Thunder vs. Raptors Preview
Thunder Eager to Get Back Onto the CourtGaining an extra hour on the flight back from the two-game East Coast road trip gave the Thunder just enough extra time to rest up before hopping right back onto the basketball floor on Saturday afternoon. With a game against the Toronto Raptors at 6:00 pm on Easter Sunday, Head Coach Scott Brooks rallied his team together for a morning practice to get his crew ready for its next challenge.
“I think we want to just get out and play, and we have a chance to get some wins,” forward Nick Collison said of Sunday night’s matchup. “You can look at it as an opportunity to get wins and an opportunity to turn around how you’ve been playing.”
The Thunder players and coaches are so eager to get back on the practice court to shake off a tough stretch, playing six-out-of-seven highly seeded playoff teams from both divisions, going 4-3 during the stretch. Most recently the Thunder dropped a tough home loss to the highly physical Memphis Grizzlies on the second night of a back-to-back, and then fell in single-digit losses at the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers, both solidly in the top three in the Eastern Conference.
“We had some opportunities to win all three games, even last night down 24 coming back,” Brooks said, commenting on the loss to Indiana. “We probably ran out of time. But we fought back and made the game interesting at the end. Miami- that game could have gone either way, Memphis could have gone either way. Those were three high-end playoff teams. I’m not happy about losing to them, but I’m not overly disappointed. They’re good, they’re going to give us fits and we’re going to give them fits. We’ve won our share of close games.”
Brooks’ squad certainly has won a number of close games, including a double-overtime thriller against the Minnesota Timberwolves, overtime victories over the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets and single-digit wins against the Dallas Mavericks, Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic, Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets. With those experiences in hand, the Thunder isn’t dwelling on any games in particular and moving forward with its normal never-too-high, never-too-low approach.
“Our (daily focus) is still that we have an opportunity to improve on our game and how we play going into the last two and a half weeks of the season going into the playoffs,” Brooks said.
There is a huge difference between completely forgetting a loss and putting it behind you to move onto the next one. Brooks explained that in order for his team to improve it was necessary to go over some of the details from Friday night’s loss at Indiana to sharpen up some of the slippage areas that needed to be hone in on, in addition to preparing them for the matchup against Toronto.
“We talked about last night, some of the things that we can improve on and get better from,” Brooks said. “Just closing out quarters, the first quarter and second quarter, we didn’t finish strong in those quarters and that’s one of the things that we pride ourselves on… Then we talked about Toronto, we put all our attention to the next game. That’s what we’ve always done, and we always will continue to do. Just focus in on Toronto, on how they play and what they do well and some of the skills and talents that they have.”
This is the second consecutive game for the Thunder in which it faces a team it hasn’t seen all season, which is remarkable considering the fact that there are only two and a half weeks remaining in the year. With the condensed 66-game schedule, it puts teams in an interesting scenario of trying to scout and prepare for a team only once during the year. Ultimately, however, the Thunder’s focus always comes back to itself and its way of playing basketball. Collison recognizes that in order to shake off the tough slate and move forward, the team must identify what it had been doing well and get back to those basic principles.
“What we have to do is realize what we were doing during that stretch and get back to it and be more consistent and get our level of play higher,” Collison said. “I’m confident we’ll come out and play better tomorrow.