Thunder Gearing Up for Three Games in 12 Days vs. Kings

The degree to which this year’s condensed schedule has impacted NBA teams can be summed up by simply looking at the Thunder’s recent and upcoming matchups. Less than a week after facing four teams in five games in their solitary clashes of the season (Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks), the Thunder had to turn around and host the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday before playing them again on Monday, making it an even four face-offs this season. On top of that, starting tonight the Thunder begins a stretch of 12 days in which it will play the Sacramento Kings three times.

While it might seem like a mini-series against the Kings might be a good test heading into the playoffs, the Thunder isn’t approaching it that way. Playoff basketball is such a different animal, that the Thunder is more concerned with using these final eight games of the season to sharpen its edges for the playoffs. Center Nazr Mohammed said there’s no comparison between playoff and regular season games, but that it’s tough to sweep a team in a brief span like this one, and Head Coach Scott Brooks agreed.

“I haven’t looked at it that way, but it’s not common that you play three games against the same team in 12 days in the regular season,” Brooks said when asked if the three straight matchups against the Kings is like a playoff series. “They run the ball, I think they lead the league in fast break points and all the running categories. Their ones, twos and threes are fast. They’re aggressive, they attack the paint. They present problems that we have to be able to solve quickly and not let them get hot with easy layups and transition buckets.”

The Thunder dropped an emotionally-charged game at Sacramento in February, the only previous meeting between these two teams thus far. Brooks and his players won’t make excuses, but the Kings were particularly amped up for the game, rocking a sell-out crowd in front of a national television audience and with hero Chris Webber in attendance. The Kings’ energy and enthusiasm was just enough to clip the Thunder, which is something Mohammed and the rest of the crew will be well-aware of heading into the game tonight.

“They have a young team, active bodies that hit the offensive boards pretty hard,” Mohammed said. “They get out and run and leak out and get on the break to get easy buckets.”

The Kings employ a three-guard lineup that utilizes its speed and quickness to give teams fits and to get out on the fast break. With long, strong and athletic guard Tyreke Evans matched alongside the shifty, stop-and-go Isaiah Thomas, the Kings’ double-point guard back court is buoyed by the outside shooting and scoring ability of Marcus Thornton. As a result, players like Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha will have to stay ready and use their feet to stay in front of their matchups.

“Kevin is going to have to get out and chase all their guys that cut and run their offense hard,” Brooks said. “Thornton is as good as anybody coming off of screens and running in transition. We have to make sure that we stay in front of them and don’t get (let them) get hot.

While playing the Kings so many times in a short period is certainly a challenge that will take a lot of preparation, scheming and game-planning, the Thunder ultimately worries about itself first. Over the past two days the team has been able to work in a practice and a shoot-around, giving itself as much work time as can be expected during this condensed season. Brooks and his squad took the opportunity to address some slippage areas, gear into an “every possession counts” playoff mindset and work on its basics to maintain its steady mentality.

“Just staying focused, not getting too high off a win, not getting too low off a loss,” Mohammed said. “Just concentrating on us. We’re not too worried about the other team. We’re worried about us and getting better and improving our defense and improving our execution.”