April 19, 2014
Starting the Series Strong

The long, winding 82-game regular season is over. Now, it’s Playoff time.

With a chance to get the postseason started on the right foot with a home game at Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Thunder is fully prepared for its Round One matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies. With a mental and physical practice and film session on Friday, then Saturday morning’s self-focused shoot-around, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ squad is chomping at the bit to get Game One started tonight. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook look to lead a balanced group of veterans and young players, including the likes of Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson and Caron Butler, into a tough, physical battle tonight. Saturday morning’s shoot-around gave the Thunder an opportunity to get one more final lesson plan in before tip-off.

“We’ve had a lot of preparation and are just ready to play,” Butler said. “We’re tired of beating up on each other. It’s time to get an opponent in front of us and see where everything lies.”

“(Shoot-around) was more about us than anything, just making sure we know the rotations, the scheme and the game plan,” Butler explained. “Knowing where our opportunities are going to come from, trying to have a little foresight on the situation and understand what they’re trying to take away from us and what to be prepared and be ready for.”

One of the biggest topics of conversation with the Thunder over the past two days has been whether or not Memphis’ defense will load up on Durant and Westbrook with multiple defenders when they have the ball in their hands. If so, the Thunder is equipped with safety valves in Ibaka and Butler, who knock down shots from all over the floor. Ibaka’s mid-range game and work at the elbows in the pick-and-roll give Durant and Westbrook a nice outlet to pass to when double-teamed.

“(Ibaka) has confidence in himself and trust in his work,” Durant said. “He knocks those shots down. We all learned from last year mentally what it takes every possession to win a series. We’ll be alright. We just have to keep playing together on both ends of the floor.

Defensively, Ibaka will be an essential cog in the Thunder’s game plan as well. Memphis’ bigs Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph do a lot of the heavy lifting for the Grizzlies in the paint, so the Thunder’s bigs will have to contain that duo. Perimeter defense against Mike Conley, Courtney Lee and Mike Miller will also be essential, as Butler and Durant explained after the Thunder’s heavy film work on the Grizzlies over the past few days. Both teams know what the other wants to do, so the series will come down to whether the Thunder can out-execute Memphis on both ends of the floor.

“Their cuts are like an assist because when they cut, they create lanes for Gasol and Conley and Zach Randolph to shadow a lane so they can drive to the basket or get a second to play one-on-one basketball,” Butler said. “They’re clever in how they do it.”

“We know these guys and we have a history with these guys,” Durant said. “They do the same stuff. They’re consistent with their play. They play hard and are physical.”