OKC Thunder discover inner road warrior in Orlando- 3 takeaways

Dennis Schroder #17 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Dennis Schroder #17 of the Oklahoma City Thunder (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The OKC Thunder hit Orlando without two starters but didn’t miss a beat registering their 26th win of the season. Three takeaways highlight the win.

The last time the OKC Thunder beat the Rockets they suffered an emotional let down in their next match losing to the Lakers. Despite being undermanned in Orlando this Thunder squad who is constantly displaying growth made sure not to repeat the same mistake capturing yet another victory for their 26th this season.

Generally, teams don’t shoot as well on the road and with the club missing two starters and top defenders combined with the defensive identity of the Magic this game presumed to be a defensive battle.

Well, from the tip it was anything but especially for the Thunder who shot a ridiculously efficient 60.5 percent field goal percentage, 47.4 percent from deep and 82.6 percent from the charity stripe. Previous seasons of inefficient shooting particularly from the free throw line seem so far removed its unfathomable this club used to struggle shooting.

Case in point the team who boasted two superstars in 2018-19 shot 45.4 percent from the field and 71.3 from the line. This year they’re shooting 46.9 percent from the field and 79.7 percent from the stripe. Although the team hasn’t demonstrated a leap in perimeter shooting they also don’t force those shot attempts which makes them a more efficient shooting team on a whole.

Fundamentally there is so much to like about the Thunder who also unlike previous seasons have maintained their defensive prowess but for the first time in many seasons have cemented an offensive identity.

Without Steven Adams or Terrance Ferguson, the club rallied with Nerlens Noel and Luguentz Dort filling in admirably.

In review of the win, a few key takeaways stood out…

Road Warriors:

Wipe away the early season and the OKC Thunder is one of the league’s top teams. Prior to Thanksgiving (November 26th) the club held a 6-10 record and had a single win in seven road games.

Since then the team boasts one of the league’s best records. Comparatively, they are 20-9 overall since Thanksgiving and 11-3 on the road. Quite a turnaround.

In fact, looking at the teams who excel on the road the only teams with records above .500 on the road are seeded clubs. In the East only four clubs have winning road records the Bucks (18-4), Raptors (14-7), Celtics (11-9) and Pacers (12-11). Notably, the latter two teams are barely above .500 while the Bucks and Raptors are comfortably over the mark and emulating their efforts of last season.

The West has more squads who excel on the road including the Lakers (19-4), Mavericks (14-5), Nuggets (13-8), Jazz (14-10), Rockets (12-9) while both the Clippers and Thunder have a 12-10 road record. Considering six of those 10 Thunder losses came in the first month of the season it highlights their growth.

Then factor in this 12th road victory (as well as the 11th) came with the team missing two starters.

Balanced Scoring:

One fact that is shining through for the Thunder is they are a very difficult team to game plan for. Entering the match Danilo Gallinari was scorching hot having delivered an average of 25.3 points on 48.9 percent from the field through the last six contests. Gallo’s perimeter shooting was off the charts as he’d hit 25 deep balls in this period for 50 percent and was averaging 6.8 free throw attempts and connecting at a 95.8 percent efficiency.

While the high bar shooters aim for is the 50-40-90 mark the irony was the Italian shooting just shy of the 50 percent field goal percentage but connecting at that rate from deep.

That he was off in the match in Orlando didn’t faze the Thunder who boast arguably an indefensible trio of guards who each individually can win the game for OKC.

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On this night it was Dennis Schroder who became the x-factor tying his season-high of 31 points for the third time this season. Schroder pitched in nine assists which highlights his growth within this new role.

Chris Paul tends to do whatever is necessary whether that be leading the team in scoring early (like he did in Houston) or ensuring the victory late like he has so many times this season.

Sophomore Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is feasting as the rising star and like Paul serves up whatever an individual game may need.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander rapid ascent:

As I noted in the grades SGA had two double-double performances through a full season in LA and 28 games of this campaign. On January 13th, Gilgeous-Alexander delivered his incredible inaugural triple-double of 20 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 rebounds.

The Thunder has played five games since then and through the last three, he’s put up three consecutive double-double performances versus the Blazers, Rockets, and Magic. He’s growing by leaps and bounds on a game to game basis and the sky seems to be the only ceiling for this young rising star.

Next on the itinerary, the Thunder will host the Atlanta Hawks Friday who arrives fresh off an upset win over the Clippers.

Next. Power rankings week 13: Halfway mark, Thunder hold steady. dark

Notably, the Rockets ended their four-game losing skid against a Nuggets club missing three starters and two core contributors. Therefore OKC doesn’t make up any ground on Houston despite the win in Orlando.