Thunder Constantly Vigilant in Finding Ways to Improve

A full 45 minutes after practice was over, Derek Fisher was still on the court, hoisting three-pointers with the help of Thunder assistant coaches. Many of his other Thunder teammates spent extra time on the practice floor as well, but it was the 15-year veteran’s presence on the floor that served as a perfect metaphor for the team’s maturation and prevailing attitude- constant vigilance.

One of the organization’s philosophies is to work even harder, stay even sharper and focus even more intensely during periods of prosperity. Those moments when everything seems to be going the right way are the times in which Head Coach Scott Brooks and his club hones in and turns up the intensity one more notch.

“I think today’s practice was geared towards that,” Brooks said. “We’re on a nice streak right now, we’re playing good basketball. We can’t rest and we can’t feel good about ourselves because that’s when you get hit pretty hard and you get frustrated.”

The Thunder just got done with a two-game West Coast road trip where they played in difficult venues against tough teams, in addition to being in the midst of a stretch of six-out-of-seven games against potential playoff teams. With wins over the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers, the Thunder showed mental toughness and physical skill on the court, and it will take an extra dose of that over the next week.

“We knew there was a stretch of games we were playing that basically every game was a playoff team,” Brooks said. “It was a good challenge and it still is. We’re still in the middle of that. These next four games are high-end playoff teams. Anytime you can play the best in game-after-game-after-game. You can handle that. Our guys have always been a team, a group that likes to play big games and they’re getting better.”

Thunder center Kendrick Perkins continually talks about building proper habits throughout the course of a season so that come crunch time in April and May, the team isn’t just trying to turn it on like a light switch. During practice days like today, the Thunder is able to go back to the drawing board, analyze its strengths and weaknesses and find ways to execute to the best of its ability. Guard Russell Westbrook, who helped key the Thunder’s come-from-behind victory over the Lakers, agrees.

“It’s very important,” Westbrook said. “Throughout games things may go wrong. That is when you need to go back to what you know and what you’ve practiced. It’s very important to practice good habits.”

Brooks disclosed that it was a defensive-heavy practice today where the players really got after one another in both one-on-one and five-on-five half court practice time. In addition, the Thunder even got some full-court five-on-five work mixed into its practiced, so it was a good day of hard work and improvement that will pay dividends as the season progresses.

“Our guys are always focused and that’s the great thing about our group,” Brooks said. “They’re very competitive and they’re very determined to challenge each other every day in practice. That helps us play well during games.”

As for tomorrow afternoon’s nationally-televised game against the Chicago Bulls, the Thunder will look to use that extra work it put in to find success against the team with NBA’s best record. Even without the services of Derrick Rose throughout the season, the Bulls have used its physicality on defense to keep teams from scoring while also using the offensive talents of Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer to pace the squad. Westbrook said that the biggest focus for both teams, as expected, will be on the defensive side of the ball.

“Chicago is a great defensive team,” Westbrook said. “All they do is preach defense and we do the same thing here. It should be a defensive game.”