Thunder look to attack basket vs. slumping Suns

Nov 10, 2018; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews (23) guards Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George (13) during the second half at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Even without Russell Westbrook on the floor for a big chunk of the early part of the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder have found ways to be successful offensively — usually by attacking the basket.

That went away for a period of Saturday’s 111-96 loss to Dallas and a day later, Thunder coach Billy Donovan emphasized offensive aggressiveness with his team.

“You’ve got to put some pressure at the basket,” Donovan told reporters. “If you’re not putting any pressure at the basket, I think it’s really difficult to have a good offensive night because there’s no threat to go to the rim — everybody’s just kind of spread out, staying at home.”

Oklahoma City isn’t likely to have Westbrook back Monday when it hosts the Phoenix Suns at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Westbrook was listed as being out for the game, which would be his fourth consecutive game out since suffering a sprained left ankle late in the Nov. 5 win over New Orleans.

The emphasis on attacking is especially important for the Thunder, who at 28.8 percent are last in the league in three-point shooting.

Without Westbrook, the Thunder have had to lean heavily on backup point guards Dennis Schroder and Raymond Felton to generate offense, with mixed results.

Schroder scored 19 points but was just 8 of 21 from the floor with three assists against the Mavericks while Felton was just 3 of 12 for seven points.

“Sometimes the ball just doesn’t fall for you,” Felton said.

The Suns are trying to pick up their first road win after dropping the season’s first five, including one in Oklahoma City on Oct. 28.

Phoenix coach Igor Kokoskov wants more aggressiveness out of the first overall pick in last summer’s draft, center Deandre Ayton.

“It’s a challenge, but the challenge should give him confidence in a way he should become aggressive and try to execute game play,” Kokoskov told reporters Sunday, referencing Saturday night’s loss at New Orleans and Anthony Davis.

“I think he was too passive to start the game. It’s a psychological moment, which is understandable. He’s a rookie playing against an All-Star, but I think he’s better than that in terms of being aggressive, being himself and just playing.”

While Ayton won’t have a player quite Davis’ caliber to worry about Monday, Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams can put pressure on opposing centers.

Ayton, who is averaging 16.1 points and 10.9 rebounds, said he didn’t quite agree with Kokoskov’s assessment.

“I don’t know what he means by that,” Ayton said. “To me, I’m all about a rhythm. I’m a rhythm-type of player. I don’t hunt shots down. That’s not my play style. My play style is teammates know where I want the ball and really feeling out the game.”

One way or another, the Suns need to find a way to generate more offense. Phoenix, which has lost three straight games, is last in the NBA in offensive rating, scoring 100.1 points per 100 possessions. Phoenix hasn’t been much better one defense, allowing 113 points per 100 possessions.