Practice Days Help Thunder Gear Up for Hornets

Having two full days in between games during the course of an NBA season is a rarity. Fortunately for the Thunder, the team was able to utilize one of those unique stretches by getting in some good work at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center on Monday and Tuesday in preparation for Wednesday’s game against the New Orleans Hornets.

With a development day on Monday, practice on Tuesday and a shoot-around on Wednesday morning, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club had a chance to concentrate on its core principles. During the course of an NBA season with road trips, back-to-backs and late nights with games, full practices are a luxury, and one that players like Kevin Durant took full advantage of this week.

“I think it’s helped everybody,” Durant said. “Practice is at 11. At 9 o’clock or 9:15 you see everybody in here. You can tell that we’ve been waiting for some practice days. It was good to get the new guys integrated in our system and letting them know the defense, the offense. It was just good to be in the gym again.”

With newcomers Derek Fisher and Ronnie Brewer joining the club last week, the three sessions at the practice facility have been a nice opportunity to get everyone on the same page heading into the final two months of the regular season. By working on fundamentals, the Thunder wants to carry over the defensive effort it showed on Sunday against the Chicago, when it held the Bulls to 29.1 percent shooting and only 72 points.

“We just have to be focused and locked in on every possession on defense and our offense will take care of itself,” Durant said. “That’s the level of play we should always play at… It’s about how we can keep that momentum and build some consistency here the next few weeks. Hopefully we can continue to do it. I think we can.”

Tonight against the Hornets, the Thunder faces a team who may have a 20-38 record and who it is 3-0 against so far this year, but is a very capable squad. The last meeting saw the Thunder escape with a four-point victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena, and although number one overall pick Anthony Davis and guard Eric Gordon are unlikely to play tonight, Hornets Head Coach Monty Williams ensures that his team plays hard every night.

“They run all their stuff hard, their offense hard,” Durant said. “They have a great coach, one of the best coaches in the league I think. They play so well together. Greivis Vazquez is having a phenomenal year as their point guard.”

In the first two meetings against the Hornets this season, Oklahoma City scored 100 or more points, beating New Orleans by 15 and 21 points respectively. In the third meeting, the Thunder won 92-88, in a game with a slower pace. It will be important for the Thunder to make defensive stops by creating steals, blocking shots, forcing turnovers and rebounding misses, then getting out quickly into space. The ability for the Thunder to run and get into transition for early, high-percentage looks on the offensive end will be critical in dictating the style of tonight’s game.

“They’re a team that wants to execute their sets,” Durant said. “They might take the whole 24 seconds to do it. But I think if we stay disciplined for those 24 seconds and get stops and rebound it, we can get out and run on the offensive end. Once we get stops we can push the tempo on the other end and get some transition buckets. I think our offense is always dictated by how our defense is playing.”