Working Together Through Adversity

From training camp in October through April, the NBA preseason and regular season is a grueling, challenging marathon that tests teams’ endurance, resolve and collective will to win. The teams that battle together through all of the ups and downs and stay even keeled throughout it all that have the best chance to succeed once the Playoffs roll around.

On Tuesday, the Thunder was dealt some adversity as it learned that starting center Kendrick Perkins will miss approximately the next six weeks after undergoing a procedure on his injured left groin. Perkins averaged 3.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game in the 54 contests he saw action in this season, but his impact on the team goes well beyond statistics, where his Championship experience, intensity and defensive prowess have led the Thunder to a 43-11 record with him in the lineup this season.

It will be up to the Thunder as an entire unit, not just backup center Steven Adams, to find a way to win by combining all of their talents in the most productive way. Head Coach Scott Brooks is confident that much like it did when starting point guard Russell Westbrook missed 27 games earlier this season, his team will band together and problem solve as a unit.

“It gives our team another opportunity to improve, and that goes for all players on our team,” Brooks said. “It’s not just Steven that is going to fill that starting role. We all have to figure out ways to get better, just as we did when Russell was out. We have to do the same thing.”

The leadership on the Thunder’s roster that includes Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka and Derek Fisher provides the Thunder with a core group that has experienced all that the NBA can throw at a team. From an appearance in the NBA Finals to countless playoff battles and regular season tests, the Thunder has a group that not only has played in a wide variety of circumstances, but also has built trust, continuity and camaraderie with one another.

“As we’ve gotten older- myself, Nick, Serge, Fish and Kevin, those guys who have been here know what it’s like to lose guys and when guys need to step up and communicate,” Westbrook said. “Us being together so long, we have to find a way to get over the hump.”

“It helps having the consistency of the group,” Brooks said. “Our core guys continue to put us in a position to win games. Perk is going to be missed, but he’s going to be around our guys and continue to help us, just like Russell helped us when he wasn’t playing.”

In Tuesday’s practice, the Thunder focused intently on the defensive side of the ball, where it has been excellent all season, but is experiencing a dip in performance over the past three games. There is natural slippage in execution as the season winds along over the 82 game schedule, but the Thunder is always cognizant and aware of where it standards are in order to self-correct when necessary.

With four more games remaining on a six-game home stand, the Thunder hopes to get back into its defensive groove, starting Wednesday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“It doesn’t matter who we are playing, we know we need to be better on the defensive end right now,” Collison said. “That’s the focus coming into the game, to be a lot better fundamentally. We’re not changing anything in our game plan, we just have to do it better.”