Three Things to Know About the Three Thunder Scrimmages
Over the past month, Thunder fans all over the globe have been keeping their eyes peeled on okcthunder.com and over social media for the quick glimpses of practice action, the fun videos of silly off-court camaraderie and interviews from players and coaches. Starting on Friday afternoon, however, Thunder fans will actually get to see their team in full action again for the first time since March 8.
The Thunder will be playing in three scrimmages, against the Boston Celtics at 4 p.m. CT on Friday July 24, the Philadelphia 76ers at 11 a.m. CT on Sunday July 26 and the Portland Trail Blazers at 5 p.m. CT on Tuesday July 28. The first two games will be streamed live on okcthunder.com and the Thunder Mobile App. The game on Tuesday against Portland will be broadcast on Fox Sports Oklahoma.
The past two weeks of training camp inside the bubble in Orlando and the week before that in Oklahoma City have tested the Thunder’s conditioning and helped get the team back into basketball shape from the hiatus.
“It's been pretty intense for these guys and these guys have done a good job handling it all, and I think a lot of it had to do with the focus that they had,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said.
WATCH: Thunder Talk - Preparing to Scrimmage
Now, the Thunder will get a chance to square off against external foes, the coaching staff will begin to take in what they’re seeing on the court and the medical staff will be monitoring each player’s health. As the Thunder gets ready for these tune-ups, here are the three most important things to the organization:
OKC is Ready to Play Somebody Else
This Thunder squad has been one of, if not the most competitive groups in the NBA this season. They’ve never been out of a game completely this year and have more come-from-behind wins than anybody. The past four months, the team hasn’t had an outlet for that competitive fire, so the players are going to embrace their chance to get after somebody that’s not wearing Thunder blue. Mostly, they’re going to enjoy going to battle with their teammates – the love and camaraderie has been extremely noticeable down in Orlando, and it has matched the brotherhood that existed during the 2019-20 season.
“Guys still have the same chemistry guys have had all season and it makes it that much easier to fall back into things,” center Nerlens Noel said.
One other thing to note is that these scrimmages against the opposition will be a chance for the Thunder to test itself against teams with different size, speed and strategic profiles. Head Coach Billy Donovan has good relationships with other coaches around the league, including Celtics Head Coach Brad Stevens, 76ers Head Coach Brett Brown and Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts. During these scrimmages throughout the league, coaches may try to find ways to have their opponents test their teams in specific scenarios to get ready for the eight seeding games that start in a week.
“Everybody's focused on their personnel their team and getting their team ready to play what they need," Donovan said "But I would imagine with getting into these three scrimmages that there'll be some dialogue between coaches.”
The Training Staff Will Be Monitoring Workloads
Every NBA season can hinge on luck, particularly when it comes to injury. In fact, in most sports, the number one skill is simple – availability. The Thunder is very fortunate in that regard. The team was able to bring 16 players to Orlando right away, with reserve rookie forward Isaiah Roby the only player not joining the re-start due to a plantar fascia medical procedure.
The players were extremely disciplined when it came to wearing masks and following safety protocols while in their hometowns, Oklahoma City and since they’ve arrived in Orlando. On top of that, the players were diligent about keeping themselves in the best shape physically they could and for some players even going to another level physically.
“It's really more a reflection of our players," Donovan said. "The attention to detail and the focus that they had during the virus to find ways to keep themselves in good shape to try to do what they could to keep their weight and their cardio at a good place.”
Despite the fitness level of the Thunder players coming into this, the Orlando bubble project will be one with potentially more possibility for over-use and injury. As a result, the Thunder training staff will be extremely dutiful to the players and the organization to do everything they can to keep them out of harm’s way. That means minutes might be more evenly dispersed through the roster, particularly early on.
“We’ll work with the medical staff and in conjunction with them to figure out what's a good number of minutes to help them get back into rhythm into playing against competition,” Donovan said.
Still Work and Evaluation to be Done
In terms of the x’s and o’s, each of the teams now in Orlando are slightly different than the ones who last played in mid-March. Some players will likely have come back better while others are a bit rusty. Defensive unity and connectedness might not be exactly where it was. That instinctual offensive flow will need time to regenerate. These three games will be a vital opportunity for the Thunder to really hone-in on areas that need to be shored up before its first seeding game on August 1, against the Utah Jazz.
“These preseason scrimmage games will be a good time for us to really focus on the details of what we have to do, especially defensively, and then offensively, details as well,” center Mike Muscala said.
The important thing on the minds of the coaches, players and front office staff, however, is that these three games should not be viewed as a determination on the team and individuals. They’re simply data points that should be taken alongside the information from practices and past body of work to determine game plans, strategies, roles, rotations and playing time.
“This upcoming week – getting a chance to have three scrimmages before we get into it – will be good,” Donovan said. “It will give us some more information to continue to look at ways that we need to get better and improve.”
We Honor. pic.twitter.com/Ok5pLimD7Q— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) July 23, 2020