Road Practice Helps Thunder Improve
NEW YORK – On the road, only feet away from the bustle of Broadway in the Upper West Side, the Thunder found a place to focus solely on basketball just like it would at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center.
Road practices are rare in the NBA because teams often travel from one city to the next and prepare with a longer shoot-around on game day. With an extra day in New York City ahead of the Thunder’s matchup against the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club was able to get in a full day of rest to make up for a tough stretch of six games in nine nights on Sunday. Then with fresh bodies and minds, hit the practice floor on Monday. With young veteran leaders like Kevin Durant, the Thunder knows how to make the most of these road practices.
“The thing about this team is we come in and we know what we have to do, we just have to execute on it,” Durant said. “We just learn every single day. We watch film every day to see what we need to work on.”
The Thunder’s sanctuary is the basketball floor, when it can focus on itself as a team completely. Even on the road, Brooks wants his Thunder squad to come into each day with the same mindset, intensity and energy. The familiar shouts, claps and words of encouragement were present throughout practice and Brooks’ squad was able to make internal improvements.
“We had a good day off yesterday, everybody rested their bodies and minds,” Brooks said. “Now it’s just time to get to work. I just thought today’s practice was great energy, a lot of good things that we worked on and the guys came back ready to get better today. That has always been our mentality. We’ll worry about tomorrow’s game tomorrow, but today was a good day for us.”
Even despite recent success, the Thunder attacks its workouts each day with the same rigor. Over the past nine games the Thunder has scored over 100 points in each contest, going 8-1 during that span. On the season the Thunder’s offense is scoring the most points in the NBA, while also 22.7 assists per game, seventh best in the league. The unselfish style the Thunder has played with on offense has been matched by executing team defensive concepts, which is a nice recipe for success.
“We’re just moving the basketball really well and once you do that, combined with playing solid defense, you always give yourself a chance to win,” Durant said. “Guys are coming through for us making big plays. It’s like we’re just having fun out there. That’s what it is all about for us.”
During the past two weeks of this 8-1 span, the Thunder has battled through two overtime wins, a division opponent and facing the same team (New Orleans) on the road twice in two weeks. Durant and team leaders like Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison have helped the Thunder stay even keeled throughout those battles and perpetually looking towards the next possession instead of looking behind.
“We just showed signs of a team that is growing up,” Durant said. “We have to keep working every day. There are going to be tough times, but it’s (about) how we get through them.”
That one-possession at a time mindset also transfers over to practices, shoot-arounds and pregame warmups. Tuesday’s game against the Nets will be exciting as the 14-4 Thunder - which will be wearing its new alternate jerseys for the second time this season - faces off against the 11-5 Nets in the brand new Barclay’s Center. Instead of those factors, however, the Thunder’s mindset is on each drill repetition, every pick-and-roll coverage and all of the minute details that go into developing as a team during practice.
“It’s just a mindset that we have,” Durant said. “There is a standard that we set here, and that starts with Coach (Brooks) at the beginning of the season letting us know what type of team we are, our identity.”