Thunder Maintaining Focus and Intensity on Road Trip

One of the ways in which the Thunder has been able to get off to a good start to the 2011-2012 NBA season is the way in which it has displayed a consistent level of energy and effort each night. After winning two emotional, thrilling, last-minute games over conference foes in Portland and Golden State, the Thunder got one day off before locking back in on tonight’s contest against the Sacramento Kings.

“It’s always important to have focus going into the game,” Head Coach Scott Brooks said. “We know we must have that and it has to be on both ends of the floor. Concentration level is important. When we are engaged defensively, we always give ourselves a chance to win. But that’s our main thing going into tonight.”

As this extended road trip for the Thunder hits its last two stops in Sacramento and Utah, it will be up to team leaders like Nick Collison to remind his teammates that the intensity level must be at its highest every night. Particularly after hard-fought victories, it’s essential to stack one brick on top of the other as the team attempts to produce its best work even when it has a stretch of five straight road games like it had starting last Saturday.

“It’s challenging,” Collison said. “But we’re trying to be one of the better teams in the league and that’s one of things that what you have to be able to do, win tough games on the road and be able to win over extended road trips like this.”

The energy will have to be top notch from the get-go tonight considering, according to Collison, Sacramento will be geared up to play on national television as TNT analysts Reggie Miller and former King Chris Webber will be in the building to call the game. Sacramento has beaten some tough teams this year at home such as Portland, Golden State, Indiana and the Lakers, in addition to being the only team to win at San Antonio so far this season. As a result, the Thunder must be ready to execute and communicate early on.

“Get off to a good start,” Collison said. “I think they’re going to be ready to play, excited (to be) on a nationally televised game. They’re a team that has a lot of talent. I think for us we have to be able to keep a tight paint and try to make them shoot jump shots over our hands.”

With a starting lineup that consists of former high-lottery picks Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings have a talented roster, and one that Brooks knows his team must concentrate on defending. Keeping their opponents away from the paint and pushing them to difficult spots on the floor to score from will be a key for the Thunder players tonight.

“We have to be able to defend the ball better and keep their scorers out of the paint,” Brooks said. “They have some talented offensive players that we have to really control.”

Cousins (17) and front-court mate Jason Thompson (4) have combined for 21 double-doubles so far this season, so a Thunder front line of Collison, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed will it’s their work cut out for it. The Thunder ranks in the top 10 in the NBA in rebounds and rebounds allowed in addition to ranking fifth in defensive field goal percentage, so maintaining those advantages will be crucial tonight.

“They have a really good front line,” Collison said of Cousins and Thompson. “(JJ) Hickson as well, and Chuck Hayes is one of the best at doing the dirty work. So that’s going to be a big focus for us. The more shots we can get them to take outside the paint, the better, for sure.”

Also, read more on yesterday's story THUNDER DEVELOPING 'WINNING TIME'.