Thunder Hits the Ground Running after Break
There is a transition period that exists for some teams as they come back from the All-Star Break. For the Thunder, its continuity, veteran presence and dedication to standards allows the team to simply just hit the ground running.
With Head Coach Scott Brooks at the helm team leaders like Kevin Durant guiding the group, two of the men who represented the Thunder at All-Star Weekend in New Orleans helped the team get right back to work on Wednesday when the team was assembled for the first official time since its win in Los Angeles over the Lakers last Thursday.
Thanks to the professionalism of every member of the squad and the leadership in place, the Thunder spent Wednesday efficiently and effectively preparing for the second half of the regular season, which amounts to 27 games.
“I’m glad we’re back,” Durant said. “We’re just building on what we’ve been doing on offense and defense. We’re just getting back in the swing of things. We had five days off or six days off. It’s good to get back and get ready for the next game.”
“The break is good for a lot of reasons,” Brooks said. “It gives you time to reflect on what we’ve done well and what we can work on going forward. Even with the All-Star Break, I had a lot of time to think about all the good things we’ve done and the things that we want to get better.”
Playing with cohesion and communication on both ends of the floor has been a staple of Thunder basketball not just in the first half of the season when the team registered a league-best 43-12 record, but really for the past few seasons. That trend continued in today’s practice as the squad gets ready for Thursday’s home clash with the Miami Heat.
Besides the fact that the group as a whole looked great in its first practice after the break, Brooks’ news was that point guard Russell Westbrook returned to practice for the first time since he underwent knee surgery in late December. As for when Westbrook will join the team on the game floor, it remains to be seen.
“We had a good practice today,” Brooks said. “(Russell) practiced today. It was the first time he went through a practice in its entirety. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”
“(Russell) looked good,” Durant said. “Whenever Russ comes back, we’ll all be looking forward to it.”
Westbrook has played in over 400 games for the Thunder during his career, so the 30 games he has missed so far this season is just a small drop compared to the body of work he has put in with the core of this squad. Since late December, Westbrook has been working diligently in his rehab and has also traveled with the team and stayed connected with the group throughout every battle.
That presence has allowed Westbrook’s leadership continue to be a factor for the Thunder. Whenever it is that Westbrook does return to action, he’ll be able to simply add his physical talents to the intangible qualities he has given to the team throughout the year.
“I’ve followed his workouts through his process of rehab,” Brooks said. “He’s increased his activity and done some things in the last couple of shootarounds. This is our first time that we’ve really had a practice, just because our schedule has been hectic with all the travel.”
“With Russell coming back, it adds a dynamic player on both ends of the floor,” Brooks explained. “Russell doesn’t get enough credit for this, but the defensive toughness that he demands and also his ability to get to the free throw line, those are the things that we like.”
Regardless of when Westbrook returns, the Thunder will be adding an All-Star caliber point guard who impacts the game on both ends of the floor. Perhaps most important, however, Westbrook’s addition won’t change the core tenets by which the Thunder has played not just this season but ever since the team arrived in Oklahoma City.
As Brooks’ squad finishes out the regular season and prepares for the postseason, the team will continue to sharpen its habits and build together, striving to be the best version of itself as the season comes to an end.
“We’ll continue to focus on our defensive mindset, possession by possession,” Brooks said. “Every team’s goal is to play 48 minutes of tough, hard-nosed defensive basketball. When you have an 82-game season, you try to do it as best as you can. Our mindset has been good, but I always challenge the guys to get better.”