Sustaining Habits in Preparation for Jazz

Every night in the NBA is another chance to build the necessary habits to be successful come playoff time.

Tonight as the Thunder takes on the Utah Jazz in the division rivals’ third meeting of the season, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club will be not focused on the fact that it has won eight of its last ten games or its recent loss to the San Antonio Spurs. It will be on the task at hand. The NBA season moves to quickly to dwell on the past. As a result, team leaders like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, along with young members of the rotation like Reggie Jackson, use each practice, shoot-around and game as a way to build habits to create consistency on both ends of the floor.

“I think we’re happy for another opportunity to play and we’re hopeful to get a win,” Jackson said. “We’re going to do everything in our power. Most importantly, we’re going to focus on ourselves and try to make the right plays defensively and offensively. We’ll just be aggressive and make the other team worry about us.”

While there is always a scouting report for each opponent, Brooks’ squad is intent on being self-aware above all. Understanding your own play and being able to identify which areas of your own team’s performance need improvement is much more important, over the long haul, than any particular game-planning against an opponent. Specifically, the Thunder wants to hone its habits on the offensive and defensive ends so that when it gets down to crunch time, those are the things it relies upon.

“Running our offense hard and communicating on defense,” Jackson explained when asked what areas the Thunder focused on in this morning’s shoot-around. “Most importantly getting to our spots early and everybody communicating. Getting into our sets and playing hard and being aggressive.”

Clearly the Thunder is focused mostly on itself, and during development days and practice days that is the vast majority of the emphasis. On game-days, however, there is certainly time to scout the opponent to make sure everyone is aware of the details that will be important throughout the game.

The Jazz have a reputation for being an inside-dominate team, which is backed up by its 60 percent shooting inside of five feet from the hoop. However, as Brooks and Jackson explained on Wednesday morning, the Thunder must also worry about point guard Mo Williams and sharp-shooter Randy Foye.

“We’re definitely going to have to control the paint, the inside and their layup game,” Brooks said. “They take a lot of pride on getting layups and getting points around the paint. We can’t let Foye have a monster three-point shooting night. Same thing with Mo Williams. He’s able to do that. We can’t allow that to happen."

So there is a dichotomy with regards to how the Thunder prepares each day, but the duality exists in harmony with one another. If the Thunder takes care of its own responsibilities and making sure that it plays up to the standards that have been set over the past five years, it’s specific, opponent-based preparation will come naturally. Durant and veterans like Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins have said not only this season but last year as well that it is those habits that create sustained success over time.

Doing things the right way every day, whether it be at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center or at Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Thunder will be better off if it continues on its current path. Instead of wavering or over-reacting in either direction, the Thunder keeps a steady hand on the wheel, guiding itself to gradual improvement.

“It’s a staple that we’ve talked about and we build our team on every day, our habits,” Brooks said. “That’s why we can never get too down on tough losses or high on amazing wins. You have to just stay level. By doing that, you just work on your principles every day and work on your foundation every day.”

“Our guys take pride in it and they’ve done a good job with it,” Brooks continued. “Nothing is going to change, we’re always going to do that. That’s what gets this team going in the right direction.”