Road Practice a Chance to Learn from Game One

MINNEAPOLIS -- It was a late arrival in Minnesota for the Thunder after its opening night road victory against the Utah Jazz, but the team immediately hopped on the practice floor on Thursday afternoon to learn from its first game.

Facing two divisional opponents in the span of 48 hours is a compelling challenge for this Thunder squad that is still adjusting to new roles and a specific style of play that is tailored by Head Coach Scott Brooks for this group.

The afternoon’s two-and-a-half hours’ worth of work started with a healthy film session and then court drills, where the team tried to translate what it learned on tape into live action. The sign of a mature team is the ability to assess strengths and weaknesses and then be self-aware enough to determine what can be altered in order to get better results on the court.

“It was a good film session,” Brooks said. “After one game, you have to look at things that you did well and things that you could have done better. We’ve always been a team that wants to improve after games, whether it’s in the film room or on the practice floor. We try to get things accomplished each day. The film session showed a lot of things that we can get better at. We went on the practice floor and improved on those areas.”

Players young and old on this Thunder roster could glean lessons from the Thunder’s 101-98 victory over Utah, specifically the differences in how the team defended in the first quarter versus the final three periods.

There is a transition process between games in the NBA, where teams look at past games to analyze its own play and then also turn its attention to the upcoming opponent, which will be the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night. Particularly on the road, time spent working and learning between games is extremely valuable. As a result, the Thunder has to be very process-oriented in its approach, something that even youngsters like Jeremy Lamb understand.

“Just staying consistent, putting work in every day and trying to just get better every day,” Lamb said. “Use every day as a stepping stone and don’t take any short cuts. I think that’s the biggest part to be successful in this league.”

Process over result was also the Thunder’s line of thinking when assessing its offensive production on Wednesday night. Brooks’ team stayed aggressive all night, scoring 29 of its 101 points at the free throw line, led by Kevin Durant’s 22-for-24 shooting night. The ball seemed to rattle out for the Thunder in game one, with the team shooting just 40.7 percent, Brooks’ club knows that those type of statistics even out as the season progresses.

Brooks wants his players to stick to the game plan of moving the ball, attacking the rim and using proper spacing. Most importantly, however, the coaching staff hopes the team’s defense to create easy offense.

“There are going to be nights where you get to the free throw line and you don’t get assists or guys aren’t making shots,” Brooks explained. “But you have to give yourself a chance to win the game and that always has to come down to the defensive end.”

“Hopefully we shoot the ball much better and I believe that we will,” Brooks said.

The first ten-or-so games of every season are a feeling out process for each team in the league, because inevitably, personnel, schemes and roles change from year-to-year. The key for the Thunder is to maintain an even keel not only through this early stretch, but throughout the season in order to avoid the pitfalls that can detract from teams when they have large emotional swings from game-to-game, both positive and negative.

If Brooks’ club can bring a focused, determined mindset into each game and be prepared to compete physically for each contest, the team believes it will give itself a chance to win at the end of the fourth quarter on a nightly basis.

“It’s a long season,” Brooks said. “It’s a season that is challenging in many areas- not only the physical part but the mental part. You have to understand that you have to perform at your very best for 82 nights.”