GAME PREVIEW

mailbag@thunder-nba.com
April 26th, 2013
GAME 3: Thunder vs Rockets

Team is one.

That’s more than just a slogan. That’s the real-life motto the Thunder has lived by here in Oklahoma City and will continue to work by each day. On Friday there was unfortunate news that Thunder guard Russell Westbrook tore his meniscus, which means the All-Star will need surgery and be out indefinitely. As teammates like Kevin Durant said, Westbrook is the “ultimate competitor” and his love for the game of basketball is palpable each night as his energy, effort and intensity emanate from him on every play.

For the Thunder, helmed by General Manager Sam Presti, the focus has always been on being more than just the sum of the parts as an organization. The cohesion, confidence and togetherness this Thunder team has built not only this season but the past five will prove critical in its first round Playoff series, which continues on Saturday for Game Three in Houston against the Rockets.

“First and foremost you’re disappointed for Russell and the type of competitor that he is,” Presti said. “Injuries are a part of sports and every team has to deal with them. Now our team has to come together and make some adjustments. We have a heck of a group of guys in our uniform. We have a great coaching staff and it’s going to take everyone in the building to pull together as we go forward. Our focus is on Game Three.”

With a fellow All-Star in Durant, whose game has improved each and every season, along with veteran leaders like Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher, the Thunder has a group of players who have seen the ups and downs of NBA life before. Everyone on the roster has fought and battled together with one another throughout the 82-game season and the coaching staff led by Head Coach Scott Brooks will put the team in the best position to be successful moving forward.

“Our team as a whole, we have a resilient group of guys,” Presti said. “(There’s) a lot of character within that locker room and a group that enjoys playing together and has been through some adversity over the last several years they’ve been together. We expect them to adjust, come together and have different guys step in and play well collectively.”

Whether it’s Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher or someone else who gets the start on Saturday night, the Thunder has been built to withstand adversity because of the depth and versatility on the roster. Brooks and his staff don’t look to one player in particular to replace Westbrook’s exact production, but rather with the unified effort of all 15 players on the roster. Each man is capable of taking on extra responsibility and working together to find a way to win.

“Everybody is going to have to step up,” Brooks said. “Our team has to continue to build on all the habits we’ve worked on and force everything we have on the court. It’s the every possession mentality. It doesn’t matter who we throw out there. Even with Russell hurt, we’re a 15-man team. Everybody believes in each other.”

It’s not just on the court where the Thunder will invest all of its time, energy and effort into helping the team execute to its standards and even improve. In the Playoffs, regardless of circumstances, the Thunder uses the full capacity of the organization to maximize each asset. Whether it’s the scouting staff, coaching staff or others throughout the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center and within the Thunder organization, Presti and company are sure that everyone will contribute into making the best decisions and putting the team in the best possible situations to be perform at a high level.

“It’s certainly going to be more than one player,” Presti said. “It’s going to be a group of people in the building, the guys on the floor, the coaches and everybody. When you get something like this that comes about, like any other team and we’re no different, you need to adjust and you need to figure out how to bring it together. I’m confident in the guys that we have.”

At practice on Friday, the team made sure to stick to the task at hand, which is facing a challenging Rockets squad once again on Saturday night. The rigors of the NBA Playoffs are not new to the team, particularly to a young yet experienced leader like Durant. Playing with composure during the game and being poised in between games will be essential for this Thunder squad, which will simply think about basketball and the best way to beat Houston. Leaning on its principles of intense, focused defense and unselfish, team-oriented offense, the Thunder believes in the habits it has built and that everyone in the locker room will play to the best of their ability.

“On the road we all have to stay together,” Durant said. “We have to stay composed and poised... We just have to rally behind each other and play Thunder Basketball. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”