HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Derek Fisher cannot fix all of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s problems right now.
The veteran point guard will certainly help shore up whatever deficiencies they have in their backcourt rotation. But Fisher doesn’t have what it takes to help the Thunder solve their problems in the middle.
There’s no need to panic or anything, but the Thunder have been beaten up a bit inside — at least in their last five losses — and that includes the thumping they took last night in Utah.
As talented, skilled and tough as Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison and the rest of the Thunder frontcourt crew is, they have been vulnerable against opposing frontcourt players this season.
— Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap ransacked them last night for 36 points and 11 rebounds.
— In their loss to the Spurs, Tim Duncan finished with 16 points and a season-high 19 rebounds while DeJuan Blair smoked them for 22 points and 11 rebounds.
— In a loss to the Rockets rookie Chandler Parsons and Luis Scola worked them for 39 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.
— Cleveland’s Antawn Jamison, Alonzo Gee and Ryan Hollins lit them up for 44 points and 22 rebounds.
— And the Hawks’ Josh Smith and Zaza Pachulia shredded them for 40 points, 26 rebounds and Smith’s highlight mash over Ibaka at the rim.
Ibaka is as good a shot blocker as there is in the league right now. And no one has ever questioned the toughness of Perkins or Collison. But outside of the scoring Kevin Durant provides from his hybrid small forward/shooting guard spot on a nightly basis, the Thunder do not possess ability to truly challenge opposing frontcourt players on the offensive end.
That’s means the nights that they match the other team’s production on both ends of the floor are far and few between. And that means a feeding frenzy when they face a team with two accomplished low-post scorers like Jefferson and Millsap. The Jazz recognized it and didn’t hide their intentions, according to Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune:
The Thunder have slowly but surely become very vulnerable to physical teams with the size and the depth to score and defend in the paint. As fate would have it, the Utah Jazz are one of those teams. For the entire game Tuesday night, the Jazz picked at that flaw like a scab, taking turns pounding the ball inside to Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, drawing fouls on Kendrick Perkins, and closing up the middle on Durant.
It was an all-around performance that bothered the Thunder. Perkins was seen talking to himself angrily during the loss. James Harden left the locker room in 10 minutes, headphones on, without so much as a word to the media.
“I thought the Jazz did a great job of playing physical basketball,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We knew going into this game that they were a physical team and that we had to match that. I thought they did a good job of winning that part of the game.”
The blueprint for playing with Oklahoma City is out: Score a bunch of paint points, don’t let the Thunder score a bunch of points on offensive rebounds, and try to force either Durant or Russell Westbrook to have a tough shooting night.
This isn’t news to the Thunder, of course. There is a reason they traded Jeff Green to Boston to get their hands on Perkins last year. They knew they needed some toughness down low. They know it takes more than just having two prodigious scorers go off every night to win a championship, they learned as much last season in the Western Conference finals when the Mavericks worked them over inside and out.
Again, we’re not suggesting anyone in Oklahoma City hit the panic button or anything. You’re 34-12 and atop the Western Conference standings for a reason.
But recognizing the problem is half the battle. Finding the tools to fix it is the other …