OKC Thunder should channel same energy they use vs. top tier against Rockets

OKC Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) shoots the ball as Rockets forward KJ Martin (6) defends: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
OKC Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) shoots the ball as Rockets forward KJ Martin (6) defends: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /

A constant of this season for this young OKC Thunder squad has been the professionalism they’ve demonstrated regardless of the team lined up across from them.

Scan the records of the teams with losing records and a common denominator jumps off the page – they lose to the good teams!

There are some exceptions in the mix like the Magic. When they aren’t throwing down WWE style they’ve shocked a few of the upper echelon.

For example, Orlando owned the best team in the league taking the season series 3-1 versus Boston. They also swept their two-game series versus the  Warriors and beat the Clippers in overtime.

OKC Thunder needs to play Houston Rockets like they do elite teams

But, of all the teams with losing records, the OKC Thunder have undeniably performed the best against the upper tier with a 15-19 record. Sure, they are under .500 but for perspective, the defending champions are 15-16 against the winning teams.

Moreover, OKC has beaten the majority of winning teams at least once except the Bucks, Heat, Warriors, and Kings with five games still to play against the latter two. That includes ‘W’s against six of the eight teams residing in the top four seeds and multiple wins versus the Clippers, Mavericks, and Blazers.

Against the sub .500 tier and tankers, the Thunder are 9-7.  Of those seven losses, two were against the Pelicans who only recently slid below .500 (injuries have ravaged the Pels).

The other five losses mark the oddity of the Thunder season. Four of OKC’s losses are against three of the bottom four seeds. Worse — two of those are against the cellar-dwelling Rockets.

If the Thunder brought the same aggressiveness and intensity they’ve used to beat the cream of the crop to the hardwood against the tankers they’d be winning in routs.

They’ll have a chance to show they can adapt quickly and learn lessons from their mistakes as they face the Rockets again tonight.

Following Wednesday, although OKC dropped to 13th, (technically tied with the Lakers in 12th) they are still very much in the mix to move up.

Three games still separate the 10 teams seeded fourth through 13th. And proving the point of how quickly a team can ascend or plummet, the Warriors who were fifth Wednesday are now ninth and the Pelicans have dropped under the play-in bracket.

On top of the tanking aspect of the Rockets, the Thunder enters this match with more than lessons learned. To wit, the Thunder have the rest advantage as the Rockets played (and lost) on Friday and also had to travel.

Presumably, Houston will be shorthanded again since Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. didn’t play again Friday (they hadn’t submitted an injury update as of posting).

It’s also unlikely Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will shoot 7 of 21 again especially since he’s likely still riding a high from the news he’ll be a first-time All-Star!

You’ll recall prior to Wednesday’s match I suggested keeping an eye on  Alperen Sengun (10 points 12 rebounds) and Tari Eason (20 points, 13 rebounds) who lived up to their billing as the two Rockets that collected double-doubles.

Expect Mark Daigneault to have a specific game plan to address those two individuals tonight.  The tip is set for 8:00 p.m. (7:00 CT) at the Paycom Center.

Let’s do it Thunder Nation!

A cautionary tale for the OKC Thunder and developing teams. dark. Next