Mental Toughness Key Tonight in Staples Center

SANTA MONICA -- The Thunder and the Los Angeles Lakers were among a number of teams tied for the second best home record in the NBA this season, both posting a 26-7 mark.

Tonight the Thunder will play its third road Playoff game this season, and first road Playoff game in Los Angeles since 2010. On Friday morning, the Thunder held a shootaround at Santa Monica High School, fine tuning the game plan and focusing in on tonight’s battle. Head Coach Scott Brooks looked on as players like Royal Ivey, Lazar Hayward and Reggie Jackson continued to get up extra shots, and said his team is ready for the challenge.

“We know the Lakers are going to come out and play a great game,” Brooks said. “We have to make sure we’re ready for that. We had a good shootaround, the focus, the concentration level was high. We’re excited about the game tonight.”

Playing at Staples Center, particularly in the Playoffs, is an unenviable task, but the Thunder went 21-12 on the road this season and is currently 2-0 on the road in the Playoffs. Brooks’ squad went 2-1 against the Lakers this season, including 1-1 on the road. Whether it’s the glitz and glamor of Hollywood or the banners hanging in the rafters, some teams struggle when they face the Lakers in Los Angeles.

Veteran center Kendrick Perkins, who has played many a Playoff game at Staples Center as a member of the Celtics, believes that his team has the mental strength to not only push out any and all distractions, but also to execute its teams ideal strategy.

“I just think you have to have that focus,” Perkins continued. “I think a lot of teams, they come in and get caught up in the Hollywood and the Staples Center, the Lakers and everything else. You just have to come in and basically don’t be star-struck, whether you’re playing the Lakers or not. It’s basketball, you have to stick together.”

In playing for one another, the Thunder has found success this season. It hopes to continue to do so with that togetherness, but also the proper mindset heading into each night. Perkins continued to say that while the Thunder may lead the series 2-0, this series is only won once a team wins four games. The Thunder may have held serve at home, but that effort will only be rewarded if it can find a way to win in Los Angeles.

“It’s going to be hard,” Perkins said. “They have a lot of confidence in the game that they played last game. I know they’re at home and they play well at home. We have to expect the best. I know a lot of pressure is on their end, but we really haven’t done anything anyway except take care of our two games at home. So the series is really tied up right now.”

Someone who may know better than anyone how difficult it is for an opponent to come into the Staples Center and win is now on the Thunder roster. 13-year veteran Derek Fisher spent nearly his entire career as a Laker, and has seen the type of mental and physical toughness it takes for a road team to win in Los Angeles.

“Winning games on the road, no matter where it is, requires an extremely high level of mental toughness, focus, concentration, dedication to the little things,” Fisher said. “That’s what it will be about tonight. We’ll have to be willing to get dirty and get down on the crowd, do whatever it takes to win and that’s what I anticipate we’ll need to do.”

Despite the challenge, the Thunder is a confident group. Now playing in its sixth Playoff series since the organization arrived in Oklahoma City four seasons ago, the young nucleus of this club has been tested and will continue to grow. During the week players like Nick Collison and Kevin Durant have spoken to the collective experience that has helped the Thunder develop mental energy to withstand trying times during the Playoffs. Their Head Coach echoed that feeling, and outlined what the Thunder needs to do tonight to find success.

“It’s hard to win on the road in the regular season and it’s very difficult to win in the Playoffs,” Brooks said. “You have to play the game and give yourself a chance. How you do that is by execution and by competing every possession and our guys have done a great job of that. I don’t see that changing tonight.”