Despite another missed opportunity to climb back to .500, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s wire-to-wire loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday offered a glimpse of their tenacity.
The Thunder trailed by as many as 20 points before clawing to within one possession in the waning moments of that 103-100 loss. It marked a seventh consecutive loss for the Thunder when facing an opportunity to square their record, and should the Thunder defeat the visiting Houston Rockets on Wednesday, they will have to wait until after the All-Star Game for another shot to reach .500 for the first time since Nov. 3.
“We’ve played good basketball, we’ve won some games recently and teams, they know they have to show up against us and that’s a good thing,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “We’re going to get heavier and heavier punches, and we need to understand the mentality of the opponent for that. The last four games I think we’ve done that pretty well so I don’t want to overreact to one. But at the same time, we’ve got to learn the lesson.”
The Thunder, who had won three of four prior to Monday’s setback against the Pelicans, nonetheless remain in the chase for a play-in tournament spot. Oklahoma City entered Tuesday one game in the loss column behind the Utah Jazz for 10th place in the Western Conference.
While the Thunder have struggled to get over the hump record-wise, their season-long development appears to be trending toward a potential playoff berth. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander earned his first All-Star Game nod, Josh Giddey continues to show signs as one of the most versatile guards in the league and rookie Jalen Williams has been a revelation.
The Rockets have dropped six consecutive games since defeating the Thunder at home 112-106 on Feb. 1. The trade deadline saw Houston ship out three members of its rotation in Eric Gordon, Garrison Mathews and Bruno Fernando, opening the door for an already young team to get even younger. The Rockets’ current rotation features only two players — forwards Jae’Sean Tate and Kenyon Martin Jr. — who have completed at least two seasons in the NBA.
Losing Gordon, whose 85 3-pointers ranked fourth on the team, makes an already dismal 3-point shooting team even worse. The Rockets are 29th in the NBA with a 32.7 percent from behind the arc. They missed 18 of 24 3-pointers in their 123-104 road loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday, and they remain without guard Kevin Porter Jr., who has been sidelined since mid-January with a foot injury and whose shot-creation ability is sorely missed.
“Our quality (of shots) is just OK and obviously we’re not making them,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “Guys are pressing, guys are feeling pressure when it comes to shooting the 3, it seems. A little tight when it comes to shooting them.
“We have one more game remaining before the break and hopefully we’ll get some confidence back when it comes to shooting. Shot creation is the thing I’m most concerned with, and we’ve got to do a better job with that.”
–Field Level Media