Thunder players and coaches avoided answering “playoff” questions during training camp. The mantra was one day at a time. Now that the season is nearly halfway over, general manager Sam Presti was asked Tuesday if making the playoffs is a realistic goal.
“Every team wants to play in the post-season. We're no different,” Presti said. “But there's a healthy respect, and humility, to (our) group just how hard that is. Also, understanding we can't control how other teams play and prepare in our conference.
“We have to do our jobs. We just have to continue to come in each day and focus on improving the group, continue to build a foundation, following the pathway that Scott (Brooks) and his staff has set out to take steps forward as a team.”
The Thunder took advantage of a softer schedule, going 7-2 its past nine games. Only two teams had a winning record (Utah and New Orleans). Now comes a difficult stretch — four games in six days, all against playoff caliber teams.
It starts tonight against San Antonio followed by a road game Friday at Dallas. After a home game Saturday against Miami (Saturday), OKC opens a four-game road trip Monday afternoon at Atlanta.
“(The Spurs) have been playing very, very well,” said Kevin Durant. “They're back to their old form. (Manu) Ginobili has been awesome. Tim Duncan has been playing MVP-like and Tony Parker as well. It's going to be tough but we look forward to those tests.”
COLLISON TAKING CHARGES
Nick Collison is tied for second in the league taking charging fouls (27) behind Houston guard Karl Lowry (30). Dunks and 3-pointers excite fans but coaches and teammates value charging fouls.
“Guys know that's a sacrifice,” Brooks said. “You take a beating taking a charge. Nick doesn't just get up and it feels good to be run over by a 7-foot, 300-pound (player)... You have to have the toughness to step up and take it. A lot of players don't want to stand in front of a full-speed athlete charging to the basket.”
ETAN THOMAS UPDATE
Veteran power forward Etan Thomas was signed to provide inside muscle but hasn't played in six weeks (Dec. 4). Thomas isn't injured. He's not in the doghouse. He's simply no longer part of Brooks' nine-man rotation.
“It's hard to play all the guys,” Brooks said. “Etan gives us good practices. He's been great. He's been professional. He's done everything we want a guy in that situation to do. He's a true pro. He's keeping his body and mind right.
“But there are only so many guys you can play. Byron (Mullens) didn't play for 34 games and we threw him in there (Saturday). You could easily say that, ‘Why not Byron?' You can say that about four or five guys on every team. We're no different.”
HOME SWEET HOME
The Thunder finally is building some momentum at home. OKC is 11-8 in the Ford Center, going 5-1 at home since Dec. 18.
“I think we've found that balance between winning at home and on the road,” Durant said. “I think we get a little lax here because we have such a great crowd. But we're starting to learn we have to bring that focus every night. And guys are bringing it. It's been good on the defensive end.”