OKC vs. MIA Preview – Building off Defensive Habits to Start Second Half of Season

27 games stand between the Thunder and the postseason, and Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team will take every single one of them seriously.

As the team emerges from the All-Star Break with a home clash against the Miami Heat tonight, the squad is solely focused on how it can continue to build on what it displayed over the first 55 games of the season. At 43-12 the Thunder put together the league’s best record by playing together, sticking to its defensive principles and sharing the ball on the offensive end.

Under Brooks and behind the leadership of players like Kevin Durant, Nick Collison and Russell Westbrook, who returns to action tonight, the Thunder’s goal all season has been to incrementally improve as the season moves along. Over the final two dozen-plus games of the season, the Thunder intends to do just that, starting tonight.

“We’re just trying to build our habits up day after day and get better as time goes along,” Durant said. “We want to finish strong, but the only way we can do that is if we focus on every single day and get better every time we step on the court.”

“The day after the game we move on and get better from it, win or loss, just like we always do,” Durant continued.

As for the Thunder’s matchup tonight, the Heat present a variety of challenges that will test Brooks’ squad, particularly on the defensive end. With active, aggressive wing players like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the Heat have players who can attack the rim to make plays for themselves and others. For the Thunder, it will be essential for all five men on the floor to work together, be tied on a string defensively and communicate in order to prevent Miami from taking easy shot attempts.

“It’s really trusting your defensive instincts and sticking with our defensive concepts,” guard Derek Fisher said. “When you play against really good teams, you can’t think about being selfish on the defensive end in terms of stopping your guy from scoring. You still have to be willing to sacrifice yourself and be in the right place so that if a teammate needs some help, you can supply it for them.”

Fortunately for Brooks and his staff, the Thunder roster is comprised of long, versatile athletes, giving the team flexibility and versatility in terms of how it defends its opponents. With wings like Durant, Thabo Sefolosha, Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones, the Thunder has a number of players who can step up to the challenge to defend Miami’s wings. While those players will be a focal point of the Thunder’s effort tonight, they will just be a part of the team’s overall plan to try to stop the Heat.

“We have a lot of guys who can play different positions and can guard different positions,” Durant said. “It’s just a matter of us helping each other out and playing hard on every possession.”

In the Notes:

- The Thunder is 1-0 against the Heat this season, and overall is 5-6 against the Heat in the regular season.

- The Thunder is 14-2 this season when it makes ten-or-more steals in a game.

- The Thunder is 12-1 this season when out-rebounding its opponent by ten-or-more rebounds.

Broadcast Info:

7:00 p.m. CT. TV – TNT; Radio – 98.1 FM The Sports Animal, Thunder Radio Network