Thunder Shows Maturity in its Approach
After taking the short trip south to Dallas, tonight the Thunder will take on the Mavericks in a clash of two teams that will be playing against one another for the tenth time in about 15 months. Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club may be winners against the Mavericks in the two teams’ previous nine contests including the first round of last season’s NBA Playoffs, but two of this season’s Thunder victories have been in overtime. Team leaders like Kevin Durant, who himself has scored 111 points in three meetings against Dallas this season, understand the challenge against Dallas will be mental, and then physical.
“We just try to focus on us,” Durant said. “We know what this team does. Rick Carlisle is one of the best coaches in the league and we know how his offense is so potent. You have to be on point every single play. We know what we have to do.”
While the first two clashes this season ended in narrow Thunder wins in overtime, the most recent battle was ended quickly by the Thunder, which used 39-point second quarter to take a commanding 24-point halftime lead over the Mavericks, allowing starters like Durant to sit out the entirety of the fourth quarter. Bringing the same toughness and intensity from the start of this game will be essential against a surging Mavericks team that finds itself just three games out of the playoff hunt.
“We have to come out and be the first hitters against these guys,” Durant said. “We can’t sit back and let the game come to us. We have to go take it. They do such a great job of putting pressure on you. We have to come out aggressive on both ends early.”
Some teams around the league are fighting to make the postseason, whereas the Thunder is simply focused on using each day to improve and looking at each game as an opportunity to secure another win. Those precious victories are not easy to come by in the NBA, and it is a sign of maturity that the Thunder has a reasoned approach to each game. While it doesn’t take any win lightly, it is always learning as a team to figure out what can be improved upon as the season progresses.
“We never want to take a win for granted,” Durant said. “We know every win is a good win for us and every game is a game for us to get better. That’s how we’re trying to approach these last 16 games.”
That philosophy is an ideal approach as the Thunder hits the latter part of the season. With only 16 games remaining in the regular season, Brooks’ squad wants to continue to work on areas where it can develop both individually and as a unit. It always starts on the defensive end of the floor with the Thunder, but the pace, tempo and precision with which the Thunder plays on the offensive end is essential to making the defensive job easier.
On the whole, the Thunder feels it has grown as the season has progressed, and will continue to do so over the final stretch of the season, including tonight against Dallas.
“We try to play our best basketball going into the later parts of the season,” Durant said. “We have a lot of growing to do. I think we’ve been moving in the right direction. Of course, getting down to crunch time, you want to be your best.”