To the Thunder, each day is an opportunity to grow and get better, using each moment of practices, games and film sessions to fine tune their craft. It doesn’t matter whether Head Coach Scott Brooks’ squad faces off against one of the best teams in the league or a team that wishes it had a better record like tonight’s opponent, the 16-27 Sacramento Kings.
The Thunder’s consistent approach to each day helps them set keep their internal processes in order, which in turn allows the team to simply play its style of basketball. With team leaders like All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, along with smart veterans like Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder focuses solely on itself and measures its success based on how the team plays as a unit.
“The best thing about our team is that no matter who we’re playing, we just try to play the same,” Durant said. “We have to be focused and locked in and know we have to play our game every time we step on that floor. We’ve done a better job of that this year. We could still be better, but we’ve done a good job.”
“We try not to play against team’s records,” Durant continued. “You can be beaten any night in this league. This team has a lot of athletic guys and a lot of guys that can go score. They play really, really well in this building.”
That Thunder style of play is characterized by a number of elements, but primarily the intensity, execution and precision of all five men on the defensive end. Whether it’s communicating with one another in the pick-and-roll tonight against Tyreke Evans and Isaiah Thoms, helping over from the weak-side against a post man like DeMarcus Cousins or getting back in transition, the Thunder’s main focus will be trying to turn defense into offense.
“We have to be a defensive team first,” Brooks said. “There’s no question we can score, we’re one of the league leaders in scoring. We like to get up and down the court, there’s no question about that. We use our athleticism, our quickness and our passing ability. But we have to defend. We have to make sure that we rebound the basketball so that we allow ourselves to run in transition.”
For a team that has a plethora of individually talented players and a unit that has produced one of the best offenses in the NBA, it is remarkable how solely concerned the Thunder is on defense. It stems from the culture that has been established in Oklahoma City by those players like Durant who laid the foundation for how the Thunder will play. Through strong leaders on the roster and players who understand their roles, the Thunder has been able to hold one another accountable to a high level of play and stick together through good times and bad.
“It’s the leadership and the experience we’ve been through,” Durant said. “We know that where we’ve been these last few years, the type of team we have and the type of leaders we have. No one is going to let anyone slip up.”
“We may have bad games, that happens,” Durant further explained. “But it’s how we bounce back from them, it’s how we come out and respond to a tough stretch throughout the game and how we respond to a guy not playing and being injured. We respond to those little bumps in the road and we do a good job of responding.”
Tonight against Sacramento, the Thunder are facing its fifth of six straight road games, continuing its California tour. In a difficult road environment where the Kings have won 12 of its 16 games, Durant and his teammates realize how locked in they’ll have to be to combat a Sacramento squad that will lay it all out when going against the 33-10 Thunder.
“We just have to be focused and know that if the team makes a run we just have to be composed and keep playing,” Durant said. “They’re going to do that tonight and we know that, we just have to be ready.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Shoot-around had been over for half an hour, but Eric Maynor and Reggie Jackson were working on drive and kicks with two Thunder staffers.