Thunder Utilizing Home Practice to Continue Development

Not since February 18th had the Thunder had a full practice at the Integris Health Thunder Training Center, but in those intervening 17 days Head Coach Scott Brooks' club has played eight games and also saw two of its players and coaching staff take part in All-Star Weekend. Today, after a 95-91 home victory against the Dallas Mavericks, the Thunder was able to get back onto the practice floor and hammer out some of the issues it hopes to correct moving forward. The team lifted weights for about 25 minutes then was on the court for 25 minutes, working on everything from pick-and-roll coverages to close outs on defense in addition to sharpening things up offensively in terms of decisions and passing.

"We definitely needed to tighten up a lot of things, I don't know if we got it all done today, it's just the way this season is," forward Nick Collison said of the day's practice. "There's not a lot of time to correct mistakes but we do our best with the short time we do have... This season has been crazy, there are a lot of things different about this year. We're kind of more just used to it being crazy. We'll just show up wherever we are, whatever city we're in and try to get some work done. It is a good feeling to be back and have some time to be here."

With the condensed schedule, the Thunder now faces a stretch of three games in four nights in a two week span that features 10-out-of-12 games at home. It will be comforting for the team to play in the friendly, and boisterous, confines of Chesapeake Energy Arena, but just as importantly to have the time to continue developing. The Thunder has a league-best 16-1 record at home thanks to Monday night's playoff atmosphere-like victory, yet was on the court with full intensity on Tuesday to iron out any wrinkles on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.

"I think it's nice, it's important for us to work on the things that we need to work on to get better," Brooks said. "Today was really good. The energy was great. After a game you're always a little bit concerned, but our guys always step up and give us great effort in practice. It was a great practice."

In the past two weeks the Thunder has played three teams that are projected to make the playoffs from the Eastern Conference in Philadelphia, Orlando and Atlanta and the past three defending champions in the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks. In those six games the Thunder went 5-1, including four come-from-behind victories. Brooks and his coaching staff have been pleased with the team's effort and ability to focus in during late game situations that involve a high level of game pressure, where both time and score dictate the need for near-perfect execution on every possession.

"It's always good playing against the best teams in basketball," Brooks said. "(The Mavericks are) one of the best teams. They have some of the best closers in the game, and it's always good to play against good teams that play hard, play smart and know how to finish games. That's how we've gotten better. We've always been a team that has just kept working and kept finding ways to improve on the practice floor and it transfers over onto the game floor. I thought last night's game was a great character builder."

While the Thunder's 23-13 advantage in the third quarter swung the game back into a more competitive contest that it was able to close out thanks to a game-ending 8-0 run, Collison and other Thunder leaders like Kendrick Perkins are looking for more consistency throughout games. Late-game heroics by Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kevin Durant are nice, but defensive effort like the kind shown during the last two minutes of the game against the Mavericks is what players like Collison are looking for during the entire game, not just the final moments. As the team continues to work hard in practice each and every day, Collison hopes that focus on defense will pick up for an entire 48 minutes.

"That's why we've been able to be successful, because we've done the work every day," Collison said of the team's dedication in practice. "So we need these days like this to get that work in, both individually and as a team defensively... I'd like to see us just be a lot more consistent throughout the game and not have those bad stretches. I'd love to see a game where we can put in a dominant defensive performance start to finish, get more games like that to where that's more of our habit and it's not like we're always having to rely on the fourth quarter and making great plays down the stretch."