Sustaining Habits in Transition into Regular Season
In the NBA, practicing well typically means playing well. After the work the Thunder has put in thus far in October, it hopes that adage rings true throughout the season.
The key for any team, not just Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club, is to build habits early and then sustain them throughout the season. By setting the bar for work ethic and performance years ago when the team first arrived in Oklahoma City, the Thunder can continue to elevate its play with each day’s work. On Monday the Thunder completed one of its final practices before its first regular season game of the year, which comes on Oct. 30th in Salt Lake City against the Utah Jazz.
“We went pretty hard today,” Brooks said. “We wanted to really continue to put our identity in place, which is to play physical, tough-minded basketball… We take pride in how we play. We’ve had a good identity the last five years, but I think our guys have to understand that we can never relax, because that’s how we have to play.”
Transitioning from training camp where habits and routines are being formed and reinforced into the regular season is a subtle one, but it is imperative that once the games count, the Thunder doesn’t lose sight of its principles. Team leaders like Kevin Durant have guided the squad over the past five seasons in Oklahoma City, so there is experience behind his belief that by committing each day to the teams core tenets of unified defense, unselfish offense and pushing tempo, the squad can be successful over 82 games.
“Repetition is going to help us throughout a game, throughout the season,” Durant explained. “If we continue to do it, it’s going to be natural for us. That’s what the coaches are doing a great job of, making sure we know the basics of our offense and our defense. That translated into the preseason games. We have to build into the regular season.”
The physical reps at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center are key, but equally critical are the mental reps in the film room and the mental toughness that is required to not cut corners through highs and lows. Staying constantly vigilant is how this Thunder team can maintain its habits, stay sharp and avoid the natural slippage that occurs throughout the challenging NBA schedule. At the end of each day during the regular season, the Thunder wants to look at its performance and see its identity of team basketball and continued improvement oozing out of the game tape.
“It’s always building on what we believe in,” Brooks said. “We’ve set the standard of playing hard every night, not taking a night off.
“We still have to continue to get better,” Brooks continued. “Basketball is a game where you have to keep learning no matter how old you are and how long you’ve been together as a group.”
With one more practice on Tuesday before the Thunder’s plane takes off for Utah, the team is chomping at the bit for its first opportunity to play an external opponent in a game that counts in the standings. In the meantime, all 14 men on the roster are competing for playing time and finding ways to contribute to the team, even if it is only on the practice floor, in the film room or by staying ready. After a month-long training camp that featured a trip to Europe and seven preseason tilts, this close-knit Thunder squad is gearing up for game day, hoping that all of its work to this point will be replicated on the floor come Wednesday.
“We’ve put in a lot of work and we’re all just excited to start,” Durant said. “We’re looking forward to our first game and trying to start this thing off right.”