Monday, January 18, 2010

Five things Tulsa has to work on this week before heading to the Dakotas

Tulsa 66ers head coach Nate Tibbetts told me after Sunday afternoon’s loss to Erie that his team needed to return to the gym this week and find their chemistry. The 66ers did look to be in a bit of a funk this weekend, which certainly didn’t help as a tough Erie team came to town for a double-header. Erie left town with two wins in two games and Tulsa was left scratching its collective head to figure out exactly what happened.

In my opinion, five things contributed to the two losses this weekend … and they are things that Tulsa will need to correct before heading to the Dakotas for a pair of games this weekend.

1. Chemistry. Coach Tibbetts is right … the team just didn’t seem like the team that won six games in eight outings heading into the Erie series. The home games against Austin and Erie were the first time all season that Tulsa had played without an Oklahoma City Thunder assignee, and it certainly appeared that the team missed the presence of D.J. White (and/or Byron Mullens) this weekend. Chris Richard was signed on Thursday and thrust into action, but he has some more work to do to become the Chris Richard who was an All-Star game selection for Tulsa last season before his injury. Whether it’s learning the Thunder offense or blending in with almost completely different players from last year, Richard needs to be more of a force this weekend in the Dakotas. A Tulsa team with a strong inside presence is a better Tulsa team.

2. Injuries. Tulsa played Sunday afternoon’s game against Erie with just seven players. With big men DeVon Hardin and Steven Hill unavailable (actually Hill is not currently on the roster, but you sense he could be brought back any time), Erie certainly seemed to have its way on the boards at critical moments. Also, Cecil Brown’s groin injury on Saturday night was huge. Brown is one of Tulsa’s best clutch shooters, and he and his 13.5 points per game average was certainly missed. Zabian Dowdell was dressed and sat the bench on Sunday for unspecified reasons, taking away another 66ers playmaker.

3. Shooting. There will be times that shots just won’t fall, and that’s what happened this weekend. Credit a strong Erie defense for an all-around solid game on both days, but Tulsa had its chances both days to come away with a victory. The shots just wouldn’t drop in the end, even though Mustafa Shakur and Larry Owens both had good looks at the basket for game-tying 3-pointers on Sunday.

4. The killer instinct. Both games this weekend, Tulsa took a fourth-quarter lead and had a chance to deliver a knockout punch, but couldn’t hit the shot, get the rebound, or make the pass when it had to do it. It’s the first time this season that Tulsa had been out of synch when it had the opportunity to take the game away from the opposition. The 66ers have to rediscover how to make the critical plays in critical situations this weekend. Some of it comes from confidence, and a frustrated Tulsa team seemed to have its confidence shaken at times this weekend.

5. Individual defense. The 66ers and the parent Thunder are emphatic about defense, and there were times that it just wasn’t there this weekend. Tulsa needs to rediscover its defensive intensity and play the solid man defense that has been lacking at times in the last four games dating back to the Utah win at the D-League Showcase in Boise. I have a feeling Coach Tibbetts will remind his players of that this week in practice.

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