Thunder Improving, Preparing with Practice

Given nearly a week and a half between Round 1 and Round 2 of the Western Conference Playoffs, the Thunder had a choice to rest or practice. It chose the latter, with intense workouts throughout the week leading up to the series against the Los Angeles Lakers. With four full days before Game 1 on Sunday in San Antonio against the Spurs, the Thunder operated under the same principle.

“We started off with a great film session and a good practice,” Head Coach Scott Brooks said. “That’s what we do. That’s what we’ve done in the past and we’re going to continue to do that. Our guys really just enjoy the moment. We have a great opportunity ahead of us. We know it’s a very tough challenge.”

Brooks and his staff held a solid two hour practice on Wednesday after the Thunder finished up its 4-1 Round 2 win over the Lakers on Monday night. Moving ahead to the Western Conference Finals, the Thunder wants to stay sharp, and according to guard Russell Westbrook, get some rest, rhythm and confidence. In the buildup to the showdown against the number one seeded Spurs, the Thunder began installing its gameplan.

“We definitely got after it today, it was a good practice for us and we definitely went over a few things,” Westbrook said. “Just the things they run, how they play offensively, how they guard defensively, a lot of good things. Today is the start of it and we have a few more days to get after it as well.”

While looking at the Spurs for an extended period of time before Sunday’s Game 1 will be beneficial, part of the Thunder’s attitude all season has been to impose and play its style. The Thunder had success throughout the year by utilizing its strategy of playing strong defense, boxing out, pushing tempo, spacing the floor and sharing the ball. Forward Kevin Durant believes that his team won’t deviate from that now.

“We just have to continue to follow our gameplan,” Durant said. “Coach (Brooks) has done a great job of always preparing us. This is no different. We just have to follow the game plan. I think we’re a disciplined team and whatever the game plan is, we know we have to come out and execute it and I think we will.”

Despite the offensive firepower that erupts from players like Westbrook, Durant and James Harden, the Thunder has fancied itself a defensive team first, with Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison as prime examples of the squad’s mentality. Against the Spurs, who have an equally potent offense as the Thunder, Brooks’ crew is intent on playing disciplined, focused defense.

“We understand that we have to be on defensively,” Brooks said. “We have to be engaged and we have to do it for 24 seconds and we have to do it for 85 possessions a game.”

In addition to its preparation for the Spurs, this tail end of the week is also a perfect opportunity for the Thunder to devote time to one of the organization’s core principles, player development. The young nucleus of this Thunder team is still growing and maturing both on the court and in the film room, so days like Wednesday are vital in the continual progression of 23-year olds like Durant.

“It’s all about improving, especially from series to series,” Durant said. “Every series is different. We had a really good practice and are just trying to make sure that everything is right with us physically and also mentally, watching film. I think these next few days are very important for us to get ready for this next one.”