OKLAHOMA CITY — The Thunder are facing early adversity as the team travels to Orlando for a matchup against the Magic at 6 tonight.
Despite winning their season opener against the Hornets, the Thunder’s record stands at 1-3, and the team is coming off its first lopsided loss of the season — a 113-80 home defeat against the Pelicans on Thursday.
While the Pelicans seemingly scored at will, it was the Thunder’s offense that betrayed them in the second half. The team scored just 33 points in the final two frames, including seven points in the fourth quarter.
After the Thunder met the Magic at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Tuesday, losing 118-107, here are four keys to the Thunder avenging Tuesday’s loss:
1 Keep SGA in attack mode: While the Thunder struggled in several facets against the Pelicans, one obvious reason was a subpar outing from the Thunder point guard.
Gilgeous-Alexander finished with eight points and four assists on just 3 of 10 shooting, failing to score 20 or more points for the first time this season. Thursday also marked his lowest assist total this season.
During the previous Magic matchup, Gilgeous-Alexander saw constant double teams, particularly in the pick-and-roll. Gilgeous-Alexander responded with arguably his best game of the season, recording 23 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Despite his solid game on the stat sheet, it’s likely the Magic will again use double teams against Gilgeous-Alexander today to keep the ball out of his hands.
One thing is clear — the Thunder will have difficulty winning if he can’t find a rhythm offensively.
2Defense wins games: Two of the Thunder’s losses have been close, but the defense has been a significant issue.
The Thunder have given up 107 or more points in each game this season and are allowing 110.3 points-per-100 possessions, which ranks 17th in the league. The team also hasn’t been forcing turnovers, ranking 21st in steals with seven per game.
Most of the damage for the Thunder has come in the paint. They allow 54.5 points in the paint to opposing offenses, which ranks 28th in the NBA.
The Thunder have one of the league’s youngest rosters. There will be growing pains, but they have to shore up the defense and need to fast.
3 Stop Nikola Vucevic: The 2019 NBA All-Star absolutely torched the Thunder in their last matchup.
Vucevic led all scorers, finishing with 28 points to go with 10 rebounds and five assists on 12 of 18 shooting and three of four from the 3-point line.
Part of that might have been due to Thunder center Al Horford’s absence, which left sophomore Isaiah Roby with the bulk of the responsibilities.
Horford should be in the starting lineup today. Either way, the Thunder’s best chance to win is limiting Vucevic offensively.
4 Bazley needs rhythm: The last two games have not been kind to the Thunder’s sophomore forward.
After a solid start to the year, Bazley has struggled in the last two games. Against the Magic and Pelicans, Bazley combined for 13 points on just 5 of 20 shooting.
With much of last year’s roster gone, some saw Bazley as a candidate to fill the scoring void. If the Magic continue to trap Gilgeous-Alexander, OKC will need Bazley to be aggressive early and often.