Family Atmosphere Helps Thunder During Wait

On the court during practice, the Thunder’s players go after each other, play physically and fight for every inch on the court. Once practice is over, it’s clear that this team is a family, and one that uses great locker room chemistry to support its foundation of teamwork and effort.

During a nine-day stretch without a game, Head Coach Scott Brooks said that a team that either didn’t like one another or had issues with the coaching staff might not be able to survive. His Thunder team, however, spends just as much time together off the court as it does at the Integris Health Thunder Development Center. The camaraderie and spirit that the team has makes normally grueling stretches like this feel natural, which was evident as guards Daequan Cook, Russell Westbrook and center Nazr Mohammed joked with one another after finishing a free throw challenge after practice.

“No question these nine days not only have we been practicing together, but off the court we’ve been hanging out,” Cook said. “Playing games or being in each other’s presence, just things we always do. We haven’t stopped doing them and we continue to do them. It’s always important to continue to build that, and that’s what we’ve been doing.”

Even veterans like Mohammed (13 years) and Derek Fisher (15 years) have said that they have never had to wait this many days in between games in their entire careers, so needless to say for a young roster like the Thunder, this is a unique challenge. Leaders like Westbrook and Kevin Durant have taken it in stride, however, choosing to focus on getting better as a unit and developing individually. Part of that, is by using its familiarity with one another to drive each other crazy on the court- simulating the physicality and intensity of its impending second round match up.

“I think this is the longest we’ve been without playing a game this whole season,” Durant said. “So to get back in here and practice against each other, competing, grabbing, holding and fouling each other feels good. We’re getting each other better and it’s been like that the whole week. Hopefully we come out in that first game and play with some fire and have a good one.”

The Thunder is now certain that it will play against either the Los Angeles Lakers or Denver Nuggets on Monday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Game 1 of Round 2. The pivotal Game 7 of the Lakers-Nuggets series is tonight at 9:30 pm Central on TNT, as not only the Thunder, but many Oklahomans will be tuning in to see who will be traveling to Oklahoma City immediately after the game.

Many Thunder players have said they have watched this Lakers-Nuggets series with focused eyes, picking out potential defensive assignments for themselves and trying to find any advantage possible. There’s no question in Coach Brooks’ mind, that one reason his players have been able to stay locked in and focused during this stretch is that they are so comfortable being around one another for an extended period of time. Whether it’s in the film room, on the practice floor or around town, the Thunder’s team chemistry is a factor in its ability to stay engaged.

“There’s no question it helps,” Brooks said. “We have a good group of guys that are committed to getting better and they should get better for a lot more years. It does help.”

This spirit and brotherly bond was no more evident than at Wednesday afternoon’s press conference, at which guard James Harden was awarded the Kia NBA Sixth Man Award. Nearly the entire Thunder squad was present, including the coaching and training staff. Afterwards there was a true sense of almost grade-school excitement over Harden becoming the second youngest ever to win the award, and that a member of this Thunder family was recognized in such a way.

“We support each other,” Durant said. “We knew James had a good chance to win Sixth Man of the Year. It’s a blessing that he won it, and he deserved it. We just want to support him in whatever he does. We’re all a big family, so you saw everybody that’s in here today at his press conference. I’m still happy for him. It’s crazy how hard he works. Three years later and he’s the Sixth Man of the Year.”