How Thunder defensive dynamo Lu Dort is preparing for Luka, Kyrie

How Thunder defensive dynamo Lu Dort is preparing for Luka, Kyrie

The Mavs superstars will be a handful, but Dort has been scouting for a week. Said Mark Daigneault: “We try to weaponize him against every team.”

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| May 6, 2024, 6:00am CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

May 6, 2024, 6:00am CDT

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Mark Daigneault and his coaching staff didn’t start digging into the Thunder’s matchup with the Mavericks until practice Sunday.

The Thunder head coach said he didn’t want to dump too much too soon on the players.

Lu Dort wasn’t willing to wait.

“Yeah, knowing that I was gonna play either one of those two teams,” he said of the Mavs and Clippers, “I was prepping on my matchup on both teams.”

That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s watched Dort defend.

He’s always ready to go.

As the Thunder prepares to begin the Western Conference semifinals on Tuesday night, no player will need to be on his game more than Dort. The Mavs have two of the best scorers in basketball in Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. Dort can’t guard two people at once, but whoever he’s on, you can bet he’ll be ready.

“I’ve been going against (them), playing them a couple of times since I’ve been in the league,” Dort said, “so it’s gonna be a fun experience.”


Fun guarding Luka, who, at a beefy 6-foot-7, 230 pounds, can bully his way to creating his own shots, getting to the free throw line or feeding the ball to teammates?

Fun guarding Kyrie, who does the same things as Luka but in a smaller, more elusive body?

Dort seems to have a different definition of fun than most people. But in the end, he is usually the one making life less-than-fun for opponents. Thunder fans have seen it for years, but the basketball world sat up and took notice of Dort’s one-on-one defense during the Thunder’s sweep of the Pelicans.

The poor, unfortunate soul in that series, of course, was Brandon Ingram. 

His series shooting percentage, largely with Dort guarding him: 34.5%

His series scoring average: 14.3 points.

Hard to believe Dort will hold Luka or Kyrie in check like that, but Dort relishes the challenge of this series. When he talked Sunday about all the ball screens the Mavs are known to set in hopes of springing Luka and Kyrie, you could almost see a twinkle in Dort’s eye.

“It’s gonna happen where you get hit,” he said, “but the main thing is just to try to get through.

“It’ll be a physical series.”

But physicality is what Dort spends much of his offseason preparing for. Yes, he spends a lot of time on the basketball court, but he also crosstrains with jiu-jitsu and boxing.

Hand-to-hand combat.

“I feel like it’s a good mental thing for me,” Dort said, “knowing that I’m going to war every night against whoever I’m guarding.”

At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Dort can matchup with just about anyone. Agile enough to hang with guards. Big enough to tussle with forward. Tough enough to handle just about any player in the league.

Now, don’t misunderstand: Dort is more than a physical force. 

Being as dominating as he is defensively takes a great deal of preparation. Dort pulled the curtain back a bit Sunday on how he prepares. He watches video on all the possessions he’s had against an opposing player, then he expands to watching that player against other teams.

“What they’ve been doing against some other tough defenders and other teams and how they get going, what they like, what they don’t like and all that,” Dort said.

I asked Dort about the mix that is needed to be a great defender. How much is physical, how much is mental and how much is tenacity?

“It really depends on the player,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s being physical. Sometimes, it’s knowing different stuff.

“It’s always something different.”

Is there an ingredient that is most important?

“The thing I couldn’t do without?” Dort said. “The physicality is the biggest one.”

Anyone who’s watched Dort defend knows that he doesn’t lack physicality, and that plus all of his other defensive skills will be needed against the Mavericks.

“We’re gonna need everybody,” Daigneault said. “It’s going to have to be a five-man defense as it always is against good teams.”

But …

“We try to weaponize him against every team,” Daigneault said of Dort. 

Seems as though Dort has spent the past week sharpening his blades.

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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