Thunder Will Use Week Ahead Wisely

A throng of fans swarmed to Will Rogers World Airport late Saturday night to greet the Thunder as it returned home from Dallas.

A 4-0 victory over the Mavericks in Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs earned Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team an entire week between games before it will play Game 1 of Round 2 against either the Los Angeles Lakers or Denver Nuggets. Starting with an optional practice on Monday, the Thunder is ready to use this week to fine tune and sharpen its play.

“It’s nice just to kind of catch up on a lot of things,” Brooks said. “It’s going to be good for our players just to rest a little bit. We’ll get back at it tomorrow. Today was an optional day, but as we all know, on our optional days, everybody is in the building. That’s what they do. They work, they get better.”

The Thunder won two nail-biters at Chesapeake Energy Arena against the defending champion Mavericks before winning a runaway Game 3 in Dallas and coming back from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win Game 4. While there are definitely some areas the Thunder hopes to learn from and do better in Round 2, the Thunder also wants to replicate some of the things it did well in Round 1.

“That’s always been our philosophy, to work on ways for our team to get better, to improve,” Brooks said. “These extra days definitely we will clean up some things that we need to work on, but our defense last series I thought was probably as well as we can play against one of the best players at that (power forward) position.”

While the Lakers lead the Nuggets 3-1 in their Round 1 series, the Thunder knows it likely will not play until this upcoming weekend. As a result, the Thunder will have multiple practice days this week to get laser sharp and to prepare for potential matchups against both teams. In fact, in order to stay in rhythm, Brooks said the Thunder may scrimmage some to treat practices like games.

“Just keeping the guys mentally engaged,” Brooks said. “The good thing about our guys is that they play hard against each other in practice. Our practices, we will treat a couple of them as games, really get after each other.”

Most of all, the Thunder wants to make sure that the organization’s basic philosophies and strategies carry from the regular season and first round into its second round matchup. From locking in on defense, boxing out, making good outlet passes, running the floor, spacing the court and sharing the basketball, the Thunder aims to implement its ideal playing style on every single possession with a high level of focus for 48 minutes.

“We did a good job defensively, and that’s how we’re going to have to play,” Brooks said. “We’re going to have to win games on that end. Whoever we play next, it’s going to be the same. We have to defend every possession. (With) extra practices, we’re going to always do things that we worked on all year. They were important in training camp, they’re still important now.”