Balanced Thunder Takes on Road Challenge

SAN FRANCISCO – Each night in the NBA, the Thunder is tested with a different type of battle. As a team that wants to be consistently competitive regardless of opponent, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club has made sure to take a balanced approach to getting better.

On Thursday night the Thunder will face the Golden State Warriors, who make 40.2 percent of their three-point attempts and play at one of the fastest paces in league. That’s quite a different challenge from the one presented by the Utah Jazz two nights ago. However, the Thunder understands that in order to be considered a top tier club, it has to be able to battle through physical, grinding games like the one on Tuesday in Salt Lake City, as well as a run-and-gun style opponent like Golden State.

“(The Warriors are) a team that gets up and down,” forward Kevin Durant said. “They do such a great job of moving the ball and they play outside in sometimes. They’ll hit the three then they’ll lure you out to the three-point line and kick it down to the bigs and score.”

In order to be able to handle both types of opponents, and all of the varieties in between, the Thunder simply works to improve all facets of its game. Behind leaders like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who have, since Day 1 of the Thunder being in Oklahoma City, set the tone and established the standards for work ethic. With young All-Stars like Durant and Westbrook, along with veterans like Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison, Brooks has a roster that understands how to be successful, and helps younger players learn how to sustain it.

“We want to keep playing solid basketball,” Brooks said. “We have a system that we have success in and we want to keep running it and keep improving it and keep finding ways to get it better. We have players who work hard and want to be coached. They’re driven.”

All of that hard work is distributed evenly around the court. A microcosm of the overall improvement can be seen in the individual development of players like Durant, whose assists, blocks, steals, and shooting percentages are all career-highs. That growth can also be identified by looking at the team’s success both in the win-loss column, but also in team statistics, as the Thunder ranks in the top three in field goal percentage, and field goal percentage defense.

“We work on all areas of the game,” Brooks said. “We feel that you have to if you want to be a team that is going to compete year in and year out. You have to score the ball and stop the other team from scoring the ball. We do a pretty good job of doing both of them. It’s something that we take pride in.”

Whether it’s working on defensive rotations, boxing out or spacing the floor better, the Thunder identifies different ways to improve, and can use games like tonight’s against Golden State to implement those lessons in a game. As the postseason approaches, the Thunder is sharpening all of its tools so that they’ll be ready for use no matter who, or where they play. In particular, being confident in itself on the road is highly valuable, because in the postseason, winning away from home is not just a bonus, it’s imperative.

“We’re just playing with that sense of urgency,” Durant said. “We know how tough it is to win on the road in any arena. We’re coming together more and more as a team. That’s what I like.”