Energized Thunder Prepared for Spurs Clash

With just two weeks of games left in the regular season, the Thunder found itself with a break in the action.

The sign of a strong organization and a mentally sharp team is how it responds to having days off, and early this week the Thunder made the most of them. After a back-to-back on Friday and Saturday on the road, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ squad had a plan for how to attack the four-day break between then and tonight’s game against the San Antonio Spurs. After having Easter Sunday off, the Thunder got back to work the rest of the week.

“The most important thing was early on in the four days, we gave them some rest,” Brooks said. “We worked on some defensive things that are going to help us going forward… We just worked on some of our schemes that we’ve worked on for the last five years.”

On Tuesday and Wednesday the Thunder held its regular practices, working on everything from a zone defense to individual offense, while scrimmaging in between. On Monday, however, the Thunder had an optional work-out day, which turned out to be a full-team session. Leaders like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have set the tone for this squad’s work ethic, so it was no surprise that the word “optional” meant full attendance.

“The best thing about our team is that everybody was in here when they didn’t have to be,” Durant said. “That shows how much we’ve grown as a team and it shows that guys are willing to work hard no matter what. Everybody was in here working and hopefully it pays off."

Having three straight days of practice, plus this morning’s shoot-around was a luxury as the Thunder prepares to face the Spurs, who hold the best record in the Western Conference. Brooks brings in his squad just one game behind San Antonio in the standings, but instead of focusing on the seeding race this week, the Thunder simply tried to get better.

The way the team knows how to do that best is to lock in on what it does best, which is play solid defense and unselfish offense to get high percentage looks. Particularly against the Spurs, the Thunder will have to communicate well on the defensive end, but also get into their offense quickly in order to get the best possible opportunities.

“We want to establish the pace and get into our offense early so that we have some opportunities on the back side of that shot clock,” Brooks said.

The key for the Thunder to push tempo is forcing missed shots, then boxing out strongly to get a defensive rebound. With solid outlet passes from Thunder bigs, plus the fact that Durant and Westbrook are excellent rebounders, the Thunder is able to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers quickly. Once out in the open floor, the Thunder excels at making the right pass and finding the open man. If the opponent gets back on defense, the Thunder can then quickly enter its offensive sets.

“Russ does a great job of pushing the basketball,” Durant said. “We have to know what play we’re in and get into our spots quickly and run everything with precision, cut hard and get to our spots.”

With the work the Thunder put in early this week, along with all of the strides it has made as a unit over the course of the season give the team confidence heading into each game the rest of the way. As for tonight, Brooks’ club is ready to play loose, with energy and with the full support of the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd behind them.

“We just have to go out there and have fun with the game and not put too much pressure on ourselves,” Durant said. “We just want to play our game… Hopefully we just come out with a lot of energy.”