Thunder Takes Nothing for Granted at Season’s Start

The two-a-days may be over, but tomorrow night, the Thunder’s work will just be getting under way.

Over the past month Head Coach Scott Brooks’ squad has put itself through the gauntlet with intense practices and battles at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center. With its season opener on Wednesday against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City, the team will take its first step into the regular season. Every man on the roster, every coach in the huddle and every staffer in the building feels both excitement and determination at the start of this new season. With its first matchup just over 24 hours away, the team held one more practice to harness its energy into a productive session to prepare for tomorrow.

“It’s a great position to be in, when you have an opportunity to coach on opening night or play on opening night,” Brooks said. “I don’t think any of our guys take it for granted. We have a great situation with the group of guys that we have and the crowd that we have that supports us every night. Opening night is a special time of the year.”

“The season is finally here,” veteran forward Nick Collison said. “We’ve been waiting for it for a long time and the games count. But each day in practice and camp we’ve looked at it as a day we need to use and get something out of. That’s one good thing about where we’ve been. We’ve seen the benefit of putting in the work each day and we’re going to continue to do that this year.”

Over the past five seasons the Thunder has built both camaraderie and continuity on the roster, and that consistency within the practice facility’s walls has helped the team bond together. As the new season begins, the players are focused on not only the game on opening night but the task of getting better throughout the season. The end goal for this Thunder squad is to be playing its best basketball at the end of the season, but in order to get there it can’t skip any steps along the way.

That process begins in Utah, a team the Thunder faced just ten days ago at Chesapeake Energy Arena, in a game the Thunder won 88-82 behind 18 points, six assists and zero turnovers. The recent matchup provided a solid test for the Thunder, but it knows the Jazz plays a physical brand of basketball that is centered on cutting to the basket, getting shots at the rim and executing in the half court. After going against one another in practice for the majority of the past month, the Thunder is eager to get on the floor to try to shut down the Jazz by being the more physical squad.

“We’re all excited to play against somebody other than just against each other,” Brooks said. “We know the important things we want to get accomplished, which is to continue to play tough basketball. We’ve accomplished that this preseason. We have a style of play that we want to show whoever we play every night.”

“We’re trying to be as good as we can be tomorrow night,” Collison explained. “We’ve put in a lot of work. This season needs to be a season where we really need to improve as the year goes on.”

The individual matchups will be important on Wednesday, and the coaching decisions made by Brooks and Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin will come into play. Most of all, however, it will be up to the Thunder to ensure its personality is imprinted on the game from the opening tip. As this 2013-14 season begins, the Thunder knows it has a long 82-game schedule in front of it, but if it brings its best effort every night and sticks to its principles on both ends of the floor, the team can live with the results on the scoreboard.

Over the past five seasons that attitude has led to success, and Brooks and his coaching staff believe that the internal drive of the players on this team will continue to push the squad onward and upward throughout the year, starting against Utah.

“It’s important that we continue to play our style,” Brooks said. “We have a core group of guys that have had a lot of success together. You can’t just rest on that and expect it will continue to happen night-in and night-out. You have to still execute and still play for one another. We’ve done a good job with that. I don’t see that changing.”