Energized Thunder Ready for Bobcats

When Thunder players are flying to the ball, running up to set screens and fighting over the pick-and-roll with effort and energy, their teammates feed off of it and display that same level of intensity.

Coming off of a road back-to-back on the east coast against the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, the Thunder had a day off on Sunday before rejoining as a unit on Monday morning for shootaround. As many Thunder fans have come to understand, those days off often feature players voluntarily getting into the gym at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center for extra work. The relentlessness with which Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club tries to improve each day simply carried over into shootaround this morning.

“I thought today’s shootaround, we went back to what we do defensively, just like a little refresher course,” Brooks said. “I thought the energy was good. It wasn’t long, this is our third game in four nights, but we’ll be fine tonight.”

For Brooks and his players, the most important area to display that physical, mental and emotional energy is on the defensive end. Whether it’s Russell Westbrook hounding the opposing ball handler, Thabo Sefolosha denying his man the ball or Kendrick Perkins jumping out to disrupt a screen-and-roll, the Thunder wants to make sure its defense is at its highest levels in both energy and execution every night. That process starts with practice and shootaround before each game.

“We went through some things defensively that we want to tighten up and get better at, so it was a good practice,” Sefolosha said. “Energy is a big part of my game. Definitely when I have it on defense and feel good defensively, I think that helps me offensively.”

The Thunder hosts the Charlotte Bobcats tonight in the first of three straight home games, an important stretch as Brooks’ squad hopes to take advantage of its home court advantage at Chesapeake Energy Arena. This Bobcats team, however, will provide a stiff challenge to start the week, and it looks like a much different team than last season’s unit that won only seven games. In fact, the Bobcats have already matched their win total from last year through 12 games.

“They’re very good,” Sefolosha said. “They have a lot of talent, a lot of speed, they’re guys that can do different things, so we’ll have to be aware and basically be ready to play straight from the start.”

The biggest concern for the Thunder on the defensive end tonight will be the scoring ability of the multiple Bobcats guards that rotate into the lineup. Kemba Walker, Ramon Sessions and Ben Gordon all average double figure scoring numbers, while rookie Michael Kidd- Gilchrist is also chipping in 11.7 points per game.

“They come in, they’re aggressive,” Brooks said. “Sessions is back to what we always thought he was, a very good point guard that can score. Gordon is feeling much better about his game, and then Walker is a guard that attacks and gets into the paint.”

This will also be a game in which the Thunder needs to execute effectively and precisely on the offensive end. Bobcats’ new head coach Mike Dunlap preaches a defense-first mentality, and it shows as the Bobcats are tied for the league-lead with 7.5 blocks per game and are also averaging 9.5 steals per game, good for second-highest in the NBA. As a result, protecting the ball and taking the best possible shot on each possession will be crucial for the Thunder tonight.

“Defensively, they’re also much improved,” Brooks said. “They’re a defensive-minded team and their guards can get hot and score points.”