Thunder Ready to Roll for Playoffs

Making the NBA’s postseason is never guaranteed. All the hard work the Thunder has put in- not only this season, but for the past five- has resulted in another chance for Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club to keep playing after the regular season ended.

On Wednesday the Thunder wrapped up its 82nd game of the year, and immediately got to work on Thursday morning in preparation of its first round series against the Houston Rockets. For the first time since the team arrived in Oklahoma City, the 60-22 Thunder will be the number one seed in the Western Conference, taking on the new-look, up-tempo Rockets squad that comes in at the number eight seed with a 45-37 record. Areas where the Thunder have focused all season will again be critical, and it will be up to coaches to prepare the team and the players to execute in order to advance to the second round.

“We have a great opportunity,” Brooks said. “We felt that going into the regular season we wanted to improve in a lot of areas. I think we have. I love the fact that we were consistent through the 82-game season and we put ourselves in a position through all that hard work to be in the position we’re in now.”

Brooks’ roster is chock full of players who have bountiful Playoff experience. From the 43 Playoff games that the core of the team has played together to the runs to two Western Conference Finals and an NBA Finals, leaders like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison have plenty to draw upon moving forward. Stable presences like Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher, who have a combined six NBA Championship rings, also provide guidance for younger players.

Newcomers who weren’t on last year’s squad like Kevin Martin and Hasheem Thabeet will be relied upon for critical minutes. Second-year man Reggie Jackson has stepped into a new role this season, and his fellow young counterparts like Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones may prove to be valuable pieces to the puzzle as the Playoffs move forward. This Thunder group, from top to bottom, believes in one another and on Thursday, was ready to get right to work in preparation for Sunday’s Game One at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“I’m just excited to go forward with this group into the Playoffs,” Martin said. “I couldn’t wait to get to work… You have to feel blessed to be in this kind of situation.”

Nothing is taken for granted with the Thunder, regardless of whether they are a player like Martin who has only been in one Playoff series or Collison who is the longest-tenured member of the organization. As a result, the team leaves no stone unturned and has used every opportunity this season as a chance to grow and improve. Up next against the Rockets will be to execute, lock in on every play and be both composed during games and poised in between them.

“We’re prepared for it and we’re confident going in,” Collison said. “Most importantly we know we have to play all the games. We have to play game one and be ready to go. I think our experience has helped us to have the right type of mindset going into these series. We know how important each possession is.”

Despite ending the season playing very solid basketball, the Thunder also realizes that it is not a finished product. With a chance to breathe for a few days between the regular season and the start of the Playoffs, Brooks’ squad will have Friday and Saturday to get in intense, but quick practices in order to sharpen aspects of the game and be honed in on the finite details that can be the difference between winning and losing. Even though it is Playoff time, there are still opportunities to get better.

“As players, you try to bring as much effort as you can and as much focus as you can,” Collison said. “If you can get in that state, you’re going to play better and better. I think the team will build, hopefully, going through the playoffs. I think what we try to do is reach the highest level and sustain it.”

With that mentality of deep concentration, the Thunder looks to find incremental ways to improve. Whether it is communication on defense, hustling to get back in transition or timing out an offensive play to perfection, the Thunder will take no play, quarter or game with anything less than the utmost sincerity. Any outcome is possible on any given night, and it will be up to Brooks’ club to give its best possible effort.

“Once the Playoffs arrive, they’re here,” Brooks said. “There are no longer seedings, it’s us against the Rockets. Game one is game one, and it’s the first to four who moves on. We have an opportunity to do that just like they do. We’re going to be focused and put ourselves in the best position to get four wins and move on to the next series.”