strategically, last night, Brooks should have anticipated that the return of Westbrook into the starting line up was going to disrupt the team chemistry which had developed since Westbrook’s absence. Westbrook should have come off the bench and gradually been re-inserted into the flow of the game. Brooks has got to be a better coach of the mental and strategic aspects of the game.

    But, even if OKC makes it to the Finals, which I doubt (but very much hope they will), Miami will not win the East; Indiana is the Beast of the East and will win the Eastern Conference. Larry Bird, on a budget just as tight as OKC, is preparing to win a Championship by picking up Bynum and Evan Turner (two very smart moves). Bird trusts his Coach and his team to manage and control Bynum. OKC has done NOTHING to improve themselves; did nothing last summer and did nothing before the trade deadline. Everyone keeps boasting that Presti is such a great GM, but Bird is running circles around Presti. And Clay Bennet has got to loosen the financial resources and get the human resources necessary to win a Championship. At a minimum, OKC needs to go after Glen Davis. The only contribution Perkins makes is to set some very good picks for KD. Davis can set those picks and get more rebounds and points than Perkins and pose some offensive threat which will open things up a bit. Presti needs to trust his Coach and his team to manage and control Glen Davis on and off the court and should improve his team by adding Davis. Then, the Thunder will have a better chance of winning it all.

    • akennedy13

      I agree with most of what you are saying here and I guess I’m just a bit more optimistic. I’m not sure what exactly you are “totally” disagreeing with me on. It just seems you feel the Thunder are lacking with Brooks as a coach (nothing wrong with thinking that and I agree to an extent) and they aren’t making enough moves (I agree they are careful and Perkins is killing them, but I do think they have enough on the roster this season to win a title).

  • “A Reasonable Person”

    I hope you”re right and I’m wrong, because I really, really want the Thunder to win for sake of themselves, KD, Oklahoma City and the entire state of Oklahoma. I just don’t know if we have enough to go all the way, and I would like to see us do a little bit more to improve our chances. I want us to win it all.