- Tip-off: 9:00 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
MEXICO CITY – Bienvenidos a Mexico, Thunder fans. For just the sixth time in NBA history, the league will hold a regular season game in Mexico City, and the Thunder will be one of just nine teams to compete south of the border in a tilt that will have playoff implications. On Thursday, the Brooklyn Nets will host a home game at Arena Ciudad de Mexico, as the Thunder looks to come in and take care of business.
Despite the out of ordinary locale for the game, you wouldn’t have noticed much of a difference from the Thunder’s day on Wednesday. Head Coach Billy Donovan and staff held practice, and the players went through recovery and workouts at the INTEGRIS Thunder Development Center. Just before 3 p.m. CT, the team all met up at the airport for the flight per usual. Once on the ground in Mexico City, the Thunder will operate per usual with how it would in any of the normal road cities it visits.
The workaholic Donovan said he’d likely do much more film study than he does sightseeing during the fewer than 48 hours the team spends in Mexico, but for the players this will be a fun chance to create memories together and have a unique NBA experience abroad.
“In terms of the routine and the schedule, it’ll be the same as if we were traveling anywhere else to play,” Donovan explained. “This will be a little of a different thing, a different environment for us, but it’s one game and we’re out. I don’t think they’re taking or approaching this any differently. We’re certainly not approaching this any differently than we would any other game going on the road to play.”
“It’s pretty cool doing it during season,” guard Andre Roberson said. “It’s another place for us to bond.”
Coming off a stretch of three straight wins at home, the Thunder’s primary focus will be on what happens inside that rectangle during the 48 minutes of game play on Thursday night. The Nets are a young, rebuilding team, but their blueprint for success mimics the direction the league is heading. They shoot three-pointers from all five positions on the floor and have a group that competes night-in and night-out.
On Monday night against Atlanta, Brooklyn launched 36 three-point attempts, making 15, and got double-digit scoring from six different players. The wing group of Allen Crabbe, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and DeMarre Carroll all have the ability to hurt opponents in different ways.
“They play a really fast-paced, up tempo style. They take advantage of the 3-point line,” Donovan said. “It’s another great challenge for us.”
“We know they’re going to come out aggressive, play hard and it’s going to be a great test for us,” the Thunder's defensive stopper Roberson added. “We have to come out and be the hungrier team.”
Because of the Nets’ proficiency from the three-point line, the Thunder has to adopt the same mentality that helped it recover from a 17-point second half deficit on Tuesday against the Utah Jazz. The group stuck together, didn’t quit and fought its way back with a 32-14 fourth quarter to produce a 100-94 victory. Earlier in the season, the Thunder may not have won such a game, but the challenging circumstances it has faced so far this season have built up some resolve and will power to push through setbacks in games.
“I don’t think you can get any better at all at anything in life without adverse situations,” Donovan opined. “Sometimes people expect or think things should be easier than they are. When you’re in the most competitive basketball league in the world, nothing is ever easy.”
“The adversity part of it is good because it forces you to dig down deeper and it forces you to get better. When things are going smoothly and easy and everyone’s comfortable, I don’t think there’s any room for growth there,” Donovan continued. “Some of those difficult losses and some of the challenges and struggles we’ve gone through, those kinds of things make you better because you have to deal with the reality of the things you have to improve upon.”
The ride will be bumpy all season long, as it mostly is for every NBA team. Even in those moments of prosperity, the Thunder and its staff will be looking to identify and address any areas for improvement. That includes this game against the Nets, where the Thunder hopes to keep the winning ways rolling.
- One of the catalysts for the Thunder on Tuesday night was its MVP point guard Russell Westbrook, who helped dig the team out of that 17-point hole in the later stages of the third quarter. Although the Jazz lead was still at 12 when he exited the game, the energy that Westbrook was putting into the game and into his teammates was setting the foundation of momentum that overflowed in the fourth.
- “His whole disposition, his mentality, you could just see he was really trying to will our team to play with more urgency,” Donovan said of Westbrook, who finished with 34 points, 14 assists and 13 rebounds.
- As the Thunder continued to throw punch after punch in the final frame, Westbrook identified a different way to keep the Jazz off balance, getting Carmelo Anthony a couple touches on back to back possessions on the block. Instead of catching deep on the perimeter, Anthony was almost inside the paint when he caught it and spun baseline quickly to leave Joe Ingles in the dust before finishing over a crashing Alec Burks. Despite shooting just 6-for-19 in the game, Anthony was ready for his moment in the final minutes.
- “(Anthony) got some good looks throughout the course of the game that he didn’t make. It was good to see him maybe not get frustrated or down and have confidence and belief in himself,” Donovan recalled. “Those guys executed very well. We generated the shots we want to generate. He was a big part of that. He’s a guy that because of his professionalism and being such a veteran guy, he just keeps himself in the game regardless of what’s going on.”
- On the next Thunder possession, Anthony caught the ball again on the right block, but this time his drive was stopped so he rotated towards the baseline and took one of his patented turnaround jump shots. It just slipped wide off the rim, but Steven Adams was there. Ever the opportunist, the big Kiwi got his hand on the loose rebound and slapped it back in off the backboard to give the Thunder a comfortable cushion to close out the win. That bucket gave Adams 20 points in the game, and 66 total during the Thunder’s three-game winning streak, in which he’s made 28-of-34 (82.4 percent) field goal attempts. Adams’ recent offensive success can be attributed to the work he’s put in over the past year, particularly on his finishing in the lane, but not quite at the rim.
- “Going through what he went through last year allowed him to prepare better for this year, because he was more of a focal point last year, there were more of those floaters he had to take,” Donovan explained. “There were different things he was being asked to do that maybe he wasn’t asked to do early in his career. The more experience you get, when you go into a summer you have a clear direction of what to work on.”
- Paul George (Calf Contusion) and Jerami Grant (Hip Contusion) will not play tonight against the Nets. Donovan did not disclose who will step into their spots in the rotation as of shootaround.